Ten years ago (2008): Mental Health Author and Advocate Jeff Emmerson (right) having fun at break time on a night shift labor job he struggled at during a hard time in his life, shortly before his brother Ryan committed suicide.

The Truth Behind My Smile

The above photo was taken in April of 2008, as I was anxiously awaiting my acceptance letter to college, hoping I didn’t have to work any more dead-end jobs while awaiting a pardon for my former criminal record. I was on the road to proving myself (or so I thought), working hard to pay my bills however I could, take full responsibility for my past mistakes and get the education that would make me a stronger candidate for my goal: to work as an armored car guard delivering money to banks and refilling cash machines (long story, which is explained in Beyond ADHD, my newly published book from Rowman & Littlefield publishing)…

Then, BANG. After being fired from the above job due to a lack of interest and slave-like work ethic, I got a security guard job that paid just over minimum wage on the night shift, and that June 24th, while on a night shift, I received a phone call that would change my life forever:

My brother Ryan just killed himself, and my beloved Dad, the man who adopted me at 8 weeks old came home to find Ryan hanging in the basement.

I Thought I’d Already Hit Rock Bottom (Journey Into Darkness)

My self-doubt was already in high gear, due to the fact that at the age of 31, I was struggling with my identity and whether I’d be able to finally prove myself and pursue the career I’d waited to pursue since 1998. God, it was a long road (one I’ll explain in more detail if and when I finally write the memoir I’ve been threatening to write – more life to live before I finally put it to paper, it appears), one I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and it was just getting started, as horrible as it was to be in the middle of tragedy along with self-doubt, anxiety and fear within.

Mental Health System, Here I Come…

For the sake of this post and its length, I’m skipping ahead to sitting here today, Wednesday, April 4th of 2018, and what I learned from the challenges and battles (including Ryan’s horrific death):

The seemingly endless self-doubt drove me to anger and beyond, determined to realize the potential within me in a way that the world would see it (just as I would). I’m well on my way now. I learned that the burning inner frustration, angst, anxiety and sometimes-rage that I felt toward myself and the world could be “re-framed” into fierce levels of commitment, patience, conviction and, ironically, self-compassion. I needed to do one heck of a lot of work in therapy, but then again, I did most of it myself, between sessions with therapists.

The worst moments taught me to be fierce, but not in an “angry, aggressive” way – they taught me to have some tact, to learn how others became successful in the areas I felt passionate about, and I recognize now more than ever that there’s meaning in every challenge, every battle we face. The question is this: What meaning do we choose to give to the shitty experiences? Are they the end, confirmation that we’re failures as people, or could they be new beginnings, keys to growth and transcending the limiting self-beliefs that we have, as well as those about the world around us, despite the negativity, the shame and the doubt?

I raised my middle finger to the former and went ALL-IN on the latter. That did 2 crucial things:

  1. It saved my life, very literally, and
  2. It drove me to change and do whatever it would take to grow, thrive and never, EVER return to what’s known as a “fixed mindset” again. I decided to soar from within.

Yours in purpose and gratitude, not to mention immense self-belief and compassion,

Jeff