depression

The Bright Side Of Hitting Rock Bottom

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

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.

  • sarvajeet

    Hi. Nice article. I think whether it is fear or any difficult situation and when our mind starts developing scenarios, possibilities, outcomes that is where danger is. Our mind is great mystery. But When you remove all worries and say something like it is just a mind game and if i remain positive, i will get solution or keep calm and do what r u doing and things will work out, in that case we can stand after falling and face the situation.

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Hi Sarvajeet. The mind is mysterious. I read up on neuroscience studies, and there are so many fascinating discoveries happening all the time. For example, I just read recently that “mild brain shocks may help kids with math.” Pretty cool. :-)

      I agree. Removing worry is something I’m passionate about. Hitting rock bottom helped me worry less (eventually) because I was already in the bad situation I had worried about. Of course, it still required a strong mind and positive perspective as you said. Cheers!

  • http://karencrossett.com/ Karen Crossett

    Hi Stephen, totally agree with your article. Life can send us situations that seem hard at the time but can be life savers. You became stronger and more resilient which is the correct response!! Often I find my mind going into negative auto pilot but I am aware that it is from an old blueprint in my subconscious mind. I can work with it not all the time but most of the time. Byron Katie comes to mind when reading your article, and the essence of the three principles – at our core we have everything we need. I love that. Thanks Stephen.

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      You’ve got to watch out for negative autopilot! I like how you phrased “old blueprint in my subconscious mind.” That’s an accurate way to describe the brain in an autopilot situation.

      The best way to climb out of it is to realize that you always have a choice – a choice for how you’ll perceive the situation and a choice of what action to take next.

      I appreciate the thoughtful comment, Karen.

  • http://mesandeep.wordpress.com/ Sandeep Khanal

    Really Nice Article!! Loved the way you presented it.

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Thanks Sandeep. :-)

  • http://thinkersplayground.com/ Gavin Morrice

    I got a knot in my stomach when I read the first section…

    I’ve been there and it was actually a little unnerving reliving it again in your post.
    For me it was working every hour of every day when I set up my first business that started it – It took me literally years to learn how to relax and be carefree again and I guess to some extent I’m still learning.

    Keep up the good work Stephen!

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Ack, I’m sorry to drag you through that again, Gavin. It was painful to write it and relive it too, but I wanted it to be real and powerful. As we both know, there isn’t a quick fix for this sort of thing, but it can be overcome.

      I’m happy to hear you’ve come a long way. I’m sure I’ve got some residual effects from my past, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m all better now. :-) And there are so many benefits of going through it. Winning an internal struggle like that feels very empowering, because there are few challenges that can compare in difficulty.

      Cheers Gavin. Thank you.

      • http://thinkersplayground.com/ Gavin Morrice

        Definitely – it’s all part of growing and learning. If I hadn’t gone through it, I wouldn’t be the guy I am today.

        Sleep well …

  • John Ezetta

    I needed to read this article… Thank you!!!

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      You’re welcome John. I’m glad it helped. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/MatthewMMcEwan Matthew M. McEwan

    Amazing of you to share this Stephen!

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Thanks Matthew. It’s an important chapter in my life – the worst and most useful one. :-)

  • Kushagar

    Hey Stephen..
    Your article is 100% true..but how to keep the confidence level consistent?
    As we see that when life gives us bad experience again then the confidence goes back to rock bottom..!

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Hi Kushagar,

      Your confidence level won’t always be consistent when you’re at rock bottom, as confidence issues come standard with the rock bottom territory. But you can maintain hope and devise a smart plan to get yourself out of it. Then when you’re making progress, you can look to that progress to give you confidence and positive snowball yourself out of the mess! :-)

  • Razwana

    Stephen – rock bottom is a different thing for all of us. Sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes it’s financial. And not everyone experiences it. I, for one, have, and at the time it was devastating (UNDERSTATEMENT!).

    But as you write, hitting rock bottom can be the best thing. Was it for me? It pains me to say yes! And I wonder how I will react if it happens again????

    - Razwana

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      If it happens again, you’ll be better prepared for it! I empathize with you on hitting bottom. Those of us who have been there, know how rough it can be.

      Are you back on top of the world now? :-)

      • Razwana

        ABSOLUTELY! And there I shall remain … !

  • Khyjuan Deshane Mansker

    Wow, just the thought makes you think about having no place to go. I guess that’s the good thing about being there for the chance to improve.

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Yes, and it’s important to look on the bright side when you’re covered in darkness.

  • David

    Stephen,

    I know that feeling, been there, when you can’t even move to take care of your most basic needs.

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      It’s a rough place to be in, but it teaches you so much about resolve.

  • Michael

    I am free-falling to Rock Bottom and there are no words to describe the fall. Intellectually, I know the pain ends, eventually. Intellectually, I know that I own my destiny.

    With those things in mind, my three daily notes are:

    1. Stand Up

    2. Breathe

    3. Take a step FORWARD

    • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

      Hey Michael, I just saw this and I want to encourage you to persevere. The deepest depths of despair have been conquered before, and there’s no reason you can’t be the next conquerer.

      Based on your three daily notes, which I’ve also found to be effective (esp. #3), I think you’ll do just fine. :-)

  • Possibly Depressed Male

    Nice post. Thanks for the honesty. Most people, myself included, don’t have the stomach to really take a hard look in the mirror and come to a realization they have hit bottom and need to do something about it.

    http://possiblydepressed.blogspot.com

  • Rose

    Fabulous! Thank you for your candor and practical advice. Hope your future days are full of sunshine and character-building experiences that make you stronger.

  • Disqus is the NSA

    Good Article. The Scars on our Soul remain and serve as a reminder of the journey. When you`ve hot nothing, you have nothing to lose..thats the point at which the healing begins,

  • Girl WIthout a Dragon Tattoo

    Thanks for the opportunity to share an experience that I have only shared with close friends. About 1 year ago (December 2012) I was involved in a Human Resources investigation…my first. I had “declared” to my fellow mgmt. team members during a strategic planning meeting that I was not the person to lead HR into our next growth phase–I lack the skills, the leadership and the vision to do so; I wanted to step down. rather than leave the organization, I remained expecting that a genie was going to arrive and relieve me of the anxiety, fear and depression that I was feeling. uh, no genie.
    Since the agency didn’t provide my with relief or with assistance, I submitted my letter of resignation. At the request of the CFO, my service extended on a month-to-month basis until m HR Director position was filled.
    Twenty months later and an HR Director has started. I’m not sure if I have hit rock bottom. I’ll tell you, though, that the anxiety and depression that I was feeling were enough to have me visit the emergency room one night at the recommendation of the advice nurse because I was feeling rather uncomfortable.
    I hated the way that I was feeling at the time. Maybe it was my rock bottom. I need to remind myself of that time in my life. In about 5 days my “month-to-month” extension will end. I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my life at 58 years of age.
    Recommended books have been Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” and Lewis Smedes “Forgive and Forget.” There are folks for me to forgive, including me.
    This is my first public writing and if you are still reading this I’m hoping it’s because you found something in my words that you can relate to. Chau.

  • Overwhelmed

    Any suggestions for those who are actively living at rock bottom with no relief in sight? I have barely been keeping a roof over my head for over a year now and it is as if several lifetimes of bad karma were saved up and dropped on me all at once. I hit the bottom and the sides are now falling in on top of me. Since I can’t find the path out, staying focused isn’t really the issue. Any suggestions on finding a ladder or exit sign?

  • http://snapflycook.wordpress.com/ Andrew Harvard

    Lovely article and very true

  • http://NoMoreHoldingBack.com/ Larry Hochman

    What a powerful statement of self! It’s amazing where we sometimes find ourselves, and the capacity for healing we can summon.

    BTW…I healed from my rock bottom by practicing juggling tricks in a spare bedroom in the middle of the night. True story!

    Great post, Stephen!