I am one of the lucky ones. I have made it back from a stage 4 mental illness. I am currently enjoying five years of stability with only a few intermittent depressive episodes. I am virtually symptom free. I manage my illness well with the help of an excellent psychiatrist.
One of the biggest losses I suffered was the loss of confidence. It felt like I had fallen off a cliff. This confident, respected, Olympic athlete and professional had turned into a shadow of myself. I walked with my shoulders bent forward hoping no one would notice me. For the most part I stayed isolated so I would not feel bad. When I came out to play life I let people push me around a bit, question my abilities in subtle ways and sometimes put me down. More than anything, I doubted myself.
I had been standing in the ring with my biggest competitor-bipolar disorder. It punched me so hard and knocked me down so many times I did not know if I could get up again. When I did my legs were wobbly. I lost countless bouts. Then, I began to win. Small wins multiplied. I kept pushing myself. Every person I met along my journey good or bad, helped me to re-build my confidence. Every experience turned into a learning opportunity. A confidence building exercise.
Confidence is a very tricky thing. You can’t get it without making mistakes. You can’t get it without being willing to put yourself out there and look foolish. You have to be willing to know playing the game means you are going to lose sometimes, and quite frankly losing hurts.
Winning back confidence is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received. It means that I can go out on any court in life and lace up my sneakers. I can draw upon all those experiences, including working at the Shoe Department vacuuming floors, and know that with grit and determination I just worked my way back to the starting team!
On April 24, 2017 I was the keynote speaker at a statewide event. It was my 73 talk in two years. I gave my first talk on mental health to a group of people who came to listen because they supported me and they wanted to see what I had to say. My second talk was to a group of 400 middle school students. Some people say if you can talk to middle school students you can talk to anyone. I think that’s true.
What I know for sure is that you can’t be willing to step in the ring without having some confidence. What I am most proud of is I never gave up. Even when I left a conversation feeling a little weird and a lot unsure of myself. I walked away and licked my wounds, put a smile on my face and kept going.
So how do you build confidence? Step up to the line and take that first shot. Eventually it will go in. You can’t be afraid to lose or fail or miss the shot. And even if you are afraid you “fake it till you make it.” Works every time.