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Battling Depression and Alcoholism With Exercise and Journaling

“Accutane came on the market in 1982, I began taking it in 1985, and in 1986 I was feeling very depressed. Accutane had a number of side effects, but the one that impacted me the most was depression; the stats say only 1% of people will have MDD while on Accutane. I was that 1 percent.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hello everyone, my name is Bryan Davis. I am from Tyler, Texas. I work in public education as a special education teacher. I work mainly with students who also have learning issues. Occasionally I work with students who have emotional trauma. I have also taught technology applications.

I am currently going into my 20th or 21st year of teaching (I honestly can’t remember), and like many teachers, I think of getting out sometimes, but I am too far in to do that now. And, it is worth it knowing you helped someone better their life.

I am happily divorced and have a wonderful dog that I have had for almost 12 years. I bottle-fed Cash when his mother abandoned him; he and I are quite close. I know my time with him is getting shorter every day, so I make sure he gets lots of scratches and pets.

I am an avid landscape photographer and pitmaster. Pork and briskets are my favorites to smoke.

I consider myself happy at this point in my life, but that wasn’t always the case. I struggled with depression for many, many years. Later in life, social anxiety decided to crash the party in my head.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

My form of depression is classified as Major Depressive Disorder or clinical depression. I’ve had it since I was 17. I remember not having any interest in much of anything outside of playing golf. (I was on the high school golf team).

I no longer wanted to go hunting or fishing, and if I wasn’t on the golf course, I was holed up in my room. I was just withdrawing into my mind, wondering what was happening. I knew I shouldn’t feel this way, but I didn’t know how to explain it to anyone or what to do about it. Unfortunately, mental health was not something people talked about then.

Looking back on things now, I think the medication I took for acne caused much of my trouble. Accutane came on the market in 1982, I began taking it in 1985, and in 1986 I was feeling very depressed. 

Accutane had a number of side effects, but the one that impacted me the most was depression; the stats say only 1% of people will have MDD while on Accutane. I was that 1 percent.

Later on, in my early thirties, I had my testosterone levels checked because my anti-depressants really weren’t doing me much good. My levels came back and were extremely low. Again I think this goes back to the Accutane.

There are studies out there now that show Accutane can affect testosterone. So having low testosterone in my teens through my mid 30’s and depression was not a good combination.

Once I started testosterone replacement therapy, my depression was not as bad. I was still not great though. I was just going through life without a purpose.

I did have periods where I thought I was happy, but those periods would only last for maybe a couple of weeks at most. Usually, just days; then, for some reason, I would go down again. As a friend said, “It’s like you retreat into a cave.” And this would be my pattern for years. Withdrawing into my mental cave.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

For me, depression isn’t always feeling sad. A large part of the time, I could be telling a joke to someone, but on the inside, I felt disconnected. 

Robin Williams explained depression the best. Two quotes from him stick out.

  • “All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are.”
  • “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”

That’s how I felt, injured and completely worthless. I really was never suicidal, sure I thought about it, I think everyone does at some point. I just couldn’t bear to think what it would have to my parents, and who would have taken care of my dog?

When I was married, I would retreat to the garage to work on some little project. Or I would get up early and look for landscapes to photograph. My wife thought I was just out enjoying a hobby. 

I was really wanting to be away from everyone. Sometimes it would hit me, and I would just pull over to the side of the road and cry. No real reason; nothing bad had happened. It was like I just needed a good cry, I was just miserable. I felt like I wasn’t a good person. That I wasn’t capable of being happy. I wanted to be, just the chemicals in my brain said otherwise.

During this period, I made a terrible choice; I began drinking quite heavily. I know, not smart. I was depressed, living in a city I hated, in a doomed relationship. Whiskey became my friend. I eventually divorced(yeah) and moved back to the country(heck yeah); a cat, a dog, depression, and whiskey came with me. 

Once back where I felt comfortable, I did better for a while. It seemed about when I thought everything was going well, something would happen to trigger a relapse. 

My father passed away, more failed relationships, and I would retreat into my mental cave each time something traumatic happened.

Outside of my mother saying something occasionally, no one said anything to me; I was a functioning depressed alcoholic. Only a couple of close friends even knew that I drank. I didn’t go to bars or anything. I just sat on the porch each evening, drinking Irish whiskey till it got dark. I thought I was living a nice quiet life. In reality, I was drinking to forget how miserable I really was.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I knew that I needed to change my habits, especially the alcohol part for a long time, years, probably decades. I just wasn’t mentally fully committed to change. My school classes were canceled during the pandemic since I was not a core class teacher. Thus I wasn’t interacting with anyone. 

I started to experience severe social anxiety; I actually missed being around people. This was a new feeling since I have never had a problem being alone. But man, I did miss being around my coworkers and students. I even texted the suicide hotline several times, not that I was suicidal; I just felt so alone and super depressed.

So here I am, living on 75 acres of land, with no neighbors around me, depression is full-blown, drinking a lot, and I mean a lot. No social interaction. Life was not good.

After the pandemic, things did get a little better. I wasn’t as depressed; instead of being fully back in my mental cave of depression, I was at least approaching the opening. I think it helped some since I was back around people; alcohol use was still prevalent though.

Eventually, my mother and landlord had an intervention. It worked. It helped me pull my head out of where it was and realize what I was doing to myself. It was a tough choice, but I made the right decision. I was finally ready mentally to accept the fact that I needed help and that I couldn’t do this on my own. I decided to make some big changes, this time for the better.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I moved into the city to be around more people. I took an online outpatient rehab class that was helpful for my alcohol use. I also did online therapy for my depression. Talk therapy really wasn’t my style. But both classes mentioned something that did strike me. That was to start journaling my thoughts and feelings.

I was hesitant at first, but once I began, I ended up really liking journaling. I even splurged and got two nice moleskin journals. Sometimes if I didn’t have my journal, I would just write in a note app on my phone.

I kept two journals; one was a sobriety journal. The other is a mental health journal. I still write in the mental health journal. I would write specific prompts, like what triggers made me want to drink or what I am grateful for. You can find an endless list of writing prompts online.

Another important thing I started was I went for a walk when I felt the urge to drink. Sometimes in the evenings, when I used to drink the most, I would go for three walks or more, each at least 20 minutes. 

With just the slightest passing thought of drinking, out the door I went. After just a few weeks of doing this, I started dropping weight. And I wasn’t nearly as depressed. 

This is where I realized that I could control myself. Replace a bad habit with a good one.

So now I’m several weeks in from not having a drink; I’m mentally feeling better, thinking clearly, and physically getting better. These changes led me to read and research online topics like fitness, motivation, and living a healthy lifestyle. I really enjoyed the research, and I started writing in my journal about different things I read. 

One of the first things I learned was that exercising releases endorphins which make you feel better. Hey, a triple win; I’m losing weight, not nearly as depressed, and not drinking. 

I was out on one of my walks and I thought, “Hey, I feel happy”. I can walk to that spot right now and point it out to you.

I had worked out before, but not like I was now. Before, I was never really consistent. So since I liked researching and weight lifting, I began looking into getting a trainer. I thought if I’m going to do this, I want to do it right.  

The problem was that with my work schedule, I would be in the gym around 5 am. Only a few trainers will meet you in the gym at that time in the morning. None around where I live.

My research led me to contact and work with Mike Gettier of Mike gave me workout plans, dieting strategies, and his cell number, so if I had questions or needed support, I could call or text anytime.

Hey, I’ve got someone on my side who wants to help me look and feel better. I felt comfortable enough to ask Mike any questions, and he answered them all. Mike was able to help me so much physically and mentally. I was struggling once, and wasn’t really focusing the way I should have been. And Mike texted me these words – “Remember why you started”. And that helped.

So now I’m fully into living a healthy lifestyle. My newfound journaling skills and research led me to take classes on becoming a master-certified life coach focusing on motivation and mindset. I also studied nutrition and became a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Nutrition Coach!

That led me to start my website I call Mentally39. I wanted to share what I was learning; I write about mental health, mindset, motivation, and things related to a healthy lifestyle. It’s only a few months old but it’s gaining some traction.

Am I a great writer? No, but that doesn’t stop me from practicing and putting my material out there. Having the website has been wonderful for me; I can reach more people, and I stay busy writing about topics that I care about.

What would you recommend other people do if they were in your shoes?

My advice is to find a healthy outlet that works for you. Some people like to draw or do photography. Write poetry, a short story, or whatever works for you. Take a class at a local college or get online. You can find online communities for almost everything. If you can’t find one, create it, maybe that is your calling.

What helped me was journaling and wanting to help people. People like me have struggled in the past and are trying to get themselves together. Develop a plan, and set very specific goals (SMART Goals). My goal for the future is to write my own motivational mindset material that people can and will use. Not just read over it but put it into practice.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

Growing up in the 80’s people didn’t talk about mental health. Tell someone you were depressed and you would get the typical “just cheer up”. People were afraid to talk about mental issues, some people were afraid of losing their jobs.

Afraid that if they talked to their doctor about it, the work insurance would report them or somehow their boss would find out. And people are still afraid to talk about it, I think it’s slightly less so now than in the past, but not by much.

Depression is tough to talk about to someone who doesn’t have it, but I think people are a lot more aware now. No, I’m not always sad, I’m just not an over-the-top happy person at times.

And being a guy, it’s tough, meds can impact you sexually, which can make you feel less of a man. If you are married please talk to your spouse, and let them know what is going on.

Do I find it hard to talk about my mental health issues? Not anymore, before, yes. I didn’t have the tools to properly express myself before. Now I write my thoughts and emotions down, come back a day or two later, and rewrite them. Basically an edit or final version.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

I want people to know that there is help and that you can change. Is it going to be easy? Probably not. Especially at the beginning. Think of it as learning a new skill or a new sport. Something that you have never done before.

Chances are you are not going to be very good at it. Let’s take golf as an example; you could buy some clubs, find a golf course, and teach yourself. And I can tell you you are going to struggle a lot. 

Or you could hire a professional and get better a lot quicker. Same with your mental health. Find a professional that you like and take lessons. Take the advice they give and really practice. If the first coach doesn’t work out, find another. With Zoom, and all the apps available, you can have a mental lesson pretty much anywhere at any time. But you have to take that first step and get help. That pro isn’t going to come to find you.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • One of the first books I ever read to try on self-improvement was Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman I read that back in the late 2000s probably. Basically, in a very small nutshell, would you allow someone to talk to you, the way you talk to yourself? And that has stuck with me, did I always apply it, that would be a no. Still, it’s a good read.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can check my website – Articles I write are posted here, along with motivational quotes

On Facebook and Instagram, I post motivational, mental health, or informational tidbits I find interesting.

If I can help anyone at all, I will try my best. If you just need to vent about something you are more than welcome to contact me.

I will respond as soon as I can. Just know that I may be teaching and not available for an immediate response. But I will get back to you. 

If you are hurting and think you may hurt yourself or someone else please call 911 or the suicide hotline which is 988

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.