In life, we often want so badly to be happy and to have everything go perfectly. However, we must understand that when everything goes wrong, this is just an opportunity for us to turn everything around.
I spent, or perhaps wasted, years of my life. I spent that time in a negative haze, with a dark cloud hanging over me. I had problems with being sociable, so I assumed that people didn’t enjoy being with me and that they did not like me. It was a great struggle for me to be around people, because I felt that they were thinking negatively about me. I didn’t sense it at the time, but my issue was more with my internal negativity, rather than any true negativity on their part.
Sometimes, people even asked me, “Why are you so negative? What is wrong?”
But I never had a good answer. My belief was that reality actually was negative and terrible, and that I simply had to deal with it. I didn’t understand that I was being consumed by my own negativity at the time – and that my way of seeing life didn’t represent reality. However maladaptive my negative way of thinking was, by my early twenties I was getting used to it. I thought that the negativity was a part of who I was – that it was in my personality.
My life had evolved into a bad habit of seeing, thinking, and doing in a negative way.
Of course, I was not happy about this – but at the same time, I didn’t see any other options. I didn’t know any other way to be. I felt entrapped, but I couldn’t grasp any way out of the reality that I had created for myself. This way of being lasted for many years, and then came the toughest period of my life.
I had applied to a graduate school program in industrial-organizational psychology. I had a deep doubt within me, realizing that I would be tested beyond what I could even imagine. A part of me knew that I was not ready for this program, but I applied anyway. On paper, I was an excellent student, but my communication skills were quite poor, and I was worried about this. Nonetheless, I was accepted into the program.
In the first week, I realized that this would be the biggest challenge of my life.
However, the work itself wasn’t overly difficult, intellectually. Rather, there was so much work that needed to be done, that there appeared to be no end in sight to it. For example, there was a heavy load of course work, multiple research projects, learning to use statistical programs, management of undergraduate researchers, many administrative tasks, and a variety of meetings per week on research topics, all while I was adjusting to living in a new state.
My biggest battle at the time, however, was not the work itself, nor in adjusting to the new location. It was in learning to deal with my own overwhelming negativity.
The force of it was becoming greater and greater, as it gained in power under the increasing pressures and stresses of my life. Even in the first few weeks of the program, I did not think that I could deal with all of the work. I felt like I was being suffocated under all of it. I had so much to do and learn that it was overwhelming, beyond anything I could have expected.
I had begun to lose confidence that I would be able to do all the tasks required of me.
Failure was often on my mind – I sensed that it was inevitable.
After several months in the program, I felt defeated. I was keeping up with the work demands, but my mind was telling me that I was going to fail, over and over, and I was not happy. Work occupied my mind all day long, and when it was time to sleep, I could not stop thinking about it.
Generally, I would only sleep a few hours per night. I was also losing weight, and I was already thin when the program had begun.
A big sign that my mind was malfunctioning was that I was forgetting very simple things. I would forget meeting times and sometimes I could not recall what someone had said to me only moments earlier. At my worst, my mind was occupied with incessant negative thoughts about myself – which is clearly counterproductive. I may have been sitting in a meeting, and my mind would wander into negative thoughts. I couldn’t focus on anything else but this negativity.
Eventually, I did not want to be in the program any longer. But I continued with it
nonetheless. After a few more months it was winter break. I should have been happy, but instead I found myself bedridden. I spent most of the days in bed, not because of a physical ailment – but because of a mental one. The negativity inside of me was on permanent full throttle now. Imagine getting into your car, putting it in neutral, and then putting your foot down on the gas all the way. The engine is revving so hard that it sounds like it could break, but the car isn’t going anywhere. This is what my mind and my life had become. My mind was working in overdrive to the point of self-destruction, but I was not making progress. The fact that I was in bed, unable to do much of anything, only reinforced the negative thoughts I had had – that I was truly not going to be able to continue with the program.
As a simple example of just how bad things were, I found it difficult to do a basic task such as brushing my teeth – even this took all of my energy to accomplish. Sometimes I would feel good that I had managed to do this on my own, and then I would go back to bed and wonder: If this is what I have stooped to, how will I ever continue with this graduate program? How will I ever finish my degree? If brushing my teeth is difficult, how can I learn advanced statistics and manage undergraduate students, or even show up to meetings or classes?
I thought seriously about whether it was even worth it to continue. But I somehow realized that my mind wasn’t working properly, and I didn’t feel qualified to make such a big decision in that state of mind, so I didn’t quit.
In reality, the program was becoming less of a concern – my life itself was now my biggest problem. If I continued to deteriorate at this rate, I would have much bigger problems than just finishing a graduate program.
After this lowest of lows, spending most of my days in bed, I decided to finally get some help and I went to my doctor. I was given some tests, and he explained that I had major depressive disorder and dysthymia. He prescribed some antidepressants and he told me to start seeing a clinical psychologist to receive some counseling. He said that in my deeply depressed state, it was critical that I take the medication and attend the counseling. Either one alone would not be sufficient.
After a few weeks of following the treatment, I was well enough to function again. I could do basic tasks, but it was still a struggle to operate at the higher level that the graduate program required.
After a few months, I was doing fine. I was no longer overwhelmed by a self-created negativity, and I was able to do all of my work without much trouble.
The true healing would take many years, however. The medication and therapy helped to reset my mind and body, but I was not truly healed. I still needed to learn to control my mind to prevent this from ever happening again.
After a couple of years on the treatment plan, with the aid of my doctor and therapist, I stopped taking the medication and I stopped going to counseling. I felt the need to do this so that I could control my own destiny fully. I wanted to be sure that I was the master of my own mind, and that I didn’t need to rely on either medication or counseling. I intuitively knew that I didn’t need it – my biggest problem was a self-created negativity, and therefore I could learn to control it.
In the months after stopping treatment I didn’t feel worse, but I still didn’t feel happy, or like I was on a path that I looked forward to pursuing. I wasn’t overwhelmed with negativity, but I didn’t view this alone as a true success. It’s as much of a success as you would say being absent of pain is a success.
The achievement of not being profoundly empty or sad just wasn’t enough. There needed to be more to life than just this. I wanted something more. As an important note, if you want to stop taking a medication or stop a counseling program, be sure to discuss this with your medical and counseling professionals first. There can be great risks with stopping either one suddenly, depending on your situation.
The above section was an excerpt from my book, 7 Thoughts to Live Your Life By: A Guide to the Happy, Peaceful, & Meaningful Life - available on Amazon, Google Play, other major retailers, in paperback, and on your preferred online audiobook retailer. In the book, I discuss a system of thinking for helping us to overcome whatever it is that we feel is holding us back.
I had to hit rock bottom before I finally had the epiphany that helped me to turn my life around. If there is something holding you back right now, or you would like to learn to use the power of your Thoughts to lift you higher, then I recommend that you read the book.
All the best, Issac “I. C.” Robledo
P. S., Did you like what you read here? If so, please share with a friend.
DWC's comment: I rarely have guest posts, but this one, by author/engineer I.C. Robledo, is too good to miss. See his books at amazon.com, too.