The Night Miguel Rivera’s Entire Life Changed

This happy looking shot was taken in 2011, when I almost destroyed myself.

In this post, I am going to talk about the night my entire life changed and all that’s come with it.
I will also talk about suicide, and why I am still on this planet.
These are thoughts and stories that I’ve kept from friends and family. A portion of my story I have shared during speaking engagements, but I leave out extra details. Recently, however, I had an experience that shook me – woke me up – and I decided that it was time to share.
HERE WE GO
For someone who has struggled with mental health and speaks openly about mental health issues, about once wanting at some point to end my life, I find it frustrating that mental health isn’t something we talk about as much. I think it’s important to discuss because I, and many people, have viewed it as a personal failure, a personal weakness, when this may not be the case.
There are some secrets we don’t share because they’re embarrassing. But then there are dark secrets. The things we tell no one. The shadows we keep covered for fear of unraveling our lives.
For me, 2009 – 2011 was full of shadows. So much so that I never wanted to revisit them.
I hadn’t talked about this traumatic period publicly until I got asked to speak at an “Every 15 Minutes” event at Norwalk High School, my alma mater. Strangely enough, this was the same themed event that I sat in as a high school senior (class of 2009) and paid zero attention to. I continued to talk about this more and in greater depth as I got invited to speak to classrooms of students, locally, as well as youth organizations.
What follows is a sequence of my downward spiral.
I still vividly recall these events, but any quotes are paraphrased. Please also excuse any grammatical/tense errors, as it was hard fo me to put this down. So, starting where it began…
A TWIST OF FATE
  • It was two months after my high school graduation. Two days before I started college. I was 18 years old. I graduated with high honors and was ecstatic more than ever to attend my dream school. Most importantly, to begin college in general because I would be the first to have a college degree in my entire family. Now I won’t use any names, but if it is necessary I will use false names.

 

  • It was Friday night, around 10pm, and I just got out of work. I get a phone call from a friend/co-worker of mine. The conversation over the phone went something like this:

“Hey, what are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing much. School starts next week, so more than likely just stay in. Why, what’s up?”

“There’s a party happening close by. My friend’s birthday, turning 21 so there will be a lot of people and drinks too.”

“Oh, that sounds cool, but I think I’m going to stay in tonight. Not really in the mood to go out or drive. I’m always the one to drive, so I’m good.”

“Oh, come on. It will be fun. I’ll drive us there, just drive to Jon’s house and I’ll pick you guys up. This way you don’t have to drive tonight.”

“Hmm, I’m good really. Not really feeling it tonight.”

“Come on. It’s not the same when you’re not there. You live close by anyways, so it’s not like you’re driving much.”

“Alright, I’m down. I’ll meet you at Jon’s.”

It’s important to note that I was the type of person who excelled in academics and always had a group of friends around. I played sports all my life and ended up playing varsity quarterback in high school. I would say I didn’t fit the whole “foolish jock” stereotype, but I did prioritize my friends and partying on the weekends as a senior. Being that I had excellent grades (in my eyes) and a job, I felt that I was allowed to do certain things that those who didn’t have things in order couldn’t.

  • I arrive at Jon’s. We get in the car and drive to a local liquor store nearby that served alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. We bought drinks here multiple times, so getting drinks for ourselves wasn’t a problem. We get to the liquor, park in the front, and for some reason I am just not in the mood to drink. I ignore this feeling completely and end up getting myself a 40 ounce of Mickey’s malt liquor. We get back in the car, where I am sitting in the back behind the driver, I start drinking my beer and about midway I feel disgusted. I cap my beer, set it down and forget about it. I’ve had this drink multiple times before, but for some reason I was disgusted by it this time.

 

  • We arrive to the party and the first thing I notice is a large crowd and a lot of  alcohol inside and outside the house. I greet a few familiar faces, meet a couple new ones, and start to drink a little bit. I then get asked to play team beer pong by the birthday boy and his girlfriend. I asked a friend if she wanted to play with me, but she said she didn’t drink. I mention to her not to worry that I will drink for her. We end up losing three straight games of beer pong. If you’re unfamiliar with this drinking game: losers of the game, whether 1v1 or 2v2, have to drink all of the remaining beer on the table including the opponents beer. So I end up drinking all of the remaining beer by myself. Post beer pong, I get invited behind the house to smoke a joint with a few people from the party.

Unfortunately, drinking with a combination of smoking was, or I can say still is, a “normal” thing for people to do. The term people use to describe this would be “cross faded.” The urban dictionary describes cross faded as: “To be drunk and high. This is the preferred method of getting faded for many.”

This is where things start to get blurry. I remember bits and pieces of the night after this. Some of it includes what I was told that happened towards the end of the night…

  • We eventually leave this party. The next thing I remember is arriving back at Jon’s house, standing on his front lawn, looking towards the front door of his house and seeing two friends of ours leaning on one another as they stumble into the house. I am in the front lawn ready to drive home. I don’t live very far from his house at all, being that I have driven under the influence in the past I figured I would be fine. I remember Jon mentioning if I was okay to drive. I said that I was several times. I end up getting in my car, going to the McDonald’s drive thru and ordering myself a chicken sandwich and double cheeseburger with leaf lettuce and Mac sauce.

 

  • I drive onto the 5 freeway heading so I can merge onto the 605 freeway where I would then have to take the first  xit to get to my house. This drive from Jon’s would take, literally, five minutes to get to my house. However, before I can merge onto the 605 I drift over a few lanes all the way to the left, crash into a side railing, and then flip a few times down into small ditch where I would end up breaking my neck.

There’s probably so many things going through your head right now. I can probably guess every single one if I tried.

But that’s not important. What’s important is that I lived to tell this story. What’s also important is that we learn from this. We should learn from our own mistakes as well as other people’s mishaps. Our entire life can change within seconds…

  • The next thing I remember is hearing a bunch of noise and a firefighter asking me, “are you okay? Can you hear me?” The first thing I tell him is that I can’t feel my legs, I can’t feel my legs. They use the jaws of life to cut the roof of my car to pull me out as safely as possible without making any  udden movements, strap me in the back of the paramedics and drive me to St. Francis Medical Hospital.

 

  • The first thing I remember when I wake up in the hospital bed is seeing my mom sitting bedside. I notice she has tears coming down her face but she also has a smile on her face. I have to be honest. I never asked her why she was smiling at that very moment, and I think it was because I already knew. She was in tears because her child just got in a terrible car accident, but she was smiling because I was alive.

 

  • The next thing I remember is the doctor walking in and telling me, “I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, Miguel, but you were in a terrible car accident that resulted in you breaking your neck. You are now a c-6 quadriplegic and you will no longer be able to walk again.”

The moment I heard this everything shut off. I was there physically, but I was gone mentally. All I thought about was how different my life was going to be from that point on. I didn’t even know what a c-6 quadriplegic was, just hearing him saying never being able to walk again killed me. From living an adventurous life to not being able to walk, not being able to play football, not being able to go to school, it all seemed impossible right then and there.

  • I remember having both of the visiting rooms filled with visitors during the first two days I was in St. Francis. Sadly, I wasn’t able to see them until a week or so. I was still drunk when I woke up.  I remember my brother asking the nurse if I had brain damage. That if my brain was okay. Believe it or not, I didn’t have a scratch on my body. Just a broken neck, I would eventually get a halo screwed into my head that would help keep my neck stable until I got transferred to a specialist for surgery.

 

  • I end up being transferred to USC Medical a couple of weeks later where my injury was explained to me a little more. A lot more, actually, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was more concerned about how I was going to live my life. I knew I didn’t want to live like this.

 

  • I was an inpatient at St. Francis for two weeks, an inpatient at USC for two months where I got my surgery done, and an inpatient at Rancho Los Amigos Rehab Center where I got my physical therapy and occupational therapy done for one month. All together, I would say I probably got about twenty one nights worth of sleep over a span of three months. It was a complete nightmare.

 

  • Being in the same position in bed for over two months; having an x-ray technician come into my room while I was in the ICU to take my x-ray at 3a.m. definitely did not help with my sleep; having nurses shove a tube down my throat to get all the mucus out of me because I wasn’t strong enough to cough it out on my own; nights where my gown and pillow would be covered with mucus because I was unable to push the nurse-call button because my hands/fingers were paralyzed. I have never been so afraid in my life. What made it worse was that I couldn’t have anyone stay the night with me because of hospital rules.

 

  • I remember being pushed to the emergency room for surgery in my hospital bed scared out of my mind. I tell the nurse, “I’m scared. What’s going to happen?” She does her best to comfort me with her kind words. I remember getting into the room and looking around as much as I can, and that was it. I wake up in my room and everything from my perspective was upside down. I call for help quickly where the nurse ends up explaining to me that the reason I was feeling this way was because of the side effects from the anesthesia from surgery.

A month goes by and I am finally transferred to Rancho Los Amigos for rehabilitation. I arrive and I get evaluated by a doctor who specialized in spinal cord injuries. He ran a few tests involving sensation, strength, and a few other things that made me uncomfortable. I understood that what was going on was needed, but it was all completely new and confusing to me.

It’s like I had to learn how to live all over again. Actually, it was exactly that…

 

  • Doctors shared with me that there would be classes that my family and I had to attend that would educate us on what a spinal cord injury was, how to live with it, statistics, and what stood out to me the most – sex life as a person with a spinal cord injury.

 

  • I attended courses like this as well as physical and occupational therapy every morning for a month straight. I was literally unable to do anything anymore. It’s more than being unable to walk.

 

  • I had to learn how to do everything you can imagine all over again. I had to learn how to get in and out of a car all over again, , dress myself, push myself, feed myself, bathe myself, pick things up with very limited hand function, what a pressure relief was and pressure sores. It was definitely an education process. The thing is that I was unable to do any of the things I mentioned independently. And that destroyed me in every way possible. I couldn’t even send a text message or push myself in a manuel wheelchair for two yards. It was unbelievable.

It is very important to understand that there are different levels of spinal cord injuries. It can be very complex when trying to understand SCI without any reference to it whatsoever. A simple way to put it is that no one spinal cord injury is the same. Even if one is diagnosed as the same level, there is still a possibility that the recovery process is completely different.

BrainAndSpinalCord.org defines C6 Tetraplegia (Quadriplegia) as the following:

“People with C6 tetraplegia have the use both of the elbow and the wrist and with assistive support can grasp objects. Some people with C6 learn to transfer independently with the help of a slide board. Some can also handle bladder and bowel management with assistive devices, although this can be difficult. People with C6 can learn to feed, groom, and bath themselves with the help of assistance devices. They can operate a manual wheelchair with grip attachments and they can drive specially adapted vehicles. Most people with C6 will need some assistance from a caregiver at times.”

  • The “C” in C6 represents the cervical cord, more specifically, C6 refers to the sixth vertebra in my neck.

 

  • When it comes to understanding the complexity of SCI, it is important to understand that there are four sections of the spinal cord: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. Each section of the spine protects different groups of nerves that control the body.

 

  • During my stay at Rancho Los Amigos Rehab Center, my life revolved around understanding what SCI was, more specifically – my own spinal cord injury. As an inpatient, early morning therapy sessions, SCI educational courses, and group outings is what most days consisted of. I would get visitors from time to time. My family was extremely supportive and by my side almost every day in the hospital. I had former football coaches visit me, former teachers and counselors visit and write me, a strong support system overall. But what was missing were the people who I spent the most time with socializing. This is when I realized who was really there for me. Who was really there for me when I was at my lowest point. I thought, what needs to happen to me to have my friends’ support, as if it was what was most important. Months went by and my two best friends and even girlfriend at the time didn’t visit me. I was surrounded by so many loving people, but these three individuals were on my mind. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

 

  • Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect once I got dispatched from the hospital. Every single thing at Rancho Los Amigos was wheelchair accessible, even though I may not have noticed it as much as I do now. This was a huge difference maker in my quality of life as I would soon find out later.

 

  • I ended up getting dispatched from Rancho Los Amigos mid-November in a black bulky, rigged hospital wheelchair that didn’t fit in my house doorways. This was a loan until I received my power wheelchair that I didn’t want anyways. Even though a power wheelchair is what most people with my level of SCI would use, I found myself feeling helpless in it. I felt like it kept me from recovering, from gaining strength that would ultimately keep me from reaching my ultimate goal of independence. This is definitely something physicians, SCI advocates, or anyone with reference to wheelchair use would have an opinion about in regards to what’s best for one to use, but I honestly didn’t care.

 

INTO THE DARKNESS

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
– Mexican proverb

So far I have painted a picture of my near death experience in addition to the changes I experienced during my stay in the ICU at St. Francis and USC Medical and my rehabilitation at Rancho Los Amigos. From this point on you will you will read about me living with a spinal cord injury outside of the hospital for the first time.

  • At first I really didn’t understand why I needed to take a home visit to begin with, I mean I understood why but I didn’t quite see how important it really was until I started living with a physical impairment outside of the hospital. It took me years to gain an understanding and appreciation for this second chance at life. Within these years came dark moments.

 

  • The most important people in my life at the time was my support system. I honestly would not have been able to live without their support. The changes came all too quick and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. During this time, my support system included my parents, three brothers and girlfriend. My closes friends were no longer in my life. At least the people I considered myself closes to at the time. I had a friend or two that was there for me. A few people who would “visit” me from time to time. I put the word visit in quotes because I remember feeling sorry for myself every time I read the words “When can I visit you?” in my text messages. I never shared this with anyone, but I couldn’t help but feel helpless or their sympathy every time someone did show up to my front door. Every time they left I wondered if I’d ever see them again. Mind you, these were people I went out with often before I was injured. So feeling this from them was completely new to me.

 

  • Every day to me was the same but different in a sense. I woke up at whatever random time I woke up. My brother, girlfriend or mother would feed me. Yes, I’m talking about literally spoon feeding me, grabbing the chicken wing from me, my drink, everything. All of this because I thought I was unable to do things with my hands due to the lack of dexterity in my hands. I would sit in front of a tv or behind a table doing something meaningless on my laptop. I received sponge bathes on my bed, spooned fed everything I ate, pushed around in my wheelchair throughout my house whenever I changed rooms. Every so often my mother would take me to outpatient therapy at Rancho Los Amigos using Access services where I worked with a physical therapist who didn’t care for my quality of life at all. This was a repeated cycle for the first two years after my accident. Yes, there were random outings, but the biggest thing for me was, at the time, my fear of being out in public. I cared too much about what others thought and I hated all of the stares. So I avoided leaving my home entirely.

 

  • There was also this fear of being in a car that was real. Besides the fear of being in a car, there was a hate for getting in and out of cars. It was more than hate, it was more of embarrassing and it always put me in a depressing state when people would stare. I didn’t get into cars similar to abled-bodied individuals, obviously. I would have someone who was strong enough (usually my brother or dad) carry me into the car. It made me feel different, and at the time this made me sad because it reminded me of how much my life had changed, it made me think of everything I was no longer able to do.

 

  • I remember days where I would wake up in bed hating my life. I would project my anger and saddness on my family even though they would do nothing but care for me. I remember laying in bed one morning crying over the phone to my doctor about how miserable I was. She brought up psychological counseling, which I had agreed to participate in but never ended up doing. What held me back was the stigma associated with seeing a therapist as well as the fact that I had to leave my house and get in and out of a car to actually see this therapist. I never ended up seeing the psychologist that my doctor recommended.

 

  • Day in and day out my mind was full of negative thoughts. I was hopeless. I felt like no one could understand what I was feeling, not my own family and definitely not any friends. Questions like “Why couldn’t I have died in that car accident?” or “Why did this have to happen to me?” traveled through my mind on a daily basis. It got to a point where I started telling myself how much of a burden I was to my family. All they did was take care of me and all I wanted to do was end my life. I was tired of living this way.

 

  • It came down to the point where I just had enough. I didn’t know how, but I knew if something triggered me I was going to call it quits. I remember getting in a heated conversation with my dad while we were driving on the freeway. The first thought that came to mind was open the door and roll out of the car. I didn’t have much physical strength to do this so I didn’t even try. We get to our destination and our argument continued. I see a flight of stairs and my first reaction was to push myself down the stairs. So I went. I push myself as fast as I can (keep in mind I was very physically weak during this time) and as soon as I get closer I see all the stairs below and just let go. My casters (two front mini wheels on a wheelchair) roll over the first step but my foot plate gets stuck on the step. I wasn’t going fast enough to fully get my wheelchair off the ground. My footplate literally saved me from ending my life or severely injuring myself. So I was stuck on the first step bent over in my wheelchair. My dad came and pulled me up to safety.

 

  • From this point on, I never attempted to hurt myself again. It doesn’t mean I never thought about it, I just never made the initiative to do so again. I was very depressed. I never went to see a therapist, I didn’t feel like anyone around me could really help me. I was very unhappy with myself. It wasn’t until my neighbor stopped by my house to visit that everything started to change.

 

  • One evening a dear friend of the family stopped by my house to sit and talk with me for a while. He pulled up a seat in front of me where I would always sit in my home, which was literally my comfort zone at the time. This is where I would sit behind a computer pretending to be working on stuff.

 

  • My neighbor Eric stops by, one of his usual friendly neighbor visits, but this time it was a little different. He shared his own personal story about the time in his life where the doctor told him he would never walk again. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where he and his peers would be surrounded by gang activity on a daily basis. Eric ended up getting shot 9 times and found himself in critical condition at the hospital. He ended up with nerve damage and the inability to walk when he was dispatched from the hospital. He too was at a point where he no longer wanted to live, where he found himself in his own comfort zone and refusing to do any form of physical therapy. Months went by without any type of therapy until an individual who he knew would visit him at his home to help him with his physical therapy. He would literally force Eric to get out of bed and to start working on himself. He got better over time, and eventually started walking again, something that his doctor said he would never do.

 

  • Eric’s story and mine aren’t identical, but there are many similarities. There’s something special about hearing others share their personal testimony with you. At the time, I was in serious need of having someone force me to work on myself as Eric had in his life during his recovery. That night, after Eric left my house, I realized that he was that person. He may not have forced me to do anything, but hearing his story was enough. The next few days I was in deep reflection. I thought about my life before my injury and the plans I had for myself. I thought about how young I was, and whether or not this was really how I was going to live my life forever. And then I thought about how I actually survived such an accident. There had to be a reason why I made it through.

 

  • After days and sleepless nights of reflecting, I realized something: my near death experience wasn’t only about me. It impacted the lives of those I cared about the most. I imagined my mom, who only wanted the best for me and would do anything in her power to give me that, sitting bedside of me in the hospital when I woke up.

 

  • I had to make a choice. Was I going to continue feeling sorry for myself or was I going to move forward? After listening to Eric’s story there was only one thing that I wanted to do – move forward. The very next week I get asked to speak at an “Every 15 Minutes” assembly at Norwalk High School by my younger brother who was participating in the event. The irony behind this hit me right away. Being a senior in high school attending this assembly at NHS to now the guest speaker at the same assembly at NHS years later hit me pretty hard.

 

  • When my brother asked me if I wanted to do this I sensed a combination of irony and fear. I’ve never been the type to speak in front of a crowd confidently, but for some reason I felt like I had to do this. As if there was no other option. Doing this was probably the best thing I could’ve done for myself during that time. Sharing my personal testimony to hundreds of students at a school where it all started for me was the best thing I could’ve done for my mental health. Most importantly, it allowed me to show youth of the possible consequences of drinking and driving.

 

  • At the conclusion of this assembly, I received nothing but positive feedback and invitations to speak at local churches and public schools. I realized how important it was for me to share my story with youth, adolescents in particular. Months later, after focusing on my body and sharing my story throughout the community instead of being trapped in my head, things were much clearer. Everything seemed more manageable.

 

  • I then had the confidence to start my college education at Cerritos College where I would then transfer to Cal State Dominguez Hills and graduate with honors. I also ended up started Dream Big Project my junior year in college as well as coach high school football at Norwalk High School. I started doing things that I never thought I would be doing in my life.

 

  • Many thanks are due to a few people who helped me regain my confidence. Most importantly, that there was a reason why I survived that car accident. None of them have heard this story, but I would like to give them credit here. Among others: My parents and family (of course), Eric Blake, Kristine Ayoso, Dr. Jess Soria, Jesse Cisneros, and the entire Norwalk High community. The support I received from you all was wholehearted.

 

OUT OF THE DARKNESS

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage…”
– Lao Tzu

Why didn’t I kill myself?

Below are the realizations that helped me (and a few friends).  They certainly won’t work for everyone suffering from depression, but my hope is that they help some of you.

1. Call this number : 1 (800) 273-8255. I didn’t have it, and I wish I had. It’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (website and live chat here). It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in both English and Spanish.

If you’re outside of the US, please click here for a list of international hotlines.
Sometimes, it just takes one conversation with one rational person to stop a horrible irrational decision. If you’re considering ending your life, please reach out to them.  If you’re too embarrassed to admit that, as I was, then you can reach out to them “just to chat for a few minutes.” Pretend you’re killing time or testing different suicide hotlines for a directory you’re compiling. Whatever works.

Speaking personally, I want to see the gifts you have to offer the world. And speaking from personal experience, believe me: this too shall pass, whatever it is.

2. I realized it would destroy other people’s lives. Killing yourself can spiritually kill other people.

Even if you’re not lucky enough, as I was, to feel loved by other people, I think this is worth meditating on.

Your death is not perfectly isolated. It can destroy a lot, whether your family (who will blame themselves), other loved ones, or simply the law enforcement officers or coroners who have to haul your death mask-wearing carcass out of an apartment or the woods. The guaranteed outcome of suicide is NOT things improving for you (or going blank), but creating a catastrophe for others. Even if your intention is to get revenge through suicide, the damage won’t be limited to your targets.

A friend once told me that killing yourself is like taking your pain, multiplying it 10x, and giving it to the ones who love you.  I agree with this, but there’s more.  Beyond any loved ones, you could include neighbors, innocent bystanders exposed to your death, and people — often kids — who commit “copycat suicides” when they read about your demise. This is the reality, not the cure-all fantasy, of suicide.

If think about killing yourself, imagine yourself wearing a suicide bomber’s vest of explosives and walking into a crowd of innocents.

That’s effectively what it is.  Even if you “feel” like no one loves you or cares about you, you are most likely loved–and most definitely lovable and worthy of love.

3. There’s no guarantee that killing yourself improves things!

In a tragically comic way, this was a depressing realization when I was considering blowing my head off or getting run over.  Damnation!  No guarantees.  Death and taxes, yes, but not a breezy afterlife.

The “afterlife” could be 1,000x worse than life, even at its worst.  No one knows. I personally believe that consciousness persists after physical death, and it dawned on me that I literally had zero evidence that my death would improve things. It’s a terrible bet. At least here, in this life, we have known variables we can tweak and change. The unknown void could be Dante’s Inferno or far worse. When we just “want the pain to stop,” it’s easy to forget this. You simply don’t know what’s behind door #3.

In our desperation, we often just don’t think it through. It’s kind of like the murder-suicide joke by one of my favorite comics, Demetri Martin:

“Someone who commits a murder-suicide is probably somebody who isn’t thinking through the afterlife. Bam! You’re dead. Bam! I’m dead. Oh shit … this is going to be awkward forever.”

 4. Tips from friends, related to #2 above.
For some of my friends (all high achievers, for those wondering), a “non-suicide vow” is what made all the difference. Here is one friend’s description:
“It only mattered when I made a vow to the one person in my life I knew I would never break it to [a sibling]. It’s powerful when you do that. All of a sudden, this option that I sometimes played around in my mind, it was off the table. I would never break a vow to my brother, ever. After the vow and him accepting it, I’ve had to approach life in a different way. There is no fantasy escape hatch. I’m in it. In the end, making a vow to him is the greatest gift I could have given myself.”
As silly as it might sound, it’s sometimes easier to focus on keeping your word, and avoiding hurting someone, than preserving your own life.

And that’s OK. Use what works first, and you can fix the rest later. If you need to disguise a vow out of embarrassment (“How would I confess that to a friend?!”), find a struggling friend to make a mutual “non-suicide vow” with.  Make it seem like you’re only trying to protect him or her. Still too much? Make it a “mutual non-self-hurt” vow with a friend who beats themselves up.

Make it about him or her as much as you.

If you don’t care about yourself, make it about other people.

Make a promise you can’t break, or at the very least realize this: killing yourself will destroy other people’s lives.

PRACTICAL DEFENSE

Now, let’s talk day-to-day tactics.

The fact of the matter is this: if you’re driven, an entrepreneur, a type-A personality, or a hundred other things, mood swings are part of your genetic hardwiring.  It’s a blessing and a curse.

Below are a number of habits and routines that help me. They might seem simplistic, but they keep me from careening too far off the tracks.  They are my defense against the abyss. They might help you find your own, or use them as a starting point.

Here are some of my coping mechanisms for making it through the day:

1) Wake up at least 1 hour before you have to be at a computer screen. E-mail is the mind killer.

2) Grab a large glass of water and sit down with a pen/pencil and paper.

3) Write down the 3-5 things — and no more — that are making you most anxious or uncomfortable. They’re often things that have been punted from one day’s to-do list to the next, to the next, to the next, and so on. Most important usually = most uncomfortable, with some chance of rejection or conflict.

4) For each item, ask yourself:

– “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
– “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”

5) Look only at the items you’ve answered “yes” to for at least one of these questions.

6) Block out at 2-3 hours to focus on ONE of them for today. Let the rest of the urgent but less important stuff slide. It will still be there tomorrow.

7) TO BE CLEAR: Block out at 2-3 HOURS to focus on ONE of them for today. This is ONE BLOCK OF TIME. Cobbling together 10 minutes here and there to add up to 120 minutes does not work.

8) If you get distracted or start procrastinating, don’t freak out and downward spiral; just gently come back to your ONE to-do.

9) Physically MOVE for at least 20 minutes each day. Go for a long walk, lift weights, take a free online yoga class (YouTube), anything. Ideally, get outside. I was once asked by friend for advice on overcoming debilitating stress. The answer I repeated over and over again was: “Remember to EXERCISE daily. That is 80% of the battle.”

10) Schedule at least one group dinner with friends per week.  Get it on the calendar no later than 5pm on Monday.  Ideal to have at least three people, but two is still great medicine.

11) Take a minute each day to call or email someone to express gratitude of some type. Consider someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time.  It can be a one-line text or a 5-second voicemail.

Congratulations! That’s it.

Those are the rules I use, and they help steer the ship in the right direction.

Routines are the only way I can feel “successful” despite my never-ending impulse to procrastinate, hit snooze, nap, and otherwise fritter away my days with bullshit. If I have 10 “important” things to do in a day, I’ll feel overwhelmed, and it’s 100% certain nothing important will get done that day. On the other hand, I can usually handle 1 must-do item and block out my lesser behaviors for 2-3 hours a day.

And when — despite your best efforts — you feel like you’re losing at the game of life, never forget: Even the best of the best feel this way sometimes. When I’m in the pit of despair with new projects, I recall what iconic writer Kurt Vonnegut said about his process: “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

Don’t overestimate the world and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

TO WRAP UP THIS LONG-ASS POST
If we let the storms pass and choose to reflect, we come out better than ever. In the end, regardless of the fucked up acts of others, we have to reach within ourselves and grow. It’s our responsibility to ourselves and–just as critical–to those who love and surround us.

You have gifts to share with the world.

You are not alone.

You are not flawed.

You are human.

And when the darkness comes, when you are fighting the demons, just remember: I’m right there fighting with you.

The gems I’ve found were forged in the struggle. Never ever give up.

Much love,

Miguel

P.S. If you have tips that have helped you overcome or manage depression, please share them in the comments. I would love for this post to become a growing resource for people. I will also do my best to improve it over time. Thank you.

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Dream Big Project

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