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In July of 2016 I survived a severe suicide attempt 3,000 miles away from home on what was supposed to be a vacation. I was held in the famed New York Bellevue hospital for an extended stay and I couldn't imagine a more accurate metaphor to explain how far my mind traveled away from me. There are few things in life that can shake you to core than being held in a 200-year-old mental hospital. So imagine rock bottom, then look lower. This is a "scared straight" moment when there was a choice to be made, recover, or continue on my destructive path.
Immediately after my return home, the road to recovery began, which included a therapist, psychiatrist, and meds. I would contend that my therapist offered my most lasting help through recovery. In a therapy session it was suggested that I should consider changing my behavioral habits in an effort to change my way of thinking over time.
Maybe it was my obsessive personality, but my mind fixated on creating new habits wherever I could. I owed the people who saved my life that much effort at least. It was also a way to keep myself busy without knowing exactly what I was working towards. Through depression, one can feel like the weight of their immediate world is too much to bear and nothing done can change the mounting pressures. Once I began to set extremely micro-oriented tasks and taking pride in those minor victories, the process became clear.
It began small, if I was used to waking up at 8:30 AM and laying around until ten, then I would choose to set my alarm for six AM and take a walk around the neighborhood. I was used to skipping breakfast, so I forced myself to eat eggs and sausage. The search for new habits grew to the choice of restaurants I ate at, what TV shows I watched and I stopped drinking for six months. My reasons weren’t clear originally, but each small decision I chose something new, it prepared me to learn how to choose life for myself rather than living on auto-pilot.
Those baby steps prepared me to learn how swim outside of my comfort zone. When one is wallowing inside the depth of depression and suffering from crippling anxiety the smallest choices can be paralyzing. My effort toward breaking every habit small or large led me to a new place of comfort, one which I accepted re-entering the workforce after being a business owner. It led me to change the area I lived in. It allowed me accept life after my fiancé, the primary cause of my depression.
I propose for the person wondering where to begin rebuilding their life, start microscopic small. Choose a different meal for lunch than you normally would tomorrow and drive home from work on a different route. Once the habit of fresh choices sets in and the world doesn’t end (because it won’t), your new favorite habit will be making choices that make you happy, not the poorly programmed auto-pilot setting.
While the concept is simple, the practice is hard. I learned to be diligent and conscious of my choices over time through the small decisions, but I also learned to be uncompromising in matters of happiness and life comfort.
In time, those recovering and searching for happiness will eventually have to choose how to remove toxic relationships or how to leave a job or industry which is all they know. Then you will have to repeat this exercise multiple times. Building the foundation of breaking small boundaries of habit will allow you to learn how to choose a life you want, protect your choice, and how to keep the auto-pilot feature turned off.