From Depression to Optimism
How Change Found Me
Change found me on the bathroom floor, begging my husband to let me die.
I’d done all of the right things. Went to school. Got good grades. Graduated from a university. Landed a steady job with great benefits. I’d even gotten married, adopted two cats, and lived in a decent apartment. But doing everything “right” didn’t change how I felt on the inside. On the inside, I felt wrong. Very, very wrong.
My soul ached with the weight of a thousand depressions. One stone for each time I’d let fear control my life instead of embracing the person I was meant to be. At the end of the day, my perfect GPA, prestigious promotions, and perfectionism didn’t matter. Nothing mattered because I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose.
I knew that I was meant for something more. The regular 9-to-5 wasn’t for me. Deep down, I knew I needed to help people. Learn and grow to help other people learn and grow. But learning and growing require change, and I was afraid of change.
To me, change was a threat. Change was an unfortunate event to be avoided at all costs. I did everything in my power to prevent change. To keep the status quo, I attempted to control every aspect of my life. Everything from the food I ate to the clothes I wore to how I spent each penny. It was exhausting trying to be so perfect, but exhaustion was the price for maintaining control.
How Change Challenged Me
Meanwhile, change was lurking in the shadows. Although I tried to ignore it, the calling to live a life of purpose remained. I thought that if I could maintain my routine, everything would be okay. All I wanted was for everything to stay the same.
Finally, when change grew tired of waiting, we got into a serious fight. It knocked me down and sucked the life right out of me. I thought that I could hold my own against changes, but it literally took my breath away.
At the time of the attack, I was supposed to be getting ready for work. Another long shift at that “steady job with great benefits” that turned out to be torture disguised as a retail store. Halfway through brushing my teeth, I was convulsing on the bathroom floor. And right around the time that my shift should have started, I was in the emergency room crying hysterically.
The doctors later explained that I’d had a panic attack. If you’ve never experienced a panic attack before, imagine an elephant sitting on your chest. Somehow, beneath all of that weight, your heart is still pounding—harder than it’s ever pounded before. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t catch your breath.
Somewhere between trying to breathe and hyperventilating myself into a stupor, my husband found me convulsing on the bathroom floor. He carried me downstairs, through the snow, and made it to the hospital without a GPS. I’m still not even sure how he managed without me controlling his every move from the passenger seat.
And, as much as I screamed at them, the doctors wouldn’t let me die either. Sitting in the hospital room, I was faced with a choice: resist the change, let change happen, or be the change.
How Change Forced Me to Reconsider How I Live My Life
Some would call panicking your way into the emergency room a mental breakdown. I prefer to call it a mental breakup. I had to break up with my old way of thinking.
“It’s not me, it’s you,” I said to myself. Goodbye to all of the perfectionism, control, and complacency. Good riddance to all of the pain and suffering I was inflicting myself by resisting my own personal growth.
After taking a day off to recuperate from the hospital, I resigned from my “steady job with great benefits.” I took a job that paid less but that I enjoyed much more.
Additionally, to improve my mindset, I started reading, writing, and making art. I worked less and did more of the things I loved. And, to make more of an impact in my community, I started going to church, making friends, and volunteering at non-profits.
Holistically, I began living a life that was less about control and more about connection. I took my eyes off of myself and instead, sought ways to serve other people. After all, life isn’t about making money. It’s about leading a life of significance. And the only way to truly be significant is to positively impact the lives of others.
What Change Taught Me
What the panic attack taught me is that depression and anxiety are merely symptoms. They’re warning signs that we’re going in the wrong direction. The more we resist our calling, the more tired, anxious, or depressed we get until our mind and body shuts down. At a certain point, enough is enough.
My panic attack was my body’s way of forcing me to STOP. And when I stopped, I had no choice but to take a hard look at how I was living my life and make some positive changes.
Before my panic attack, I was stuck in a monotonous routine, and as a result, I’d lost hope of ever having a brighter future. At the time, I cared more about holding onto the familiar than about embracing new possibilities. But familiarity could never replace true fulfilment.
I’m not going to lie—the panic attack was painful. The transition from depression to optimism was not without its ups and downs. But if I wanted my life to get better, than I need to BE better. I needed to embrace change.
How Change Can Help You
If you’re feeling stuck, I’d encourage you to learn from my experience. Learn where to draw the line. There’s nothing wrong with achieving goals or having accomplishments. But at the end of the day, ask yourself how many lives are better because you’ve lived?
Strive to be a better person today than you were yesterday. Be a better person tomorrow than you were today.
Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Yes, it can be difficult, but it can also be beautiful. Positive change can improve your life, make you a better person, and encourage those around you.
What will you do to make a positive change today?
Nicole Starbuck is a mental health blogger and recovering perfectionist changing the world one thought at a time. She's the co-founder of Jumpstart Positivity, an online community empowering people through positive thinking and impactful change.
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