I woke to the sound of something pushing at the front door of my apartment. With heart racing and lungs pounding, I knew the fate that awaited me. A murdering, pillaging psycho was breaking into my house to kill me. After 38 years, my life was about to end. ‘Just get on with it,’ I thought. At least death would end these sleepless nights, savaged by fear and anxiety.
Fortunately I made it, but unfortunately, this night of terror wouldn’t be the last, as they became a permanent evening ritual during my 5-month stint with depression.
Words can hint at the horrors of this feeling, but ultimately fall well short of actually conveying the experience. I was powerless against its might. My mind was the fairground ride, and I was the frightened child, screaming with terror, and no way off. Every day, I contemplated ending it because I simply could not see a way out.
Depression is like an evil step-dad, constantly breaking you down with condescension and ridicule. Deep down, you know what they’re saying isn’t true, but you just can’t seem to stop the bombs from landing. Sometimes it gets so bad, you actually go along with them. “Yeah I really am worthless. I deserve this.” You do not.
My thoughts were burying me. My mind was creating the narrative that I had done nothing with my life - that I was just a worthless parasite that had failed at everything he’d ever done. You could come to be with objective examples of how the above simply was not true and yet in the throes of depression, I wouldn’t believe it to be true.
I cried. A lot.
Never in my life did I feel so broken. And I've been broken, muchacho. I shattered my C6 vertebrae and was paralyzed from the waist down at the ripe age of 21. Still, depression didn't compare. It was worse. I was powerless.
Antidepressants were never really an option. I’ve known many people who took that particular route, and there seemed to be an incredibly low success rate. On top of this, they just made no logical sense to me. “How could a synthetic chemical compound in a pill solve the complex problems of a biological and spiritual being?” I left Phizer alone.
In an odd turn of events I stumbled upon ice baths. A friend suggested I try it with her. A young guy on the beach in Playa del Carmen said he practiced the Wim Hof Method almost every day and loved it. At that point, I was so desperate, I would have lit my fingernails on fire if someone told me I’d feel better.
A quick search on ice baths pulled up some contradicting information. Some studies showed it helped with inflammation, others disproved that theory. Many results pointed to mental health benefits, but still, the skeptics were plentiful. I read many articles that suggested real benefits in muscle recovery, sleep, energy, sex drive, and many more suggesting that no such benefits were true.
Incapable of deciphering who was telling the truth, the following Sunday, I decided to give it a go.
For starters, it was not warm. I know that sounds ridiculous when going to take an ice bath, but the temperature genuinely shocked me. At the time I didn’t know that that was the point. I’m guessing the water was around 35F (2℃). I wanted to get it over with, so I asked to go first.
I took one deep breath and stepped into the ice.
My body immediately began screaming to get out. Your blood vessels constrict and the pain bites deep into your skin. 30 seconds, 40 seconds. I began to shake my head, signalling to the dude that I couldn’t take much more and was going to get out. ‘You can do it,' he said.
At that exact moment, things changed. ‘I can do it.’
The screaming voice that was so adamantly calling for me to get out began to soften. Using deep breaths I repeated to myself, ‘I can do it. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale, you can do it. Exhale, you can do it.”
And then, it was gone.
In that moment, the voice that for months had been telling me what I could and couldn’t do with my life, was silent. I could hear my breath, the breeze, and the waves gently breaking on the shore. For the first time in months, I felt peace.
That day in the ice, I learned a simple truth. A truth that I hid from for years. Up until that moment, I had done everything I could to protect myself from pain, but sitting in that freezing tub of ice water, I realised that I had the game all wrong. It’s not about protecting yourself from pain, it’s about managing it when it comes. You cannot hide from what is inevitable, but you can prepare to make the hardships easier to bare. Whether it’s drugs and alcohol, or mindless scrolling online, the more you run from pain, the harder it hits when it finally runs you down.
Our bodies are designed to adapt to stress. We grow when we are tested and pushed. And yet our lives seem to be a never ending pursuit of comfort.
The voice broke my reverie: ‘Time’s up,’
I smiled as I stepped out of the ice and onto the sand. A wave of calm washed over me. I wanted to hug and kiss everyone there that day. I needed this day. It had been so long since I had felt anything other than fear, self-loathing and dread, and most importantly, this state change wasn’t sponsored by drugs, alcohol, or big phrama… it was just me and the cold.
There’s something special about creating such positivity without the use of medications or substances. Many of us are raised in cultures that normalize their usage, and that there is no real harm in using them to enjoy life, have fun, or relax. I have learned that this is not true. On a long enough timeline, we numb ourselves to reality, and hinder our bodies ability to create these feelings naturally.
Yet on this beautiful Sunday morning I was reminded of the fact that we all have the power to create feelings of positivity within ourselves. The path to get there isn’t always easy, and often times, we have to face the pain. But the more pain that I face and overcome, the looser the grip it has over me, and the easier it is to just feel good again.