When I was in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with a mental health disorder called “Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder.” It is a diagnosis that I have never entirely accepted or fully embraced.
In general, I have always gone through phases of depression, anxiety, and stress. Conversely, I rarely experienced the symptoms of hypomania often associated with the disorder. I would just call that “a good day.”
I’ve always believed the diagnosis was wrong, and when I took them, drugs and pills never seemed to help. In fact, most often, the side effects were often worse than the problems they were supposed to treat.
I also felt, more often than not, that the psychiatrists pushing whatever the latest thing was the pharmaceutical companies were urging them to sell. For this, I have a deep distrust of the mental health care system, especially in the United States.
Mental Health, Self-Care and Holistic Alternatives
So in 2013, I made a conscious choice to stop taking the medications. I felt empowered to manage my health and well-being and was determined to find alternative solutions.
Consciously choosing to go off medications, I knew I would need an alternative to manage my depression, stress, and anxiety. The choice essentially kicked my spiritual awakening into high gear. It started me down the path of seeking a holistic alternative to mainstream psychiatric care.
I suppose that’s why breathwork resonates with me so much. The idea that we are our own medicine and can heal ourselves (mind, body, and soul) speaks to me. I have found a holistic alternative to traditional psychiatric treatment with pills and medication through conscious breathing and meditation through breathwork that works for me.
That is, when I actually do it.
The Ugly Truth of Neglect: MORE Self-Care and Shadow Work
The most obvious solution for me is to create a daily routine of exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, and breathwork. But the truth is, for the better part of the last seven years, I haven’t been making these activities a consistent part of my daily routine.
And as a consequence of not managing my self-care, I have had to pay a heavy price. It has affected almost every single relationship in my life. I think I’ve pushed almost everyone away.
When my emotional cycles reach their extremes, it usually manifests in unnecessarily intense emotional reactions to other people’s behaviors.
I am most easily triggered when someone says they are going to do something, and for whatever reason, they don’t (or choose not to) honor their word.
I’ve always had a, possibly, unrealistic, expectation of people: honor your word—say what you mean and mean what you say. In my mind, it seems like basic, common sense. I’ve learned that not everyone shares this belief system. And, I’ve been told many times not to expect anything from anyone.
Rooted in abandonment issues stemming from my early childhood, I get easily triggered when someone doesn’t follow through on something they say, and the downward spiral repeats. It’s a pattern that’s repeated many, many times over and over again. And lately, it seems to happen faster and with more intensity.
Ultimately, the consequence is that I have pushed many people away, hurt many people in my life, and I end up finding myself isolated and alone. One person I know has even said to me: “Jason, your crazy. You’re wrestling with your demons. And you need to seek professional help.”
Are they right? Perhaps.
It seems to me, if someone authentically and genuinely cares about you, their response would probably be quite different. If someone truly cares about you, that person would show a little more compassion and concern instead of judgment and condescension. And, if that’s how they are treating you, they probably aren’t someone you want in your life anyway.
That said, I know one thing for sure: I am not a victim.
Shadow Work, Self-Care and the Path to Mental Healing
Recently, I’ve found myself once again in this downward spiral. And again, I’ve found myself feeling isolate and alone. It’s sad, and it hurts. Fortunately, it’s given me a lot of time to go inward and self-reflect. It’s also been a great time to go inward again and focus on what changes I need to make to improve my quality of life.
One thing that has become abundantly clear is this—I have nobody to blame but myself. And I am now fully aware, the road to recovery comes with specific responsibilities—that I have been neglecting for many years.
By not putting a daily routine of exercise, meditation, and a healthy diet into practice, I have neglected to take care of my body and, consequently, my mental health and well-being.
I wish that I could go back and undo the mistakes I’ve made, take back the hurtful things I said in those times when I was disappointed, hurt, or angry. But the reality is, it’s in the past, and I can’t change that.
Fortunately, I am still alive, and I have my health. I still have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and resolve to make the necessary changes to live a healthier, happier life—mind, body, and soul.
Another truth I’ve come to realize is that for the better part of the last two years, mainly because of this global pandemic, I haven’t been living.
Ironically (and fortunately), I haven’t gotten COVID, thank god, but this pandemic has only exacerbated my existing condition. Some days, it feels like I’ve just been sitting around, waiting to die.
Don’t worry, and I have no desire to commit suicide. Honestly, the thought has crossed my mind, but, I will admit, the truth is, I don’t have the guts to follow through with it. Fortunately, while some days are harder than others, I also recognize that I am starting to take the necessary steps, albeit small, to start caring for myself.
In times of depression, stress, sadness, anxiety, and fear, I often shut down, and I go into these periods of introspecting reflection and isolation. I am learning that I have to make a conscious choice and stick with it if I genuinely want to change my life.
To live a life of abundance, joy, and happiness, I realize I will have to commit to doing the necessary work for a healthier lifestyle. For me, that means creating a new routine—quitting smoking, drinking less coffee, eating better, exercising, doing yoga, sleeping better, and making breathwork and meditation a daily practice.
The path to recovery is slow, day by day. And many days are not so great. I find myself often slipping into my comfortable habits and routines of negative thinking and unhealthy behaviors.
I am intelligent, creative, compassionate, empathetic, and loving. I have a good heart, and I’m a good, decent human being. I’ve got this! Right?
After four years of living abroad in Mexico, I have done a lot of the inner work of healing. I have grown, and I am proud of myself. It takes courage to live in a foreign country, to learn a new language and culture. It’s worth noting here some of the accomplishments I have achieved.
Shadow Work: When the Teacher Becomes the Student
The teacher/healer in me has found this call to help others realize their full potential and create a life they love. I believe you are your own medicine, and you create our reality. I also think it is your birthright to choose the kind of life you want to live.
Without exception, I believe every one of us deserves the opportunity to realize our full potential and live a life filled with joy, happiness, and abundance. But, I am learning it takes will, commitment, discipline, and consistency to make lasting change sustainable in our lives.
Sometimes I can be very hard on myself—if you hadn’t noticed by now. And, as a teacher/healer, I’ve been “preaching” these things for some time. I’ve done so because I now realize I am the person in my life that needs to hear it most. One benefit of teaching and helping others heal is that I’ve learned I am also healing myself.
For better or worse, the global pandemic has forced me to take a hard look at my truth. Another way to describe this is called “shadow work.”
Shadow work involves getting in touch with the parts of yourself that you’ve repressed — or what many might refer to as their “dark side.” And honestly, shadow work sucks, period. It’s not fun having to face your ugly truths.
Managing mental health, especially during the global pandemic the last year and a half, hasn’t been easy. These have been challenging times for all of us. The blessing of this experience is that it has forced each one of us to go inward and take a hard look at ourselves, including me.
Finally, this experience has taught me something fundamental, for which I am incredibly grateful: I am worthy and deserving of a life full of love, joy, happiness, and abundance. And, frankly, my friend, so are you!