The pillow was cold, not because I flipped it but because my window wasn’t well insulated. What could you expect from a psych ward in the middle of the winter in Buffalo, NY?
It was the second time I checked myself into an in-patient program for being suicidal in a period of just four months. I thought I would be married and have a couple of kids by age 30, but I guess I had to settle for not offing myself…
Improving my mental health was my part-time job for 6 years at that point, literally. I had spent over $60,000 and used over 30 tools in order to improve my depression, sleeping disorder, and bipolar disorder – only to find myself in a worse position from where I started.
Instead of investing my disposable income into my 401k or going on vacations with friends, my excess time and capital were spent on 10-day silent meditation retreats, Tony Robbins seminars, Ketamine Therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressants, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, yoga teacher training, and breathwork – just to name a few.
“Why did you try to act on suicide Peter?” asked the counselor.
“I had a manic episode, quit my job, and didn’t want to have to move in with my mom at age 30,” I said with dejection.
My response was a half-lie. It was because I was going insane. Not hearing voices insane, but insane like Einstein would say; “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The torture wasn’t coming from the fact that I had suffered in the past, it came from the fact that the suffering kept increasing no matter how hard I tried to fix it. It felt as if the greater effort I exerted the more force pushing back only got heavier.
Hope seemed juvenile at this point.
Imagine you spent the better part of a decade applying for your first job and only got less far in the process as time went on. At some point, you’re going to say “I’m going to be unemployed for the rest of my life.”
If Things Are Getting Better, Why Aren’t They Getting Better?
Arguably, mental health has never been less stigmatized. Gone are the days of public shame for buying a personal development book or telling your friends and family you’re in counseling.
You can’t spend 10 minutes on the internet without coming across famous authors or regular people expressing the pain they are in or the tools they are using to improve their mental well-being like ice baths, meditation, or talk therapy.
Self-help seminars like Unleash the Power Within have only exploded in popularity – going from hundreds of attendees in the 80s to now tens of thousands filling literal sports arenas. The rate of antidepressants or SSRI prescriptions has only gone up and to the right.
We’ve come a long way since the ’50s, yet something is not adding up
For the first time in human history, more people are dying by killing themselves than from wars and natural disasters combined.
What in the actual fuck? We have more material abundance than at any other time in human history, mental health is destigmatized, the tools are countless, and yet people are choosing the offramps at a record pace. Depression, substance abuse, and anxiety haven’t been irradicated – the exact opposite, they are on the rise.
What if we were missing something? What if the Mental Health Elephant in the room wasn’t the epidemic, instead what if the real question we are all afraid to ask out loud is; “why aren’t the tools working?” or “what if we’re missing something?”
If psychoanalysis, your Headspace app, and medications were the only tools needed for healing, then why aren’t they healing us?
I believe it’s because mental health and emotional health are intertwined and we’re all over-indexing on the mind. Emotional health is mental health and vice versa. That’s the elephant.
The Ego Is The Addiction, and Your Emotions Are The Way
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
Don’t mistake me, I’m not here to say those who suffer from mental health are imagining their pain – it’s sure as shit real, believe me, I lived it. I’m saying it’s the ego’s fault. Not your ego. Or my ego. The ego.
Not ego as in pride or inflated sense of self, but attachment to the monkey mind. The narrative that’s perpetually blaring in our heads. That’s the real addiction. That’s the foe.
Mental health catastrophe happened to me as a result of being perpetually attached to the story in my head, and not being able to bring my awareness back into my body where my emotions and physical sensations kept building up.
This conditioning prevents you from feeling your emotions and internal sensations which build up. If you can, in real-time, be aware of your emotions, express them, and release them then the ego will tone down.
My emotions were the poor-quality soil, and my ego was the overgrown weeds that kept sprouting from their toxic environment.
The reason why egos are so overgrown is the build-up of suppressed emotions, the clinical word for this is trauma. Most of us are suffering from micro-PTSD as a result of poor emotional health – it’s the water we swim in, and most of the fish don’t realize they are wet, or even what water is.
All Roads Lead Back To Suppressed Emotions
All roads led back to suppressed emotions, at least for me it did.
Let’s draw a parallel between mental health and physical health. You have your upper body (mindset & beliefs) and your lower body (emotions). Neglecting your emotional health is like skipping leg day.
It will lead to imbalance, the potential for injury, and you’ll be less stable.
In my ongoing 7.5-year quest to improve my mental health, I kept hearing over and over, from reputable sources in the space like Dr. Nicole LePera (The Holistic Psychologist), that you need to feel your suppressed emotions and then release them. I felt as if a personal trainer was telling me “Peter don’t you dare forget to squat and deadlift”. The problem was I had no idea where the squat rack was let alone how to work on my legs until I had my breakthrough.
How To Reframe The Situation
I don’t think it’s a Mental Health elephant, I think it’s an Emotional & Mental Health elephant, and as a society, we’re not at the point of calling it out yet, or even at a place of understanding – at least not for the majority of people.
The vast majority of people have suppressed emotions (trauma) that they are unaware of and it’s the direct cause of suicide, depression, and addiction.
We’re all skipping leg day.
So what’s a gym bro like me to do?
I’m continuing to squat with tools like Somatic Experiencing, journaling, and emotional release.
Since leaving the psych ward and shifting my approach I’ve:
- Lost 25 pounds
- Haven’t touched porn in 7 months
- Had the healthiest and longest romantic relationship in my life
- Landed my favorite job and the highest income I’ve ever earned
- Wrote at least 250 words consistently for 12 months straight
- Gained 5 pounds of muscle
- Went from distracted & anxious to calm and happy on a daily basis
I guess this is my attempt to make leg day sexy i.e. bring awareness to our imbalances and emotional health neglect.
Can you see the elephant now?