There is a strong correlation between sadness, depression, negative thought, stress, and anxiety. All of them are closely linked to one another, and they feed off each other in almost a cyclical pattern. In fact many people experience their first taste of mental illness as a result of a stressful life event or an emotionally painful situation or loss. No one is immune to this disease. So if you’ve been fortunate enough to have escaped it thus far in your life, consider yourself blessed. And never take for granted the days that you are able to function without it. Make the most of life, and continue to maintain all aspects of your healthy lifestyle. In this case, don’t let your guard down. Because you can’t always be sure what’s lurking beneath the surface, and it could simply be waiting for a window of opportunity to present itself in your life.
I’ve always been aware of this dangerous cycle in my life. And quite honestly, I still haven’t found a way to master minimizing its effects. Here’s an example: I oversleep on a given morning and notice that I’m going to be starting my work day behind schedule. After checking my Blackberry I realize that I’ve already missed several emails, and with the knowledge that I have several files waiting on my desk from the day before, a knot begins to form in my stomach. Then come the negative thoughts. “I hate this job…I’m never going to be able to get everything finished…why are they bothering me this early in the day anyway?…”. One after another keeps rushing in until I begin to feel overwhelmed. By the time I dive into my work I feel like I might burst. Then the phone rings, another email, another phone call…that knot has now moved it’s way to my throat and I’ve begun to feel like someone is standing on my chest. I’m breathing shallow and I’m feeling lightheaded. Then an issue in production, an immediate answer needed, a dissatisfied customer…before you know it, I’m having chest pains and have convinced myself I could have a heart attack from the stress. Ultimately I survive it and the day ends but the chain reaction continues, leading to horrific anxiety. I end up suffering through the night managing to sleep very little, and the next day I wake up looking and feeling worse than I had the the day before. And the cycle continues…
After my ex left the state of North Carolina and headed back home, I was a complete disaster. I was torn apart and overwhelmed by all of the emotions of the events from the previous six months. I missed her, so much. It felt in my heart as if someone close to me had passed away. And I was so angry with myself for taking her for granted. Confused, lost, and lonely – I let the situation get the best of me.
I fell into a depression, and then the cycle began running its course. With depression and sadness came a negative mindset. I couldn’t see anything positive, I just wanted her back in my life and I knew that wasn’t possible. And then the physical symptoms. I had aches and pains all over my body from the stress of the situation. My chest was continually tight and my head often felt like it was going to explode. I was quickly exhausted and it was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning and go forth with my day.
Those physical setbacks opened the door for anxiety and panic to rush back into my life. Once again I would allow for my OCD to play its part as well. I worried about everything that I felt physically. I had convinced myself that there was something seriously wrong with me. And the more that I worried, the more pronounced the symptoms became, leading to more negative thoughts, and more aches and pains. It wasn’t long before it was controlling my mind and my life. I couldn’t seem to move beyond it. Was I going to die? Did I need to check myself into the hospital?
And then one day, I decided to stand up and fight. I remember sitting on the couch in my apartment completely wrapped up in panic and worry, convinced that this might be the day that I really would crumble altogether physically. I revisited in my mind where I had been during the low points of my time in California, and I began to recognize that I had regressed to a point that was very familiar to me. I knew what would happen if I sat around and let the disorder take over my life again. It was a miserable fate…and it was not one that I could envision myself enduring again…
So I made the decision in my mind at that very moment that I would rather die fighting my demons than live letting them beat me. I told myself that if I was going to truly perish as a result of these physical symptoms, then I was going to find out immediately. And I was going to die standing up to the disease, not hiding from it. I changed into shorts, put on my running shoes and headed out the door.
That initial run was very difficult for me. I wrestled with my mind the entire way as it made me fully aware of every pain in my body, tempting me with the urge to quit. But I didn’t allow it to take me to that point. With every stride I just kept repeating over and over “if you’re going to kill me, then do it now”. And as I got closer to my apartment on the loop that I had made, I began finding my strength. The statements that I was making in my mind turned to “you can’t beat me, I’m stronger than this”. I even began to display a confident smile on my face similar to that which I would sometimes share with an opponent on the football field after he delivered a devastating blow that he felt would crush my spirit. You couldn’t beat me. I had become way too familiar with being knocked down, and I would always pick myself back up.
For the next 165 days in a row, I continued to run. It was only when I came down with a severe cold that I chose to finally end that daily streak. I had found the perfect drug for my anxiety, and I latched onto it. In the past I had spent many days allowing my OCD to shift my focus towards negative energy, and now I was turning my disorder in the direction of healthy thoughts and positive outlets. I began eating extremely well…balanced meals with only very mindful snacking. It wasn’t often that I allowed myself to eat out, and I avoided fast food altogether. And only on a very limited basis would I allow myself to eat red meat. I was obsessed with my new healthy lifestyle, and it was working.
I forced myself to be active. The commitment to running daily kept me focused and it allowed me to sort through aches and pains without worry. After all, it was natural to feel a bit stiff or sore when you were pushing yourself like I was, so there was nothing to be afraid of. And I knew my heart and lungs were strong, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to maintain such an active routine. My anxiety was rapidly diminishing.
In addition to running, I spent every evening possible outside. I would shoot basketball at the court within my apartment complex, and every night I’d go for a walk and then treat myself to some kind of snack when I returned – I made it like my reward. I began to live an incredibly satisfying and relaxing lifestyle. I enjoyed my time alone and I didn’t feel the need to seek out comfort in others. For the first time in a long time I had become happy with myself.
At night I would often find myself passing out on the couch before the clock even struck 10. And I was okay with that. I’d head to bed early, and I’d wake up rejuvenated, appreciating the day new day ahead. I remember one night as I laid down to go to sleep, I thought to myself about how terrifying the nights always were when I was in the grips of panic and anxiety. And I actually laughed to myself, because it had become such a foreign feeling to me at that point. I couldn’t have created an anxious feeling inside me if I tried.
I put my hand on my chest and felt the calm of my relaxed and regular heartbeat took a a few deep breaths, thanked God for the progress I had made, and drifted off to sleep…