Things can and do get better.
After a lot of self-work, resilience, and a willingness to explore your pain, you can start making real progress with your mental health. I have, and it feels pretty crazy.
When this does happen, it can feel weird. Scary even. When you’ve been in turmoil for so long, feeling better can seem like someone is playing a trick on you, so you spend your time waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You say to yourself, “there’s no way this could possibly last.”
I’m at that stage now, and I’m figuring out how to adjust to it. Here's what I've learned:
Accept That You Will Regress
After you’ve made progress, you want to believe that there is no going back to the old you and that all your pain is in the past.
No matter how far you’ve come, you can still slip back into your old ways every now and then. I do. Maybe you go back to feeling scared. Or the feelings you thought you overcame well up again. Or you pick up an old vice.
If you’re having a bad day, remember that healing from anything is a messy process. It’s a dynamic play between personal insights, courage, retreat, failure, and forgiveness. It’s not a straight shot.
What matters most is overall progress. You want to set your intentions correctly and do your best to stay on that path. As long as your trajectory is positive, regressions won’t stop you.
Stay Focused and Maintain Good Habits to Keep Feeling Better
The wisdom you earn from your healing process stays with you forever. But you need to do your best to immerse yourself in the things that keep you elevated. You need to maintain whatever lifestyle keeps you healthy and well.
This could mean several things:
- You commit to eating well, resting well, and exercising well. You iron these activities into your life because you know they improve your health and make you feel more alive.
- You try to face old fears whenever you can. If you’re afraid to open up, try being more honest with people. If you have bad social anxiety, try to make a habit of talking to people on a daily basis.
- You stay away from the people who harmed you, even if they’re your old friends, and they want to see you again.
- You avoid drugs and alcohol if you’ve had problems with them in the past.
Think in terms of newness. Your new life is not going to be the same as your old painful life, so you need to do things that reinforce that newness.
Lean Into Feeling Happy
My mental health was in the garbage for most of my 20s. I’m 29 now, and I still feel hesitant to say things are better for me. But I know it’s the truth. I just have trouble leaning into it.
Letting yourself be happy feels like a risk. You have to decide that even if there’s a chance of losing your happiness, you’re still going to allow yourself to feel it. Not push it away, or worry about losing it, but feel it as it is.
Psychologist Brené Brown says that leaning into joy, even when you know it could be taken from you, is a brave way to live. She writes:
To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees — these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.
I’m trying to surrender my control over happiness. I’m trying to lean into it as it comes. If you numb yourself from pain, you numb yourself from joy as well.
Remember Where You Came From
It can be hard to have an accurate perspective of who you are and where you came from. So you need to step back. You need to appreciate how far you’ve come. You need to find gratitude, not just for the things you have, but for things you’ve done.
I suck at practicing gratitude. I’ve never made it a priority. And I know I’m doing myself a disservice that way. But what I have had are flash realizations of how different things are in my life.
Some of my deepest moments of self-appreciation came from looking back at old challenges. And that’s coming from a person who’s never appreciated himself.
If you’re doubting yourself, remember that you can’t argue with historical facts. You did get through bad times. You did things you didn’t think you could do. Knowing this, you can do the most important thing…
Even if things get bad again, you can handle it.
You’ve proven that you can swim hard enough to poke your head out of the riptide and gasp a breath. You have a deeper knowledge of yourself than you ever had. To me, self-trust is the most important component of feeling better.
Pain and trauma can divide a person from themselves. You treat yourself like abusers treated you, or you hold a grudge against yourself for not being good enough, or you refuse to forgive mistakes you made when you were young and naive.
How could it be possible to feel better if you didn’t trust yourself?
We’re in Foreign Territory
Feeling good, or at the very least, feeling stable, could be entirely new to you.
Not feeling awful every moment of the day is certainly new to me. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get used to it, or that you have to be paranoid about when things are going to get bad again.
You have to make the brave step and embrace the well-being you’ve created. And if it fails, you’ll be there to handle it. After all you’ve been through, you’ll know what to do.
- Accept that you’ll still have bad days and weak moments. And that’s ok.
- Maintain the habits that keep your mind as healthy as possible.
- Be vulnerable enough to lean into joy without worrying it away.
- Appreciate how far you’ve come.
- Trust that you can handle anything life throws at you.
I’m apprehensive to even type this, but, let’s keep discovering how good things can get.