Commentary by Bryan Plant II

While my mental health has been a lifelong struggle, the road back began in 2018. A simple routine visit with my doctor was an unintended first step.

He asked the simple question, “How are you doing?” Apparently, that was all I needed to break down uncontrollably sobbing, as I couldn’t take it any longer. I had troubles, and needed a way out. I needed help.

For many years I had been sliding into a deep depression, fed by anxiety and insecurities, narrated by an unrelenting inner critic, always ready to remind of all the worst things I believed about myself, to delight in the smallest mistake, and diminish any reason I might have to celebrate. Why wouldn’t I believe this messenger? Those blows were in my own voice.

I’ve always struggled with my weight. I’ve struggled with low self-… well, everything: self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, and the new one I’m learning about – self-love. I’ve often struggled with social anxiety. When all you want to do is hide, or at least blend in, it’s extremely hard to do when you’re my size.

Apparently the discomfort wasn’t great enough to encourage me to make changes – it was easier just to start hiding. I’m eternally grateful for the friends and family that wouldn’t let me. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.

A vicious loop began dragging me down. I would exaggerate even the smallest piece of negative feedback. Every time I would be rejected in romantic attempts, it became a harsh judgment on my value as a human. It eventually became easier to reject myself.

I was unfulfilled with my work, but the pay was good. I felt stuck, so I endured the frustration. As my weight went up, I shrank my world until there wasn’t much left. And then I was laid off.

Losing my job hit me hard. I lost a sense of identity. I tried to deny this shock to the system, but an underlying depression began to hinder my efforts to find a new job.

It didn’t take long before the fear of losing my home became a reality. I luckily sold it before it was foreclosed on, but I had to make the decision to move back home to regroup.

In my head, this made me a failure, a loser, worthless. I was supposed to be stronger, better, tougher than this. I clearly was not.

I halfheartedly tried to find work, I tried to find my way back, but all I was doing was spinning my wheels, sinking further into the muck. I bled my 401K dry to have something to live off, and I lived off the generosity of others for a few years.

But these were just slowing the descent that ultimately landed me in a homeless shelter. I thought that was the lowest point in my life, a reality check. It still took another year to hit what I consider my true rock bottom.

I struggled immensely between my mental health, my physical health, and now difficulties navigating the complexities of the government social services programs. It was a slog. I felt under constant threat. I battled through too many barriers, including my own biases and beliefs.

I compounded it by making the decision to do this without medication. That’s not a judgment on those who need the tool of medication. I had avoided facing how I truly felt about things for so long that, to come back, I needed to break that habit. I needed to become open to trying new things, even if I thought they were too touchy-feely.

What I was doing hadn’t been working – maybe someone else knew a different or better way. I’ll probably continue to apologize to the people at CSAC for pushing back against all the soft language that many, many three-letter systems employ. I’d literally have to take handouts and slides home to reread and put them into my own words for them to have any chance to resonate with me.

Additionally, making some good friends among my peers has made all the difference. They listened when I needed to vent, which was often. I learned I wasn’t alone.

Today, a few long years later, I’m in a better, more stable place. I’ve successfully come out of homelessness. My health still presents its challenges, but everything is trending in the right direction for a change. The light at the end of the tunnel is looking bright.

I’m here today for many reasons. I think we need to share stories of our successes, and stories of our pain. In spite of my anxiety, I found the strength to sit in front of legislators. In spite of my struggles, I try to find opportunities to volunteer.

And while I’m not an advocate, I’m finding ways to get a seat at the table to maybe help others have an easier go of things. I’ve even found a way to make some time to start learning the ukulele. I believe we all have something to offer. Don’t forget it, even if it’s hard to believe.

Better days are ahead if one is brave enough to fight for them, even if the fight that day is getting out of bed. Seek out the support you need. If the people around you aren’t helping, seek out those who help you be your best self.

You have to want it. It won’t be easy, but it is worth it. For a long time, I believed I was trapped in a prison of my own making in my mind with depression and anxiety. And while there’s work to continue, I’m turning the tide.

Depression and anxiety aren’t going anywhere, I understand they will very likely be with me the rest of my days. But now, they are trapped in my mind with me! I’m winning. My future looks more optimistic, brighter. I wish this for those involved today, and those who could not be. Don’t give up.

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