What I Did Before Zero Waste Bulk: Project Mental Health Recovery
I’m often asked what I did before I took on this project. Usually I mumble up some half truth and quickly change the subject. To be honest, I was ill. I was busy fighting for my life. Fighting with myself for a reason to live.
That’s the truth. I would have no trouble admitting it if I had a broken leg, but mental illness stigma makes it feel so wrong and awkward to share what I just did, like it should be kept hidden away like a dirty little secret.
Just a few months ago I was going in and out of the hospital attending various outpatient programs for severe depression and anxiety. Now I’m about to open my own store. It seems a little absurd to think about.
To go from a state where I was practically non-functional to where I am now took a lot of work to form new habits and shift old patterns of thinking. Luckily, I was in the position to be able to take time off (over a year) so that I could focus on getting better while my partner supported both of us.
Depression and anxiety were not new to me. I was up against an unusually long, persistent, 10 year old case of depression and a lifetime of anxiety. While most people who experience depression experience it episodically, I was dealing with 10 years of unremitting, treatment-resistant depression which was extremely isolating. On top of that, I was going through a quarter-life crisis where I had lost all sense of purpose, direction, and sense of identity. I felt I had nothing to live for and felt utterly worthless. Combined with paralyzing generalized and obsessive-compulsive anxiety, I wasn’t getting much done, though I spent much of my time worrying about not being productive enough. To fully describe what it’s like to live with a mental illness, I would need to write a book, so I won’t go much more into that here.
I knew something, namely myself, had to change for I saw nothing good ahead for me. I decided I would do everything in my power to get better, even if that meant repeating positive affirmations to myself though such advice would have once made me recoil. I even took up running. I mean, you can’t just tell someone with severe depression to go for a run and expect them to get better. When you’re depressed, getting out of bed and brushing your teeth is challenging enough. Despite my cynicism towards such advice and my lack of motivation, I did it anyway and turned it into a habit. I still run almost every morning, but admittedly it’s rarely easy - I have to tell myself to just do it and power through it, and the same goes for brushing my teeth. Does this mean exercise cured my depression? Definitely not. This was not the first time I had gotten into an exercising routine. It’s simply now one of the many tools I use to keep up my mental hygiene.
It was the combination of the outpatient programs, exercise, positive affirmations, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness, medication, meditation, self-compassion, and practising gratitude that helped me climb out of the pit of despair. Now, I would not say that I am “cured”. While I have managed to tame my depression and anxiety, I can feel them constantly lurking in the background. It’s something I have to fight with everyday so that I don’t relapse. But instead of being crippled by depression and anxiety, I’m prepared with tools to keep myself from spiraling down into a depressive-anxious cycle. I find myself catching myself when I begin to ruminate or excessively worry, and I am able to stop myself before I become trapped in the vicious cycle.
I’m an “entrepreneur” and I battle mental illness. (“Entrepreneur” in quotes because I see myself as more of a social and environmental activist.) Before diving into this project and working full time on Zero Waste Bulk, my “job” was to do everything I could to recover. Project Mental Health Recovery. Am I ashamed of my struggles? No. Do I fear what others may think of them? Yes. But that’s why it’s important to talk about mental illness. Shining a spotlight on mental illness demystifies it and makes it a little less taboo.
You can battle mental illness and be an entrepreneur. You can battle mental illness and be a leader. You can battle mental illness and achieve great things, whether that great thing is starting a business, making a new discovery, creating art, spreading laughter, taking care of your family, or simply finding inner peace.
How is this relevant to zero waste? Mental health will always be relevant, for it affects everything we do. We can strive for a cleaner planet, but what’s the point if we can’t enjoy it because we’re too busy fighting with ourselves or with each other? That’s why mental health and social activism are just as important to me as environmental activism. A beautiful planet with thriving wildlife and thriving people treating each other with compassion is what I want to see.