Today's guest post, by Brett H., author of DareToExpress, is one of my favorites. I can relate in a lot of ways to what Brett has written and it truly inspires me. Change is something that, when you're in a negative place in your life, seems impossible. When you finally realize that change is feasible, that it's something that can actually happen to you, it's absolutely amazing. Check out Brett's story in this post for some inspiration and motivation.
Life is Good
Yesterday was a strange experience for me. I didn't feel good for the entire day, yet I felt supremely good. I was tired and a little run-down from getting too much sleep, yet I felt the best I ever have. It was almost a Zen-like experience, where I didn't try all that hard, and I everything I did just effortlessly flowed from my fingertips -- and was good. Everything I did became an act of self-love and self-expression, from the way I ate my food, to the way I sat on my bed, reading The Bhagavad Gita, with a wry smile of self-satisfaction on my face and my body lying in a totally carefree manner with limbs sprawled carefreely in every-which direction. I never thought life could be this good, but it's actually a very small thing, this happiness.
Sometimes I think I take it for granted -- I'm so disconnected from the constant despair and turmoil that was my past that I overlook the near-constant happiness I have. But, at the same time, this shift from depression to positivity (and presence) is the greatest thing that's happened to me. People spend their whole lives looking for happiness and I've found it... think. All I know is that I've got this warm, fuzzy feeling of love in my chest all the time and I can choose what I can do with it. I call that happiness. If you told me that I would be as much of a source of positivity as I am now about 18 months ago, I would've told you that you were crazy. If you told my past self that I would be seeing the world as I do now -- as a wonderful, wonderful place -- he would've made some sarcastic remark that life sucks and moved on. If you told my past self that meditation and an understanding of spirituality would help elevate me higher than I've ever been, he would've told you that meditation is for the self-deluded and for New Age pseudo-hippies. But it's all true, and it's remarkably hard to believe. I can't even comprehend my transformation myself.
My Past Identity
I remember so many things from my past life. I remember being put on anti-depressants at age 10, and crying when I got them because they made me feel like something was wrong with me (and, I must say, I was right -- I had lots of psychological problems). Was I depressed? For the first time, I think I'll actually admit that I was truly in a very deep depression for about 5 years of my life. Therapy didn't help either; after a few months, I vowed never to return since it didn't help me and I buried my emotional problems so deep inside that I would be able to dodge the therapist's questions with honest answers that somehow never cut to the core of my problems. But he couldn't help me because I never knew what was truly wrong with me. And if I didn't know, I'd never steer the discussion in that direction.
All I knew was that I thought the world was a bad place and I was deeply unhappy with life in general. I thought the only person in the world who was any good was myself. My ego was the size of the Pacific Ocean. I had/have a great deal of natural talent intellectually, and have always done exceptionally in school. This, coupled with "growing up too fast," made me more "emotionally mature" than my peers. And by that I mean I lost the carefree positiviy of youth much faster and reverted to a state of constant negativity. I was always the witty one with dark, sarcastic humor and a twisted view of the world as a black hole. But I, the great Brett, was greater than everyone because I was so much smarter. And that's how I viewed life: me, the last, best hope of humanity, stranded in a world of eternal darkness. Except I didn't even function as a light; instead, I compounded the darkness with my negativity.
I became a master of suppressing ANY emotions, negative and positive. During school, I'd act like the normal, peppy kid who was on top of his studies and worked hard. But that didn't stop me from labeling the world as universally "bad" -- it didn't help that the town I live in is not a very pleasant place -- and me as the only "good." I'd go home and damn the world, damn existence, and let out all my bottled up negative emotions. I wouldn't necessarily cry, but I'd be kept up at night from overthinking -- thinking ab0ut the end of the world, thinking about what a chore it's going to be to wake up the next morning, and a host of other things I can't remember. I've been on pills to cure my insomnia for almost 7 years now, though I don't think I need them anymore since I no longer have those thoughts. Maybe my body's addicted to them. If you were to take a snapshot of my headspace when I was in my state of total depression, you'd see a boy who was totally lost in the world and whose only hope was college to escape what I saw as a desolate, hopeless town -- a fitting hope for the guy who based his identity off of his performance at school, though I was and still am a great athlete.
College was the light at the end of the tunnel, because I was so consumed with what I thought was the utter disaster that was around me. I still don't deny that my hometown isn't the greatest of places, but I let my environment totally define how I felt. I hated existence, I hated getting up in the morning, I hated the people I saw every day, I hated where I lived, I hated how I stood out among my peers since I was so smart, I hated how I was made fun of, I hated that I felt like the world was on my shoulders and I thought I had to perform for an audience I despised. Hate consumed my soul. I nearly attempted suicide twice, yet never thought there was anything wrong with me. The suppression of emotion choked me and still affects me to this day. Sometimes I struggle with genuinely expressing positive emotions around people, since I literally stopped doing it for so long and was afraid people would ask me why I'm so happy. But the negative emotions, for the most part, are gone. For every day that passes, I feel more and more free to express myself and my emotons.
Triggering the Transformation
So, how did I turn my life around? It all started out with my first and only real girlfriend (like I said, where I live things aren't the greatest, so dating prospects are few and far between). We went out for a little, then one Thursday afternoon, she called me and said, "Brett, let's go back to being best friends again." I said, "Sure, why not?" and that was that. But, in truth, it CRUSHED me. She said we broke up because I was "too negative" and that everyone hated me. I shot back that being negative just who I was, so I couldn't change that. Funnily enough, though this breakup totally destroyed my self-esteem because A) I just lost my first girlfriend and B) I lost my entire social circle because of the breakup because her friends became my friends, I never cried once about it. I guess I had gotten my black belt in emotional suppression by then.
After another dating prospect fell through because I had been too needy and negative (again), I lay crying in my bed, wondering why I was having zero success in life and with the ladies. And then my ex's words floated through my head -- and it kind of resonated with me. Maybe I wasn't supposed to be negative. Maybe there's more to life. Maybe I can be positive. At that point, I think I had reached the deepest point in my depression yet, since my self-esteem was obliterated (seems like I gave my power away much too much) and I was left stranded. At that point, I started letting go of my ego a little bit more, so I didn't have anything to cling to. Life seemed utterly hopeless. But, as they say, the night is darkest before the dawn.
In June of 2008, my brother gave me Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead as a gift. I read it and immensely enjoyed it -- and realized that life could be positive with achievement. And I could be proud of it, but not degrade others. I could share my gifts with the world, and, guess what? I could create a better life for myself. That's what I took from the book. I finished it in a week, tremendously inspired with what the human spirit could do. I ignored the Objectivist stuff and focused on the profoundly moving message within it that man could conquer any and all obstacles if he was determined too. Reading The Fountainhead was the first step on my way out of darkness.
I saw some improvement in the rest of 2008, applying some of the principles from The Fountainhead, but 2009 was where I saw massive improvement and transformation. I consumed tons of self-help material and read tons of philosophy -- for I wanted to know what happiness was and how to get there. Eventually, in a not-so-glorious process, I gradually extracted my negative view of the world and implanted a positive one. I started to understand happiness as a function of self-love and started allowing myself to love me for me, and not anything else. I stopped letting others define me. I started meditating -- something I would've never considered doing before -- and it immensely improved my life, more than any other habit I've ever picked up.
The transformation process is really a blur for me. That's really all I can remember. It took a lot of reading and introspection, but I got there. And, here's the thing, I'm getting better every day. It's an amazing process. The defining moment of my transformation came when, one October night, I was meditating, and -- out of nowhere -- broke out sobbing. I cried and cried like I had never cried before, letting go of all the negativity that was in my past. I looked back on all the things that I had considered negative things before -- the breakup, my trashy town, my misanthropy -- and realized they were instrumental in making me who I am now. I realized, in that moment of clarity, that if I had never suffered like I did, if I had never spent those years in darkness, I wouldn't be the happy guy I am today. That epiphany made me laugh and cry some more. That session of meditative sobbing was like a rebirth for me. I got rid of the shackles that had held me down for seemingly my entire life, and experienced life as it should be. It was so beautiful that I cried some more and tears are in my eyes as I write this.
Change IS Possible!
I am a testament to the fact that drastic change is possible. If people tell you "people never change," I know you'll crack a wry smile from now on as you remember my story. And, maybe you'll tell them, "No, I read on this blog that this kid Brett..." and you'll recount an abbreviated version of my story. If had to give you any tips on how to turn your life around, or become a just a little more happy, I'd say do these things:
- Accept and let go of negative emotions,
- Choose to focus on the positives in life,
- Tune out the negatives,
- Love yourself unconditionally, and
Those are the basics, and those are what you should focus on. They'll never let you down. In such a negative society, it's also unusual to express good feelings and love if it's "out of context" (read: at any time you're not around friends/family). Buck that trend and start smiling wherever you go. If you do that shamelessly, I guarantee your life will improve. You'll become a source of positive emotion and serve as an inspiration for people who were like me and need some help to get out of their depression. Trust me, by shining, you'll be a beacon for them. I know I could've used people who were positive to the core to help me out.
Looking back, I don't regret anything that I've done. I'm glad that I was depressed for so long -- because if I hadn't been so depressed, I wouldn't have gone on my quest of self-discovery that put me where I am today. I'm glad my girlfriend kicked me to the curb and crushed my self esteem, because that ultimately ended up catalyzing my change. I wouldn't trade anything I've experienced for the world because it's made me who I am today -- and I love who I am. If I'd have to close this post -- all I'd say is this: don't let other people define who you are and deter you from making the change that you know you can make. Change is possible, you just have to go out and get it. If it doesn't come as fast you like, be patient -- uncovering all the years of negativity and emotional wreckage takes a lot of time. Don't rush it, be persistent, don't quit, and I promise that happiness lies on the other side.
Brett H. is a self-actualization blogger who writes at DareToExpress, where he frequently writes about the self-actualization process and how people can make lasting changes for the better. You can follow him on Twitter at @bretthimself.