Accept Past Hurts & Observe Life Heal Before Your Eyes

Soda pop brands say you’ll be happy once you snap the can open.

Fashion brands hint you’ll be skinny, tall, and popular when you wear their clothes.

People remark judgments left and right about what you are and what you should do.

The undertones of mass marketing elicit thoughts in your head to believe:

You’re not good enough.

You’re not tall enough.

You’re not smart enough.

You’re not _____ (fill in the blank) enough. You begin to believe:

Marketing can bully people into believing we’re not good enough.

Now more than ever, it’s never been more challenging to feel good in a world that makes you feel bad for not being good enough.

Mindfulness says, “Enough is enough. No more judgments. Practice acceptance.”

I didn’t feel good enough for 19 years. I was scared to admit my true identity.

I thought people would reject me. I thought I’d be bashed.

I saw it all the time in the media and I experienced it at school. These feelings kept me from making friends and liking myself.

I wasn’t being true to myself and life sucked.

Overwhelm said, “Enough is enough. If you want to eventually be in a relationship, you need to accept yourself.”

In that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I knew the truth had to come out. I was done abiding the bully, homophobic voice in my head.

In my freshman year of college, I uttered the words “I’m gay” to a therapist.

She congratulated me but the overwhelm didn’t subside.

It got worse.

I still felt imperfect.

Then I got rejected from my college theatre program.

I felt like a failure.

“Max, you’re a failure,” said the bully in my head.

The overwhelm and rejection drove me to seek salvation. A psychiatrist told me to take yoga classes. I ran straight toward a Bikram yoga studio. I was obsessed with looking at myself in the mirror thinking harsh things to myself like:

“Work harder.”
“You’re still not good enough.”
“Get skinnier if you want to be on Broadway.”

At the peak of this self-bullying game, I lost 4 nights worth of sleep and I got dehydrated.

I experienced delusional thoughts that weren’t based in reality.

I called 911 and checked myself into a hospital.

My parents flew into my rescue from opposite ends of the country and convinced me to check myself out. They escorted me to a see another psychiatrist. He was known as the best psychiatrist in Las Vegas.

After a five-minute evaluation, he scribbled medication for bipolar and schizophrenia management onto his prescription pad. It was called Zyprexa.

Within three weeks, I gained 35 pounds and became lethargic. I slept 12 hours each night and took long naps in the afternoon.

No one knew the inner dialogue going on inside my head.

That voice was powerless.

The voice inside my head drove me to believe I was a failure. The mind has the power to do that. Beliefs will drive you toward acting out specific behaviors.

When my thoughts thought, “I hate myself,” my behavior was to avoid the mirror. This thought kept repeating like a recording in my head.

The recording didn’t stop.

I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror anymore. I felt ashamed.

I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want to face myself or any camera that tried to take a picture of me.

(Left) Lying on my dad’s couch, drugged up on bipolar medication in the summer of 2009 (Right) On a family vacation to the Grand Canyon in the winter of 2009

I worked with another therapist. She asked me, “Max, what’s wrong with being gay?”

Her voice was loving and compassionate.

The thoughts inside my head contemplated, “If I reject myself for being gay, I’m rejecting other gay people. I don’t want to be homophobic. I love all human beings, including the lesbian therapist sitting across from me. I can’t be an asshole to myself anymore.”

After I acknowledged these thoughts, I slowly started looking at myself in the mirror again.

My therapist encouraged me to apply to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as a transfer student after being rejected from my previous college. I got accepted and started taking classes. I hated school and all I wanted to do was drop out of college to travel the country and perform in national Broadway tours. I desperately wanted to be a musical theater artist.

I purchased a roundtrip ticket from Las Vegas to the east coast. At an open call audition for the national tour of Grease, I fell to the ground and struggled to stand back up.

The results of an MRI scan revealed I tore my ACL, meniscus, and tibial plateau. I needed surgery to repair my left knee.

In recovery, I went back to practice Bikram yoga.

I wanted to look myself in the eye and believe that practicing Bikram yoga in a 105-degree room would cure me and get me back on track to become a Broadway performer. That’s what the teachers claimed they could help me do, and I believed the teachers.

I thought Bikram could heal not only my physical wound but my mental hurt too.

The following summer, I spun into the same spiral. I lost touch with reality, again.

Only this time, the medication was stronger than Zyprexa. This medication was Ativan. Ativan usually treats seizure disorders like epilepsy and can also be used to relieve intense anxiety.

I felt numb when that medication entered my bloodstream.

All creativity and dreams that once infiltrated my mind and body were gone.

Presto.

Tears rolled down my eyes but I didn’t feel anything. Before, I thought the previous summer was my lowest… but this was the lowest. This was my rock bottom.

I lost enjoyable thoughts, creativity, and love. The kid who dreamed of performing on Broadway lost everything.

As a creative, there’s nothing worse than not feeling. It’s deafening. It’s colorless. It’s tasteless. It’s soundless. There are no feelings.

Eventually, I left the stupor and I yearned to understand what happened.

I thought, “Why did this happen to me?”

I was perfectly normal as a young kid and teenager: Healthy. Attentive. Smart. Passionate. Driven.

I experienced mild depression and trauma from my parent’s divorce, but how did I end up in these manic, mental spirals?

That’s what drove me to study people in college.

In learning psychology, human behavior started to make sense.

I wasn’t putting on a costume to perform in a theatre production. I wasn’t competing anymore and trying to be the best. I was simply trying to understand myself.

Throughout my studies in psychology, my classmates and I primarily studied pathologies: what’s wrong with people. I needed to understand myself. I needed to understand why this happened to me.

In my classes, I realized I wasn’t alone. Most of us who study psychology end up in the field because we’ve been labeled with a pathology, and we simply wanted to understand why.

Human beings at our core are curious. We seek to find meaning in anything and everything.

I studied bipolar, mania and gambling addiction. When I learned about these pathologies, they made sense logically, but not spiritually.

I felt my identity was so much for than the label that was given to me. I couldn’t stand to believe I’d be branded as bipolar for the rest of my life. This felt too shameful.

In my history of psychology class, I had a wise professor. He said, “The American Psychological Association was created in 1892 by G. Standley Hall. This association gave way to the creation of the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It allowed mental health practitioners to create labels for people based on common, abnormal behavior.”

Before I go any further with my story (please note: I’m not a doctor and nor do I pretend to be one. If you have a serious condition that requires mental health attention and support, please find the best support you need at this time).

Then the wise professor stated, “They’re just labels. Labels were created to explain abnormal behavior. What exactly is abnormal about being a human being?” Then there was a long pause and the class was silent.

Many of us realized that we are more than the labels that people create for us.

They’re just labels, and labels are created. Things that are created can be undone, labels included.

Labels help give us meaning in the world and allow us to make decisions based on logical reasoning, but labels don’t need to define you and I for the rest of our lives.

Right before I graduated college with my bachelor’s in psychology, I enrolled in a course called Motivation and Emotion. This class was taught by a social psychology professor who changed my life. Her name is Dr. Janie Powell.

Dr. Powell introduced an area of psychology that’s rarely talked about in clinical settings. It’s called positive psychology.

Positive psychology studies human flourishing. It studies what’s right with people, not what’s wrong with people.

All those years I thought I was a failure for being gay and being labeled with bipolar disorder.

As silly and simple as this may sound, Dr. Powell had us watch YouTube videos from the Oprah Winfrey show and create a personal motivational portfolio. Mine was 21 pages long.

This portfolio consisted of my goals, bucket list items, positive affirmations, famous quotes and in-depth analyses of books like Viktor Frankel’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

In my motivational portfolio, I wrote goals like:

  • Move to a new city by January 2012 and have a great job.
  • Run a half marathon.
  • Loose 30 pounds.
  • Become a certified yoga instructor.

Within a matter of a few years, I accomplished all of those goals.

In 2012, I moved to Portland, Oregon and got a great job at a venture-funded technology start-up company.

I ran two half marathons in San Francisco.

I lost 30 pounds.

I became a certified yoga instructor at Yoyoyogi in Portland, named one of the top yoga studios in the country where they teach power vinyasa and healing yoga (a yoga style completely different than Bikram).

I even did a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat.

I’m not writing this to brag.

I continue to deal with many mental and emotional ups and downs.

I fell in love with an incredible man who eventually moved away and didn’t want to date me any longer. I lost my virginity to him and will forever be grateful for his acceptance of me even though it took months to heal my broken heart.

Two of my family dogs passed away: Mordi in 2014 and Leonard in 2016. Those dogs healed me in my darkest days.

Three months after starting my first business, I had an anxiety episode which turned into a mild depression several months thereafter.

I recently had surgery on an area of my body that I’m choosing not to disclose but you’re welcome to use your imagination to guess.

I’ve also had many struggles with my parents. My mom is a recovering alcoholic and my dad’s harsh, demanding speaking tone doesn’t always agree with my sensitive nature. Even though they drive me bonkers, I love them and they accept me unconditionally.

(Left) Off to teach a yoga class (Middle) Tree pose, it’s all about balance and a positive thumbs up (Right) Recovering from surgery in 2016

Life is tough. It’s not easy.

But there are so many lessons in each step of our journey and I’m still learning new lessons to this moment.

Over 26 years of living, I’ve had some incredible teachers, mentors and therapists. Many include world class actors, psychology professors, technology entrepreneurs, motivational experts, natropathic doctors, yoga instructors and spiritual teachers.

I’d list each of their names here but the list would go on forever (I’ll save that list for another post).

As a mindfulness coach, I don’t want to be the expert, guide or teacher who tells you that my insights, lessons, and philosophies are the only one to follow.

I believe you should learn from as many people as possible. Draw your own thoughts based on your experience.

“I’m Max and I’m a bookoholic.” (As a minimalist, you don’t see all of the books I’ve ever read… I only keep the books that give me joy. Thanks Marie Kondo!)

You are your wisest teacher.

You’ve been with yourself since the moment you were born, and you’ll be with yourself until the day you leave this earth.

You should never let one teacher, guide or philosophy dictate your life. It’s not your truth, and it’s not fair since you’re always growing and evolving.

Come to your own conclusions and opinions based on your experience.

Nobody else has lived your own experience.

I advise you to observe your thoughts for what they are.

Simply observe your thoughts and accept what they are.

When you observe your thoughts with kindness, love and an open heart, you’ll realize you are not your thoughts but your thoughts have the magical capability to heal your life from the inside, out.

You get to decide how your thoughts will transform you.

You can allow the external world to control those thoughts, or you can replace self-defeating thoughts with empowering thoughts.

Believe it or not: this action is a choice.

The choice is up to you. Remember, you’re already good enough no matter what you choose.