Aug. 5, 2018
This post almost didn’t happen. On May 17, I promised by friends Wes and Jenna that would kick off the “Mental Health Matters with Project Hudson” series. I’m finally sitting down to write it on Aug. 5.
No matter how ready you think you may be to open up about your struggles with mental health, it’s not easy to
put the words on paper. Just the concept of mental health has become stigmatized in our country. There is such a negative connotation surrounding personal mental health challenges that most people would rather not talk about them. It’s often easier for people to ignore the issues and avoid uncomfortable conversations than to understand and be empathetic.
Meanwhile, people who face mental health struggles every day can begin to feel alone, isolated and ashamed. I definitely don’t have all the answers – not even close. I think what clicked for me recently was just that I was exhausted from trying to portray myself as someone who had it all together. I struggle with depression, anxiety and OCD. Depending on which doctors you talk to, I may even have some PTSD going on. There were days, more like months or years, when I didn’t want to stay. There were long periods of time when I felt like leaving was the only option.
Through it all, I tried desperately to cling to a persona that wasn’t reality. I desperately tried to show the world a confident, energetic and, at times, ruthless professional. I desperately tried to show my friends that I was the party guy, the fun guy, the guy who was up for anything.
All the while, I was drowning inside.
I was confrontational, combative and defensive. I distanced myself from those who care about me. I armored myself in arrogance, thinking it would make me untouchable. I would binge-eat and binge-exercise, causing my weight fluctuate wildly. My wife and I moved from state to state, chasing my career and hoping that each new situation would finally be the one to bring us some peace.
It turns out, you can’t outrun your mental health challenges.
I went to therapy, saw different doctors, started taking medication, but those things are only part of the process. It was only recently that I realized none of that would matter unless I was able to take on the most difficult part of mental health: self-acceptance. Self-acceptance isn’t just taking a diagnosis and saying, “Ok, self. This is what we have going on and we’re just going to learn to live with it.” That’s just self-awareness. Self-acceptance is the next level. It is taking stock of who you are as a person, all your strengths and challenges. It is deciding whether you will let yourself be defined by your strengths or your challenges. It is, above all else, the process of learning who you are, embracing that person and showing that person to the world. Easier said than done, right? Right.
The last nine months for me have been as hard, if not harder, than any of the other dark periods I’ve experienced over the last decade I was already in a dark place when a job that I had worked toward my entire career was ripped away, and the floor just kind of dropped out. I spiraled downward so fast that nothing or nobody could stop me, especially not myself. My wife put everything she had into bringing me back up from the depths and I only tried to bring her down with me. I was a shell of myself, not living in reality.
The turning point came when she finally broke. There was nothing more she could do for me. She had sacrificed almost all of herself to try to help me, and I had given her nothing in return. She couldn’t physically or mentally help me anymore.
That’s when I realized that something had to change inside me. It became crystal clear that if I couldn’t help myself, no amount of effort from anyone else was going to change anything. I decided to take stock of all that I liked and disliked about myself. The dislikes were pretty easy to identify, as you’ve read in the preceding paragraphs. It took actual effort to come up with the list of things I like about myself.
I like to read. I’m a dog lover. I have an unbelievable wife. I think I’m pretty smart and write pretty well. I’m a naturally kind person. There are others, but you get the picture: start small and work your way up. As I went down the list, I started to think that the person on paper sounded like a pretty cool guy. Someone I could live with. Someone who also struggles with depression, anxiety and OCD but realizes it doesn’t need to define him.
Someone I wouldn’t be ashamed to share with the world.
That, in the end, is who everyone deserves to be: someone who can go out into the world and say, “Here’s who I am and I’m proud of it.”
There’s no need to hide behind personas or shut your true self off from the world. Embrace your strengths and your challenges. Be who you are and be proud to show that to the world.
It’s a lesson I wish I would have learned a long time ago, and if there’s one major thing I hope you take away from this piece, that’s it.
One last thing: self-acceptance isn’t a destination. If we stop evolving, we stop growing. The process of self-acceptance has to continue to evolve as you grow as a person. Grow in ways that make you proud. If you hit a roadblock, accept it, own it and figure out how to make it part of you. I’m no sage or superhero. I’m just a regular guy with great family and great friends who is on the path to really liking himself. If I can do, so can you so. Mental health matters, but it’s not an easy journey. Just don’t be afraid to take the first step.
All the best,