My Own Prison

I’ve been to prison. I spent 25 months in prison — 25 months away from my wife, my daughter, my parents, my friends, my family — torn from the ones I love due to my own destructive choices. And I am not so narrow-minded to assume I wasn’t the only one “doing time.” My wife, my daughter, and my family had to suffer through those 25 months as well, and it has had numerous lasting negative impacts, especially for my daughter.

But that prison sentence eventually ended; I was eventually allowed to go home. And yet, the 25 months I spent in prison is nothing compared to the life-long prison to which I am confined within my own mind, heart, and soul.

Suffering from “trauma-induced depression” and “high-functioning anxiety” makes it difficult to feel “normal” anymore (not that I ever knew what “normal” ever felt). So all I can do is take positive strides toward being a better person and living a better life. However, this has proven to be the most difficult challenge of my life. One of the unfortunate byproducts of depression is low self-esteem — and I sometimes I feel like I take that to a whole new level (or, more accurately, a whole new depth). And unfortunately, sometimes, I drag my loved ones down with me.

Depression leads to low self-esteem; low self-esteem leads to self-hatred; self-hatred leads to self-destruction. It’s a tumultuous cyclonic rabbit hole of insanity, and my biggest problem is, I often don’t realize any of it until I’ve reached the bottom. Then, all I can do is look back up at the people I hurt on the way down.

Granted, I’m not living the life I used to (thank God), but there is still much of my life upon which I can improve — the paramount of these things is, I need to treat people better. I have a tendency to be selfish and self-absorbed (ironically, often brought on by self-loathing), so my behavior comes off as arrogant, self-centered, and bitter. And that is when I — through my words or behaviors — hurt or upset my closest friends and family.

Maybe I am just so accustomed to being hated by people, so part of my subconscious feels like I have nothing to lose. Perhaps the hateful things people say about me online and/or in the media have calloused me, so I have this errant assumption that I’m alone in the world and can depend on no one but myself — a sentiment which I know for a fact is not true.

But here is the key: I must identifying the self-loathing and/or self-destructive mindset before it morphs into behavior. Essentially, when I feel self-destructive, I act self-destructive. So it is vital for me to identify these self-loathing thoughts — call them what they are — and then react appropriately, kindly, and constructively.

As my high school track coach, the immortal Coach Steve Sell, used to say, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

Case-in-point: I was told of a comment someone made on a social media advertisement for my book, After 3PM, which essentially said I was writing a book accusing all teachers of having sex with students. Obviously, this is not the content of the book (not even close), but instead of getting upset about this, lashing out, or being depressed about the disapproval, I decided to do something positive and constructive. As it turns out, the person who made the comment is a high school teacher in Kansas City. So instead of getting mad about what he said, I sent him a free copy of my book with a humble letter asking him to consider its contents with an open mind, then perhaps pass the book along to the administrators at his school (or someone who may benefit from it).

Instead of allowing the negativity to rob me of my happiness, I used it as motivation to do something positive. And for me, this was the best thing I could have done. His comment could have triggered a depressive sense of self-loathing and self-pity; instead, his comment inspired me to reach out positively and humbly.

So here’s the trick: People need to make this sort of reaction — the positive reaction — their default reaction. If people were more positive toward one another and didn’t always automatically default to a defensive and counterproductive reaction, people would be much happier with one another.

It is a matter of perspective.

This is what will (hopefully) end my perpetual confinement within my own prison of self-loathing. I feed my mind and soul with positivity now, and I can often feel a difference in my perspective and worldview. Of course, there are moments when I stumble backward, but I also find myself reacting to my failures in a more positive and constructive manner. Granted, my failures now are nothing compared to the failures of my past, but in my opinion, it is all relative.

So I’m planning an escape. One of these days, my mind will be freed from the prison of self-hatred, self-loathing, self-doubt, and self-destruction. One of these days, my heart will be unburdened by the constraints of depression. One of these days, my soul will roam free.

But until then, dear friends and family, I’m sorry. Please accept my deepest apologies and know that I am doing my best to live a better life and be a better person.

I’m not yet the man I can be,
I strive to be the man I should be,
but thank God I’m not the man I used to be.

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