People who know me now might never believe it, but there was a time when I wanted nothing better than to kick the bucket. From age 13 to 17, I made several attempts against my own life.
My reasons were many, and mostly centered around living with an abusive father who also did all he could to disrupt my education. Coupled with teenage hormones, it was a recipe for disaster.
Most teenagers would have acted out under those conditions. My worst offence was some black nail polish, and dyeing my once reddish-brownish-blondish hair, jet black.
I spent my days buried in books — anything to escape my everyday reality. Then, I spent my nights lying awake, courting death. I just wanted my nightmare to end.
Somehow I managed to stay on honour roll through my school years — part miracle, and part ruthless perseverance on my part.
I had always been the odd but sociable teenager on campus with great grades, an ever-growing group of friends, and even a fan base for my writing.
A lot of people called me “lucky”. Some called me “talented”. And everyone believed I had nothing to worry about. For a long time, even my best friend was fooled.
That was, however, until the day she grabbed me and yanked up the sleeve of a black jacket I refused to take off.
I kept pulling back every time she had tried to grab my arm that day — a customary habit of hers, as she dragged me from Point A to Point B.
Realising that something was wrong, she turned to force to find her answers. What she found were cuts and bruises on my arm, and one hell of an explanation.
For the many years that followed, she carried the brunt of that burden, and more than once, kept me out of trouble. Of course, she’s still a big part of my life today.
In fact, Alyssa is the Senior Designer at my firm. One day, some months before I launched Alexis Chateau PR, she asked me:
How did you you stop? How did you just decide you don’t want to kill yourself anymore?
The easy answer is that I risked running afoul of the law in Jamaica, by moving out on my own at 16. I chose relative poverty for two years, for peace of mind, and survived on US$200 per month — eating crackers and sardines for dinner in a house I shared with rats and roaches.
The long answer is that it was an endless and tedious process, of making the choice to be a more positive version of myself day after day, year after year. Here’s how I made it happen — and likely why I’m still alive today.
Upgrade the Posse
While luck has evidently not been a major player in my life and my success, there is one thing I’ve always been lucky in. I always have amazing friends, no matter where I go, and where I live.
That’s a pretty ambitious statement for a young woman who moved about 20 times in her 27 years. In all those places, I had friends I can count on, and still do today.
If you don’t, then it’s time to upgrade your posse. Find people who are doing much better than yourself, and who are doing well in life. Their success will humble you, and teach you a lot about yourself, your life, and your ambitions.
If their success makes you jealous, then you know who the problem is. Having identified that, don’t dwell on the negativity. Aim to fix that insecurity, rather than disguise or bury it. Suppressed feelings have never made anyone healthy in the history of mankind.
Not one time. Not ever.
Find the Reasonable Good in People
Despite my usual ability to attract amazing people in my life, I’ve also come across the “jaded kind” and had the misfortune of dating a few — the kind of guys who suspect dishonesty around every bend, complains about everything under the sun, and believes everyone is out to get him.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned about relationships in 27 years it’s that if you meet anyone who complains about all their partners, their partners aren’t the problem. They are. As my mom puts it:
Look to the common denominator.
That said, I’ve learned to find the good in people, but never at the expense of my safety and peace of mind. It’s one thing to find a rose amongst the thorns, and another thing entirely to keep pricking your own fingers, because the rose is beautiful.
Monitor your Negative Inputs
An obvious way to build a more positive you is to monitor — and limit — your negative inputs. If you put negativity in, you’ll get negativity out. This can come in the form of books, music, TV shows, and video games.
A lot of people view entertainment as a form of release, but the more you see behavior patterns playing over and over again, the more your mind begins to normalise it. Our brains don’t do a very good job at subconsciously separating fact from fiction when it comes to leaving a marked impression.
In fact, anyone who’s done even an introductory course in psychology knows that memory is a fickle thing. And since our behavior is based on memory, good luck trying to convince your brain that what you feed it, is false.
For this reason, I try to keep my negative inputs low. What is “negative” may depend on what your triggers are, and how you generally spend your time. The negative inputs I mostly pay attention to are people.
After all, if you want to be a better and more positive you, surrounding yourself with jaded people, won’t get you very far. If you’re the jaded one, then at least you know where to start your fixing.
Until I was 18, that was definitely me — albeit, with good reason. After all, a young girl who cannot trust her father is unlikely to trust anyone else.
Become Better at What you Do
Have you ever noticed how great you feel when you accomplish something after hard work and dedication? That first time you get an A in math? The first time your website traffic unexpectedly soars to new heights? It’s amazing!
I loved that feeling, and that is essentially what turned me into the semi-retired academic I am today. I got a thrill from breezing through school with honor roll grades, and I wanted to keep that high. So day after day, I worked at it.
There were other things that made me happy. I learned to make photo-manipulations, and practiced my writing. At the height of my fiction-writing skills, I could finish a novel in just three weeks. For you, it might be something else. Maybe you’re really good at sports, or have a musical talent.
But whatever you do, try not to make a talent of video games. Being great at video games is fun. But unless you mean to make a career in that field, it won’t contribute anything meaningful to your life.
Take it from the woman who just bought a Sims 4 expansion pack, and played The Sims 3 all through college. Virtual successes are great, but actual success is even better. The problem lies in the fact that spending time on one takes away from the other.
Even after graduating college, and crawling out of poverty, I was far from financially sound in Jamaica. My payroll job paid me a whopping US$7,000 annually, while I did taxes for executives, banking upwards of US$250,000 every quarter.
Some would ask, exactly when did I grow out of poverty. But technically, poverty calls for living on much less. Needless to say, there were still days in adulthood when I budgeted my meals, decided I could only eat twice, and went to bed with a rumbling tummy.
I learned a nice, neat trick thanks to this. Sleeping cures hunger almost immediately. If you’re starving, go to sleep. Really. Your body enters hibernation mode and slows down metabolism.
In this situation, it’s easy to get dragged into a selfish way of thinking: my problems, my issues, my food, my money. But the first time I volunteered, I was hooked.
I started off volunteering at the Montego Bay Animal Haven, and then participated in charity runs supporting everything from mental health awareness to funding college degrees for poor students.
Giving back even when I was struggling to make ends meet was a great reminder that the world did not revolve around me, and my problems. And it was an amazing feeling, knowing I was injecting some good back into the world.
The truth is, life isn’t always easy. In fact, it never is. So if you’re going through a difficult time, take heart. Many of us have been there, and lived to tell the tale.
Mine continues week after week at alexischateau.com. Hopefully my tales of turning trials into triumphs help to inject a bit of good into your world, as well.
What were the biggest trials you turned into triumphs? Tell me about them in the comments below.