Mental Health Progress Report: One Year From the Bottom

X 10.7.18

sunflowersLast year, on October 9th, our third son joined this world.  I was in a dark place. The day he was born, my wife realized something was very wrong with me and asked if I was contemplating suicide. I told her I wasn’t exactly there, yet. I never made a plan, never set a date, never even played out a fantasy in my mind. But, I was tired of almost everything, constantly exhausted, physically unwell, and really trapped in cycles of negative thinking.

Over the course of this past year, I have undergone a lifestyle overhaul. I used to imagine that I could think my way out of how I felt. Or that some random, lucky happenstance would occur and set everything in order. But, then I gave myself a chance to dive into some books on mental health, addiction, and nutrition. I began listening to podcasts on time and space management, organization strategies, and pursuing potential. I pushed myself to pursue help with bizarre allergic reactions and to actually show up for counseling appointments (thankfully, my counselor was fairly well-versed in punk rock and we actually had fun chatting about music and philosophy).

I began to adopt what I consider now to be pillars of a healthy body and mind: pursuing resources on physical and mental health, engaging in purposeful work and hobbies, light exposure, restorative sleep, regular meditation, interrupting negative rumination, socialization, exercise, nutrition, and making family time count.

Medical help has come in the way of monthly injections that have (mostly) allowed me to get back into an exercise routine. I have put together a small workout area in the basement and have been walking and, more recently, jogging in my neighborhood regularly. Those who know me personally know that my most radical change came in the area of diet. I went from being vegan and not eating meat for over 20 years to eating some forms of animal products again. This was on top of using supplements to rebuild depleted levels of hormones, iron, and certain vitamins. I love my daily job and have begun volunteering on my city’s sustainability commission. I have also been considering writing children’s books. I may try and fail, but at this point last year, I wouldn’t have even considered trying something new like that.

As hobbies go, mine has basically been pursuing money for solar energy projects for municipalities in my area. Our county was recently awarded a grant for over $200,000. I proposed the grant to the county after hearing about it from the person who put panels on my garage. I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to be a part of a successful process.

Interestingly the less I’ve pushed myself to think positively, the less I’ve been stuck in negative rumination. It’s been probably half a year since I’ve been trapped in a repeated negative thought.

I meditate a little bit every weekday and about an hour every Sunday at our local Quaker circle. Is it enough? Probably not, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

Family time has been really good. We took a nearly two-week long road trip this summer from Wisconsin down to South Carolina. We have shows we watch together and book series we read together. Sometimes, my wife and I feel like total screw-ups as parents, but overall our kids are pretty happy, thoughtful, and awesome.

Holding these pillars in place is difficult. I certainly couldn’t do it without the support of my wife and family. I certainly couldn’t do it without friends pulling me out of the house. I’m not totally where I want to be- I have anger flare ups, I recently had an allergic reaction during a run, and I definitely don’t get out of the house enough. Neither does my wife. We’re at a difficult point in time, and I believe we’re both motivated to keep trying to buy ourselves some social time with friends.

If I’m going to grade myself again, I’d say I’m at an overall A-. Room to grow, and very grateful for how far I’ve come.