19 ways I overcame mental illness (and how you can too)

Over the last few years I’ve had my fair share of mental illness. I’ve been a resident at the local painting academy, I’ve been prescribed the abilify, I’ve been through pain so excruciating that I’ve wanted to kill myself. Just to name a few things.

When I came out of psychiatric hospital, the first and most important message was essentially: “No one gets over this. You will be a psych patient for the rest of your life. You will depend on psychiatric drugs until you die.” Which just is not true!

Before going any further into how I overcame my mental illness, I want to share insights about my situation first.

a) When I came out of the finger paint academy, after “blowing a fuse”, my mother allowed me to stay at home for the time I needed to heel.
b) In my mothers mind, she didn’t believe I was insane. She believed in me and provided a stable environment for me to rebuild my mindset.
c) My mother had read about indigenous tribes (as if being called Cherokee wasn’t enough to point that out), and told me that when someone went through a mental breakdown, all the members of the tribe would reunite around them, and tell all the great things about the “sick” person. This served to remind them who they were, and created positive reinforcement. This is essentially what my mother did, she believed in me, and provided positive reinforcement.
d) Lack of judgement. My mother didn’t judge me while I was expressing myself (not like the psychiatrists did). Which I felt. I felt understood, I felt accepted, I felt as if nothing I could say would make me feel wrong.
e) My mother has a house where I have been permitted to stay to recover during my difficulty. This provided me freedom to get back on my feet, to experiment with what is socially acceptable, to auto-calibrate.
f) We decided that if I was going to fix my mind, I needed to fix my diet. I wasn’t eating well,
or at least, I felt energetically low all the time and couldn’t seem to fix myself.
g) I was permitted a welfare package to cope financially while I overcame my health limitations.

These conditions, which helped tremendously in alleviating the pressure, were the base-line for me to work on “my broken self”. Because lets face it, I was broken and needed repair.

1. Social calibration, or autocalibration through introspective observation.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve observed my way of connecting with others go from greatness to social reject and back again. Having a degree of introspection or retrospection allows us to observe the distance between what we want and our actuality. When its far to bridge, our actuality is uncomfortable and even painful. People look at us as if we’re a serial killer or something, as if we’d murdered their parents… But the truth is, this journey is ours, and most mistakes or lapse in social decorum won’t be remembered 5 to 10 years from now. Hell, try 2 months from now…

What I’ve observed from finger painting academies, and patients alike, is that people generally have a broken social barrier when the mind breaks down. This makes for people who stare a little too long, who say things which are a bit off, who aren’t certain of how to behave socially. Because these things aren’t as important when we’re going through a mental break-down. Our primary focus becomes what is going on within the mind, we become riveted on our wiring and why we believe what we believe (and other things too), and our social capacity goes out the window. Think rich socialite who loses his money and then has to survive and put food on the table. Suddenly the designer shoes and yachts and social gatherings with his peers aren’t that important.

Social calibration is important, because it allows us to see the distance between what we know to be functional, what is happening in actuality, what our immediate exchange is with others and what we need to do to better our social capacity. But also what we have to focus on beforehand, what thoughts we’re entertaining and why.

Though this is the last step to focus on.

2. Patience.

Whatever you’re going through, be patient. What I thought would be over in a matter of months lasted nearly 10 years. Don’t force things (I did and it made things worse). When we can be patient with ourselves, we can allow ourselves to be sick, to be down, to be inacceptable, to be an outcast and to accept where we are and what is happening to us.
We can only fix ourselves if we have enough patience.

I’ve always liked to do things now, but with my difficulties, I also became acutely aware that I needed to take my time and fix how I perceived the world and heal what I felt and this takes time.

3. Exercise.

Having an exercise routine, or even just going for walks or runs from time to time helps us to have a change of air. Sitting in the same room, or being in the same house for months on end drives us stir crazy. It’s also healthy. Exercising helps blood flow, allows us to sweat toxins, have a change of scenery and resource ourselves.

Exercising also allows us to feel good about ourselves and gives us a sense of accomplishment. Going for a walk or a run or a cycle is beneficially for our mental health.

Being driven by a sport, a form of exercise, a practice is essential for refuelling ourselves.
And God knows we need energy to get over mental illness.

4. Having something constructive to focus on.

Having a long term project to focus on helps us to distinguish personal progress, our evolution, and gives us a sense of purpose. “idle hands are the devil’s workshop“.
Having nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to focus on… This is why we feel lost.

Having something we choose, which engages our mind, that allows us to self-correct and observe our own progress. But also something that allows us to see our irregularities and mistakes in judgement or perception. Its an ongoing process that allows us to better ourselves. Having a form of work we can do, even if it isn’t payed, allows us to engage ourselves and surpass ourselves from our current condition.

Start a blog, start journaling, decide to read a book from cover to cover. Build a dog kennel, build some furniture, code an app, write a book, take a udemy course on cooking…

Having something outside of yourself that allows you to focus on it instead of being self-obsessed.

5. People to speak with.

Having people to speak to, and even use as soundboards for our own inconsistencies and irregularities who hold up the mirror for us to see ourselves is essential. It allows us to open up, feel like we’re not alone, and ultimately it helps us to forget ourselves for a minute.

Obviously, when your mental health goes out the window, most of the friends you thought were your friends also go out the window… So picking new people who are sane, healthy minded and well intending is key to rebuilding ourselves up healthy. You may have heard of the quote “You are the 5 people you surround yourself with.”. I don’t know if its 5, but picking those who you open up to is important.

5.2 Honesty and vulnerability.

If you want to get better, you need to accept that the things that trigger you are going to sting a little. So getting used to blunt honesty and letting ourselves be vulnerable and open is the fastest way to confront our wonky ways of thinking and being.

The point is, when you can be vulnerable and honest with what you’re thinking, feeling, or going through, after a while life becomes very black and white in terms of who accepts you and who doesn’t. Those who accept you will stay and even support you despite anything you’re going through, while those who don’t accept you will vanish.

6. Pattern recognition.

I’m a MBTI type INTJ and have been for a while (who knows, it might change when I become more social). For me looking at details such as thought patterns, recurrences, repetitious behaviour, lack of consciousness and so on. I will be looking for ill-based patterns, or more recently, successful patterns.

Seeking my patterns and my limitations, allows me to observe and tweak what works and doesn’t work for me.

7. A previous state in my life where everything worked well.
What was I doing in that moment in time that made me feel successful?
What were the circumstances of that moment in time that allowed me to achieve any form of greatness?
What did I do? How did I eat? How did I speak? What did I think? What were my habits? Who surrounded me?

Having a previous state where everything worked well for me, allowed me to aim for something similar and attempt the same habits and behaviours I had (or similar, as I have evolved since then.)

8. I didn’t take drugs, drink alcohol or seek to numb my pain. I focused on my health.

I’ve never really been a drug person. It just doesn’t correspond to who I am. And confronting my inner state of pain or mental torture head on demanded that I have clarity of nerve. Even if the pain felt raw, I stuck with it. At times it sucked, in fact it really felt like hell, it was unbearable. I took a few pills for sleep at first in order to sleep the depression, and the other diagnoses away. Waking up to a reality we hate, waking up to a condition we despise, is the worst feeling in the world. There is nothing like going to sleep in that moment, because sleeping is the only moment of peace we get in the face of our tortured mindset and emotional turmoil.

Ultimately, I didn’t like the idea of using any drugs long term. My dad is a pharmacist, so I got to know all about the side-affects, dependencies and effects of drugs on the body first-hand from his knowledge. At first, I found a natural tablet with lavender and other natural sleeping ingredients for when things got tough. I ended up not using them too often anyway.

This also created a sense of inner strength. Going through our own night of the soul, or years of the soul (more like), forges us to be more resilient to our emotions, but also allows our emotions to come up to the surface to be let go of, expressed, relinquished. When we go through most of our emotions, every 9 or so years we start another cycle, we get to alleviate our emotional take of the world and free our emotional attachments to things we didn’t need.

I don’t like depending on anything. As long as I was dependent on something, I felt that I was sick. And if I was sick, I wasn’t functional or optimal. So undoing any form of dependency would serve to clear my mind, my emotions and go through the sheer rawness of it all. Nothing lasts forever.

9. I looked at my psychological patterns and psychological inheritance (schemas passed down from older family members or entourage).

Looking at my childhood, I was able to perceive specific faulty wiring and beliefs which, had come in the way of my sanity. The truth is, for me at least, it’s about emotional relinquishment. When we go through certain emotions from the past, they bring up certain thoughts from the past. When we can vanquish the feeling, we can question the thought.
If we can question the thought we can ponder if it serves us or not.

Of course, this is harder said than done, because going through emotions requires that we become conscious of our emotions. And if you were brought up anything like me (with a mother who’d run from conflict or emotional expression, and a father who’d be confrontative and even belligerent and critical), emotions simply weren’t a thing.

So, finding a way to express my emotions, finding what triggers me, finding ways to cry, finding ways to let go, served for me to compare my models with others who were more sane and functional.

When we can revisit our trauma’s, we can also let go of the power they hold over us. And a lot of the time, the traumas we thought were so bad in the moment were actually only our perception of the moment which stuck with us.

10. I found ways to alleviate my emotional pressure cooker.

We all repress emotions to a certain extent in order to simply function in the type of society we live in today. But this also means that we accumulate or compound our emotions and don’t confront certain psychological stresses we’re confronted with. In other words, we just get on. The problem with this is that bottling up emotions has a last date of consumption. If we don’t deal with our mental patterns, habits or express our emotions asap, they will lead to a moment of emotional saturation or worse psychiatric internment.

It isn’t that you’re crazy, but that you’re dealing with too many things at once, it’s like paperwork. Hence why it’s important that we deal with what we’re going through asap, as early as possible in life, so that we can actually just get on with the rest. I’m a doer and someone who needs to be on the move climbing a wall, a mountain, or surpassing myself somehow, so having to sit quietly with myself for a long period of time was a harsh thing to do. Though it ultimately payed its ROI, I enjoy being with me now, which means that I’m more enjoyable to be around and also see life more clearly.

11. I uncovered I had a sexual addiction.

I knew I had a sexual dependency when I was younger but I surpassed it. So I knew it was possible to do it again. Only this time, I had an addiction I needed to deconstruct and then address my daily routines for health and fitness.

The problem with sexual addiction is that it depletes your body, makes you anxious, makes you lethargic, and prevents you from making anything of yourself. My problem was that my sexual addiction was maintained by a sense of identity I needed to let go of…

12. I let go of the version of myself I thought I needed to be.

When we go through hard times in life, we construct beliefs, identities, opinions about how we need to deal with life. We become set in stone. Ultimately, this leads us to become stuck.

In my situation, I had developed an alter-ego. This actually held me back from making money, being healthy, finding a girlfriend, surpassing myself, becoming anything other than what I thought would save me. The way I identified kept me weak, unhealthy and antisocial, not to mention fearful of the world around me.

If you want something different sometimes you have to burn the boats. Hell, burn the island if you need to. But create a reason to swim towards another destination than the one where you are.

By letting go of what I wasn’t, I allowed myself to become everything that I am, I allowed myself to use my full potential.

13. Use peoples judgements against them.

If you’re going through something difficult and you feel you need to share it, share it. Don’t be afraid that the person will judge you and run off. As I said in point 5.2, “those who will judge you will vanish”. That’s fine. When we express things that could make people judge us, we ultimately hold power. Because by sharing our burden, those who judge us get stuck on what we said and then run off with it. They lighten our load so to speak.

On my younger travels, I once met this woman who told me that we could say anything to a stranger and we had to be more careful of our entourage. Not because our entourage is bad, but because we have to live with our entourage. We don’t shit on our own doorstep.
Sharing our difficulties with people we’ll never see again, as with travel, is a great way to experiment with how we feel, express what we’re going through, and even let go of ideas we no longer need to carry around with us. Just one word, be gentle and careful, what we put out in the world is what the world gives back. Even if they judge you, you want to maintain a certain standard for who you want to become.

14. Don’t be afraid of being messy in your expression, in your emotions, in what you’re going through.

I believe it’s Shrek who said “it’s better out than in”. The same is true of our psychological difficulties and problematic patterns. When we can express them, let them out, shed light on them, we can then move on. The worst thing we can do is keep our difficulties to ourselves and let them fester and gather mold. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want mold growing within me.

Make a mess, you’ll be surprised. The worst you can do actually isn’t that bad. This is equal to making mistakes, when we fail and make mistakes or “missed takes”, we fail to achieve a goal or we fail to do something. If we don’t allow ourselves to fail because we believe we need to be perfect, we prevent ourselves from doing anything.

15. I became picky about what I put in my mind (and who I let into my life).

When it comes to my mental digestion, I’ve become very picky, an information snob in fact. And I’m not ashamed of saying this. Anyone who isn’t sane, on course, clear minded, or a little off immediately sets off red flags. I’m intolerant to bullshit and lack of personal standards now. This is for people, for the quality of the things I read, and the quality of the content I allow myself to imbibe. I’m highly selective of my intake. And guard my mind like the crown jewel.

16. I cut off from social media.

When you’re going through a form of mental illness, using social media is a dangerous tool.
Depending on the state you’re in, it can emphasize your cognitive bias and confirmation bias. Essentially if you’re going through some “insane” moment in life and you’re on social media, you’re quite likely to emphasize just that with the information you’re imbibing.

Also, you don’t get to pick what you’re imbibing as the content you’re viewing is spontaneous and algorithm based. So you get stuck scrolling for dopamine hits to alleviate the extent of the pain you’re going through emotionally in response to the thoughts you’re entertaining in your head. This emphasizes the scrolling, and fills your mind with junk-content. In addition to this, your mind has nothing to work with but images and quotes, so you become somewhat simple. To overcome mental illness you need to become sharp and focused.

17. Trust the process. Life has your back.

What ever you’re going through, there is a reason and you can overcome it. Going through a period of mental difficulty will allow you to become so much stronger as an individual once you get out the other side. It’s like a training camp for the soul.

Trust the universe, trust life, trust what is happening. It will all turn out for the best. Give it time.

18. Take time to relax. Go at your own pace. Life isn’t a race, or even a marathon.

Right now, you’re most likely in the garage to repair your navigation system. It’s time to take it easy and relax. The world is a harsh place when we’re going through turmoil and if we don’t take care of ourselves, the world can abuse us and overwork us and push us to our extreme limits. So its up to us to take space for ourselves, take time out and go at our own pace. Before my own finger painting episodes, my entire life was based on living up to other peoples standards and jumping through hoops and deadlines. I didn’t know any different.
So I just pushed on, most people do. Until I reached burnout, then I had no choice but to take time out from the way I was living and reconsider what worked and what didn’t work and, like the phoenix re-emerging from its own ashes, I rebuilt myself up after discarding all the stale and out of date thoughts and behaviours that no longer served me.

19. Reading.

Over the last 8 of so years, I’ve started to read, big time! Reading structures our mind. Feeds us information that builds our mindset. With our reading, we get to address our wrongly based assumptions, make discoveries, discover tools, and how other people overcame things. During the last years I’ve read a lot because it fed my mind and gave me the knowledge that anything was possible.

*20. I Changed my diet.

I cut out sugars and carbs and have decided to eat Keto. Ample amounts of fresh salad, vegetables, fish, eggs, oils, nuts. Even fruits to some extent. And a lot of water!

In addition: I also want to address the reason I got mental health problems in the first place.

There are quite a few factors for how I got into such a predicament in the first place.
I felt I needed to go through difficulty and pain. This lead me to put myself in torturous situations with ill-minded people (people who have bad intentions).
I had just broken up with my girlfriend and I felt like a fallen house of cards. I felt empty and I felt emotionally saturated.

The first red flag was living with someone who felt the need to force me to listen to his stories and emotional rants.

The second was that I was dependent of this person (as I was sub-renting his flat while he was living in it). I had very little space for myself. As I didn’t have much money I couldn’t find another flat. So I made do. We lived in the same 1 room apartment, so I had no personal space.

The third was that I was working 50 to 80 hours per week and because of my living arrangement didn’t have any personal space. So I ended up running some 10km per day just to have space for myself. This led to burnout.

The forth was that he was gay and emotionally forceful with me. I didn’t know how to say no, so I just let him speak (for fear that he’d throw me out). And after 7 or 8 months started to ask me that I say “I love you” repeatedly.

The fifth red flag was that I had some 20 years of emotional baggage to deal with. My entire life I simply stuck to executing. “Just do it.” was my mantra. No wonder I loved the Nike shoes from such a young age…

The sixth point was that I had low self-esteem and didn’t know how or what a boundary was. I never had to focus on boundaries, my room was the size of this guys flat, I had sufficient space to myself growing up. I was just never taught to set my own boundaries.
Lack of knowledge about my emotions, values, and beliefs also posed a problem in respecting myself and making others respect me.

The seventh red flag was that I was angry at my parents for unloading their emotional baggage onto me, but never letting me express myself. This anger was… toxic. In fact, I had such a bad image of men that I nearly finished a transition to become a woman! (happily I didn’t and rebuilt myself afterwards.)

The eight red flag was that I wasn’t in control of my thoughts. Or at least, they dominated my behaviour. I had very little clue as to the degree of what I consumed. What I put in my mind, my mind gave back.

The ninth red flag was that I had a sexual addiction. I was able to contain it easily as I was running and working lots. But, then came a knee problem. My knee locked and every time I went for a run I felt sharp pain. My inflammation wasn’t worth it. And I didn’t want to wreck my knee. I felt that if I pushed to run through the pain, I’d end up with no cartilage. So out came the sexual addiction. I had no creative or energetic outlet or way of expression.

The tenth red flag was that I don’t reach out for help. I deal with my shit on my own (and still do to some extent…). So, when things started to overwhelm me, I had no one to count on. I was entirely alone. Even my family didn’t want to listen to what I felt or was going through. Having a support group is essential, it gives us a shoulder to lean against when we’re tired, someone to trust when we’re dizzy, and someone to help when we’re down.


Hopefully, something I said might help. But the truth is, if I can overcome burnout, schizophrenia, bipolarity, transgenderism, sexual addiction, acute delirium, depression and lack of self worth. You can overcome it too. And yet I have been diagnosed with each and everyone of these labels. Also yes, I have successfully overcome these things and am now driven, healthy, and feel great about myself (don’t even get me started about my confidence).

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