I like watching survival shows. Well, really just one show in particular: Naked and Afraid. Even though the participant’s nakedness is intriguing in its own special way, I’m much more interest in how these survivalist make it in the some of the most dangerous environments on Earth. They make their own shelter, hunt for food, search for clean water, and almost always end up in some sort of disagreement with one another while trying not to die. I know that I would never dare to imitate these people by going out into the wilderness for my own adventure. But I have been on a certain kind of survival mission of my own for some time now. Actually, I would say for most of my life.
As I’ve written in various pieces on my blog, one of my biggest obstacles that I’ve had to deal with has been my relationship with my mental health. From the time I was three-years-old until now, it’s felt like my mind has been in a never ending struggle that I can’t fully figure out. From anxiety to depression, and everything in between, it has sometimes felt like I would never be able to find a place of peace. At times this left me feeling hopeless, and in some instances wanting to give up all together. But somehow, I’m still here. And that’s because of survival (thankfully, I didn’t have to be naked to survive).
I may not know how to start a fire, or what plants are edible to eat. But I do know what it means to survive when my mind is in constant turmoil. One of my biggest challenges has been dealing with anxiety. From the time I wake up in the morning to when I lay my head back down on my pillow at night, anxious thoughts constantly run circles in my mind. Fear seems to be ever-present, an invisible yet unstoppable force that dictates my behavior, whether I like it or not. Most of my anxiety stems from my fear of dying. More specifically, my fear of there being no afterlife that our souls can go to. Late at night I wonder when and how I’ll die, and those thoughts run on a loop until sleep finally comes to relieve me.
How are you supposed to live when you’re constantly thinking about death?
At times my anxiety has gotten to such a dramatic level that I have had to go to the emergency room to seek relief. Last year was my first experience of that kind, and in some ways during that moment I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I ended up having to be in an intensive outpatient program at a local mental hospital for two months after that, taking part in group therapy and being fully immersed in recovery. Even though the experience did not solve every problem in my life, I felt it started me in the right direction. Earlier this year I was back in the hospital, but thankfully for only a couple of hours.
My anxiety in recent years has been tumultuous to say the least. But even as a young kid it affected me in ways that I couldn’t fully explain at the time. It made me feel like a burden to those around me, and that feeling persists even now. Actually, I think today that guilt is stronger than ever.
My story of survival has not only been against anxiety, but depression as well. This started to develop during my days as a teenager, a time in my life where I was desperately searching for acceptance from others but finding no such luck. I was always more individualistic by nature, so it was not a tragedy that I wasn’t the most popular girl in school. But I did want to have a small group of people that I could be myself around without fear of rejection. I did not want to feel like a freak, but the role of an outcast seemed to be the perfect part for me during that time.
Having a survival mindset during this time made me think less about actually thriving in my life. I have heard a lot of people talk about how they had a certain kind of hustle that got them through life and to great success. This is especially true with those working in the creative field. As a creative myself, this made me feel like a kind of failure for not subscribing to the hustle lifestyle that seemed to benefit others so much. But my focus was never on hustling—all I really cared about was making it to the next day with at least some of my sanity still intact. I guess in some ways I was successful.
Living like a survivalist has not meant that I haven’t enjoyed the many pleasures of life. So far in my 25 years of living, I have been on amazing adventures and experienced beauty that I never thought I would get to see. I’ve laughed until my stomach cramped up, cried my eyes out, jumped for joy, relaxed in the sunshine—all of my life has not been bad. And even in the times where I believed that I would never be happy again, I have been reminded of the many things that I have to be thankful for, and that changes my entire attitude.
So what is there to learn from my story of survival? To be honest, I’m not really sure. Everyone’s survival mindset is different, and I think that many of us don’t always realize when we are in that kind of headspace. But now that I am more mindful of my recovery journey and want to cultivate a better lifestyle, I no longer want to just survive. I only have one chance at life, and I want to live it the best way that I know how. Even with the painful and dark parts of my life, I still have so much to be thankful for. And being mindful of that gratitude can change my whole perception of the world around me.
You’ll never see me on Naked and Afraid, or any other kind of survival show for that matter. But my story of survival (so far) has taught me how to view life through a lease that reminds me of the many things that I have to be thankful for. And that’s a lesson that changes my story for the better.
Photo by Kun Fotografi: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-black-backpack-during-golden-hour-1230302