It’s July 2016, and it’s my 25th birthday. I am walking home with my girlfriend up the steep incline to my apartment in San Francisco. All I want to do for my birthday is see “Swiss Army Man”, a movie featuring Daniel Radcliffe, but everyone I’ve texted is busy. We reach my apartment, I walk up the steps and through the foyer. As I unlock my door and pass the threshold “Pop!…Pop!” Rainbow streamers and eager faced friends jump out like track runners off the block, “Surprise!”, they all shout. My ceiling is taped with drooping helix green and blue streamers meant to mimic waves under the ocean, which I love. The table is set with a taco bar buffet from my favorite taqueria. My friends know me well. This was the height of my life in San Francisco. I ventured often on weekends. I spent money on good clothing and had a great job. I had great friends and a girlfriend. I rock climbed, I rode bikes, I surfed, I skied, I made things, I took things apart, I got a new hobby, I quit that hobby, then got another new hobby. I surrounded myself with wonderful things and people. My life was great.
I had no idea why I felt so empty.
I moved to Australia in January 2017 to change the scenery and because my Australian girlfriend’s visa was expiring. The first three months were all distractions and excitement. Travel here, travel there, surf, pet a Koala, almost get killed by the world’s deadliest snake. But eventually, a feeling of isolation crept in being so far away from home. I didn’t have a social life, I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have my family to bug with my petty problems. It was me, alone in a city that was beautiful but slowly losing its magic and allure once the routine set in. Silence. All normalities and comforts of my old life in San Francisco were lost and felt like a blurry picture in my mind.
Eventually, I got a job: a 9-5, punch-in, punch-out, good money. My girlfriend knew the importance of taking care of myself. She saw the ticking time bomb that I didn’t, but I never listened to her when she told me to talk to someone. Issues began to surface when things were quiet after work: Picking fights, self-sabotage, anger, jealousy, control. Focused on everything negative when I wasn’t completely content. You see, I had a belief system for as long as I could remember that when things are peaceful, they’re boring. Everything loses its color. I wouldn’t let myself be happy. For whatever reason, I felt I didn’t deserve it. A year passed. We broke up.
I took six weeks off to go back home to California. Freshly single, I was in a dizzying freedom to go “find myself”, but I was nowhere to be found. I was just going through the motions: seeing friends, crashing out on their couches, wandering around in my own home. Six weeks passed, no luck, just tired from the hunt. I began my journey back to Sydney with another “see you soon” to my family in LA. As I got situated into my seat on the plane and got acquainted with the onboard entertainment for my 15-hour flight, I found “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.” It’s a damn good documentary. I found George Harrison and I similar. We both were “searching” for some greater purpose. George’s thirst for something profound led him to India in search of himself and to find a new way to nirvana within a state of isolation sans LSD. He found a more sustainable solution – meditation. It worked for him, maybe it could work for me. I was not fulfilled by the material world and as he would put it, what he was looking for was there inside himself the whole time. This wasn’t merely a snap of Mr. Harrison’s fingers, and as I would come to understand, this discovery took him his entire life.
I began meditating when I got back to Sydney. My brother, Jared, worked at Headspace, the guided meditation app. I got a subscription to it for a year. Everything goes great when I first begin working on something. I get excited. I get inspired. I pictured Mr. Harrison with his colorful clothing, malas and his stoic composure. When I got home to Sydney the first week I woke up early, meditated, ate breakfast, went to work, came home, exercised. The second week, I woke up a little later, meditated – meditation interrupted, text – back to it, breakfast, work, exercise, date, sleep. Suddenly, I was waking up late, no breakfast, work, home, scroll through the phone. What happened? I was so inspired. I had so much traction. George Harrison would be unimpressed. Several months passed like this.
I began to date a new girl, we spent a lot of time together right off the bat – she was very independent, and I admired this about her. She was very happy with herself and comfortable in her skin. It went smoothly until a project at work came up in New York, and my work asked me to relocate. We were at opposite ends of the world. We toughed it out long-distance, but my life was changing and fast. I had no time to catch my breath. I moved in two weeks after notice. Things were wrapped in a beautiful package. I flew business class with champagne. I rented an apartment in Brooklyn one month, Manhattan the next. This was a whole different level of distraction: 4 am nights, expenses paid, new friends, old friends, work, and everything was fresh. My girlfriend came to visit from Paris on studies. I was living the dream. I was also living on CBD every day. My possessions were scattered around the globe. My mind was scattered around the globe. I moved back to Sydney after four months expecting my life of luxury to come with me. I had tasted the material world – it was sweet and satisfied my desires. Though it was temporary, it left me wanting more. I was mistaken to think it was sustainable. When I got back to Sydney, I woke up from my dream and I was alone in a city again where no one gave a fuck what I had accomplished, name dropping New York like it was my new hobby.
This was when my downward spiral began. Silence. This time it was dead silent. I was tired of moving, I was exhausted from working, and everything came up to the surface. What I had been fighting this whole time while intentionally distracting myself, was severe anxiety and depression. At one point, my closest friend in Sydney said to me “I don’t recognize this Jake”. I felt this was a major warning sign. This scared me most, that my best friend could not recognize me.
One night I came home from work and it was so quiet that I began uncontrollably bawling. It wasn’t until losing my third night of sleep, a warning from my boss and a lump in my throat that I decided to see a doctor. I, of course, in my normal form, wouldn’t let myself tell the doctor of the racing thoughts and the inability to control them. I focused on the lump in my throat instead.
He asked me,
“Are you getting enough sleep?”
“No”, I replied.
“What do you do when you get home?”
“Nothing”, I explained.
“Thoughts of self-harm?”
“Yes.” I murmured.
That’s when I let it all go. I cried so hard and couldn’t stop. The hardest part was to admit I had these issues. I was raised to be tough, men are raised to be rocks and I was a puddle on the floor of my doctor’s office. After, I realized that it took bravery to admit I had depression. Coming clean felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I wasn’t alone. It was weaker to hold it in and be fearful of what others thought of me. Letting my pride and ego navigate my mental health was not okay. My doctor prescribed me Lexapro, which is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). I had a serotonin imbalance in my brain, which is just as crippling and physically ailing as a broken bone or arthritis. I needed to fix this and how I chose to tackle it was through psychotherapy and medication.
It has been since January 2019 and as I am writing this I am taking medication and seeing my therapist weekly. I trust in them to give me the green light on when I can go off of medication and therapy. It’s expensive and a ton of work, but the effort, progress, peace of mind and the infamous self-care is all worth it. George Harrison was right about one thing in that everything is within us. But we can’t do it alone. We need a team to keep going like a pit stop at a car race. Only you can get yourself to the doctor, but it takes real friends and family to recognize your struggle and to push you in the direction you need to be going in; to tell you the hard truths.
I am lucky to be where I am. At the end of the day, it starts with ourselves. I realized I was putting most of my happiness in things that were outside of me: travels, girlfriends, career, social life, even spirituality. Unfortunately, I used these things as distractions from taking care of myself, and just because they were ‘healthy’ distractions it didn’t make them not distractions. If anything, I prolonged the issue at hand. I am not completely better yet, but I am letting the professionals take care of that – they can get me in the right direction. It will take effort and work on my part. I just think about George and his most famous song, “And life flows on within you and without you”.
*Blog by Jake Brainerd*