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Mental Illness – No Shame – Lots of Hope

The list of challenges I have lived through in my life is long. Here's how I was able to overcome mental illness, addiction, and my past demons.

Friday Focus

Clinical depression (diagnosed by a professional). Panic attacks. Blackouts.

Suicidal thoughts and planning. Destructive societal behavior.

PTSD. OCD. Drug addiction (including alcohol).

Nine years of recovery. Nine-year relapse.

Second round of recovery.

Now approaching 15 years clean and free of “drugs.”

The list of psychological challenges and illnesses I have lived through in my life is long.

Trigger Warning: This post briefly describes severe abuse as a child, and goes on through to suicidal thoughts. If you are not prepared to read even brief content about a little child being severely abused, or how that eventually led to considering suicide, please skip this section and go on to “From Surviving to Thriving“!

Early Environmental Influence

While at least some of my issues may, in fact, have genetic origins to varying degrees, I have come to learn that we can be shaped and molded based on our environment. And for me, that all started as a result of having been severely abused – physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually throughout my childhood by my parents.

I was physically beaten routinely. Belts. Wooden hangers. Hands. Whatever was convenient. And crying, yeah that cliché “This hurts me more than it hurts you” was said often. As was “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

I was also told at various times growing up:

  • “You’re not good enough.”
  • “You don’t deserve ____.”
  • “Look what you did to your mother – why do you get her so upset?”
  • “You’ll never have anything in life.”
  • “It’s my house, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.”

One of the worst, from my mother: “Don’t argue with your father – he’s right even when he’s wrong…”

The chaos and abuse at home were only reinforced by being bullied from elementary school until my teen years.

I was taught “turn the other cheek,” “don’t cause trouble at school,” and concepts along those lines.

I was never taught how to stand up for myself early on, as a human being. Never taught at that age any concept of self-worth or self-esteem.

So it was almost guaranteed that I’d seek to escape from that hell.

The Early Years of Insanity

My earliest escape was daytime, waking life blackouts. As a very small child, I would literally be doing one thing somewhere in the house, and next thing I knew, I was outside, doing something completely different.

When my parents would have friends over, I would hide behind the couch, in fear.

I had nightmares that some evil being would come through the window to attack me.

Sugar became a drug. The adrenaline rush in pouring sugar onto sugar-infused cereal was an addiction.

Daydreaming about a better life became a constant outlet.

Escalated Escape

Eventually, escape for me transitioned into schoolwork. I found that if I did really well in class, my teachers would praise me, show me appreciation. So that became a drug.

Seeking approval actually got results somewhere. I craved it. Obsessed over obtaining it.

Except as the years passed, and the abuse got worse, none of those escapes were enough anymore. And that led to drugs. I fit in. Got acceptance. And at the same time, could numb my emotions and thoughts.

Any drug I was exposed to. Could get access to. For me, one drug didn’t lead to another. It was a free-for-all of access and impact. Its use grew though – in volume and frequency.

I almost didn’t graduate from high school because at that point I was “tuned out” – from a straight-A student to failing because of not even showing up at class.

From there, I ended up creating a path of chaos wherever I went with jobs, friendships, everything, and anything.

I got arrested for “minor” infractions more than once. That happens when you are “tuned out” all the time, and when you end up in places you don’t belong, with people you aren’t going to win societal participation awards among.

Life eventually hit bottom (my first of multiple bottoms). Nothing worked anymore. None of my escape mechanisms could numb the pain or internal turmoil.

So I thought suicide was my only way out. Tried planning it out. Yet never did come up with a method I could guarantee would work.

That was 1986. I was 27, and it was the darkest period of my life.

From Surviving to Thriving

Yet I stand here today, writing this post, to say that with a lot of help, support and effort, I’ve overcome so much over so many years.

No, my life is not “perfect” these days.

All of those mental health challenges still, even now, have a residual impact on who I am and how I face the world.

And I can, in the blink of an eye, end up falling into the chaos and insanity at any time for the rest of my life because some of it became so ingrained in me over so many years, that there’s a residual set of beliefs right there.

Just beneath the surface. That close to wanting to take control again.

That’s how it is with addiction, and that’s how it is with the psychological parameters that allow addiction to awaken even when we “know better.”

It’s why, after my first nine years clean from drugs, I relapsed. And spent nine more years out there, fighting the demons.

And while I am approaching 15 years clean this time around (if I can make it, one day at a time until October 27), recovery is still not guaranteed to last forever.

There is no cure when the damage is so deep. There is only mitigation, alleviation, and remission.

In spite of that, I’ve learned to build a pretty amazing, miraculous and spectacular life for myself overall.

I’ve gotten to travel much of the world – consciously chose to live a nomadic life, moving from city to city, state to state every couple years until I went and bought a house at Lake Tahoe this year, where I now reside.

I’ve built a reputation as one of the industry’s top site auditors, gotten to do that work on hundreds of small, medium, and global enterprise sites.

I’ve established lifelong friendships with industry peers and been able to give back in countless ways to the search community and to people in need out in the world.

I often have very good days.

Productive. Happy. Serene.

Even when I have bad days, they are not anywhere near as bad as they used to be because I have tools and resources and an entire support network.

And I have been practicing their use for so long at this point, that most of the time, the noise doesn’t get very loud, if it shows up at all.

When it shows up, I know what to do about it.

That doesn’t mean I instantly take positive action all the time.

Some days, it is a struggle.

Yet I know better now. I have practiced and done the work enough, and gotten the positive results. So there’s much more balance in my life.

Overcoming Mental Illness, Addiction & My Past Demons

How have I done that? How have I been able to overcome such crazy obstacles and challenges on so many levels?

Caveat: What I share here is what has worked for me, what continues to work for me. I cannot possibly say, with absolute certainty, that any of this will guarantee to work for you. And I don’t go into the details here as there’s too much of it.

What I do know though is this – there are many ways to achieve success in SEO. So too, there are many ways to overcome challenges arising from mental illness, addiction, and other outward signs of internal chaos.

So please understand that if these things help you, that’s a blessing. And if they don’t, it does not mean there is no hope. You just may need to find something else that works for you.

And as my brother told me many years ago when I was at a psychological bottom – as long as you have a breath left in your body, there is hope.

First Rule: No Shame

First, I’ve done so by not accepting that any of these issues are something to be ashamed of.

There is no such thing as perfect except in that every human has challenges. Every person suffers from the broader “human condition” called life.

Anybody who ridicules, stigmatizes, or disrespects mental illness, for example, or physical limitations others have, is themselves, suffering from a form of mental defect.

Maybe it’s “only” a lack of empathy. Maybe it’s something more insidious.

Regardless of the cause, people who fail to respect others who are not like them physically, intellectually, or emotionally, are no different than those who fail to respect others due to color of skin, sexuality, or any other major life framework.

That does not mean I am free from embarrassment, fear, guilt or shame all the time.

Heck, even writing this post, fear kicked in.

What if I allow this to be posted on a top industry site? Will people still want to hire me for audit work?

Will they think I am unstable, or incapable of helping them given how messed up my life has been at times?

Yet when that does come up, I understand and recognize that the need to share my truth with others is more important to me than some unrealized fear.

I cannot keep my path in darkness. It needs to be brought into the light.

One of the most important things that have helped me countless times over the years has been learning that others have gone through the fires and come out on the other side.

So I believe I have a moral, human responsibility to write this. And guess what?

Anybody who reads this and ends up running away from me, well, that’s on them. They’re not wrong or bad or evil for doing so if anyone does that. They too are only human.

And the world is big enough that I will be okay. My entire identity is not, these days, wrapped in having to get approval from every single person I encounter.

In fact, I’m also writing this because others in the industry have, themselves, been vocal about mental illness and other life challenges. So they themselves, have given me inspiration, and courage and hope that writing this is OK.

Second Rule: We Need Others & We Need to Take Responsibility

Second, I’ve learned that “I can’t, we can.”

One of the biggest character defects I developed growing up was the belief that I had to be the one to resolve all of my own problems in life.

That I couldn’t ask for others to help me, let alone accept it.

I had to figure out what to do in everything – which, in my case, was made better and worse at the same time because I happen to be highly intelligent, and I also suffered from “the great I Am” syndrome (thinking I was the center of the universe).

So I used to think “if only this outside situation or circumstance will change, everything will be better.” And then I’d go and find a way to make that change quite often.

Except I never, back then, looked inside, to see what my role in any of it was.

I never stopped to consider that I had a broken picker.

Broken relationship picker. Broken job picker. Broken societal participation picker.

I also had deeply a flawed understanding of how to participate in society and didn’t understand humility can coexist with confidence.

As a result, while things would appear better on the surface, for a while, I inevitably ended up having it blow up in my face.

Relationships fell apart. I’d quit or get fired from job after job.

I’d end up in dangerous situations and circumstances within society. Ended up on death’s doorstep many times.

I call it “hell on earth.”

So I eventually learned “wherever you go, there you are,” and “when one finger is pointing outward, three more are pointing inward.”

Yet I also needed to learn that I am not “The great I Am.”

I am not God. Or a god. I am not the center of the universe. I don’t have all the answers.

This means I need to learn to seek out those who have been where I was, or I am, and who themselves, have overcome some aspect of what I have yet to overcome. And, or, for different needs, I need to turn to professionals.

Sometimes, you really do need search science when your blogging friend can’t even identify with why you aren’t ranking organically, right?

So too, sometimes we need medical professionals or clinicians regarding our mental health needs.

Even a recovering addict needs pain medications sometimes, like after major surgery.

I need to reach out to potential support and help resources, when appropriate.

And if they are willing, and able to offer any support, guidance or help, I need to be honest, open-minded, and willing myself.

Honest about what’s really going on. And about what I don’t know or understand.

Open-minded to a better way to live. And to the possibility that they may have answers I seek.

Willing to change. Willing to take responsibility for my actions. Willing to learn.

Third Rule: It’s Simple, Not Easy

Third – when it comes to mental illness, addiction, behavioral patterns that need to be overcome, the process is almost always simple.

Whether it’s taking certain steps physically, mentally, psychologically or spiritually, they’re just steps.

Footwork. Effort. Sequential change in how we think, what we think, how we feel, what we feel. Or behavior modification.

Yet the deeper the wounds, the more complex the layers of issues, the heavier the load – which means that even simple steps can feel monumental.

And the more years we’ve lived with these challenges, the more ingrained our behavior has become based on raw survival learning. How to survive while suffering internally. Which means we have established, maybe even carved into proverbial stone, rules we live by. Entire belief systems on how to exist.

And that in turn, has led, for many of us, into creating, then maintaining our entire life identity around what just may turn out to be a complete misunderstanding of how we need to live this life.

So it’s possible that at the mere thought of needing to change any of that, our fight-or-flight survival mechanisms may kick into high gear.

We may think we want to change something, on the surface. We may feel there must be a better way to live. We may say we are willing to change.

Yet we may not be ready. Or willing.

Fourth Rule: Accepting Reality, Resisting Change

When push comes to shove, subconsciously, we may panic, else need to accept that everything we came to believe about our selves and our world, needs reevaluation.

That, quite often, can be the scariest concept we face in our lifetimes. The notion that “what worked for me all these years may have been completely invalid,” is heavy.

Yet for someone like me, whose life was constant chaos, turmoil, and insanity, none of it was truly “working.” I was barely surviving.

Heck – even with several years of growth and awakening to a new way of life, and yes, even sometimes, to this very day, while the chaos has been lowered, the insanity “mostly” eliminated, those old beliefs still sit there, on the sidelines, waiting to jump up and take charge again.

The more I resist acceptance about the truth of my situation, the more likely I’ll tell myself “hey, don’t change – you got this far without that abracadabra or woo woo nonsense.”

When that happens, I’ve come to learn to listen inside. Where is that coming from? Is that from my past? Quite often, when I need answers to that, I go to my intuition.

Some people refer to intuition as “a gut feeling.” Others call it God, or Holy Spirit. Others still, refer to it as wisdom. I even turn to “God” sometimes. Which is not a religious god for me.

God, to me, is its own complex notion of endless wisdom, love, positive direction. None of the condemnation stuff. Whatever label you put on any of it, that is where to turn.

Yet we also need to avoid becoming trapped in self-convincing con artist level internal dialogue. Because the more years we have in “just surviving,” the more power we’ve given to the voice of insanity in our own being.

Whether it’s ego, the devil, fear, or whatever other “source” of the “self-deception,” we need to be vigilant for that as well.

Healthy Support from Others

I could spend hours and hours going further into the psychology and the process of what I’ve been through, what I’ve learned, and how I’ve overcome personal challenges to the degree I have – except this is “just” a blog post meant not to be a life story or a book.

(In fact, I’m in the final stages of actually writing a book on how we can change our life stars. It’s currently in the hands of my editor.)

However, that’s another subject altogether.

What I will say now, in moving toward a conclusion of this blog post, has to do with the fact I mentioned earlier that we need others in our life to help us.

When I say that, I need to emphasize how important it is to also realize that we almost certainly cannot seek help from just one other person, or just one book, or one medication, or just one course in wellness.

Our lives, like SEO, are so complicated, multi-faceted and unique to us that we almost certainly need help from multiple people, books, courses, or medications.

We’ve built a lifetime of circumstances and issues and needs. Some directly relate to others, while others still are ultimately not related. Involve different causes, require different solutions.

So thinking only one person or one answer is needed, is potentially not true.

And if we look to rely on just one source for help, that may lead to other problems.

Take people, for example. It is probably not possible that any one person is going to have enough direct experience, themselves, to align with all of the facets of your unique situation.

When you need SEO, you may, hopefully, seek out an SEO professional.

Yet when you need accounting restructuring, or Human Resources changes in your business, or a business loan, or legal advice, it’s almost never advisable to expect your SEO professional to have the depth of experience in your unique path’s history, let alone the experience in how to win with all of those things.

Unless you need a veterinarian. And your SEO is Marie Haynes.

Yet even then, if you hire Marie or her company for SEO, and at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night, your dog needs medical help, is it really appropriate to call Marie?

So too, is it true that when we have mental illness challenges, they are likely to have manifest in ways that not everyone we meet who themselves has overcome mental illness challenges, can help with.

Or where a given individual counselor or psychologist has expertise in one area, they may not have expertise in another.

We may need a food or gambling addiction support solution, a medical doctor, a psychologist, a drug addiction support solution, a marriage counselor, a physical therapist, a spiritual advisor, or any number of other “specialists.”

And even if/when we find any one of those, that one person may not be able to be available for us every time we are in crisis.

We can not allow ourselves to think they “should” be either. We can not, ourselves, be all things to others, 24/7/365. Not even to those we love the most.

Trying to do that will eventually cause us to lose our own sanity. So why would we think that isn’t true for someone we turn to for help?

Which means we need to find multiple resources sometimes even regarding one aspect of our growth needs.

Take What Works – Leave The Rest Behind

Even when we find someone or several people or support groups, or practitioners, it’s just as important to realize going into it that what they offer may apply to us, and it may not. Because they’re as unique as we are. They too, are only human.

And what works for them or worked for them, may not work for us, even if, going into it, we think they know our situation, or we think their story is our story.

So we need to be OK with situations where something they offer, whether out of love or compassion or empathy or training, may not be ideal for us. Or may not fit out truth.

And that’s OK.

If we rely on honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, we also need to rely on that intuitive awareness I also talked about.

And if there is something in their background, or story that tells us they’re not perfect (that illusion of reality), or is radically different than our story, we also need to allow ourselves to be wise enough to accept what does align, without allowing what does not align, to prevent us from receiving value.

As long as it’s a healthy relationship scenario with that person, that practitioner, or that support group, it’s healthy to have the courage and capacity to see and accept what works and aligns, in spite of differences.

Like me and Jeremy Knauff. As brilliant as he is, he’s a jarhead, and I’m an Army rat. So how can a crayon eater possibly help me?

Well when it comes to WordPress code, I turned to Jeremy to get my site lightning fast. And now it is. In spite of his poor choice of military service.

I use that as a joking way to say “Look, not everything about our two paths is the same. Yet for this thing, he has what I need.”

That same silly concept, when taken seriously regarding mental health support, applies as well.

If there is enough alignment with someone else, in an area I need help with, and I am able to focus on that thing from them, that’s what matters.


On a final note regarding seeking help from others:

Codependency is another major barrier to growth as individuals. If we are or become codependent with people we turn to for help, that’s self-sabotage. Self-destructive behavior.

We need to learn about codependency, enough to learn its patterns and warning signs, no matter what type of help we are seeking for ourselves. So I encourage people to, at the very least, get a good book on the topic and read it.

Warning – you may discover all or many of your relationships are codependent. It’s not uncommon for people with mental illness, or addictions, to suffer from that.

And it’s not uncommon for people in relationship with or in a family where someone has mental illness or addictions, to also be codependent.

And if that’s true, it’s OK. It just may mean there’s something else that needs to be addressed on your path in life. Which means there’s still hope.

The Bottom Line

No matter what you have been through, no matter what you are going through, you are not so unique that nobody else has gone through it.

No matter what.

Why? Because if there are words to describe it, that means someone else has been there, experienced that.

And because of that, given the age of humanity, there is almost certainly somebody who has gone through it and overcome that thing. Probably exponential numbers of others, in fact.

Maybe not in the exact combination you have lived, yet to enough degree that together, we as a society, can provide answers. And help each other.

So if you are seeking help, in whatever way, please know that as long as you have a breath left in your being, there is hope.

More Resources:

Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita

Category Friday Focus
Alan Bleiweiss Forensic SEO Consultant at Alan Bleiweiss Consulting

Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites from medium scale to world class enterprise. He ...

Mental Illness – No Shame – Lots of Hope

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