Your superpower is you

Your superpower is you

How I overcame mental illness by going within. By James Adams

Let’s assume for a moment that you have the power to overcome anything standing in your way. Your very own superpower that can be activated at will.

This superpower won’t give you flight, or superhuman strength (sorry to disappoint the Marvel fans out there!), but it can transform you into a first-class alchemist.

Not all superheroes wear capes – or transform into a big, green monster. Some superheroes can take a problem and use their superpower to transform it into personal growth.

Let’s say mental illness is that problem – certainly not uncommon in our modern society. Mental illness is a meanie – a bully. It can take away all basic security and leave you feeling completely helpless. I should know.

Can we overcome mental illness by activating our superpower? Some would say no. Some would say that mental illness is far too big and scary to stand up to, and therefore seeking temporary relief is the only option.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this is untrue. Your superpower does work. How do I know? Because I’ve used it and, well, I’m not special, not any more than you.

Let’s roll back the clock a little.

I’m James and I lived with intense mental illness from ages 21 to 27. Six years of darkness – six years of pain, suffering and flat-out exhaustion. They say that the 20s is a time of self-exploration, light-hearted fun – trying on different hats and, of course, searching for that special someone. For me? Not quite. I soon discovered that my initiation into adulthood would be a very different path.

Self-discovery turned into self-survival. Light-hearted fun turned into putting on a brave face for others, and as for searching for that special someone? Well, there was only one person that I needed to love and that was myself.

These changes became apparent during my final year of university. I suddenly started to feel what can only be described as a heavy, sinking presence – like a big, black cloud encircling the crown of my head.

I can remember it as though it was yesterday. Stood on a train overcome with feelings of guilt, sadness and dare I say it, even suicide.

Mental illness followed me into employment.

Hopelessness and despair would become a common theme in the years to come. It impaired thinking, judgement and all basic day to day functioning that many of us take for granted.

Why was life so difficult? Everyone else seemed so happy. Friends getting romantic partners, cuddling under the sheets, going on holidays, making memories.

While others made memories, I would strive to erase mine. Who wants to remember a night when they curled up on the bathroom floor crying uncontrollably? Who wants to remember the times when they screamed “kill me, just kill me” when the pain got too much?

It was time to ask for help.

Asking for help

I asked for help. My family were amazing and always have been. They provided a safe and nurturing environment and directed me to professional help. If my family are reading this, I love you from the bottom of my heart.

I sought professional help. I was initially offered anti-depressants with a diagnosis of depression.

Something didn’t feel right. I didn’t want medication, nor was I willing to accept that I was just depressed.

There was just something that felt wrong about treating the symptoms without knowing the cause. Even at a young age, I knew this deep down. My intuition was coming through loud and clear.

I did try some cognitive behaviour therapy to address my anxiety. The set up was great and the therapist was lovely, but there was something missing. My anxiety had a cause that was yet to be discovered.

I listened to my intuition and walked a different path.

Activating my superpower to heal

After more years of struggle and searching for help, something hit like a bolt of lightning. What if I could heal myself? What if I have the power to free myself of this burdensome illness?

And that was the moment I discovered my superpower.

If I was to let go of this monster that followed me around, day after day, I would need to determine why it was here in the first place – the root cause.

Manufacturing industries emphasise the importance of root cause analysis when investigating defects. A method called the ‘five why’s’ was devised for this very purpose.

It encourages deep inquisition by following the answer to a ‘why’ question with another ‘why’. Why did this happen? Okay then, why did that happen?

Maybe I could try something similar. So, I commenced what I now refer to as the hermit phase of my life where I would seek lots of time alone. Equipped with blank notes on my smartphone, I would ask myself inquisitive questions that prompted deep introspection about aspects of my life. It would spark a new level of curiosity that I’ve never had about myself before.

I would wait. Would my superpower be able to provide me with answers? I can tell you that it did – my goodness did it. As I was sat with a very frothy cappuccino at hand, answers started bubbling into my awareness, one by one.

I suddenly started to acknowledge the challenges that I’ve always had with communication and memory. Difficulties processing information; getting words mixed up; clumsy tendencies; untidy writing; random bouts of daydreaming when concentration was necessary.

I started to join these up to significant areas of my life — my struggles with traditional learning at school; not being able to stand up to bullies; trying to apply for graduate schemes while completing my university degree; trying to drive a car; and, most significantly, working in a high-pressure corporate environment.

No wonder I lived with mental illness. I would have to be a robot to not be overwhelmed by all of this.

I was trying to live like everyone else. I had become something of a chameleon that blended quietly into society. But the problem was: I’m not everyone else. I am me.

I had perfected the Churchillian motto, “Keep calm and carry on” to an absolute tee. I was a warrior that just kept going despite all of the adversity along the way.

I am proud of my resilience and determination, but there comes a time when all warriors need to put down their weapons and take a step back.

My challenges with basic day-to-day functioning promoted some medical research. I discovered a condition called Dyspraxia that embodies many of the characteristics that have shown up in my life. Because of my age, I decided to pay for a private assessment and low and behold, I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia. The assessor suspected that I have ADHD too among other neurological differences.

I found a cause, finally. A cause that resonated deeply. My intuition was giving me the nudge of approval. My superpower worked. It was now time to seek solutions.

Fortunately, there are lots resources to help people with neurological conditions, such as Dyspraxia, and to navigate the extremities of life. My warrior instincts would usually tell me to fight. This was no longer serving my highest good. I needed learn to live with my challenges, not fight them.

After all, it’s not exactly possible to slice open my brain and modify its neurological makeup, is it? Why would I want to anyway? As the stoic philosopher Epictetus said: “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

One thing that my introspection has taught me is that my warrior archetype has yielded more strength than I ever realised. I needed to continue channelling this strength to find my way out of this dark tunnel.

Onto the solutions

Solutions are personal to everyone. What works for me may not work for someone else.

Suffice to say, the gradual adoption of lifestyle changes made the biggest difference: healthy eating and drinking; less alcohol; less time around toxic people; positive thinking; taking frequent work breaks are just a few examples. Then came the adoption of spiritual practices such as mindfulness and meditation which have brought me in closer alignment with the inner self. But that’s a story for another time.

After six years of darkness and continued introspection, I finally crawled to freedom. The sun came out — age 27. While the world was at the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was experiencing a level of freedom that I’ve not felt in a long time. How ironic.

It doesn’t matter how restrictive the outer world is – if your inner world is free, you are free also. That was my big lesson.

The heavy, intense feelings of mental illness have all but gone, thanks to my superpower – me.

That’s right, my superpower is me — and your superpower is you. That’s the big secret. Go within, find the answers, and transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Good luck