Painting of an eye

How My Mental Health Got Worse When Life Got Better

After a long series of traumatic events, I thought my life was getting better – but that’s when things became worse. In this article, I’ll explain how not spending time becoming self-aware through meditation can have a devastating effect, and how to avoid it from happening to you.

I’m a forty-something-year-old man, and it’s taken me a long time to finally say I’m truly happy. Sure, I have the occasional bad day, maybe even a tough week, but I know I’m going to be okay. But, as the saying goes, things used to be different.

Rewind back to 2014 to one of the worst days of my life.

I had just moved offices from the West End of London closer to the city. The transfer was at my request. My previous manager thought the combination of shouting for God to help him and micromanagement was an effective way to manage people. I disagreed.

Things had been bad. I was just coming out of a long series of traumatic events. But my new life looked to be promising.

The new manager was kind and supportive, and I was finally beginning to think that all my troubles were behind me.

About a month into working at my new office, I remember waking up one morning, washing my face, and looking at myself in the mirror – but something felt different. 

The best way I can explain it was that I was looking through my eyes instead of out of my eyes. It was like I had become a passenger in my body.

I splashed some cold water over my face, shook my head, and told myself to snap out of it.

Me enjoying some underwater meditation (not recommended for long periods).

The panic attack

I think it was about four days after that strange feeling I had while washing my face, I was sitting at my desk and I remember feeling an overwhelming wave of emotion. It wasn’t just one emotion either; sadness, confusion, fear, embarrassment, panic, anger, and surprise were the ones I can immediately recollect.

My first reaction was to hide. I ran to the stationary cupboard, stacked printer paper against the door, and curled up in the corner of the room struggling to breathe.

What was happening to me? What if someone saw me? How was I going to explain this?

The more I tried to figure things out, the more I spiraled into chaos and confusion.

After the panic attack

I felt shame and embarrassment going home that day. I called my manager on my phone to meet me at the stationary cupboard (she is an angel on Earth) and told her I was unwell and needed to go home. Seeing my red glowing face, and the cocktail of sweat and tears, she asked if I was okay and agreed to send me home.

I left through the back door and spent an hour on London Underground getting home. I kept telling myself to hold it together just until I got home – then it would be okay. It was one of the worst hours of my life.

Before the panic attack

The irony was that I was the guy you gave the difficult jobs to. The high-stress jobs where two opposing parties hated each other had to agree to something that neither wanted.

I thought I was cool, calm, and collected. But what I actually was…was numb.

In the period before my panic attack, traumatic events came at me back to back: my uncle, aunt, and sixteen-year-old cousin were murdered, my grandmother died while I was alone in the hospital room, I married for the wrong reasons and divorced after two years, I was working under a tyrannous manager, and thorough all this my father was diagnosed with vascular dementia and I became a part-time carer.

When my father passed, it sounds horrible to see the words written down – but I felt relief. My father had suffered. My mother, brother, and I had suffered. My father was finally at peace.

Nothing keeps the mind busy like constant trauma

Make time for resting your mind, or your mind will make it for you.

All the signs were there. On the day of my father’s funeral, everyone cried, except for me. I loved my father, I constantly referred to him as my hero. But on the day of the funeral, I couldn’t shed a single tear.

I had never stopped to check how I was feeling. The constant train of trauma was just a distraction to the inevitable backlash of putting feelings aside.

Being a man also came with the social pressures of not dealing with emotions. Even today, in our supposedly open-minded modern-day society, showing emotions as a heterosexual male is considered a weakness, especially by other men.

How to avoid this happening to you

You probably guessed this already, but my answer to all of this is meditation. But you don’t have to have a list of traumas, or a boss from hell to need to meditate (although it helps).

Here’s a less dramatic example:

For anyone that’s met me and my brother, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we are arch enemies. We argue…constantly. But we love each other unconditionally (I will deny writing this if he sees this). 

We had just visited my mother, and true to form we argued. So when I next sat to meditate, a part of the argument that my brother and I had kept surfacing in my mind. I noticed it and let it go, but a short moment later, it came back, then again and again.

What I realized was that this wasn’t the usual brotherly bickering.

I spoke to my brother, and he opened up and said that something I’d said before had made him mad. We actually sat and spoke about it calmly like two mature adults.

If I hadn’t sat down for ten or twenty minutes, focused on my breathing, and noticed my thoughts, I would have carried on on autopilot, things would probably have gotten worse between my brother and me – a whole butterfly effect could have happened.

RELATED: The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation – 5 Powerful ways it can change your life

Meditation can help deal with trauma and reduce the chances of a panic attack

If meditation could help me identify a subtle change in my brother’s tone, I often wonder how different things would have been if I had meditated during all of my traumas. I can confidently say things would have turned out much better.

Be careful when you meditate if you have a history of trauma

In another post, I wrote about the negative side effects of meditation. One of the points was that if you’ve buried a lot of trauma in your past, meditation can be overwhelming when you sit down and turn your attention inwards. Trust how you feel. If it doesn’t feel right, then stop. Nothing substitutes professional qualified advice.

The takeaway

Meditation can help you realize things about yourself that the distractions of everyday life can mask. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly and enjoy a more peaceful and awake life.

Have you found meditation to help with trauma, if you’d like to share, let me know in the comments.

Read next: Mindful Walking Meditation

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