By Robin van Dalen
Feeling down, distressed and generally stuck? This might well be one of the most life-defining and precious experiences you’ll have.
A couple of years back I went through a rough two years which finally erupted into a full blown mental crisis – leaving me unable to work, stuck at home and with severe depression. Back then, it was absolutely horrible. I wouldn’t have wished it on anyone, and sometimes, I’m still afraid to go back to that dark place. Beyond my own struggle, I felt that many people felt uncomfortable talking about my experience. It left me feeling ashamed, isolated and reduced to what I felt was close to nothing.
Nevertheless, this period taught me such valuable lessons that today I am grateful to have gone through it. I was forced to take a step back and take an honest look at myself and the life I was leading. I learned more about myself, my life and who and what is important to me. Especially because it was so shitty, I learned more in a few months than what I had in the past five years combined.
This is of course easy to say now that I’m back on track. But I have seen the same growth out of difficulty with other people too, and I just wish the same for you and anyone who is going through it. More importantly, I just wish that we (both individually and as a society) begin to view and experience mental crises not as signs of weakness or failure, but as an opportunity for personal growth.
This could not only make it easier for people who go through a dark period in life (and let’s be honest with ourselves – almost everyone does), but also for those who are closely affected by it.
“Fact is, shit happens. And shit is sometimes hard to deal with, especially if a lot of it comes at the same time or it piles up.”
My proposal? Let’s now face that fact that life isn’t always easy. And instead of fighting it, judging it, running away from it, let’s embrace it. Human beings have faced it through myths, tales and heroes’ journeys around the world: the hero always goes through a difficult time and because of it, creates the mental and physical faculties to overcome the trials with which the hero is faced. Common to all these stories (real and imagined), is that there are considerable difficulties for the hero to overcome. No triumph happens without struggle. I mean, would Ghandi be Ghandi without his struggle? Would Frodo be a story worth sharing if he would have ran happily to the mountain and returned unchanged? No, it be rather boring, and the world and lives would not have been changed for the better.
So if you feel you’re stuck, distressed, overwhelmed with negative emotions and thoughts and feel life isn’t good for you, this might be your wake-up call. A call to take a turn in life; to change your situation; to rethink how you look at things; find something you love, or just take a step back and think about what really matters to you. An opportunity to find the own hero within – as cheesy as it might sound.
This was what my depression meant to me – eventually. I hope that if you read this and are in a rough place, knowing that there are ways this dark time can benefit you will make the journey a bit easier – and shows you the light that lies ahead.
So, here there are my 5 reasons why a mental health or life crisis can be an opportunity for growth:
- An opportunity to take a turn in life.
If you end up in a burnout or mental crisis, you’re forced to stand still and reflect. Because of this, a whole array of new opportunities can open up for you. One of my favourite teachers of that period captured it really well: ‘depression’ could be read as “deep rest”. You’re not depressed, but you take a deep rest. Your body and mind calls you to a halt and asks you: is this really who you want to be? Where you want to be?
- An opportunity to reevaluate what’s important to you.
I’ve seen many people around me experienced that they took a sharp turn in life, quit their jobs, found their passion and (re)discovered a whole new part of themselves. Others, like me, decide to stay in their jobs, but return with clarity and purpose. My mental crisis helped in generally approaching myself and life more openly and kindly, by teaching me to be less tough on myself, and refocus on the things that really mattered to me. To me, it meant strongly reducing travel time (at some point I spent about 30 weeks a year travelling) and spending much more conscious quality time with family and friends. It sounds less sexy and cool to the outside world to spend time with my parents and grandmother rather than in exotic destinations, but to me it is what makes me happy. And the bonus – speaking as a person who loves her work -I think it has actually made me a whole lot more creative and effective in my job. Score!
- An opportunity to reconnect or connect more deeply with loved ones.
I always thought of myself as the tough person who could handle everything. Because of that I not only hid my own insecurities, I often judged others for having them. This is a big barrier for connection. It’s so much easier to truly, deeply connect with someone if you be yourself, naked, in vulnerability. The moment I was forced to show I am a human, with flaws and imperfections, many of my friendships deepened. It turned out almost everyone had gone through their own difficult times, but never or partly shared because they didn’t really feel comfortable. When I was down myself, it was much easier for others to open up, and for me easier to be empathic. The result? Deeper connections, and more happiness.
- An opportunity to shed your mask and discover who you really are.
Learn who you really are and want to be. Be vulnerable and real. To me it was so liberating to be honest about my emotions and insecurities instead of hiding them away. René Brown’s ‘Power of vulnerability’ shows this super-well. One of the most impactful presents was the opportunity to spend time with a professional. These professionals have actually spent most of their lives studying how to help people like me – and doing it too! How great it is to be able to learn from them. I was able to work with professionals who taught me skills that I can now take with me for the rest of my life – so the next time life throws shit at me, I have the skills to work it through, and the strength to ask for help.
- An opportunity to take what you’ve learned and help others.
This dark period of mine showed me many things, but one of the most important ones was: people need more support. When I found my way out of my dark period (with the support of so many great people!) I got the opportunity to start Inuka with the mission to support others going through their own rough patches in life, no matter how big or small their problems are – and offering the support to come out stronger than before. The mission of Inuka is to make it easier to find and give mental support. We aim to do this with our service – personal, trained guides to support people to overcome problems in life – but we also do it by sharing our own stories. This is my first story I would love to share with you [and first blog EVER – scary!] and I know myself how difficult it is to reach out for help. Somehow, painfully, the more difficult your path is and the worse one feels, the harder it is to connect or reach out for help. I hope sharing our stories and the Inuka service can contribute to lower the barriers for people to reach out!
Before I let you go, I’d like to end with this. For most people (and societies), feeling lost, down and confused has become something to be ashamed of. However, we fail to see the beauty and strength that arises from these moments. They are moments of true disruption. They are moments of purpose and life, opportunities to take care of each other, and ourselves. Opportunities to reflect on what we want to do with the little time we are afforded on this earth, and opportunities to reflect on who we are and want to be. They are moments of realness, or true vulnerability, and true strength. Through darkness you will find the wisdom to carry you onwards.
Let’s embrace our collective humanness, and start sharing our stories, however small, and begin to recognize that a rough period can also be an opportunity for growth.
I wish you find your own hero within – and love to hear your stories!
(and flushed cheeks – man pouring your heart out publicly is pretty scary :-)! )
Chief Vision & Facilitation + cofounder Inuka