Discovering that I had a mental illness was eye-opening and brought clarity to the lens I had spent seeing the world throughout my life. The greatest freedom is making the decision to change even though it’s terrifying and confronting as hell. The truth is you are not powerless and you deserve to live a life feeling fulfilled. This is something I’m still learning to see. There’s a stigma still associated with mental health that can make it difficult to speak about it in a transparent way because there’s a fear of being judged, treated differently, and misunderstood. It can increase feelings of isolation in our experience, despite it being one of the most collectively shared experiences.
In the book How to Escape from Prison by Dr Paul Wood he shares his memoir of his own experience in prison. The book was inspiring, raw and honest and it speaks from the heart and tells us that you can turn your life around no matter what false narrative you’ve believed in throughout your life. It was extremely touching and incredibly inspiring to know that change is always possible no matter what has happened throughout your life. You can overcome your inner demons and take control of your life. In the second section of the book, Wood talks about the Five Steps of Freedom.
Five Steps to Freedom
You were born free. We were born free. During our childhood we spent time running around, playing and laughing without creating self-defeating thoughts and beliefs. We wouldn’t overthink things and we lived in the present moment. As we get older our identity can feel distorted and we can feel lost in how we see ourselves and we can create limitations within ourselves. We create a birdcage that we enclose ourselves in despite having the key within us all this time.
Choosing to break out of your mental prison. We all have a choice in how we perceive something and what we act upon. When we make the conscious choice to break out of our mental prison, we acknowledge those thoughts and beliefs that have been holding us back. It takes a lot of courage to break out of our mental prison because it’s far easier to be comfortable in what we know. The words we speak to ourselves have immense power as they are the reality that we live and the actions we take. We have the greatest choice to change our lives and our mindset.
Make the escape. Taking the first step takes us onto the path of freedom. We often see reaching a goal as something that will take enormous effort. Wood mentions the importance of being specific about what you want to change. It can seem daunting and unreachable if our goals are broad and feel distant in the future. When making the escape there will always be a fear that we’ll need to confront. Making the escape means that we take those small steps that make a difference and listen to our ‘authentic voice’.
Fight for your freedom. What do you spend your time doing? How do you speak to yourself? What are your values? The greatest battle is often the one within yourself. The thoughts you tell yourself are often the first barrier you will face. Overcoming those inner battles comes with self-discipline and self-control. Wood says “self-discipline requires practice, and the more you practice, the more naturally it comes to you […] they are developed through practice and application. They’re just like muscles.”
Living Free. “Freedom is a journey, not an event” as Wood shares an analogy about fitness. You don’t exercise and immediately stay fit. It requires ongoing effort. Living in freedom isn’t a quick fix that brings us momentary happiness. It’s gaining strength and resilience to face life’s challenges and to live as your authentic self. Wood says the four areas to develop emotional fitness are your relationships, your thinking, looking after yourself physiologically, and your environment.
What’s the mental prison that you create for yourself?
Art by Becca Stadtlander