Nathan Anderson writes for PEAR, an organization focused on promoting positive engagement between individuals for the betterment of a global community. They are currently seeking funding for PEAR cards: a deck of 100 cards crafted specifically to initiate positive & open communication in social situations. Click to learn more about their Kickstarter campaign.
Looking up from the sink, cold water dripping from my face, I sought an answer to the question that had been gnawing at my psyche like a vulture over a fresh carcass: What is wrong with me?
It seemed like just weeks before life had been so simple. My days went in accordance with my interests. All I had to do was show up for life and everything would work out. I was comfortable. In hindsight, I was too comfortable, and I was quick to find out that bubbles do pop. It would take time, patience, support, and love to find my way through and out of the darkness.
The toughest obstacle I’ve had to face has been my own mind. I found myself in a state of blankness and isolation while in one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, San Diego. I had recently moved there from Chico, a small town in northern California. A pro of living in a small town is that athletic achievements go a long way in boosting a young person’s self-esteem and inflating their significance within the community. When my athletic career ended, so did the identity I had cloaked myself in for the last 14 years. I had no role to play, I didn’t fit in anywhere. My ego had no purpose and was simply unjustified arrogance. I had been flying high above the pressures of real life until abruptly my Icarus wings melted and I came crashing down to earth. I wasn’t prepared to deal with what life was presenting and became acutely aware of how fragile my self-esteem was.
MY ENTIRE LIFE HAD BEEN BASED AROUND COMPETITION, WHERE STATUS AND ASSURANCE WERE DETERMINED BY PERFORMANCE AND RESULTS. WHO WAS I WHEN MY NAME WAS ERASED FROM THE STATS SHEET? WHERE WAS I TO GO WHEN THE STADIUM LIGHTS WERE NO LONGER MY POLARIS?
My entire life had been based around competition, where status and assurance were determined by performance and results. Who was I when my name was erased from the stats sheet? Where was I to go when the stadium lights were no longer my Polaris? I didn’t know. My foundation crumbled and I fell, deep down into a dark space “trying to find myself”, but the further I went, the darker it got, and the more lost I became. By the time I hit the bottom of what felt like an endless abyss I was so off course from the path I thought I should be on, so unrecognizable from the person I thought I was that it felt I’d never get back to the old me. I was right about that.
I remember the moments in a room: just me, my demons, and a bottle, toasting to the embarrassment my life had become. I was in the lowest hole of my life and filling it with alcohol felt like the only way to float to the surface. However, this did the opposite and I instead continued to drown and suffocate from the pressure of my own thoughts. I was utterly lost without a clear enough head to see any direction besides down. On the surface I kept a smile on my face and projected a persona that was energetic and free. I didn’t like what was happening inside of me. Feelings of hope and dreams of change would shimmer a dim light, but the light was quickly fading and my will was weakening.
I wanted to get out of this darkness on my own, to find my way with no help. I was afraid to reach out and have to admit what felt like a failure; to swallow my pride, look someone in the eye and be open about not being okay in my own mind. I felt if I could do it on my own, I could absolve myself of all the negative things that had happened in some form of redemption, a sign of strength. From my vantage point everyone else was succeeding and seemingly happy about their current situation in life. They all had it figured out and were thriving; meanwhile, I would lie awake at night unable to quiet the doubt in my mind making me sick to my stomach. I found myself forcing smiles around people, finding it hard to make eye contact for more than a fraction of a second because of the paranoid voice in my head telling me they’d see through me and know something was wrong.
I FOUND MYSELF FORCING SMILES AROUND PEOPLE, FINDING IT HARD TO MAKE EYE CONTACT FOR MORE THAN A FRACTION OF A SECOND BECAUSE OF THE PARANOID VOICE IN MY HEAD TELLING ME THEY’D SEE THROUGH ME AND KNOW SOMETHING WAS WRONG.
The irony that I was so reluctant to be open when my passion in life is to connect people is not lost on me. I think it was because of this experience that I now find it is so important to reach out and play my part in bringing openness to as many people as possible. I unfortunately wasn’t able to conjure up the courage to let someone know what was happening with me. I wish I had because it’s so crucial to recovery to be able to speak about our issues. With a ball in my throat I can admit that I was near giving up entirely and with a deep exhale I can say I’m proud I didn’t.
Luckily, someone noticed, and did something about it. One of my closest friends saw the pain and darkness that was festering inside me, knowing I’d remain closed, he reached out to the one person who never had any issue confronting me with comfort, my mother. She hopped on a plane and headed for San Diego.
Sitting at a restaurant along the ocean, waves crashing, my mother and I discussed what was going on with me. She made no judgments, mostly listened, and was completely present in our conversation. Near the end she presented me with two options: to get professional help or prove that I could take the necessary steps toward bettering my life. She gave me about a week to deliver an answer and I chose the latter. I think it’s important to state that my decision to forego seeing a professional was not due to any stigma but rather I had decided I would take this battle head on and knew I had a support system that would be behind me through it all. This was a new type of competition, a new playing field, in which the opponent was an invisible foe living inside my mind but still, I had a team of people helping me defeat it.
THIS WAS A NEW TYPE OF COMPETITION, A NEW PLAYING FIELD, IN WHICH THE OPPONENT WAS AN INVISIBLE FOE LIVING INSIDE MY MIND BUT STILL, I HAD A TEAM OF PEOPLE HELPING ME DEFEAT IT.
It’s been half a decade since that interaction with my mom and I’ve come a long way. In the beginning I was looking for a foothold, something to propel myself up and forward that I could do productively during “me time.” I found my new sanctuary on the golf course. I needed something to work really hard at and prove to myself that with effort, guidance, and a will to achieve I could accomplish goals and progress. What golf did for me was emulate in a condensed view the patience and focus I would need to succeed for the rest of my life. I am not saying that golf specifically is the answer, but for me it was the outlet I needed to keep taking positive steps.
Throughout this process the most important factor has been the support. I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by caring and loving individuals who can be both kind and firm.
The journey through the dark forest of my mind hasn’t been easy and I’ll be honest with you now, it’s still not over. It’d be nice to say I’ve completely conquered all battles with depression or feelings of despair and being lost. It would be really nice to say that, but I can’t. Maybe someday, but not yet, and I am totally okay with that truth. With the belief in myself, strengthened by the love shown to me from the best people I know, I can continue to strive toward my dreams and push forward in the pursuit of happiness.
Depression is a forever type foe but when the all too familiar emotions and the suffocating vice grip of self-doubt and negativity begin to wrap their cold fingers around my neck, I now know I can fight them off. I once felt so lost in life, everything seemed dark and confusing, and though I can sit here now writing about it, I know finding the guiding light can be tough. I’m not the same person I used to be. I feel I’ve become a better, more equipped human being to take on life’s trials and tribulations. I wake up every day thankful for the strength and love to accept the challenge because it has been in the journey, not the destination, that I have found myself.