Shortly after being diagnosed with a mental illness, my coach/friend/mentor/obi-wan-figure, Steve, said the following:
“Most people are trying to go from a one to a ten, when they’re not even in the positive numbers. They’re at a negative seven, and they need to focus on getting to zero. We need to get you to zero.”
I knew exactly what he meant. I was a week into adjusting to psychiatric medication, on medical leave, and spending most of each day curled up in a ball on the inviting cushions of an overused la-z-boy. But here I was, talking to him about how I needed to start writing, how I wanted to find a higher paying job, how I wanted to be a better husband/father/leader, how I planned to rebuild strained relationships, and on and on.
His point was that those things, while good, could wait. Find a better job later. Focus on getting healthy now.
Nobody wants to be told that they need to get to zero first. Getting to zero isn’t sexy. There’s no montage music. No running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and pumping your fists in the air.
It’s more like learning how to swim when you’re drowning.
I know what it’s like to be drowning in depression, and I have this deep-rooted fear I’m going to find out that you were drowning too and I didn’t know. I’m confident the chances I wouldn’t know are pretty high. Negative sevens are almost never negative sevens on the outside.
We spend so much time pretending to be what we’re not. As soon as we’re old enough to be socially aware there’s a tendency to present a “better” version of ourselves. We want to fit in, but the version of us that we’re submitting for approval is a farce. Like a haunted house with a fresh coat of paint and a perfectly manicured lawn, indistinguishable from the neighbors, but something’s not right when you look through the window.
It’s okay to focus on getting to zero. It’s okay to tell people you’re at a negative seven, or eight, or nine. It’s okay to direct all of your limited energy to just surviving. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No one to impress. Do what you need to do.
Get to zero.