Posted on 7 January 2017 by Michael Dahl

Man in the Mirror

Earlier this week I was looking into my bathroom mirror. At first it was simply a quick last look at myself before I headed out for the day. And then it became something more.

Something — I don’t know what — held me in place and transported me to another time, about a year and a half ago, when I was looking into a mirror in a Target store as I felt my mind and body stuck in the grip of Anxiety and Depression.

I started comparing the feelings of the two different experiences, peering into the mirrors. The day earlier this week, I wouldn’t say I was happy or sad, anxious or depressed. I felt somber and powerful at the same time. So I just stood there and let the feelings wash over me. I also allowed myself to linger in the memory — but not the feelings — attached to comparison point of a year and a half ago.

If you like, you can read that whole experience here. But I’ll provide a shortened version of the post for those who just want to read here.

I was dressed in one of my power outfits, just a nice shirt and nice pants that fall pleasantly on my body. My shirt was a slightly lighter version of lavender; my charcoal grey pants fit my trimmer waistline. This is one of the simple but snazzy outfits I wear when I want to feel good, when I want to look good, when I want to convey confidence and strength.

But I did not feel confident or strong or in anyway nice. I was drained. I was angry. And I just want to get out of this outfit, curl up in bed, and sleep.

That day was a necessary pain. I had my first talk-therapy visit in years. No big breakthroughs happened. I just told my story. I talked about how I am a pretty self-aware guy. I noted that I am very confident in the things I believe in. I shared that I am pretty knowledgeable about that fact that my genetic history, series of knocks to the noggin, troubled childhood, and several tween and teen years living in poverty have made me a very good candidate to carry the chronically depressed and anxious label.

Without getting into details, we now know that the toxic stress of difficult childhood mixed with bad genetics doesn’t just impact the brain. It wreaks havoc on the body. Sometimes the high stress levels force children dealing with “adult level problems” to breathe differently than the lungs of a much-calmer young body. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes that happens. Oh, there’s so much garbage we’ve learned.

So I found out how much life can suck … even more than I thought it could before. Now, mind you. I’m happy I know this. It helps me understand that part of what I’ve always thought of as normal is really anything but. There’s a new level of burden. But it’s also a type of burden I now had to try to deal with, or work through, or erase. And I guess that’s good.

But, as happened that last time I left that same office a couple weeks ago— coming out of a visit with the doctor who prescribed me my new meds — I called my wife and just started to cry.

“The old Michael is a new Michael,” I thought. “And I need to figure out who he is.” Because “better” is in my future. But it’s a bumpy road ahead to get there.

Again, as I looked into my bathroom mirror earlier this week, I felt somber and powerful. That was / felt good. But I also felt troubled that this latest bout with Anxiety and Depression significantly defined at least a year and a half of my life.

And then I felt — just for a second or two — scared. I know that there will likely come a day (hopefully years in the future) when my current drugs will stop working. I will again become a bundle of Depression and Anxiety. And my doctor will need to help me find that new drug that will help pull me out of the mess.

I know that that period, whenever it happens, does not have to be an 18+ month ordeal, as it was this last time. But you can understand why I felt a couple seconds of fear.

Then the powerful feeling returned. Unlike before, I have a number of new tactics (part 1; part 2) to help me confront Anxiety. I also know a ton more about Depression.

And so, I stayed in front of the mirror for a while longer. It seemed I should heed the compulsion to compare who I was then and who I am now.

In the earlier post (which I condensed above) I described my confidence in a bumpy path to better.

Today — and that day earlier this week — I can attest that I traveled that bumpy path and I found “better.” Not “perfect” — that’s rarely possible — but much, much better.