Do you want to change your life? Are you unhappy with the way things are going and wondering how you can steer your boat on a different course? Do you want a different life but don’t know where to start?
For most of my lifetime, I would float limply in the current, letting it take me wherever it wished. I let things happen to me. I watched as my life flashed before my eyes. I went from crisis to crisis with a bucket of water, putting out the fires consuming everything around me.
I allowed my illness to take over, and my mind to have free reign. The result was disastrous. I call my thirties the lost years for a reason. I had no goals, no plans, and no hope for the future.
Now, in my fiftieth year, I’m not one of those people who believe mental illness should control how a person lives.
Wow. Really Jason? Did you just make a blanket statement like that?
What I should say is I no longer feel I will ever let my illness control my life, no matter how bad it is. I shouldn’t try to speak for others — that’s wrong. There was a time when my illness was so bad, and my willpower weak, it was all I could do to survive. Others may be in the same place, and I have no right to judge.
I still have bad episodes all the time. Sometimes they last for weeks, and the voices and noise in my head are so loud that all I can do is lie in bed with a blanket wrapped around my head and cry.
Do I stay prone with no hope of ever leaving? No.
I’m firm with myself. Many tell me to be kind and gentle to myself all the time. But that doesn’t work in my situation. Unless I’m tough as nails and push myself, my mind takes over everything and does what it wants.
I’m not negative. I don’t bully my mind into doing what I want it to do. I’m firm, as a parent to a child.
My mind is like a rebellious teenager. I know I need to give it space and freedom to be creative and find its way, but I also need to make sure it knows that I’m in control, and I won’t allow it to act out or throw tantrums.
I need my brain to be free to think without bounds so I can write every day. I like that I come up with twenty weird ideas every time I sit to relax, but the moment things turn negative, I start to put pressure. I can feel when the normal traffic in my brain starts to turn ugly and when my mood starts to turn dark. When it happens, I do something about it before it gets too chaotic.
Does it always work? No. But most of the time, I can turn a bad situation into something I can live with happily.
I missed out on a lot in my life, both because of my illness and my willingness to let it control my situation. When I was younger, I thought big things were in store for me. I thought I’d be a great author. I dreamed of traveling the world. I knew I’d go places in life — not because I was lucky or born with a silver spoon, but because I was smart and could make things happen.
When my mental illness got worse, instead of fighting back, I gave up control and waited for things to happen. I listened to the doctors when they told me that people in my situation didn’t try to do too much or make anything of their life. I shouldn’t try too hard because I would just disappoint myself. I should accept what I have and be happy I’m alive. There was always the hope that a new medication would come out, or they would find the cocktail that would allow me to feel some normalcy.
I remember being depressed because I didn’t want normal or average — I wanted to be remarkable! But I forgot my dreams and focused on surviving each day — taking the scraps thrown from the big table and wishing someone would drop something juicy on the floor.
In my forties, I had enough! It was most likely around the time of my last suicide attempt in 2014. That was a time of big changes for me. Coming that close to death does something to the way you think. For me, I started thinking more about other people and how my actions affect them. I started acting instead of reacting.
I started taking control of every part of my life. A whole new way of living had opened up for me.
Those dreams of being a great writer? I’m working on it.
Travel? The family is making plans to be more nomadic. We’ve been in one place for some time now and realize it’s not what we want. My wife and I both want to see new places and experience new things. We want our daughter and son to get the education only travel can give them. We don’t know how we’re going to do it financially yet, but if we keep moving toward the goal of being location-independent, we will get there.
I’m almost 51 now, but I’m excited by how I see the next twenty years. Now is not the time to slow down. While I have my health, it’s time to take what I want!
Instead of regretting what my life could have been, it’s time to make it what it could be!
Anyone can do what I’ve done with my life. If you want it bad enough, it’s an easy thing to do. Mind you, the work to change is not easy, but deciding to change is.
Like anything worthwhile, you have to draw a line on the ground with your foot. Decide today that you want to change and do it! You don’t need any fancy self-help programs or checklists. Decide to change and write down a few goals to get you there.
It’s as simple as that.
It’s your boat — you make the rules. Take it from me — if you want to change, the first thing you have to do is take control.
Now that I’ve taken control over my life and I’m steering the boat, it’s time to take to the open ocean and make something happen!
See you out there!
This essay is also published on Medium.