"It WILL Pay Off": A Message for Those Struggling with Mental Illness

“It will pay off” was what I wrote at the end of one of my training logs during prep for the Arnold Classic, when I was coming off a rough week of not sleeping, and struggling to make it through a day at work without having to shut my office door and put my head in my hands to try and calm down. At the time I wrote it, it was one of the many times I was really struggling to believe that things would actually get better..

For those that have followed my logs for my last several meet cycles, you might have read some of the times I’ve briefly mentioned my struggles with severe anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I’ve had some issues throughout my whole life, but the last 5-6 years have been the most difficult for me, with the past year having been the worst in relation to training and competing. Over the course of the last several years I’ve seen 3 different therapists, 4 different doctors, a Pastor, and tried over 10 different medications as well as a handful of herbal supplements. Up until the past several months, nothing had ever made a tangible difference. At the time, it was really difficult for me to write details about what I was dealing with (I tried my best for sake of transparency to elitefts readers), but now that I’ve found some true relief for the first time in my life, it’s easier for me to write about things with more clarity.

To be honest, in the past whenever I started to try and write about what I was dealing with, I felt the same voice creep in of “you’re just being a pussy” “you’re weak” “you’re complaining” “no one cares” “everyone deals with stuff, your problems are nothing”. Even though I knew in my head that this wasn’t the case, after years of going through the same cycles over and over again, I started to really wonder if this was all just me being a weak person who can’t deal with life.

Joe Speed Bench Bands Chains

I certainly recognize that my issues could’ve been dramatically worse, that I’ve been blessed with a good support system (as horrible as I am at using them sometimes), and that I can’t begin to imagine what others who struggle with various other mental illnesses (many more severe than mine) deal with every day.

..But what I can tell you, is that I know what it feels like to not sleep for days on end, and to reach points where I was abusing multiple bottles of liquor a week just to sleep. I know what it feels like to drive for hours aimlessly into another state, wanting to drive my car into a cement barrier. I know what it’s like to be so crippled with fear that I’d spend all night pacing around my apartment making sure all my doors, cupboards, and closets were closed and locked because I felt like something bad was going to happen and not being able to sleep without my gun right next to me. I know what it’s like to feel panic the second I’d open my eyes in the morning, and feel on the verge of puking throughout the entire day from nervousness, and repeating the same cycle over and over again day in and day out, until I’d reach the point of sitting in my office at work with my door shut crying my eyes out for no reason. And I know what it’s like to repeat the same cycle for years, feeling like I’d tried everything with no relief, and not even knowing why any of it was happening.

I haven’t told many people about many of the things above (some I haven’t told anyone), and I’m only mentioning those things to let you know I understand how frustrating and dark things can start to get. I’ve had some close friends and family I’ve been fortunate to receive encouragement from, but even with people’s support I started to really wonder “is this just how it’s gonna be the rest of my life?”. I wondered if I’d ever be able to have a healthy relationship, “normal” friendships, or just be able to go to sleep without being terrified for no reason.

Joe DL Suit2

After the Arnold Classic in March, I was able to get in to see a Psychiatrist (to that point I had only seen general family Doctors). She felt strongly that my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and severe Anxiety was causing the Insomnia and Depression, and recommended I try a combination of 3 medications to attack things from a few different angles. I’ve had bad experiences with psychiatric medication; from being dependant on certain drugs, to being a zombie, to just plain not working. I was losing hope in the guessing game that was trying to find a medication solution. For the first time ever, however, this combination of medication made a dramatic difference (after about a month of adjusting). I was starting to fall asleep at a semi-normal time, I was functioning better at work, and now a few months later, I’m getting through entire days without panic and gut-wrenching anxiety for the first time in my life.

Things certainly still aren’t perfect, and I have my moments, but overall it’s been night and day. I don’t feel unnecessarily “hopped up”, or like a zombie, I just feel… normal. It wasn’t until feeling like I do now that I realize just how irregular things were in the past. I wasn’t being a pussy, I wasn’t being weak, I wasn’t experiencing this deep character flaw that I could never escape, I was dealing with legitimate illness, just like any medical problem.

I’m still working through A LOT of things right now, much of which are breaking bad habits and unhealthy behaviors I used to cope with my problems for years, and starting to work on learning how to maintain healthy friendships and relationships. This is where although the therapists, books I read, and conversations I had with people didn’t necessarily solve the underlying issue, those moments are helping me NOW as I work through reconstructing how I interact with people day to day. It’s going to be a life-long process, but I see the path moving forward, and know that I’m still accountable for all the choices I’ve made in the past, and the ones I make moving forward.

strongerbelt

Those that know me or read my logs/articles know about how important my Faith is to me, and I feel strongly God will use the experiences I’ve had to allow me to help others, even if it’s just being there and writing something like this to let you know you aren’t alone. I have a scripture tattooed on my arm and shoulder, that reads “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The scripture is surrounded by a thorn, which references when the author of the quote (the Apostle Paul) discussed the “thorn in his side” that kept him humble throughout his life. I’m confident that the suffering I’ve dealt with has only built my character and will always remind me to be humble and empathetic to others, and I want YOU to know that your own suffering can do the same for you. Even if you’ve been dealing with the same struggles for the past 20 years, there is hope, and I want to encourage you to keep holding on.

I’d also like to offer that if anyone reading this doesn’t have anyone to talk to, or just needs someone to say a prayer for them, you can feel free to email me anytime – joeschillero@gmail.com

In relation to training (since this is why you come to this site), I’m also working on completing the results to the Mental Health & Training Survey I posted last week, and will be writing a series of articles and other content to help others who deal with mental illness and strength train. Just from reading through the information already, I think this is going to be VERY helpful for lifters dealing with various issues.

I’m thankful for the encouragement from the friends and family that have been supportive and had conversations with me at 4 in the morning (you know who you are). The clarity I’ve been blessed with now is giving me the opportunity to be there for others, and if you feel like you don’t have anyone in your corner, know you have one person right here.

"It WILL Pay Off."

-Joe Schillero
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