I remember going through a depression or two in the past year. I didn’t want to kill myself; I just found less motivation to do most things. I lost interest in my creativity and felt intense anxiety over my position in life.
I tried a few things. The first was a declaring total war on the demon. I started exercising, got up early, listened to absurdly positive music always, got into Buddhism, and worked to just grind through my misery to get things done.
It worked for a while and I got things done. But deep down, I always had this teeny tiny little irritable suspicion that I was lying, that I was somehow hiding from the truth.
I became depressed again and the suspicion evolved into a belief. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ended up in limbo. I was still productive enough to maintain my own existence and to keep people from hating me, but I felt more like a jar of jello than a person enjoying life.
Someone mentioned “radical self-acceptance” to me. A stage where you experience only what you feel immediately inclined to experience. If I was miserable, just exist in that state of misery. If apathetic, feel the apathy. Anything, allow it in and engage in zero denial of it.
It was also important to not use radical self-acceptance to ruminate on negativity and call it authenticity. It was about having a 100% accurate relationship with my internal condition.
I tried it. It had interesting effects. It didn’t make me happier or more joyous, or more satisfied. But it made me feel less psychologically constipated. That was great so I kept going.
Fast forward months and I actually got more done in life, but I hadn’t actually experienced joy. I wanted that emotion desperately. I thought that by being radically self-accepting, I could “accept the joy” that would inevitably come. It didn’t, and I got frustrated.
It seemed my new practice wasn’t the solution to everything. I wasn’t emotionally clogged but I didn’t feel great either.
It was time for a change, but what? I was obsessed with not doing something “inauthentic” and I was terrified of the possibility that efforts to feel better would only be running from misery, not toward joy.
That’s when my mentor and friend TK Coleman introduced a powerful idea: experiments.
“You know, I understand why it’s hard to commit to a significant new practice by saying, ‘Alright, I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life!’ But you can approach things experimentally, with a mindset of, ‘You know what, I’m gonna try this for just a few weeks. If I notice it causes me to be in self-denial, I just can just stop.'”
Boom, I had my answer.
I could simply try more healthy practices in my life. If I didn’t like the outcome or if I felt I was hiding from reality, I could stop.
I don’t know why, but this was revolutionary to me. I immediately started eating healthier, exercising, stretching, meditating, and more.
Some things (like overly motivational music) made me feel fake as a wooden nickel. So I stopped. Other things (especially proper nutrition) made me feel more real with who I am. I felt more liberated to be who I am, not less.
Looking back, my stage of radical self-acceptance was a necessary step. The first time I tried to get over my funk, I felt like I was hiding from my emotions.
But the second time, I was so familiar with what I felt that I didn’t have any resistance toward self-improvement. I wasn’t hiding from depression because I already bathed in its fullest potency.
Now I can do both. I’ve attained optimal self-honesty and it feels amazing. At the same time, I consciously promote and improve my own wellbeing.
Going through the sharp trenches of emotional processing was necessary for me to improve myself without a subconscious anxiety. Perhaps it can be done at the same time.
Either way, improving while living a lie sucks, and having self-honesty but being miserable sucks. Both are necessary.