A reader sent in this personal story of overcoming compulsions at a difficult time in his life. He’s now working on becoming a therapist:
I’m 26 years old and I’ve been struggling with my mental health ever since I was just a little kid. In December of 2017 my mother got the bad news that she only had a year to live due to her cancer coming back. My mental health, which was already very bad at the time just went down to another level of bad to the point where I couldn’t sleep, my heart racing all day long for no obvious reason and no appetite or life energy. I felt like a shell of a man. I felt as if I was melting and slowly dying. This went on for two months and I felt that life was torture. I didn’t know if I would ever bounce back.
I decided that I was gonna do whatever it took to get better. I was gonna unreasonably do healthy actions inside and outside my head! There were many, many changes in actions but the two things that helped me the most were 1) to not listen to my thoughts and 2) feel all of the feelings while doing the things I wanted to do.
In one year my life has changed upside down, (in a positive way), by this approach! I’ve started studying again, which I was avoiding for many years because my fear of giving presentations. In March of 2018 I joined a “dare to speak” group where we practice giving presentations. I started by reading a small article in front of two elderly ladies and I felt like my whole body was exploding with adrenaline. I gradually increased the amount of people I spoke in front of and, in September 2018, I was speaking in front of my new class of 34 students and I was even cracking jokes up there! If you told me in February of 2017 that I would be speaking in front of a class by September that same year I would have said you had lost your mind. I’m now studying social work with a specialty in CBT skills and the goal is to become a therapist.
Even more than giving presentations, weddings were the worst. I really enjoyed them and wanted to go, but my brain would throw all kinds of stuff at me so I always ended up drinking a half-bottle of whiskey before weddings to calm my nerves. And it ended with me always embarrassing myself and those around me because I wasn’t being myself. For weeks afterwards I would feel disgusted by myself and ruminate on what I could have done while I was black-out drunk amongst friends and family and I’d send myself deep down the mental illness hole again.
After I decided I was gonna take charge and change my life, I started going to weddings sober and just feeling whatever would come up: thoughts, feelings, stiffness, blushing, hands shivering–you name it, it’s all good and can come along for the ride! After repeatedly doing this, I got better at it. My brain still throws stuff at me but I can handle it in a much more healthy way than downing a bottle of Jack Daniels. And it’s liberating that, instead of ruminating after the weddings, now I can go and workout or meet with friends and family and don’t need to hide from the world because of intense shame.
I had this knowledge for many years before really implementing it and creating change because I had many very reasonable “reasons” that I wasn’t ready. <<< Learn from that mistake and don’t wait for as long as I did! You’re ready so jump in and experience a completely different life. It might seem impossible and scary now but start changing how you do stuff. You and those close to you will be amazed by the results. Good luck!