Tattoo - Visual Art Form

Journey of One: Ten Years

Journey of One: Ten Years

Last night Beth and I started watching a movie called "Silver Linings Playbook." I don't usually watch movies like this: you know, films that win awards and have good acting. I'm not really a movie guy. I like things with robots and zombies and martial arts, and that's about it. But here we were, watching this film with Academy Award winning acting and this thing called a "plot" that apparently some films have. The movie is about a guy with bipolar disorder. We didn't get half way through the movie before I had to pause it and walk around. Something in this film triggered me. I felt the same knot in my stomach and the same anxiety that I felt nearly a decade ago, during what was inarguably the roughest period of my life.

When I almost tried to kill myself.

I have tried to be open about my struggles with depression: the darkness, the demon. I've written about depression as a means to help those who don't have the illness understand it, hopefully doing my small part to remove the stigma attached to it. My attempt to be candid has also been for those who, like me, suffer from the illness. I've wanted to tell them all the things I've learned along the way: You're not alone. You're not a freak. There's no shame in being sick. Life isn't hopeless. You are loved. Take care of yourself as best you can, because we need you. Take your pills. Eat right. Exercise. Enjoy life. Love those around you, and love yourself. Accept your imperfections, work to improve yourself, but don't take yourself so seriously. Be realistic, but positive. Have hope. Don't spend time with negative people. They will only hurt you and hinder you. The more you focus on others, the less you focus on yourself. Depression is a self-focusing condition, which causes us to focus on ourselves negatively. Focus on others, and find joy in their joy.

2004: The year of my mental breakdown, when my depression got the best of me. the year I "came out" and told all my Christian friends I was no longer a Christian. The year I realized that most of them had no idea just how hard all my struggles with faith had been. The year I started smoking due to self-destructive tendencies mixed with a need to self-medicate. The year my children's mother and I separated. The year my now ex-wife took my kids and moved three states away. The year I hit severe financial hardships. The year in which I spent almost a month homeless. The year I lost all hope, all sense of direction and purpose. The year of suicidal thoughts. The year of the Demon. The absolute worst year of my life.

Watching the character in this film wrestle with his own form of mental illness triggered in me repressed memories of how I felt back in 2004. I realize now that much of my feelings and even my memory of that year has been, until last night, little more than a fog. Vague images and dull impressions are all I've recalled in the few times I've allowed myself to think back to that year. But last night, watching what Wikipedia refers to as a "2012 American romantic comedy-drama film," memories of 2004 came back, first as feelings - the all-too-familiar knot in my stomach that feels like a combination of nausea and a spinning sidekick to the solar plexus, plus anxiety, fear, and a feeling I can only describe as "severe emotional weight" pressing against my chest - then as actual memories. I had to stop the movie. I had to disconnect. I had to process everything I was feeling.

A friend of mine once told me that I'm ten years behind where I should be. He wasn't being insulting; rather, he was pointing out the fact that, due to all the setbacks and struggles I've faced in my adult life, I'm simply not where I would be in life had I not gone through hell. He said I needed to think of myself as ten years younger than I am, and plan my life accordingly. He said I shouldn't dwell on where I thought I should be or what I believed I should have accomplished in life by the time I turned 30. Many of us do just that, and, almost invariably, we start comparing themselves to our peers, which inevitably leads to disappointment and negative self-worth. We see ourselves as failures.

As I look ahead to 2014, the thought hit me: 2014 means 2004 was... ten years ago. Soon enough, a full decade will have passed since that night I pulled the butcher knife out of the utensil drawer with intent to end my life. Ten years since I fell into the abyss.

If I'm ten years behind, where am I now that ten years have passed since those dark days?

I've written about this before: 2013 has been the best year of my adult life. This is the year I truly began to see some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I have learned to accept myself. I'll say that I'm "about 80% there" when it comes to accepting and loving myself. There are times when doubts creep in. I'm not perfect. There will always be a few cracks in the armour. But I have found joy in life. I have come to accept myself, damaged parts and all. I've found passion and purpose in my life. I've achieved some major goals. I accomplished personal goals in the martial arts. I lost 45 pounds by dedicating my life to eating right and exercising regularly. I quit smoking (a few years ago, but it's still worth mentioning because I couldn't have developed a fitness lifestyle if I were still a smoker). I have a solid, positive plan for the future. I have long-term and short-term goals, and the motivation to reach them. I found love when I wasn't even looking for it. I have found a real and lasting peace. I'm happy, and not afraid to be happy. The Demon, while always around, isn't in the driver's seat. He's not even in the car right now.

This realization really hit me last night during the movie. Hard. But in a good way. I remembered my pain and hopelessness and despair. I felt it all over again. And I talked about it. Out loud. Saying random things that came to mind until I was able to spit out all the pieces and then put them back together again like an intellectual jigsaw puzzle of thoughts, ideas, memories, and emotions (what I refer to as "Tims"), until I was able to see the big picture more clearly. 2004 was ten years ago. I could hardly believe it. Doesn't feel like a decade has passed. I came to appreciate how the film triggered me, because I was, with Beth's help, able to understand just how much progress I've made in my life: mentally, emotionally, physically, even vocationally. It's much easier to see how far I still need to go than to look back on how far I've come.

As far as my depression goes, I've reached a critical milestone: I understand, existentially, that I can be sad, angry, frustrated, annoyed, and still be okay. I can separate depression from the healthy experiencing of emotions. I can have sad or angry feelings and still be healthy. I used to fear negative emotions, because I couldn't distinguish between regular emotions and feelings brought on by the Demon. Now I know that I can be healthy and feel all sorts of emotions. That's a major breakthrough for me. In fact, I wouldn't be healthy if I never felt certain emotions. This might not make much sense to someone who's never felt the affliction of depression, so if you're one of those people, just do your best to understand that this is huge.

This doesn't mean my life is perfect. Life is, and always will be, hard. That's how it goes. But life is so worth the struggle, and so worth living. That's the lesson I've learned these past ten years. All the pain, all the fatigue, all the frustrations, all the disappointments and failures, all the aches and pains, all of our flaws - all of it - is totally worth it, for the sake of all the joy, all the love, all the pleasure, all the adventure and excitement, all the experiences of this one life we have. 2013 is, for me, the year I really started to live. 2013 has been the springboard from which I will leap into the new year. I've waited a decade for this.

2014, here I come.

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