ESSAY

Week 2

Becoming Myself

by Jack Runnels

In December of 2015, I suffered a mental breakdown. For several years before that, I spiraled deeper and deeper into depression. I felt like an actor in a play—a robot with no emotions. I was just going through the motions of life so that I would be seen by others as “normal.” Meanwhile, inside, I had been emotionally dead for years. At some point, I cracked. It was too damn hard to fake living a life that no longer offered any meaning.

My thoughts were racing so fast that I felt like I had gone insane, that I had finally gone off the deep end and would never return, that I had finally lost my mind. I felt that there was no way to continue living a life that others would see as normal. I felt like there was nothing that I could do. At this point, I had lost my marriage, my house, all of my money, my job, and any hope of anything getting better.

My sister tried to convince me to check myself into a mental hospital but I felt like I couldn’t bring myself to do that. That would be admitting that I was, indeed, crazy. Or that I was powerless to change my mind or my circumstances. But I really did feel crazy. And I really did feel powerless. So I finally agreed to do it.

Right before I made the call, I tried to imagine what it would be like in the mental hospital. I imagined that I knew all of the things that they would tell me. Hadn’t I read them all before through years of studying how to be a better, happier, more authentic human? So how would going to a mental hospital help me? It wouldn’t matter if they told me all the things that would help me accept myself and live an authentic life if I still couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then I had the aha! moment. I already knew everything that I needed to know how to live an authentic life. I just never had the guts to actually do it. The only thing left that I hadn’t already tried was actually facing my fears, doing what I thought was right, and not worrying about what others thought of me. And now, at rock bottom, I had nothing left to lose. So why not actually try doing what I had always been afraid to do?

The next day I decided to risk being honest. Honesty is the best policy, right? We can all agree that being honest is usually the right thing to do, right? But how many of us can say that we are always honest? How many times do we just say the “right” or easy thing to avoid conflict? How many times do we lie to ourselves about what we really want to do or what we think about something because to embrace our own truth would require us to actually live it?

So I made this post on Facebook:

I'm going through some difficult times right now. I will most likely be spending a lot less time on Facebook in the coming weeks. I have a lot of very difficult tasks to face over the coming weeks and months. Your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated.

I need to take a break for a while. Part of this break is to work on improving my mental health. I'm not sure if I ever loved myself. I didn't feel worthy of love. I assumed that most of my relationships in life were because of familial obligation or pity. I never thought that I was someone else's true friend. I thought you all either felt sorry for me, or put up with me.

I need to take a break and work on becoming a better friend to myself. And today is the day that I begin working on being a better friend to others.

I had already been honest with myself about my own feelings of self-loathing and how that narrative was one that I had built in my own mind. But to make sure I stuck to facing my fears, I had shared them on Facebook. I thought that if I wrote it down and shared it, I would be more likely to do the hard work. Yes, I know I shouldn’t worry about what others think about me. But I decided to use my own fear to my advantage in this instance.

I set my phone down on the curb so that I could smoke a cigarette. What happened next shocked me beyond belief.

My phone was vibrating uncontrollably with Facebook notifications of dozens of comments on that post. And dozens of private messages—of support, encouragement, and admiration. Messages in which folks told me of how a conversation of ours had inspired them to overcome one of their own fears and take a risk—a risk that had led to a better life for them.

And since then, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve been 100% honest with myself and 99% honest with others. Hey, it’s hard to react quickly in an honest way that is loving and doesn’t hurt someone’s feelings. Especially when you’ve spent your whole life saying the “right” thing.

I’ve shared some pretty deep stuff. Many times I get private messages from folks saying that they’ve suffered the same fears, depressions, that they almost got a divorce, that they also have OCD, that they suffered imposter syndrome, or whatever.

I’ve been told by others that my courage to accept things about myself and talk about them openly has allowed them to accept things about themselves, and not feel so ashamed about having those thoughts. By taking the risk of being vulnerable we have found a mutual path into not only honesty, but also compassion.