I’ll be the first to admit we probably don’t need another mental health blog or a podcast. It’s a subject that’s become part of the cultural zeitgeist over the past few years, so there’s already a shitload of established material readily available out there.
Nor is this a business endeavor. As career choices go, from what I gather, blogging and podcasting are a fucking terrible idea. Unless you’re good at marketing, apparently. Which I’m not. Nor can I be arsed learning. I did look into it. It bored me.
So, with this in mind, I guess the obvious question to be answered, is why bother?
Let’s start with with blog.
I’ll go a lot deeper into my own personal circumstances some other time, but in short, at this point, I’m at the tail end of a five year battle with various mental health issues. Hypochondria, anxiety, and agoraphobia mainly.
Reduced to a pithy list of diagnostic labels, such a confession lacks gravitas. But it’s no exaggeration to say that the psychological hell that lies buried beneath each of these labels have at times pushed me to the precipice of my own personal threshold for pain.
I’ve felt shame and embarrassment. They’ve reduced me to tears. I’ve had moments where I genuinely believed I was losing my mind. The behaviors they compelled me indulge in have nearly torn my family apart. I’ve felt desperation to the point I’ve found myself praying to a God I’m not even sure I believe in. For a brief moment there I even flirted with the prospect of suicide.
Nowadays, I like to think I’ve left the worst of it behind. That I have somewhat of a firmer handle on my own destiny. However, I am by no means “cured”. The truth is, I’m still very much on the road to recovery. I like to describe myself as 90% recovered, and forever chipping away at that final 10%.
This blog will serve as an exposition of each side of this arbitrary statistic. As both a retrospective analysis of the slow steady hill climb that lies behind me, and as a constantly evolving speculation about the potentially even steeper road that lies ahead.
I’d feel remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the arrogance in voluntarily stepping into a limelight of one’s own construction, and declaring yourself worthy of being heard. But let’s get one thing perfectly straight. I have no desire to turn myself into your fucking anxiety guru.
I don’t have any secret techniques up my sleeve (nobody does). I’m sure many of the ideas I posit won’t amount to much more than vacuous philosophizing. Some of my practical suggestions will sound little better than the amateurish broscience of your typical self-help guru.
Nevertheless, I truly believe that my experience has furnished me with certain nuggets of wisdom that can only be found among the searing embers of introspection that pave the flaming trail of mental suffering. And I can’t help but dare to hope that in sharing the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I may have the potential to help you grease the wheels of progress in your own journey.
But herein lies an important distinction. My journey isnt, wasn’t, and couldn’t ever be the same as your journey.
I won’t spend a single moment of my time here speaking on aspects of mental health I have no direct experience with. Rather, I’ll only endeavor to expound upon the thoughts, techniques, and philosophies that have worked for me. Whether or not they have the potential to work for you, and more to the point, whether or not you choose to apply them to your own situation… Well, that’s on you, bitch.
As for the podcast?
If there’s one perk to mental illness, it’s that the search for information about your particular malady can quickly lead you down the utterly fascinating rabbit hole of the complexity of the human mind. And before you know it, what began with a simple Google search for “what is anxiety?” has resulted in a bookshelf littered with the works of Freud, Jung, Skinner, and Beck.
At the time of writing, I’ve just spent the past few months taking in part in a clinical trial for Metacognitive Therapy (MCT) for hypochondriasis at the University of Central Lancashire with a guy called Robin Bailey.
With my new found interest in psychology, I was never going to allow Robin to administer his MCT protocol uncontested. I challenged his assertions. I questioned the psychological presuppositions of MCT. I waged philosophical debates about the nature of cognition. We discussed the results and methodology of clinical trials, and argued the pros and cons of myriad different psychological therapies.
Robin is a PhD student. I’m a highschool dropout. I rarely came out on top (though I reckon I had him on the ropes a couple of times). But I always left his office more enlightened than I had been prior to entering, and more importantly, always that one step closer to recovery.
This podcast is my attempt to recreate those sessions. To sit down and have long, in-depth conversations with world class intellects about all things psychological, and to hopefully extract some helpful, healing advice along the way.
Before I finish, a word about the title I’ve chosen for this little project. “My Own Worst Enemy”. For those of you whose mental illness was something that befell them due to external circumstance, this name might seem ill conceived. Inconsiderate even.
But while there is indeed a hint of self-deprecation in there, in that I firmly believe beyond a shadow of doubt that my own psychological deterioration was entirely self inflicted, that’s not really what I was going for.
The name isn’t meant in reference to the origins of mental illness, which do indeed differ from person to person, but rather, it’s meant to refer to the subjective experience of mental suffering itself, many aspects of which, I suspect, are universal.
It’s about the internal battle we wage against ourselves in our own minds. It’s about falling into the trap of making our illness our identity. It’s about treating ourselves with a level of cruelty and neglect we would never dream of inflicting on others. It’s about knowing precisely the things we need to do to aid our recovery, and then procrastinating or making excuses. It’s about fooling ourselves into believing that we’re especially broken, a special case, that can’t possibly be fixed.
Taken together, it’s a recognition that the only person standing in the way of our recovery is ourselves. In other words, it’s about taking responsibility. For your past, your present, and your future.
Taking responsibility isn’t about self-blame. It’s about self-empowerment. Nor does taking responsibility mean we must walk the road to recovery alone. On the contrary. Taking responsibility enables us to spend our time seeking out the people who can help us, instead of looking for someone to blame.
It’s this perspective that forms the fundamental philosophical underpinning of this entire endeavor.
If you, like me, are your own worst enemy, but you want to figure out how to be your own best friend, then we have enough in common that maybe there’s something in this little project for the two of us after all.
Welcome to My Own Worst Enemy.
Image courtesy Rosmarie Voegtli
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