We all have those Friday nights when we choose to be alone as everyone is out partying. Those Friday nights when we decide to be alone because we would rather light a candle, listen to Echoes by Pink Floyd and try to figure out our thoughts. Right?
We sometimes can’t even be in the presence of others because it is too much stimulation for our minds. So, we watch unhealthy amounts of Dexter to comfort ourselves instead. We eat a little too much ice cream because we “deserve it.” We get used to treating ourselves way too often, leading to weight gain. We are sensitive to the point where not using social media is better than using any form of social media. It’s impossible to live up to the standards that Instagram puts out. We blame ourselves for the misfortunes in our lives because it is the only way to justify why bad things happen. But we are stronger than we think we are. We were put on this earth to make a change.
In retrospect, I could have edited out the word we because not everyone has these voids inside themselves that need to be filled. But I choose not to because the only way we will move forward in society is if we open up about our feelings and come together for a common purpose, spreading mental health awareness.
While I know not everyone goes through what I have, I know for a fact that we all have our demons that we battle every day. Whether self-image problems, depression, anxiety, OCD, an eating disorder, or maybe you just feel like you’re in a rut. It doesn’t matter what your demon is that you fight every day. Getting up to a simple fight that demon in mind is courage. And I applaud you.
Who am I?
Throughout my life, there have been small glimpses of happiness. Sitting on the beach at 11 pm after working a 12-hour shift in the Cape this past summer. That is where I was seemingly the happiest in life. But looking at my life in retrospect, I know that was not true. I could never be satisfied until I came to grips with the person I was. Accepting yourself and all the good and bad that comes with it is essential to living your life to the fullest.
I finally learned to accept myself this past December 2020 when I told my best friend about an eating disorder that I had struggled with for the past couple of years. It became easier to talk about my OCD, anxiety, and negative thoughts after that moment. It was almost as if the switch flipped.
I am currently a student at Umass Amherst, studying Journalism. I love this campus and everything it has to offer. There are so many opportunities and people to meet. I genuinely enjoy it.
Aware of the Negatives
There are still some days when the demons of my mind win when they are too powerful for me to fight by myself. There are days when I just collapse on the floor after a “long day,” stare at my ceiling and think about the question, “why” for too long. The negative detractors in my life include OCD, an eating disorder, and anxiety. I want to take you through a bit of each one and how it affected my life so you can get a better understanding of where I am coming from.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is not always what you think it is. When I was younger, it had more of an impact on my life than it does today. I would do small things like taking an even number of steps, turning off my lights in my room four times, or even obsess over the volume on the TV. I have learned to live with most of this by refusing to abide by the person in my mind and resisting the intrusive thoughts through meditation and positive thinking.
From around 2015-to 2017, my OCD would take over, especially during the night before I went to bed. One of the more significant problems I struggled with was doing everything in intervals of 4. Something as futile as shutting my door four times, taking four steps to my bed, having the TV volume on an even number, and even eating an even number of goldfish when I was snacking. (I guess that’s good for portion control, right?!)
My struggles with OCD have mostly subsided. The counting in my head is no longer something I must deal with. But I still am very neat and organized, which I guess is an upside. I’ve found that the best way to fight obsessive thoughts is to meditate and try to keep your mind occupied. Meditation has been huge for me because it has allowed me to focus on one simple task, breathing. When you focus on one task at a time, it allows you to have more control over your thoughts. By keeping your mind occupied, you will have less time for your thoughts to wander. Maybe you put in some headphones, do a crossword puzzle, or read a book.
OCD seems to be brushed aside today, but it’s no laughing matter for some of us, many with addiction issues. It is manipulative and controlling, and if you are not conscious of this fact, it could take over. So do me a favor, choose your words wisely and think before you loosely use the phrase OCD when describing someone.
The most difficult thing I have had to go through up until now was struggling with an eating disorder. It’s not always easy having an eating disorder especially being a man struggling with an eating disorder. Growing up and finding your identity is not always the easiest thing to do. I find myself asking myself why life is so terrible to me and only me.
The eating disorder began taking form a couple of years ago after lots of time critiquing my body and comparing myself to unrealistic standards. I would stay up most nights eating unhealthy food because it gave me comfort, only to purge moments later after eating that food. I would turn on the water faucet so my parents wouldn’t hear and wouldn’t disappoint them. This went on for nearly a year, and there were some days when I did not feel good about what I was doing, but thankfully I made it through. I found important parts of my recovery were to get to bed earlier so I would not be tempted to eat. I also went to college in the fall of 2020. Being away from my comfortable surroundings was important for my growth into a new person.
From 2019 (my Junior year of high school) to the Summer of 2020 (My senior year of high school), I developed (and overcame) symptoms of an eating disorder that has left a permanent scar in my soul. I always had a distorted body image and low self-confidence, but it all kind of came together in my Junior year of High School. Mix that with a reliance on food for comfort and pleasure. You get bad eating habits, resulting in one brutal, emotional tornado.
Shocking, right? Brady Johnson, a six-foot, 200 pounds, burly, neurotypical male, struggled with an eating disorder. It seems so inconceivable because we all have this interpretation of what the modern male is supposed to look and act like. He should have big muscles, a smooth voice, be charismatic and be confident. But to me, the most important characteristic of a modern male is courage—the ability to talk about his feelings without the worry that he might be judged by society.
My ritual when I went through troubles with eating revolved around two rules: making sure I kept what I was doing a secret and finding the comfort that I needed at the time. Food made me happy, but I did not want my family to see me randomly polishing off a bag of chips mid-day, so I would wait until the night. My parents would go to sleep, and I would begin my ritual.
My house was always well stocked with food, so it wasn’t hard to feed my habit. I would usually grab a little bit of whatever we had. So maybe a handful of Cheez-Its, a handful of chips, and some kind of candy. No one would notice if anything went missing by grabbing a little bit of each snack. I was feeding the emptiness inside. I would throw on The Office or whatever show made me comfortable at the time, sit on the couch and overeat. Eventually, the overeating got bad, and I found myself puking some nights to feel better about myself in the morning. I would even indulge in this dangerous practice on random weekdays, fall asleep on the couch and go to school on just a few hours of sleep.
Loneliness was one of the main perpetrators, so summer of 2020, when my family was in the Cape and I was back home, trying to find a way out of the hole I dug myself. I needed a way to ask for help, but I was not courageous enough to because I still hadn’t found my true identity. I was worried about the stigmas surrounding my illness.
So How do You Overcome This?
Knowing that you control your thoughts is a big factor. Being able to self-assess and recognize that maybe you shouldn’t stay up all night and instead you should get good sleep is huge. Also, changing your environment is essential to beating your “addiction.” For me, the environment that I felt comfortable in was either in my kitchen or on the couch, with videos playing on my phone. Going off to Springfield College for my freshman year of college was essential for me. I was not surrounded by a ton of food, we did grab-and-go meals, and I was alone in my dorm room, thinking about what I was doing and where I was going.
I was lonely at Springfield College during the fall semester of 2020. I lived like an inmate in a maximum-security prison because the Covid cases were spiking. But this type of loneliness was different from what I felt that previous summer. At SC, I used my loneliness to better myself. I used the time I had by myself to make a change. The hardest and most important thing I did that semester was deleting social media. It allowed me to relax my mind and focus on myself rather than others. Because with social media, the comparison was what hurt me the most, it is important to realize that you don’t need social media to be happy.
I want to sum up what has been a difficult part of this story to write. I went through a tough time in life where I did not know why I was feeling the way I did, and it was hard for me to be in touch with my emotions. But I can now say, in all truthfulness, that I am doing a lot better, and to get out what has been a hard thing to live with was a big part of that.
Anxiety is more prevalent nowadays. With the pressure of being a college student and managing many different things in life, I can get overwhelmed easily. I get anxious when I am in large crowds of people. I become anxious when I think about the future and overly criticize myself. Anxiety is one of the harder problems to solve, but I have learned that it is important to reach out for help before it overwhelms you.
Every day I work to continue the climb out of my destructive ways. I have learned to stop seeking the comfortable ways of life and start admitting the uncomfortable truth to myself. We all have our negatives, our battles in life that we fight in our minds every day. It is all about learning to accept and learn from what happened in the past. Seeking help is vital, and learning to leave the past behind and move up and on.
If I can give any advice from a 19-year-olds perspective who constantly critiques himself, I would give you four pieces of advice:
Life is beautiful. Life still has so much more to offer than what we think through the failures and negative thoughts. There are still beautiful people, beautiful places, and beautiful experiences that have not yet been found.
Tell your story.
Be someone that others can look up to. Being a leader in the community is something that anyone can do. You just have to be courageous enough.
Follow your passion
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and admit that you might not be ok.
Don’t compare your life to the life of others. You need to do what is best for you and only for you.
Be different from the pack.
Be honest to yourself and others, and you will have no regrets. It is essential to be as transparent as possible. I guarantee you will feel better about yourself. Almost every time I see my 95-year-old grandfather, he tells me to be honest and usually follows that advice with a story. It resonates with me because I look up to him every day, and I know that what he says holds more credibility than anyone else.
Go for it. Fear and doubt are useless emotions. Push past them and just go for it. Tell your story, start that business, tell that girl you like her, or just do something you have always wanted. You control your own life, and no one can tell you what to do. If what you are currently doing isn’t making you happy, then switch it up. Always seek out what will make you the happiest in life.
Love who you are, and admire who you want to become
Focusing on the Positives
I love my life because I am truly the luckiest person in the world. I work at a Bar and Bistro 5 minutes down the road from campus. I bartend, serve, and occasionally host. I have met some really good friends through Savanna’s. It is a close-knit group of people. And boy, can they plate a beautiful dish!
I have my friends and family with who I am in contact regularly. Two of my best friends from home live here on campus with me, and I try to call my family almost every day. I spend my summers in the Cape, which I look forward to for most of the year. Cape Cod is a place where I can just relax and be myself. I live in a small little cottage near the beach, and I work at a resort called the Pelham House, which is 2 minutes away. It is a great setup, and I am blessed to be so lucky. I love cooking, watching TV shows, watching and following Boston sports, and writing. There is so much that this world has to offer, and I want to make sure I take advantage of it on my good days.
The positives are all there. And you know what? As unlucky as some of us think we are, there are always small glimpses of positives. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel in everybody’s story. Learn to appreciate and never take for granted what you have.
Where I am Now
Let me give you a little glimpse into my life right now. I am a sophomore at Umass Amherst, majoring in Journalism and hoping to write for a living eventually. I love my job working in a restaurant, I love the people I have in my life, and I am grateful for the small moments that this life has given me.
My favorite song is Midnight Rambler by The Rolling Stones. It sends chills down my spine every time the tempo slows down around the 3:45 mark, building up to Mick Jagger unleashing his vocals. My favorite show is the Sopranos. The cinematography, writing, fashion, and casting make this show the best of all time. It’s in a class of its own. It’s a show that can make you laugh, cry, become frustrated, or be compassionate. Nothing compares. And my favorite book up to this point has been Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. As intense and extra as he might sometimes be, he is still very inspiring, and the book is well written.
Why did I throw in my favorite song, show, and book? Because that is what I wanted to show you, the reader, that while this story is mainly about the bad things in life, I still appreciate the good things that life offers.
Believe it or not, this past week or so leading up to when this story was posted has included some of the best days of my life. Partnering with Asa Floyd to create this organization has given me more joy and drive than I could have ever imagined. I have learned that it is all about being a voice in society up to this point in life. And don’t get me wrong, when you have a mental track record as I do, it’s difficult to find your voice, but it is essential that you do. I also feel that maybe a little bit more than the average person. Perhaps that is why I led myself down a dark path, but maybe that is also why I managed to find a way out of that hole.
This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. Writing it was easy, but finding the strength to share this story with others was challenging. Like many testosterone-filled teenage guys, I believed that I was invincible and that expressing my emotions would signify weakness. I am here to tell you that is not true. Writing this story and being open with my emotions is the greatest decision I have ever made. So, I apologize for not coming forward earlier, but it wasn’t easy to do this. My goal is to make it easier for people like myself, hopefully. My parents might feel terrible because of what they didn’t know. My friends might judge me a little more because of what they know. But the ugly truth is better to live with than the repressed lie buried deep down in your soul, just taking up space.
Lastly, I wanted to leave everyone with one of my favorite quotes:
“Life has many different chapters. One bad chapter doesn’t mean it’s the end of the book.”
This quote is something I read when I start to go to a bad place. No matter what negative experiences we go through, we have the power not to let them control us.
Peace and Love,
Herren Project is a national nonprofit committed to supporting, inspiring, and empowering people to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Whether we are struggling with the disease of addiction or other mental health disorders, we believe there is power in sharing our stories. Herren Project is a proud partner of SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week. National Prevention Week (NPW) is a national public education platform bringing together communities and organizations to raise awareness about the importance of substance use prevention and positive mental health. We encourage you to share your prevention story and start a conversation in your community. Together we can strengthen community, build resilience, and create hope.
If you or a loved one are struggling with the disease of addiction, Herren Project is here to walk with you. Learn more about our individual and family recovery services.