I was lying on a thin blue mattress — the kind we used to give to suspects in police cells when I was a police officer. I knew how criminals felt now because I was incarcerated for the first time — in a mental hospital.
The similarities didn’t stop there. I was treated as subhuman as if I was beneath the contempt of the staff. As I stared at the ceiling, with the door open so anyone could walk in (not great for paranoia), and the nurses were cackling down the corridor, I felt an awful claustrophobia. I was imprisoned behind three double-locked doors, and my freedom had been taken, yet I’d done nothing wrong.
If I didn’t get control of my PTSD and depression, this would be my life from now on.
The mental health system is unfit for purpose. I needed them for medication but had to do the rest alone. I had to find coping mechanisms so I never returned to this vision of hell.
. . .
1. Exercise isn’t just for the body.
I used to work out six days a week: weight training and Karate. The first year I started taking medication, I gained 90 lbs. I could hardly keep my eyes open and spent the year in a daze, slurring my words and falling asleep wherever I sat.
My ability to exercise had been cruelly taken away, but now I was on new meds and knew the importance of exercise for mental health. Working out doesn’t just improve the body. After exercise, I feel calmer, focused, and optimistic.
So the first thing on my agenda when I got out of the hospital, was to get back to working out three days a week.
. . .
2. Take control.
I knew I was alone, with my family but no real professional support. So I started hunting for a purpose. I tried poker, games like League of Legends and Chess. I studied Japanese, began reading, studied trading and investing, and began learning to write.
I knew I’d be motivated to get up in the morning if I had a purpose. I could then work on improving myself through my interests. This would lead to better self-esteem, which has a positive ripple effect throughout life.
. . .
3. Avoid the biggest killer.
This one was tough for me. If I’m honest, I don’t like people in general. I try to avoid most of them; if I lived on a remote island, it would be my idea of heaven. Yet I also knew the importance of having a few trusted loved ones to provide a soft place to fall, and we all need at least a little human contact.
For me, my saviors were my mum and girlfriend. They stuck with me through my worst times. I can tell them anything, and no matter how bad I feel, they make me feel better.
You don’t need an army of friends — I doubt that’s possible. But total loneliness is a killer.
. . .
4. Can you handle time alone?
The reverse is also true — you must be ok with time alone. For a long time, I was scared to be alone. My Schizophrenia and PTSD symptoms would kick into overdrive.
I remember my girlfriend had to go away for a few days. After she left, I curled into a ball on the floor and sobbed. I felt pathetic — a grown man who used to be a police officer was now crying on the floor because he was terrified of being alone.
But over time, I adapted. I don’t like being on my own, but I cope just fine when it occurs. My symptoms are under control.
. . .
5. Always look for the next challenge.
This ties in with taking control and finding interests. It would have been so easy for me to retreat into my comfort zone. I could have stayed on the sofa, slurring my words and drifting in and out of consciousness until I died. My life would have been one big wasted opportunity.
So every day, I do something to push myself. Day Trading doesn’t come easy to me, but I push myself hard to overcome its psychological barriers. Writing is hard, but I push myself to write with the same enthusiasm when ten people read an article as when 10 thousand people read it.
At the end of each day, I recall what I’ve improved. I aim to make minor improvements in my life every single day.
. . .
6. Quality vs quantity.
It’s tough when medication ruins your metabolic system, changes how the body stores fat, and gives you 24/7 sugar cravings. Yet it also keeps me sane, and although the toll on my body has been huge in many ways, staying sane makes it worth it.
My life expectancy may be shorter, but the quality of life will be better, and I’m less likely to die by my own hand — which would have made my life even shorter.
Although I have bad habits, I try to counter them with good ones. Yes, I’m overweight. But I no longer drink a drop of alcohol. Yes, I drink too much Diet Pepsi, but I’ve never smoked and now exercise 3 times a week.
I’m in the process of stacking more good habits. Some days I fast now until the evening and only eat one meal. I’m also reducing the diet Pepsi. I have to build up slowly, or I know I’ll quit.
. . .
7. The only way to escape your problems.
Helping others is the one way you can get out of your head. To sit on your own, ruminating about your problems makes them worse. When you focus on others, you give your brain a rest and are more likely to find a solution.
Other people’s problems can also put yours into perspective. I’ve seen people cut themselves to ribbons in despair. I’ve dealt with the most horrific cases of abuse.
Suffering must never be reduced to a competition of who has it worse. But the realization that others are struggling, sometimes with serious problems, can be sobering.
. . .
8. Work smarter, not harder.
Policing is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. It’s at the root of all my mental health problems. I used to have to work 12-hour shifts, guard scenes of unimaginable horror, often for hours in the rain. I was lied to, assaulted, threatened, and had to fight for my life more than once.
For what I did, I was poorly paid.
Now I trade and write from my computer, in my pajamas. Not too long ago, I made a thousand pounds in 30 seconds. It’s not always like that, but I now work much less and smarter for more money.
You’ll never get rich cleaning up the dregs of society in policing. You can get rich from the comfort of your own home in many ways.
. . .
From a plastic mattress to a king-size bed.
The steps above will help anyone struggling with anxiety and wanting to be as self-reliant as possible. I’ve pressure tested them in the depths of mental illness and turned my life around. They will work for you too.
I’m far from the mental hospital and the thin plastic mattress now. It’s 2 am, and I’m about to retire to my king-size bed, thinking how grateful I am that my life turned around.
I still have bad days — some are bleak. But thanks to the steps above, I don’t get stuck in those bad times.
If I can do it — everyone can.
This post was previously published on Publishous.
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