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From Hell to...well...Something Better

10 years ago this month, I went to hell.

I spent the better part of 2 weeks there. I literally could see nothing but darkness and believe strongly to this day that had it lasted even an hour or two more than it did, I would’ve had virtually no choice but to end my life.  Life was simply not sustainable, just as it would not be if you were set on fire, but never died as a result. You would have to stop the pain somehow.

In the short term, what saved my life was a mental hospital. There was absolutely nothing enriching or pleasant about the experience of being there, but simply the fact that they took away any self-harm resource I had and monitored me 24/7, it did get me over the hump to where I could see enough daylight to keep living.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of a five or six year journey where my life got torn apart in just about every way it could: I left behind my lifelong faith, I left behind the career I had intended to stay in forever, I got divorced, and all the while, the battle with my brain raged on.

But here I am, four or five years into the rebuilding of everything I have ever known or counted on and I feel pretty hopeful. Not the naïve kind of hope where I think all of my dreams will come true, but the kind of hope that tells you you’re on the right track even when it’s fucking hard.

These days, I am at peace with my lack of any particular brand of faith;  I have my kids half of the time and we have a great relationship; more and more, my ex-wife and I are learning to be united as their parents for their benefit; I have a new career that I am enjoying and that suits my brain much better than my former career; and I am running a nonprofit organization of which I am very proud and very excited to see where it can go down the road.

I have new friends who see the world much more like I see it now, and I have many longtime friends who have shown me that they are love for me does not depend upon our agreeing about everything.

I want you to know two things about why am writing this: first, the mental illness journey is as painful and difficult and lonely path as just about anyone has to walk. Mental illness is still so misunderstood. I saw something yesterday that said the hardest part about it is that people who know you have a mental illness still expect you to behave like you don’t. Our symptoms show up as bad behavior, and until people learn to see beyond that to a truly chemical malfunction in our brains, the stigma will persist.  In this post, I have no intention whatsoever of pretending that I would leave fully do the last 10 years again because it’s all been worth it. I absolutely would not.

But given that I have survived it, I am grateful to say that there is hope for those who are in the midst of the bitter battle.  Just keep holding on for one more minute, hour, day, week. Do what you need to do to bring small glimpses of joy and light into your life. Don’t let other people tell you what should or should not work for you. Trust yourself. You are the strongest kind of survivor even though you feel so weak. It’s not hard to survive when you want to keep going. It’s those who keep going when they have already run out of gas thousands of miles back who are the badasses. YOU are a badass my friend. 

Most of all, my greatest hope and wish for you as you forge ahead is that you find even just one person who will hold your hand or sit with you and keep you company as you brave the dark road step-by-step. That is the greatest medicine one can find.

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