By: Brett Paulsen | Blunovus
The depression and anxiety that I feel is similar to the waves of the ocean. My moments of pain and struggle are intense for a period of time just like a set of waves, but after the set passes I usually experience moments of calm. While living through the tossing and turning of the waves, I feel as if I am drowning and I am deep enough that I can’t find my footing in the sand.
In 2014 I witnessed the traumatic death of a coworker. The event altered the course of my life, triggered feelings of bitterness, and brought on a crisis of faith. Instead of seeking healthy ways to understand and cope with what I had witnessed, I chose to resist the memory and lose myself in reckless hobbies and addictions. I became addicted to living on the edge (quite literally). I got really into rock climbing and pushed myself and the safety measures to the limit. I was climbing routes that were way out of my skill set and was doing so in a careless manner without following safety guidelines. In conjunction with my climbing addiction, I was using unhealthy vices to cope with my internal pain. I was truly flirting with death.
In the spring of 2016, some friends and I climbed a large multi-pitch tower in Moab, Utah. The climb was incredible and breathtaking.
The 400 foot tower sits a top of a high plateau that we hiked up before starting the vertical climb of the tower. The top of the tower sits at nearly 1,500 feet above the valley it overlooks. The route that we chose required a lot of body climbing. I found myself using my back to brace myself on one side of the stone with my hands and feet on the other while looking through my legs at the ground hundreds of feet below. It was amazing and beyond breathtaking. The euphoric feeling of getting to the top of the climb is something I hope to never forget.
Before climbing the tower we had done some research on the climb and the rappel down and thought it would be fine to bring just one rope. Bringing only one rope turned out to be a big mistake.
Instead of going down the way we came up, we decided to rappel off the other side of the tower, which was a flat face with very small finger and foot holds. As we rappelled down, we quickly realized we didn’t have enough rope to make it to the rappel station below.
We ultimately decided we had to come off the rope and downclimb 10-15 feet below the end of the rope to get to the rappel station. I knew it was dumb, but in the moment, we thought it was the only thing we could do. So we came off from the only connection we had to the wall and free climbed down to the rappel station where we could anchor ourselves back into the wall. I have never been so close to death in my life.
By some miracle, we made it off the tower alive. But we knew we’d just gambled with our lives. We hiked down the plateau without speaking a word to each other. That entire hike down I prayed to my creator more fervently than I had ever done before. I begged for forgiveness for being reckless and made a promise to myself and my creator that I would value my life and never flirt with death like that ever again.
The couple of years between the event at work and my near death experience in Moab was just one set of waves that I lived through.
After the tower climb, I found calm and a life worth living. I was genuinely happy to be alive and life felt vibrant and exciting. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone frequently and met an amazing and beautiful girl that I eventually married. Life was good.
The period of calm was great, but didn’t last forever. The next set of waves rolled in when my childhood friend died by suicide. My world shook and felt as if it was breaking. All the feelings of worry and fear that I felt in the previous set of waves came rolling back with a crushing force. The waves were exhausting and my strength was waning quickly. My wife took notice—and in a very loving way—pushed me to get professional help.
My first real therapy session was in 2019. In those first sessions I discovered that therapy has real power. My therapist allowed me to open up in a safe space that was free of judgement. This safe space provided me with the ability to escape the waves of depression and anxiety and to catch my breath, build up my strength, and find tools to ride the intense waves. I was taught how to respond to panic attacks, how to process and move past trauma, and how to roll with the waves in a healthy way.
I am not free from the pain and trauma or the waves of depression and anxiety, but I now have a better understanding of how to get through. I continue to see a therapist, and I am not ashamed about that. I know that therapy is just as important for me as it is to eat healthy foods and exercise. I am in a much better place than I was before, even though I am in another set of waves as I write this blog post.
The reality is that I am not alone in my feelings. Many people are dealing with similar feelings and similar waves. Mental health is not an “issue,” rather, it is a pillar of health just like physical health. There is no shame in calling out for help while swimming through the waves. We are all human and we are all in this life together. If you are struggling to swim through waves of your own, call for help! It is there, trust me, I have found it.
If you have any questions about how VEST can help you improve your culture and provide your employees with the emotional resources they need through our Proactive-EAP, don’t hesitate to contact us at (866) 258-6688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are here to help!
Disclaimer: VEST content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.