Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.
Let’s get naked about mental health!
In this episode, I’ll be getting away from the depressing stuff. I think I did my part for Suicide Awareness Month, but I am going to move away from it a bit and talk about something that caught up to me a little while ago: hope.
Before getting into the episode, and especially for this episode: the important stuff. I just want to remind everybody that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.
If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. There is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.
I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.
Now, let’s get into the episode.
Let’s talk about hope.
I am completely and totally screwed. I am trapped in a situation that would typically have the suicidal thoughts swarming around me.
Hell of a start to an episode about hope, huh? I’m getting there.
Instead of falling into a depression, though, I am feeling better mentally and emotionally than I ever have.
It makes me wonder: how the hell did I get here?
Here is Tijuana. I know how I physically got here. I kind of got lost on my way to Greece where I was supposed to kill myself on a nice, quiet out of the way beach and allow the tide to sweep me away. It’s a bit of a story that I covered in previous episodes.
My current situation is grim.
Being in Tijuana is not that bad. It’s not what you think. It is a place filled with warm and amazing people, generous of heart and spirit. The stories you hear about cartels, travel advisories, and the dangers of Mexico? To me, they are over hyped. Aye, I lived in Philly, DC and Miami. I’ve been in Chicago, Las Vegas, LA and other major US cities. Downtown Tijuana is no different.
Oh. Wait. There is a difference, besides the incredible food and the whole language thing. The cartel did go on a rampage about two months ago. They burned cars and stores. Some of the violence happened just a few blocks away from me. The difference? They were polite about it.
They got the people out of the stores, busses and cars before setting them on fire and then they put out a press release. It basically said stay inside from 10pm Friday until 3am Sunday. If you are caught outside, you will be a target. We don’t want to hurt innocent civilians.
They stuck with their schedule and, by Monday, everything had returned to normal.
I wish the mass shooters in the US were as polite.
Life went on and then I think the Universe took a personal involvement in my life. For decades, She had been giving me hints to learn patience. I ignored her. For 50 years.
A couple weeks ago, it rained in Tijuana for the first time since I arrived in April, a light, misty rain that was supposed to turn into thunderstorms. I took my dog, Dani, out for her walk very early in the morning to avoid the storms. I didn’t avoid the misty rain.
I take Dani up to a park. It involves a very steep hill. On the way back, I encountered a tidbit of information about sidewalks in Tijuana that I had found interesting before but had not thought of in relation to that soft, misty rain. Some of them are tiles and they can be like ice when wet.
The tidbit of information took my feet out from underneath me, my right ankle twisting inside, and I came down hard, almost passing out from the pain. It was excruciating and my vision was blurring as people rushed to help me.
Dani, who I had rescued from neglect and abuse, is very protective of me. She kept all of the would-be helpers at bay. At 35 pounds she is on the small side, but she has to be part Pit Bull and is very strong. An absolute sweetheart at home, Dani can put on a very convincing vicious beast act.
The would-be helpers finally tossed me a walking stick and got back to their day.
Dani needs a lot of training. She is only half trained, at best, on a leash. With her, and the walking stick, during the hazy part of morning right before sunrise, I made my way back to my apartment complex. It was three blocks away and almost took me an hour.
It turned into morning as I made my way back, stumbling, hopping, and resting. I almost sat down a couple times and gave up, but you have to do what you have to do.
Later, x-rays would reveal I fractured my ankle. I say broke, which is technically interchangeable with fractured, but everybody else seems to prefer fractured so that is what I go with.
I had to wait over a week for the swelling to go down enough to get the hard cast. I am not going anywhere for six to eight weeks.
Yeah, I am pretty much screwed.
You see, I overstayed my time here. I came for a job, but it didn’t work out. My friend and I had polar opposite management styles and, well, he fired me.
When I got fired, that’s the first time this whole “hope” thing happened unexpectedly.
I’m on my way home from being fired, pissed off, just knowing the depression and the suicidal thoughts are going to swarm. I was happy here in Tijuana, enjoying myself, settling in, loving my apartment complex and the feeling of safety and joy I had there.
I had been talking to Leo Flowers, though, just the day before. If you don’t know, Leo had me on his podcast and it inspired this podcast. He is a psychologist and personal coach. We stayed in touch following the interview.
Leo had listened to me talking about the situation here and made a point to mention that as much as I said I was feeling safe, it didn’t sound to him like I thought I was. Being fired from my job, I guess he was right.
So, I am on my way home from being fired, pissed off, knowing the defense mechanism of anger will soon dissipate and the depression will settle into me.
I got home, made coffee of course, settled down outside to think about things, the anger dissipated…and this amazing thing happened. The depression and the suicidal thoughts did pop into my head, but they quickly went away.
I sat outside, sipping my coffee, and wondered what the hell had just happened. I was confused. Very confused.
I didn’t feel depressed. I felt…relieved and hopeful.
Where the hell did that come from?
I mean, I knew it had been a bad situation at work, an unhealthy one, from the first day. I’ve been at this for a very long time so know unhealthy work environments from healthy ones. It was a job, though, a source of income, a way out of debt if I played my cards right, kept my mouth shut, and just stuck it out for the year.
I had just lost it. Relief and hope? No, no, no. That’s not the way this is supposed to work. Depression, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts: that’s what is supposed to happen.
Relief and hope are what I had so I went with them.
The only thing I can figure out is that I was starting to learn things and put them into action.
In my last episode, I talked about my lack of boundaries. Here, in Tijuana, I could start to explore those boundaries safely because I didn’t know anybody, and nobody knew me. I could say “no” and not be overcome with guilt. I could even make course corrections, beginning to help and then having a boundary and veering away when things turned unhealthy. There were twinges of guilt, but growing pains are to be expected.
Healthy boundaries. Any boundaries. I think they ae so important to mental health. I talked to Leo about it and have started to read up on them. I would be talking to someone about it but I’m kind of broke.
I did just make a connection with someone in New Zealand, a professional, that is a wellness and mindfulness coach, that I hope to have on the podcast soon. I downloaded her free workbook, and you should too. I’ll include the link on my website.
I think another thing that helped me–and was my eventual downfall–was I was not broke. I had a decent amount of savings. I could pursue the activities and a job that made me happy. Without the depression weighing me down, I could. With all of the time at my disposal, I could really get to work on things.
You see, it is not just about money–though lack of money is one of my triggers. At the start of the pandemic, though, I was in fantastic shape financially, had all the time I needed to pursue anything and everything, and I didn’t use it. At the time, I was still heavily in the depressive episode, there was the plan to kill myself, so why bother with self-actualization? With educating myself? I was on a countdown timer so why bother?
I squandered the time. And the money.
Here in Tijuana, everything was different. I had learned important tools during my journey across the United States. I could put them into action. Maybe I was just out of the worst of the episode, but things were working.
Friends and family wanted me to move back up to the US immediately. It didn’t make sense. I had savings, but they were limited. Here, those saving could last me 3-4 months as opposed to 3-4 weeks in the US.
Without a job, I began working more than I ever had. I’d wake up at 5 am, have coffee, and then get to work on my resume, book, job hunting, website, and this podcast.
Pursuing self-actualization is therapeutic in and of itself. I was feeling better every day. Healthier every day. Very different than I had ever felt. I was acting instead of reacting.
I didn’t have all of the tools, but I had a few and were putting them to use. I was not even watching tv. I had probably watched a few hours in the months I had been here.
But I lost sight of a very important fact. It is a bad habit, an unhealthy coping mechanism, that I have had all my life. I don’t why I do it, but when I know things are getting tight, I start ignoring my bank account.
Things were cheap, I kept telling myself. $100 a week was more than enough for everything I needed here. Something would come through. Someone had talked about sponsorship for the podcast, I began a Patreon account for the podcast, one of the many resumes I was sending out each day would lead to an income.
I wonder what a therapist would make out of that? It’s not the first time I’ve done it. I hope it is the last.
I ran out of money.
But it was time to head back to Philly, home. I would be sorry to leave here, but I felt that I had the tools to make things work there. I had been playing with the idea of boundaries, practicing them, and felt good about my progress. I had a job waiting for me up there and would have a source of income while I continued to pursue all of my projects. I would not have as much time, but I had created the foundation for good things.
Then, I broke my ankle. Excuse me. I fractured my ankle.
Oh yeah, I was screwed.
I lied to myself again. I had a bad sprain once before and I told myself that that was all that it was this time. A little bit of time, a boot that I ordered, some ice, and I’d be good to go to start transferring back up north. –as my ankle and then foot swelled to a pretty amazing size.
“I’m just giving it a few days,” I told everyone that told me to go get x-rays. I was having to say that a lot because everybody was telling me to go. “I’ve been through this before,” I said, “Bad sprain. I went to Urgent Care and paid a lot of money for x-rays, a boot, and aspirin. I have the aspirin and the boot is on its way.”
What I wasn’t telling everyone, but it had to started to eat at me, was the fact that I was terrified about how much the doctor visit would cost. I had very limited funds, just enough to get through the month and back up to Philly. Even at that, I’d be sleeping in my car most nights.
I ordered crutches.
They finally arrived and I took an Uber to the doctor’s office. He examined the x-rays, and he said the good news was I would not need surgery, that it was a clean break, but it was close. The bad news was I’d been in a cast for a minimum of six weeks.
Alright, I thought, c’mon. Let it hit and sweep me away: the suicidal thoughts and depression.
I got home, spending another 100 pesos or so on an Uber, and waited for the wave to hit. I waited. And waited. Waited some more. The wave that would sweep me away into an inability to do anything, act on anything, never came.
Hmm. Interesting. I made some coffee and waited some more.
I was paralyzed for a little while. But not with depression. I was confused as hell. I think the word is poleaxed.
Yep, that’s the word: poleaxed. I just looked it up. Verb. An old word meaning hit, kill, or knock down with or as with a poleaxe; cause great shock to someone. –a poleaxe is a medieval weapon.
I got over it, with some help of some coffee, and then got to work.
Is this what is supposed to happen? Is this normal?
Yeah, I’m pretty much screwed. Did I mention that? I was even forced to start a fundraiser, asking for medical and living expenses. I had a couple bouts of depression about the entire situation, but they went away quickly instead of what I consider my normal: spiraling down into a deeper depression.
In a previous episode, I discuss it. I’m Alright, I’m Fine. It is what I say when I am not alright, and not fine. I think it is ironic because YouTube, where you can now find this podcast, reached out to me asking if I was okay.
Now? I am alright. I am fine. With no idea why.
I’m getting good medical care, have friends helping me out as I adjust to life without the ability to do everything –or really anything– for myself, and I have redoubled my efforts on the job hunt, expanding to any and all positions.
My book editor told me to back off on my book, that she would take care of it so I had more time to pursue the job hunt.
And I’m feeling pretty damn good. I continue to wake up each morning excited about the day. I think I spoke about it before, but I am like a kid on Christmas morning, every morning. I wake up and there is no struggle to get out of bed. I make it to my coffee maker and then get to work.
I have hope again.
There were so many times in my life that that is how I made it through the rough times. I could tell myself there was hope. Fake it till you make it. It would come.
This time, there was no faking it. It was just there.
No, I am not doing everything that I know I should be doing. Check out my episode on the Mental Health Triangle. I am still not in therapy. But I am doing everything else that I can.
I am still taking my meds along with the other things the doctor prescribed–no pain killers, only Motrin. I am searching for that self-actualization each day. I write, the warmth and support of the connections I made continue to lift me up as I have not retreated into isolation. I’m looking forward to the day when I get out of my chair and start exercising, working a little bit with the crutches and some recommended exercises.
I do watch more tv here than I ever have, but I am supposed to. Bed rest and ankle elevated.
In short, I am living my life, looking forward to each new day. I am so far away from that garage in Texas, both in miles and thought processes, where I spent so many nights contemplating suicide. Where a situation like this would have pushed me further down.
Is there a succinct way of summing up the change? I’ll try.
1) I gave myself what I tell other people contemplating suicide: time. I know the depression is just a distortion of reality and that the healtheir reality will reassert itself eventually.
2) I reentered the world and stopped isolating. I am remembering and using that web of connections I have built over a lifetime. Many people, I just reach out to and say hello. I know, and remember, that they are there.
3) I’m having fun with this. I make videos. Maybe not the best use of my time, but I have fun and share them so others might get a smile out of it.
4) While I work on my job hunt, I am also expanding the reach, or trying to, of my website and podcast. I am taking steps towards self-actualization and am embracing the future.
5) I am engaging on social media, talking with professionals, both to expand my network and to share my experiences.
6) I am looking at my situation with a different perspective.
Something I have always said is “Perspective: use it or lose it.” Instead of looking at my situation as “I am totally screwed and there is nothing I can do,” I am looking at it as, “There is a lot of opportunity here for growth. I need to learn patience. I need to learn to accept help when it is offered. I need to learn to ask for help. I need to keep in mind that I am not alone, of which I am being remined of every day.”
So, I am embracing the opportunity for growth.
After coffee each morning.
Yes, there really is hope.
You are not alone.
I am not alone.
And that is a wrap for this episode.
If you enjoy this podcast, I invite you to follow and share on social media. There is now a YouTube channel just for the podcast and I am currently working on a separate website for the podcast and my efforts to spread awareness about mental health.
A very simple way you can help is by liking, following and sharing the podcast. Especially on YouTube. Subscribers and clicks matter a great deal. It can lead to advertising revenue.