“If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and dying.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
I wrote the original version of this article over twelve months ago now, but since then much has happened along this winding-road through life. Therefore, I decided to revive it, but this time under a different title that I believe is a closer reflection of a journey with mental health.
A conversation with someone very special to me was the omen I needed to write to write this article and share my story. This person came to me with their worries and struggles in life itself; after listening to my perspective, they asked me two questions; how do you have such a great outlook on life? And where did you learn ‘this stuff’ from? These words really resonated with me, coming from someone who had just demonstrated such a great deal of courage.
This was when I realised so clearly that I am not writing this for me, I am writing this because maybe, just maybe it will resonate with you, the reader and give you the shift in perspective that you might need in your own life. So many of us keeps secret from the world because we’re afraid that if we reveal the truth of who we really are we won’t be liked, or loved, or accepted. But perhaps one of our most important callings as a species is to put our own self-worth aside and to tell our stories, our struggles and how we prevailed in order to relieve others from suffering.
I am_ Rob J. Tant and as I write to you today at just 26 years old, I am still very much experiencing young-adult life myself. I still have many questions. I still have much to learn and even more to experience. I am still very curious about all that life has to offer. Nonetheless, I am writing because I want to share some of my experiences with you, but ultimately, because I feel my experiences, my serendipity, have given me the knowledge and understanding to enable me to contribute to the lives of others.
I truly believe that the quality of our lives will be determined by the mark we leave upon this world, our contribution, and how we decide to help others. As someone very close to me recently expressed it: It’s all about taking the small steps to creating a better World. I want to be that difference in as many lives as I possibly can be.
This World that I refer to is currently going through a period of existential frustration, with one in four people suffering from a mental health illness in their lifetime. Today, more people commit suicide than people who die from any form of violence. How is this possible in a World that has so much to offer? A World with so many opportunities? In a World where we can literally be anything we want to be? Well that’s exactly what the problem is. Our species originated and developed from having one sole purpose, survival; with the ‘fight or flight’ mentality enabling us to flourish throughout the history of our ancestors. Yet nowadays we find ourselves constantly challenged by a multitude of new complexities: those that are inherently interconnected with a modern society. I am not ignorant to the fact that as humanity has evolved, people from previous generations have gone through extreme hardship and if it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t be here today. Nor am I naïve to the fact that in many ways we have been blessed to grow up in this current World I speak of. However, because our brains are hardwired to simply survive, leaving many of us struggling to adapt to this modern world and we then find ourselves questioning what the purpose of Life really is.
I for one, am one of those people. For the best part of seven years I found myself constantly asking that question. Overtime, this cascaded into a severe battle with mental health issues until eventually, I hit what can only be described as absolute rock-bottom. I was lost and I had no idea how to find my way back. Shortly after this, I was officially diagnosed with ‘severe general anxiety and depression disorder’. The truth is (as many of us do) I allowed the problem to escalate for significantly longer than I should have before seeking help. The second truth is that the help I did get didn’t help at all. Helpful, right?
Well the ultimate truth is that these really were the defining moments of my life. It was in that moment I realised that I had to change. In what is one of my all-time favourite books, ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’, Robin Sharma exquisitely states, “There is no such thing as a negative experience, only opportunities to grow, learn and advance along the road of self-mastery. From Struggle comes strength.”. And it was in that moment that I made the promise to Myself to discover what all this really means and to find whatever it takes to love life again.
This was over three years ago now and since then I have been on one rollercoaster of a journey. A lot of it has been tough, confusing, challenging, disturbing and to be quite honest, at times, terrifying. I have discovered a lot along the way, not least of which is that your happiness is not a destination, but a journey and the quality of life in which we experience along that journey. I have adopted a lot of positive habits, developed a lot of great life principles and absolutely committed to working on my happiness and mindfulness every single day. When I reflect on how I feel now compared to back then, it really is incredible how profoundly happy I am in life.
However, things don’t simply change overnight. Depression and anxiety have a lot to do with an individual’s lack of control, or at least lack of understanding about their own emotions. And along this journey to enlightenment, many of these ‘emotional-highs’ can often be followed by a come down and emotional distress. This is okay, it’s all part of human life! But what if this distress and struggle is caused by Your-Self.
The real reason I became teetotal.
If these were the words that caught your attention, then apologies that you just had to read a thousand words before getting here, but the next part would not have made sense to you without the context.
Almost nineteen months ago, I made the decision to become teetotal. Since then, as you can imagine, I am frequently questioned as to why I made such a choice. If I am completely honest with you, I have never told anyone the real truth. And the few that that I have opened up to certainly do not know the extent and deeper meaning behind the decision. Today, I am going to be honest with you and speak that truth.
Firstly, let’s rewind back a couple of years to my graduation from university, where you would find me in the Student’s Union at 10:00am sipping on my first pint with my best mates. The first of a session that would last seventeen hours before I finally passed out in bed, then awoke, and started again. A standard session that involved excessive drinking, taking things too far and getting absolutely ‘spangled’. This is just one occasion of so many that I’ve lost count. I was not an alcoholic; I was simply a student, a young-adult, trying to have fun. And I did. I have so many memories that I will never forget (as well as a few I’ve undoubtedly already forgotten) and there were a lot of highlights despite what I was going through. So, if it was that great, you’re probably thinking, what on earth did you quit for?
The reality is that drinking was just a mask to cover up what I was dealing with inside my own head; an excuse to try and conquer the despair. I spent my days pretending I was okay, when I was far from it. I spent my nights out pretending I was having a great time, but really, I was trying to ignore the terrifying thoughts that consumed my mind. So, did it work? Did it fuck!
It took me a long while to realise this. In fact, when I decided to quit drinking for good, I was actually in a very good place. I had graduated university highest in my class. Got myself an incredible job opportunity overseas in Europe. Travelled to the other side of the world and met some amazing people. And most importantly, I still had my incredible family and friends. More confused now?
Let me put this into context… You know when you wake up after a big night out with a raging hangover? You probably feel horrendous, maybe full of regret, potentially lacking any form of dignity. Life is painful, you don’t know when that pain is going to end. Your emotions are all over the place, maybe you just want to lay there and cry. You don’t know what to do, you just want to feel human again. You just want the day to be over so you can go to sleep and have a break from the world. Does this sound at all familiar to you?
Some may say “just get a grip”. Or “man up”. Or “it’s your own fault.” In some sense I would be inclined to agree…
But imagine if this is what you felt like every day for four years. Imagine waking up on a daily basis and having to go to work, or go to lectures, or even just interact with society and all you really want is for the day to be over so that you can go home and lay in bed and hopefully, eventually, maybe fall asleep so that you don’t have to deal with the shadow of darkness that reigns over your mind any longer. Imagine going to sleep hoping that you don’t have to wake up. It’s so strange to think of living in a nightmare and sleeping in a dream. This was my battle with anxiety and depression…
In the wake of this, I have committed to working on my happiness daily for over a year and a half now. I believe that the life you live will be the result of the habits you develop, and Your time really is too short to not live an extraordinary quality of life. My biggest desire is to be grateful for every day, to be happy and excited about each moment because the fact of the matter is, we will never get them back. It has certainly been a battle and a challenge, but our greatest strength shines in our darkest moments and my consciousness guided me back to the path I was destined to take, and in time, I came to truly love and adore my existence in this world again.
Therefore, the idea of purposely filling my body with a toxic substance that exposed my mind to such catastrophic effects just became ridiculous. It’s like after everything I went through, I was rewarding myself by choosing to feel fucking shit again through drinking alcohol, which I had complete choice over whether I consumed or not. The decision was ‘black or white’; it became so clear to me in the end it was actually laughable how long it took me to realise the harm I was causing my mind and body. The truth is we are exactly where we are in life because of the decisions we chose to make.
There are moments that define our lives one way or another. In this case, I was one decision away from changing my life, or one decision away from ending it. The real reason I became teetotal then, is because I consciously choose to feel fucking amazing every single day. This was my metamorphosis.
There and back again.
The truth of life is that no matter what, we won’t always “feel fucking amazing” each day. Despite having come such a long way from the darkest time of my battle with depression and anxiety, some days are still challenging, sometimes it is hard to explain why, but I have come to accept that it is just part of this human experience. We are all incredibly intellectual and complex beings and I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit as individuals for the mental pressures we expose ourselves to on a daily basis, some of course, more than others.
However, even during the times we struggle, things always get better, I promise! No matter who you are, I am sure you can reflect upon a time that felt unbearable, but when you look back on it now, it doesn’t even appear to matter. The next time we face struggle, let us use that as a reminder in order empower us when we need it most of all. I wanted to revive this article to share one clear message that I feel is the most important of all: no matter where we are in life, or what stage of our journey, as the world we inhabit continues to spin, we still have the opportunity to love our lives fully. Keep going no matter what, stand up in the face of your greatest adversity and be your very best.
If you are sat there reading these words now, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart for staying with me through each part of this. I know it was long and I have no doubt some of it was intense. Maybe you’re in disbelief, maybe you’re angry, maybe you’re critiquing, however, I hope some of you at least found meaning in the words that were transcribed and I hope they resonated with You and help You make a difference in Your own life.
For those that may feel sympathy, concern, empathy, please do not. My sufferings are the fuel that created who I am. I am grateful for what I went through and everything that I experienced because it sits deep within the soul of who I am today and the journey that I will take tomorrow.
I wanted to engage with you by reaching out and giving you an honest and genuine reflection of who I am and why I want to connect with You. I have grown and learned so much along this journey and I believe my destiny is now to share these principles and habits with You. I have a deep and yearning desire to support you on your own journey of liberation and personal growth. I am thrilled that I can continue this journey with you and connect with you now.
Until next time, I leave you with a quote from my second favourite book of all time, ‘Mans Search for Meaning’, in which Viktor E. Frankl expresses so powerfully: “If there is purpose in life at all, then there must be purpose in suffering and dying.”.
Rob J. Tant.