How to Win at Life When Life Plays Dirty

woman boxer in a fight in life
Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

(This essay was originally written on April 26th, 2019, but the feelings I talk about often cycle around and get me when I least expect it. I thought it would be a great time to share this again.)

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the battles in life and want to quit. Every day is like a title fight. We wake up and lace up our gloves, but after a full day and twelve rounds, we just want to sit in the locker room and pout.

It’s hard to handle everything that comes with a mental illness. It’s not just depression and anxiety. It’s the overthinking and the bombardment of negative thoughts. It’s the wishing you were feeling anything other than what you are feeling right this minute.

Everything sucks when living with a mental illness. There are no two ways about it.

I’ve been struggling lately. Since my trip down a hole last week, I’ve been trying to come up for air. It seems like when I think I may be feeling better, I slip even further.

My main problem is anxiety.

I wake every day in a panic and lay in bed, trying to calm my racing heart. Flora knows I need to start my day, so she yells at me to get out of bed. But it’s the hardest thing for me to pull off the blankets and crawl out. I feel like I’m walking around with a 100-pound weight on my chest. My face and hands are numb most of the time, and I struggle to control my breathing.

I spend my days worrying about every little thing that can go wrong with my wife, daughter, and myself. I worry, nonstop. I can’t concentrate on anything for too long because my brain is in a frenzy of fear about every little stupid thing I can think.

  • We’ve had earthquakes. Big One is coming at any minute.
  • Zoey wants to go out to play. Going to be kidnapped.
  • Flora has cramps. Going to lose the baby.
  • Indigestion? Having a heart attack. I’m going to die!

What a piece of work my brain is! No matter how hard I try to control my thoughts and my breathing, I can’t stop the waves of apprehension that wash over me.

I’m at the end of my rope. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

at the end of my rope
Photo by Josh Johnson on Unsplash

Why don’t you go to the doctor?

When I complain about the problems I face every day, the response I get from some is I should see a doctor.

Sometimes it’s not as simple as that. My experience has been that psychiatrists know less what to do about my problems than I do. I at least know to try things like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, and mindfulness. I know because I’ve tried it all.

Most doctors only know to throw as much medication at the problem as they can without killing the patient. Those of us who have been on medication know about the side effects. We know if it does help, we will be on a rollercoaster of increasing dosages until, invariably, the medication stops working altogether.

There are always new drugs to try. But I’ve learned from becoming dependent on Benzos and having to go through the hell of addiction and withdrawal, that more drugs are not the answer.

I want to spend the time to practice things like meditation and yoga, but life gets in the way. The bottom line is learning a new way to deal with my issues is not fun and takes time. If it doesn’t give pleasure, I’m less likely to do it.

It’s an excuse, but it’s honest.

You may know how hard it is to make changes in your life when you have a severe mental illness. I was a guy who was either shut-in, hiding from the world and hating life, or someone walking the halls of a mental ward after trying to kill myself for the fourth time.

I convinced myself that my life would always be terrible and I couldn’t do anything to change it — that is until I stopped making excuses and did something. I’ve spent the better part of the last eight years trying, failing, and trying again to change my life. It’s been brutal and taken a toll on me.

The good news is that I have improved. All the hard work has paid off.

The bad news is I know there is no cure for mental illness. No matter how much I think positive thoughts, or how much I meditate or do yoga, I am still going to have anxiety. I’m still going to hear voices and have depression most of the time. I can be mindful until the cows come home, but my brain is still messed up.

But just because it seems there’s no hope for me doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to be a better version of myself. Even if I’m in hell right now because of anxiety doesn’t mean I’m going to give up and lay in bed until I die.

  • It doesn’t matter if I wake up in a panic. I am going to get out of bed.
  • It doesn’t matter if I can’t concentrate. I am going to write. I am going to write one word at a time if I have to
  • It doesn’t matter if I worry about every little thing. I am going to be happy and successful.
a happy group of people
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

How to handle life

With all that having been said, I have a few tips if you are going through the same thing.

No matter what life throws at you, duck and keep moving forward. If you feel like junk right now, know it will get better. It may take days, weeks, months, or years, but it will get better.

You can sit around and let things happen to you, or you can do something about it and take control of your life. You are welcome to have your pity party and moan about getting the poopy end of the stick.

A better thing to do would be to take responsibility for everything and do something to change what is happening to you.

If you are like me, it may take eight years before you start seeing results. But if you don’t quit, you will see a difference. When your life is terrible, any difference is better than what you deal with every day.

It’s okay to complain sometimes, but know you eventually have to stop and do something about what’s troubling you. I complain all the time, but I always come up with a plan for how I am going to solve my issues.

For my anxiety, I’m going to give meditation and relaxation another go. And, if I can manage to get an appointment with my doctor, I’m going to ask about some medications for anxiety I haven’t tried yet and aren’t addictive.

Have a plan. Work a little every day on your plan. Before long, you will start to see results.

It’s better than sitting around, letting things happen to you.

Take your life in your own hands — take action!

Nothing will change unless you change it.

This essay is also published on Medium.

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