School. Family problems. Social media. Careers. Overthinking. Friends, or lack thereof. Sometimes the stress can be so overwhelming that only one of those delicious crying sessions (you know the kind where you’re huddled under the blankets of a dark room while your sad playlist serenades you, and afterward you feel reborn) can set you free. “Crying it out” is definitely okay, and a fantastic feeling. However, many of us have been in the position at least once in our lives in which not even letting it all out can bring us back to the light. Yes, it sounds angsty, but it is true: sometimes joy loses meaning in depression, anxiety, generally overthinking, and other mental illnesses.

Mental illness is a difficult, but very real, subject. I have dealt with depression and anxiety on and off for approximately six years. Most people that know me would never guess considering I try my hardest to be optimistic and live my life to make others happy. However, in giving so much to other people, I often forget to give back to myself. So—without getting too into detail—I have experienced some pretty dark times. Still, no matter how many times I may have wished that I would disappear, I am here. And thank goodness that I am.

If you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or a panic attack, here is my message to you: you’ve made it this far. Take in-breaths through your nose for four seconds, and out for six seconds. Visualize the negative energy leaving your nostrils so that the in-breath may give way to an influx of positive energy. The breath is always my go-to during anxiety attacks. If the anxiety level prevents you from controlling your breathing, simply focus on being with me here and now for the rest of this paragraph.  You’ve made it this far. 

Now, focus on making it through the next five minutes. Try naming the different colors that you notice around your bedroom. This exercise occupies your mind on an active thought. Then, picture the faces of those you love in your mind. Imagine a warm summer sun bathing your face in golden heat while a soft breeze plays with your hair and the grass embraces your bare feet. Taste your favorite foods. Feel the cold side of a flipped pillow or a fresh drink of water when you wake in the middle of the night. Touch the warm heap of clothes fresh out of the dryer. Smell the earth just after a storm. Let your pets climb into your lap and lick your face no matter how badly their breath smells. Return to your breath—in for four seconds and out for six seconds. You’ve made it this far. Open your mind to the possibility that every crappy day can be matched with a flourishing garden, box of your favorite candy, or any other beauty of life that has ever crossed your path. If negative thoughts crawl back into your mind’s space, picture yourself in a canoe in the middle of a shallow river. As you drag your fingers along the surface of the water, a stick or leaf will occasionally bump into your fingertips, interrupting your flowing thoughts. Pick up the stick, examine the branch for what it is, and acknowledge the fact that while it is part of the river, it does not have the power to stop the flow of the entire spring. Then, place the stick back into the water and let it float away without bother. In this case, the river is your thought process and the stick is any negative thought that may threaten to interrupt your peace of mind. Accept that the bothersome thought is part of your life, but put it into the perspective of time and grandeur, assessing how much that negativity will actually affect your life. Then, let the thought pass you by as better things come floating alongside you. You’ve made it this far. 

Once you get through the first paragraph, and the first five minutes, expand your meditation time to ten minutes. Twenty minutes. One day. Two days. One week. When you find yourself creeping back toward a dark mindset, return to the breath and recognize that pain is as temporary or as permanent as we allow it. There is value to this life. I choose to believe that my struggles make the joy infinitely more enjoyable. Of course, even I have a difficult time listening to my own advice occasionally, but I have to hold on to hope for the sake of the goodness that still exists in this life. Take a deep breath. You are doing wonderfully. You’ve made it this far.

My struggle with mental illness is not yet over, but instead of letting its effects control me, I am learning coping skills in order to take back my life. While I usually despise crying in front of others or receiving help for fear of looking “weak,” I am teaching myself that my pain does not make me weak. My mother strives to instill in me the belief that strength is not how many times you fall, but how many times you gather the power to stand back up against your pain. I am learning to love myself and to accept love from others. This process is extremely difficult and takes significant time. However, I choose to believe that it is not impossible. Returning to mental health is a conscious choice; it is a difficult choice, but a choice nevertheless. There are countless resources to heighten your path to happiness, including therapists, school counselors, friends, dogs, music, medication, and so forth. Accept that sometimes you may need a little help to get your mind where it needs to be in order to live your best life. You are not weak. You are not worthless. You are loved. You are valuable. You are strong.

Remember, you have made it this far. Don’t give up now.

Love & Light,

Jordan Cardell