He sat upright in the corner of the bed, visibly trembling. Sleep deprivation toyed with his mind. Breathing was difficult. The once autonomous function was now an uncomfortable struggle for oxygen. Panic covered him like a dark, ominous cloud that threatened to never let up.
It wasn’t always like this. Just a few weeks ago, he was very healthy. He was happy. He could breathe.
But something changed and his world was jarred. In the coming weeks, he would get even worse and hit rock bottom. He’d want to sleep so badly, but stop breathing once he closed his eyes. Reality had become a nightmare.
Life can surprise us
The man in the story was me. It was a “series of unfortunate events” that led me to develop crippling anxiety. Perhaps it was a chemical imbalance. Perhaps it was a negative shift in perspective. Or perhaps it was an unknown effect of a spider bite that started the downward spiral. Whatever it was, I was losing my mind, and I couldn’t believe it.
I had hit rock bottom, and it was lower than I thought possible for myself.
The real surprise to me was that it would be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
At rock bottom, it’s a lonely place. You see other people living normal lives and wonder why it can’t be you, or why it used to be you but no longer is. It doesn’t seem fair that you’re there, but there is no reset button. Denial comes and goes. Hope’s once bright light dims.
Rebuilding A Human Life
The inner workings of our bodies tell us something important about how life works. When you lift a heavy weight repeatedly, small tears develop in your muscle fibers. Your muscle is damaged. But then something amazing happens.
The body repairs the muscle, and makes it a little bit stronger than before, presumably to adapt to this new situation. The more you repeat it and increase the weight, the stronger you’ll become. Most people are familiar with this process.
But what if your body refused to acknowledge the tears in your muscle fibers? What if it didn’t repair them?
Your muscles would not get stronger; they would wear down, get weaker, and die.
Your life is the same way. When your life is damaged or you are discouraged, overcoming that problem will strengthen your mental fortitude. But in order to overcome the problem, you have to accept and even embrace the position you’re in. You’re at the bottom and you have XYZ problems. Now it’s time to repair yourself, and this is the best part, and the bright side of hitting rock bottom.
Life, Round 2
While there is no real reset button in life, hitting rock bottom has that effect. When you hit bottom, you have to slowly climb back up to where you were (and higher). And this time you have life experience. Failure is pure education, and hitting rock bottom teaches you a lot.
I think of Donald Trump or Dave Ramsey, two men who went through bankruptcy, but climbed back up to the top of the business world because of the lessons they learned on their plummet.
And of course, I think of myself.
Today, my mental health is excellent. I’m calm, confident, and relaxed. I’m far less nervous in every situation than before my mental breakdown. It’s because I learned that being anxious is completely worthless and can be devastating to my life and my health. I didn’t learn it in a book, I learned it through experience in a way that made me “get it.”
It was painful, but it was worth it.
How I Rebuilt My Life
I’m not going to paint a fairy tale image. It was tough and unpleasant to get back to normal. It took more than a year, and progress was slow. When a healthy person for 20+ years gets rattled to the core, it’s shocking. I was the healthiest person I knew before this happened. I had to relearn how to see life.
In the very early stages, I trembled over to my dry erase board and wrote three things on it.
I am strong.
I am healthy.
I am confident.
At the time I wrote it, I was none of those things, but I declared them anyways in a place I could frequently see.
Gradually, I replaced unfounded fears and worries with the truth. I got back into activities I liked such as basketball. I became skilled at analyzing my thoughts and catching and discarding the bad ones, a skill that serves me well today.
As I normalized, my outer shell hardened. My fear was at an all-time low. After all, I had come back from the depths of despair. There wasn’t much left to fear, which is the biggest benefit of hitting rock bottom. When you manage to squirm out of your worst nightmare, you fear it far less, and fear things like talking to a stranger even less, because in comparison, it’s nothing.
Fear operates in the shadows. It likes to be mysterious and hidden from sight. It likes to be a question mark. I became very well-acquainted with fear in my mental collapse, and found that it’s just a mind game (one that I’m better at now).
People fear public speaking much less after their 300th speech. You fear rock bottom less after hitting it. It gives you more confidence to take risks and live how you want to live. Experience kills fear because fear is almost always of the unknown, but experience makes things known.
If you’ve never hit rock bottom, use your imagination. It won’t be as effective as truly hitting rock bottom, but it can help.
Whatever your greatest fear is, imagine it in great detail. Imagine it over and over again until you realize that you can handle it (unless it’s something like getting attacked by a bear). It might be very unpleasant, but you can handle it. We are resilient creatures (thank God).
In the middle or at the top, fear can control you, but not at rock bottom. Once you hit rock bottom, like a cornered animal, you become dangerous.
For those at or near rock bottom, accept and embrace your position, and look forward to the benefits of coming out of it a stronger person.
Now that I’m not trembling under the covers, I help people get and stay focused at Deep Existence. You should come visit to learn how focused living can help you squeeze the greatness out of your time. Sign up for updates here and get my Stress Management ebook as a complimentary gift.