“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up.” – Robert Tew
In September 2009 I experienced a catastrophe that would shake me to my core and test my inner strength to its limits.
It was a hot summer and despite my long term depression I was pleased with my deep tan.
Later that month my world crashed in on itself when I had a psychotic breakdown.
After September 2009 everything changed.
I was thrown into a world where nothing was as it seemed, a world which became progressively dominated by fear and horror, a world which was all consuming, vivid and one which, at the time, appeared real to me.
After confiding in my parents they paid for me to have treatment in a private, world class facility.
Soon after I arrived I was put on medication and gradually the real world crept back into my consciousness. The doctors explained to me that my psychosis was caused by my chronic untreated depression and a result of my internal dialogue misfiring and going haywire.
Thankfully I was much better after my initial two week stay, even though the voices hadn’t entirely gone when I returned home. Six months later, after many outpatient therapy classes, I had a firm grip on reality once more.
I remember being desperate for the voices to go for good, hoping that in six more months to a year, I would be cured. After much resistance I finally accepted that the condition was permanent, four years after my initial episode.
During that time I battled with my own stereotypes of people with mental illness, which harmed my self-image.
I was determined to have a healthy level of self-esteem, not just for someone with a mental illness, but a healthy level for anyone — period!
With much dedication to therapy, I won the fight and gained an even healthier level of self-esteem than I had possessed prior to my breakdown, aided by cognitive behavioural therapy.
Although my condition constantly needs to be managed it doesn’t really affect me anymore but sometimes it does get worse.
One of the most amazing things that my illness has given me is an incredible amount of inner strength. The type of strength that you know will see you through any situation, no matter how testing or horrid it may be.
There were three critical steps I took that helped me to develop unshakable inner strength, strength that would benefit anyone.
You can adopt these steps today to foster confidence in yourself that no matter what life throws your way, you will be able to weather the storm and perhaps become even wiser for it.
Step One: Decrease Your Demands
Whenever life hits me with a set back and I feel overwhelmed, stressed or low, I immediately decrease my demands.
As a rule, I ask myself two key questions:
- Do I have the energy?
- Does it feel like a burden?
If the answer to either of those two questions is yes then I know I have to drop the task from my daily routine — unless it’s something important, like paying bills. Initially it was incredibly hard for me to accept this as necessary because I am a very goal-orientated, driven person.
The epiphany struck me once I realised that ‘pushing through’ during times of upheaval actually led me to burn out, which meant I was out of action for longer, causing this approach to be totally counterproductive.
I also use my mood boosting list which I wrote for such occasions. I find having a list to hand invaluable, as whenever I am in the midst of feeling down, the last thing that enters my mind is what might relax me or cheer me up.
I have shared some of my list with you below. You may wish to copy it exactly or, if you find activities which don’t appeal, you can create your very own list — tailored to suit you!
- Going to the cinema
- Go to a comedy club or watching stand up
- A shopping trip
- Reading a good book
- Ordering a take away meal
- Calling or seeing a friend
- Bubble bath and hot chocolate
- Go for a scenic walk
- Being creative
- Doing something fun you’ve never tried before
- Early night’s sleep, lay in or nap (though not excessive sleeping as a means of escapism – limit to one session of extra sleep only – unless you are consistently lacking sleep)
Step Two: Maximize Social Support
I don’t know about you, but when I am going through a tough time I want to hide myself away and not see anyone.
When I cocoon myself away because I am feeling stressed, overwhelmed or low, it allows me to ruminate far too much, worsening my mood because I focus on the cause of my distress.
I now make a point of seeing my friends and family when times are tough. I may not feel like going out initially, but once I talk about my situation, I immediately feel loved, supported and cared for.
The support offered by those closest to me is invaluable, it lifts my spirits, allows me to feel understood and encourages me to have faith that things will get better.
So the next time you are going through a rough patch, make sure you see those you love who are supportive and watch what a blessing they can be.
Step Three: Practising Optimism and Gratitude Daily
It took a great deal of retraining my brain to look for the silver lining, so if I can do it absolutely anyone can.
The first thing I did was to read positive picture quotes every day. This may seem like something small, but the more I did it, the more optimistic I felt.
I read uplifting personal development articles and watched inspiring Ted Talks about people overcoming seemingly insurmountable hurdles and emerging victorious.
These stories taught me not to hide behind my life circumstances, using them as an excuse to remain stuck, whilst providing me with confidence that a better life was ahead of me.
The more optimistic and positive about the future I felt, the more grateful I became.
I started to be thankful for my family and friends and that I could now rebuild my life as I wanted it to be.
I purchased a gratitude journal and noticed things to be thankful for daily, suddenly a stressful day at work turned into the opportunity to be thankful I could prove my value to the company.
Since practising gratitude my life has opened up in so many ways, it really had a profound impact.
As opposed to falling into the trap of postponing happiness until one day when everything was perfect and I had ‘arrived’, I became perfectly happy as I was, with anything extra seen as a bonus, adding to the joy I was already experiencing.
With a little effort you too can shift from being pessimistic to optimistic, creating a positive bias in you that will dramatically improve your quality of life, ensuring you become happier and more grateful in your day-to-day living.
In all honesty I can say that if someone were to offer me a genie bottle and grant me three wishes I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t want to experience my breakdown again, but I firmly believe I wouldn’t be even close to the person I am today, had I not become mentally ill.
My condition has allowed me to develop in ways that I could never have anticipated and, as a result of my therapy, I am in many ways better off now than before the breakdown took place.
I no longer dwell in self-pity, risking depression, because I practise gratitude every single day.
I have faced my fear that mental illness would prevent me from being successful — deciding that instead I would see it for what it was — something which has given me invaluable life skills and has developed me into someone with greater strength, resilience, determination, gratitude and optimism.
Several months ago I landed my first managerial job and it’s going really well. I am on my way to reaching the level of success I desire, completely unimpeded by my mental illness and helped by my inner strength as a result of the steps I took.
Whether you are going through a trial or looking to improve your resilience, these steps cannot fail to transform your life.
Enjoy the freedom of knowing that whatever blocks your path, your inner strength will see you through, ensuring that you skilfully steer past the twists and turns, on the road that we call life.