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I thought escaping depression would be impossible--but it wasn't

Beyond Possible and how it gave me my confidence back

By Maureen Y. PalmerPublished 11 months ago Updated 5 months ago 5 min read
I thought escaping depression would be impossible--but it wasn't
Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

I suffered from severe depression and a crippling lack of confidence for years. Specifically, I had wrapped up all of my identity and self-esteem into just one factor: my academic success. But I wasn't good enough for my own high standards, and eventually, I wasn’t good enough for anyone’s standards. My mental health was just too bad, I couldn’t be productive, and it wasn’t getting better. Eventually, I’d had depression for a solid seven years, and even with strong medication, I was barely able to function. Every success story I had ever read, every news article about someone who used to suffer from depression, featured someone who had only had depression for two or three years at most. For those who’d had depression for longer, the struggle seemed to inevitably last for their entire lives. I truly believed that I would never be even close to mentally healthy.

Somehow, the memoir of a record-smashing Nepali mountaineer with “unusual physiology” (his words) made me finally actually believe that I could be okay again. I could overcome my own seemingly insurmountable mental struggles--and I have!

By Somnath Ghosh on Unsplash

Beyond Possible by Nims Purja chronicles the author’s life from childhood, through serving in the most elite military units, to finally his successful mission to climb all 14 of the world’s 8000-meter “death zone” peaks in less than 7 months, beating the previous record by over seven years!

When the author first said that he attributes his ability to smash the record to his “unusual physiology” (13) of being naturally much more capable of high-altitude endurance and recovery than most mountaineers, I assumed that this book wouldn’t actually provide any inspiration or motivation relevant to an ordinary person. Luckily, I was totally wrong! As the rest of the book clearly shows, Nims needed both extreme mental toughness and an extremely positive mindset in order to achieve his lofty goals, in order to push himself to the limit and actually take full advantage of his natural abilities. These are skills that anyone can develop.

The Lessons:

Emotions like fear and self-doubt are not a failing. In the throes of depression, I used to spend an inordinately large amount of time hating myself for my tendency to excessively hate myself, and getting anxious because I expected to get anxious about things. Sigh.... Clearly, these thought patterns were not remotely helpful, and they were all based on the fallacy that being prone to fear and self-doubt is a flaw. But this book explains that even consummate badasses like Nims and his Gurkha soldier colleagues did and do feel fear. It's just that "rather than allowing negative emotions to paralyze [them], [they] transformed fear into an inspirational energy, a motivator"(237).

Similarly, throughout Beyond Possible Nims revealed that he exerts a lot of effort to maintain a positive mindset; it doesn't just happen automatically for him. At one point, he told his brother, "...when someone like you, who I respect, tries to put negative energy into my head, it can be hard work to turn it around" (95). This is an extremely relatable concept for me and my depression, yet Nims was able to overcome it enough to utterly destroy world records. Therefore, I must be able to overcome my own difficulties and accomplish my goals too!

Even the utmost elites fail sometimes. Nims is not only an elite mountaineer; he is so elite that he makes other elites look mediocre in comparison. Nonetheless, he makes many mistakes and experiences failures throughout the course of his mission, such as when he overexerted himself to the point of altitude damage and the time he nearly fell to his death. The key is that he doesn't let these relatively small failures deter him from continuing to strive for his big goals for the mission and his life. Nims points out that "sporting greats" like Muhammad Ali and Usain Bolt had setbacks and failures earlier in their careers, yet that didn't stop them from going on to win stunning victories (244), and I would definitely add Nims to this list of role models. I used to get extremely upset with myself any time I failed at anything, but clearly that was not reasonable!

You can accomplish more than you think you can. Doubting my own abilities was a huge self-fulfilling prophecy and vicious cycle during my intense depression years. Nims shows that self-confidence also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, but one that leads to a virtuous cycle of improvement. During his special forces training, he learned to push past any of his old "psychological limits" and to always put in full effort without holding back due to doubt, while cultivating a high level of mental toughness as he pushed through the pain of intense physical training (102). This led him to realize that essentially anything was possible if he was fully confident and fully committed to achieving the outcome. As he said, "If I believed my goal of climbing all 14 8,000-meter peaks in quick succession was achievable, then it was achievable" (101), and clearly it was achievable, so he was right! This was an intensely important lesson for me, and I've already reaped huge benefits from applying this virtuous cycle of confidence to my own life and career goals. And one of the only positive things about depression is that it did greatly increase my mental toughness because I got used to being miserable. The challenges of ordinary life feel much happier and easier in comparison!

Today:

With my newfound confidence, I’m pursuing my childhood dream of being an author! Unlike with my previous career goals, which I pursued with a constant sense of anxiety and mounting self-hatred for not being productive enough, I’m pursuing this with gentleness and unwavering confidence! I am 100% certain that (unless I die or get completely incapacitated at an unusually young age) I WILL achieve my dream of getting a novel published, and any small failures I experience along the way will NOT deter me. My practice of stubbornly maintaining confidence about my novel writing has now also spiraled into further improvements in my confidence in general, to the point that my depression seems to be in remission!

I might always technically have depression—I’m still taking my antidepressants and have no plans to stop any time soon—but I believe it is accurate to say I am now free of it. I just take my medications daily (They’re great!) and symptoms don’t control my life anymore. Before, I was barely able to function even with the medications and every other coping skill I could muster.

I highly recommend Beyond Possible to anyone who struggles with confidence or motivation. I've done my best writing this article, but I don't think any summary can fully replicate the emotional journey and influence of reading the entire book. Beyond Possible is truly the most inspiring book I have ever read!

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About the Creator

Maureen Y. Palmer

Reading • Writing • Murder!

I'm an avid reader and aspiring author, currently working on my first mystery novel. Here, I write essays about reading and writing, as well as short mystery/thriller/horror fiction.

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Comments (1)

  • Donna Renee10 months ago

    Hmmm I’ve never read that book (high altitude mountaineering stuff really scares me 😱) but it sounds very inspiring!! I also grew up measuring my success and worth through academic achievement and felt very lost when that time was over for me. I’m glad you are here!

Maureen Y. PalmerWritten by Maureen Y. Palmer

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