Is Your Life Spiraling Out of Control?

What to do if you're struggling with your mental health.

Posted Dec 17, 2020

GMB Fitness/Unsplash
Source: GMB Fitness/Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, the world lost wildly successful entrepreneur Tony Hsieh. Reports indicate he was barricaded inside a burning shed.

Since then, it has come to light that, in at least the few months preceding his death, his life was spiraling out of control. He was using drugs and struggling with his mental health. 

No one is immune to a situation like that, even if you have hundreds of millions of dollars and all the smarts in the world. If you find yourself in a similar position—your mental health is unraveling—here are some tips for how to help navigate it. They’ll help you keep your dignity and stay alive.

1. Remind yourself that you’re still you.

When people feel like they’re losing their mind, it can cause them to doubt their self-identity and the positive ways they’ve always seen themselves. This can leave people feeling like they’re unanchored, or even like they’ve got nothing left to lose. For example, you might’ve prided yourself on being smart and ambitious, but now you feel like a hot mess. You question whether you were ever smart. Your ambition was rooted in the idea you had talents, but now those assumptions might not feel true anymore. 

If you can relate, recognize that this is a common trap of mental health challenges. Most importantly, remind yourself that you’re still you. Everything you thought about yourself before is still true. You still have all the talents and strengths you always had. You have a new challenge in life that you perhaps weren’t expecting, but nothing has fundamentally changed about who you are.

2. Give getting help a go, now.

It has been reported that Tony Hsieh may have been preparing to go to rehab, or at least people in his life were trying to get him to do that. When someone’s life is spiraling out of control, it’s easy to delay getting help. It can seem like it’s not the perfect time, the help options aren’t perfect, the person hasn’t hit rock bottom, or maybe they’ll turn the corner on their own. 

It’s never too early to seek help. Whatever reasons you’re giving yourself about why you should/can delay it, ignore those excuses. Just give getting help a go, now. List out all your excuses and justifications e.g.,

  • “When I finish my work project, I’ll have time to pull myself together.”
  • “My insurance is crappy, the counselors available are probably useless.”
  • “My problems aren’t that bad, help should be reserved for people who are worse off.” 
  • “My situation is complex, help won’t work for me.”
  • “I tried getting help before and it didn’t work.”
  • “If I got help, it would be giving in to my family, and I don’t want to do that. I want to retain my independence.”

No matter what the excuse or justification is, ignore it. Don’t debate the validity of each excuse one by one, just ignore them all. Give getting help a try. Why? There’s not much downside. Also, in reality, the first way you try to seek help may not work well for you, so you might need to make a few attempts to find out what does. Try any option you have available to you, without obsessing over what the perfect option is. 

Ideally, you’ll find a professional you’re willing to listen to, trust, tell the truth to, and collaborate with. But, initially, it may be enough to find someone you get a few good ideas from.

3. Reframe the situation.

Whenever life events happen, we construct a story for ourselves around them. The story you’re constructing out of what’s happening to you might not be very conducive to getting out of it. Try on another story that is. For example, if you’re proud of being independent and in-control, getting help with your mental health can assist you to be more of those things. If you have hit problems early in life, e.g., your teens or 20s, then the skills you gain to get you through this period may be skills you use to be a kick-ass adult, parent, or career star. If you’re having problems after having achieved career success, then you’ve probably already got a lot of the skills you’ll need to master your mental health, but you may need to apply those skills in ways you haven’t before. For example, skills like resourcefulness or problem-solving. 

There are various narratives around mental illness. For example, medical models of depression typically center on the idea of a broken brain, or compare it to physical health problems like diabetes. Some people like these models and find them destigmatizing. For other people, these models don’t gel with them and can even feel shame-inducing. There are lots of alternative ways to conceptualize mental health struggles, and scientists and clinicians even do it in different ways.

Try conceptualizing what’s happening to you in a way that feels like it retains your dignity, agency, and self-esteem. What that is will differ from person to person. A good therapist should be able to help you with this if you ask directly for this help, but they may not be able to give you all the answers. There’s some self-journey involved in figuring this out. If that feels too much when you’re feeling very out of control, you can do it retrospectively. But, trust that there is a way you’ll be able to come to terms with and make sense of and peace with your experience. Again, you’re not a generic person with a problem, you’re still you.

4. Understand post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic growth is the idea that recovery from stress and trauma isn’t about getting back to our previous self. Recovery will change you. You’ll end up a better, stronger, more nuanced, more insightful, more empathic, more resourceful, smarter (yes!), more resilient version of you.

Sometimes people fear that once they’ve experienced mental illness or drug issues, they’ll always be kind of broken. But the experience of mental health challenges provides abundant opportunities for you to bounce back better than before.

To find a mental health professional near you, visit Psychology Today's therapist directory.

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