My brain nearly imploded.
Years of torture. Lots of pain. Many harsh conversations with myself every day that would scare the pants off you if I shared them.
No medical expert I saw could ever explain the source of my illness. I have my suspicions: fainting in front of an audience and cracking my chin open, multiple business failures, failed romantic relationships, an undiagnosed eating disorder that formed during school as I never had time to eat breakfast.
Blame is a game. It solves nothing so I’ve moved on from it.
The best way to describe what I went through is I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust the laws of gravity. My body and mind worked against me.
They became my enemies.
It’s hard to live when your #1 enemy is yourself.
Here’s what I did to repair my mental health (see a medical expert if you suffer from mental illness — this is just my experience).
Wrote a fear list
My mental illness relied on fear to survive.
I knew it consciously. I was afraid of everything, so much so that I couldn’t leave the house.
A solution came to me one night. What if I write a list of all of my fears? I wrote them all down. Then I decided to tackle a few of them. The easiest ones seemed the most logical. That way there was an easy exit clause.
One of the first ones I faced was a fear of getting into lifts. Small space. Can break down. No toilet if nature calls. Other people to laugh at you.
I conquered the fear. Then I went on to conquer the whole list.
The list eventually got renamed to “massive success list.” Every time I beat a fear I wrote it down in Apple Notes. The point was to build an FBI case against myself. To show the truth and expose the lies.
Whenever I felt fearful I pulled out the list on my phone. I read it. The self-talk became if you could do it then, why not now?
It’s hard to argue with the lies of mental illness when you possess the truth.
Went to a Tony Robbins seminar — walked on fire
When I posted this on Twitter people lost their minds. Tony Robbins can’t cure you of mental illness, obviously.
Tony’s event became a catalyst for me. It left me with more questions than answers.
On the first night I had to walk on fire. For many people this wasn’t a big deal.
For me it was huge.
As a child I got badly burned. Fire scares me. I never want to feel the pain those burns caused me ever again.
My whole plan was as everyone went outside to do it, I was going to sneak out the back door and tell no one. Then return and pretend I did it. At 9 PM the fire-walking would begin.
What I didn’t know was our minds would be primed for 2 hours before the walk. Through the process I got into such a state of euphoria that a switch flicked in my mind.
All of a sudden I felt superhuman.
I felt like I could do anything. When my turn came I did my walk. My feet were burnt afterwards. I couldn’t feel any pain despite the obvious visible marks. Even the next day I felt nothing.
Like I said, a switch flicked in my brain that weekend.
Over the next four days every pattern in my mind got disrupted. It was like my mind was a vinyl record and Tony’s voice was a nail that scratched through all the grooves, making the record unplayable.
The event didn’t heal my mental illness. It made me question it.
For the first time I said to myself what other lies have you been telling me?
Read books to slow down time
Books take you out of your head.
I took up the habit of reading books every night. I had a stupid dream back then to be a stock trader, so I read finance books obsessively. Once I had read all the major finance books I turned to self-improvement.
The stories of other people shifted my perspective. If they could have this experience, then why can’t I?
Mental illness is a disguise for a problem with the mind.
I began to read more on the topic. Turns out many factors shape your levels of optimism and pessimism. No matter how positive you are, if your body is unhealthy it’s hard to avoid anxiety and depression.
One thing I did as an anxious 18 year old is become obsessed with the gym. Initially it was to pick up chicks at nightclubs, admittedly. Over time though, the gym became a useful tool. When I had an anxious event I’d go to the gym and train extremely hard until the point of exhaustion.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the gym became a place to vent my frustration with mental illness. It ruined my life for so many years and the gym was payback.
Vigorous exercise releases endorphins. These change your mood and your biochemistry — while not a solution, they do help you to cope.
Saw a psychologist
Asking for help made me petrified.
Mental illness is an invisible illness. Once it’s exposed it can be beaten.
The problem is your mind doesn’t want anyone or anything to come and intervene. Makes sense. The day I saw a psychologist something shifted. My battle felt normal.
“Oh this is so common. I see people every day like you,” the psychologist said.
Normal makes mental illness feel possible to overcome.
Changed to a plant-based diet
What you eat determines how you feel, according to experts.
After the Tony Robbins seminar I switched to a vegetarian diet. A few years ago I switched to a vegan diet. At the start of 2020 I switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet.
Each change in diet has helped me unlock more energy. I’ve never felt better than I do right now. It makes sense that mother nature would want us to eat things that come out of the ground, rather than crap made in a factory with chemicals.
Most of what we eat isn’t real food. Read that again.
Good food elevates your mood.
In the right mood I was able to recover from mental illness faster. Something else changed when my diet did.
I’ve never admitted this before.
Here goes: I had a condition called leaky gut for years. It’s the one writer Nicolas Cole wrote about in his first book.
All the junk food and high-fructose corn syrup I was consuming went straight through me and destroyed my gut bacteria. Research again points to the connection between the gut and the mind.
When my diet improved my gut improved. I stopped running to the toilet all the time. This may not sound like a big deal so let me explain.
When you’re mentally ill, like I was, fear makes you scared. That feeling forces you to run to the bathroom and experience diarrhea. This adds another level to your mental illness.
It makes coping even harder because now you have to worry about not dropping your guts. And you always need to know where the nearest bathroom is. That then leads you to say ‘no’ to activities like long bus rides where there isn’t a toilet for fear diarrhea.
Try eating more plants to lift your mood and regain your energy.
Forgave those who wronged me
Mental illness is a giant burden.
Storing hate, discontent, and revenge is an even bigger burden. I found I couldn’t deal with it all simultaneously. So I let go and forgave people who didn’t deserve it.
Life got easier. I reconnected with family and old friends. It gives you space to deal with mental illness.
Worked at a homeless shelter
This last one might seem dumb.
It fits in perfectly. My mental illness made my day-to-day life all about me.
I became obsessed with myself. I didn’t care about other people, which is why girlfriends would dump me constantly.
When an opportunity at my job came up to work at a homeless shelter I embraced it. The opportunity beforehand seemed insignificant. Nice one genius. You’re working for free for the day.
For the entire time in the homeless kitchen I noticed I didn’t think about my mental illness. My mind became clear.
I saw a homeless woman in the corner. I overheard one of the counselors say that she got raped the night before. All I could think to do was make her day better. I went to the kitchen and got her a special order. I brought her coffee. I helped her clean up some mess she’d made.
In that moment I realized my silly little mental illness was nothing compared to what this woman had gone through. Caring for another person helps give you perspective.
Perspective gives you leverage against your mind.
Mental illness can be debilitating. In my experience it can extend beyond the mind — and to all areas of life. The good news is, there is help. It’s normal. What’s normal can be overcome.
Lesson: A dark past can lead to a bright future.