How a Simple Morning Routine Helped Me Heal from PTSD and Grief

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~Frederick Douglass

In an eighteen-month window, I had a landslide of firsts that I would not wish on my worst enemy.

I ended my first long-term relationship with someone I deeply cared for but did not love. She had borderline personality disorder, and I was not mentally strong enough nor mature enough to be what she needed in a partner. Within five minutes of me saying our relationship was over, she slit her wrist as we sat there in bed. This was the beginning of it all.

Drug overdoses, online personal attacks, physically beating me, calling and texting sixty-plus times a day, coming to my work, breaking into my home to steal and trash the place, and general emotional abuse followed over the next ten months.

Day after day, week after week, month after month.

My heart started racing, and my breathing spiked every time my phone went off, and I mean EVERY time. I woke each morning to multiple alerts that someone had tried to hack my social media and bank accounts and people I barely knew messaging me saying, “Hey, don’t know if you saw this, but your ex is…”

In the midst of this, my parents called a family meeting, and that’s when they told us that dad’s doctor thought he might be showing the first signs of Parkinson’s disease.

I didn’t know at the time what this news would mean long-term for him and us as a family, but I soon found out.

Dad slowly started deteriorating mentally and physically. Within a year, he had aged twenty years and wasn’t able to be left alone. The man I had once known to be the picture of health and courage was gone.

I, too, was changing for the worse.

Happiness was a feeling I couldn’t relate to anymore. I was constantly in a state of duress, from twitching fingers to a tightness in my chest. The most notable change in my life was the constant breaking down as I would shower in the morning.

After I woke, I would kneel, resting my head on my shoulders and cry, in fear for what the day ahead had in store and disbelief that my life had come to this.

Even as I huddled there under the warm stream of water, I would feel my eyes shifting back and forth, a mile a minute, it seemed. The effects of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD were touching all areas of my body.

I did not know what to do.

I couldn’t believe my life had turned out like this.

How could this be happening to me?

But the scariest thought that came to mind, as I knelt in the shower each morning, was how do I stop this? No one had taught this in school.

I remember staring at my ceiling one afternoon (as I often did, not having any desire to do anything that I once loved or cared about) and saying to myself, “If I don’t take action, I’ll be like this till I’m fifty.” And this was the truth; I knew it wasn’t going to go away without consistent work to better myself.

Over the following weeks to months, I started working on my morning routine, something that had never been part of my life before this. Most mornings had me showering and getting dressed as I scrolled through the gram, looking at negative posts, adding more unhealthy thoughts to my already full mind.

It was a slow process.

Most days I only lasted five minutes before I gave up and went back to bed, but slowly, over time, with two steps forward then five steps back, I created a routine that felt comfortable and achievable each day.

The routine went like this:

  • Wake up at the same time each day, no matter weekday or weekend.
  • Hop into the shower right away and finish off the last thirty seconds with a full blast of cold water.
  • Make my bed after I get changed.
  • Make a glass of hot lemon water.
  • Sit and drink the lemon water in silence as I look out the window.
  • Finish the time on the chair by saying five things that I am grateful for, no matter how small—”I am grateful for this tree outside my window.”
  • Put on a pot of coffee.
  • Write in my journal as the coffee brews, exploring how I am feeling at the moment or how I felt yesterday and why.

Not until I had my coffee in my hand, around forty-five minutes after waking up, would I get my phone and flick it open to see what I had missed overnight.

I had created a morning routine that put me ahead of everything else going on in life. There were no sudden jolts of unease or stress from outside sources like a text message, email, or social media post. 

I was in control of my life for at least forty-five minutes every morning.

I would use that confidence to extend those positive vibes further and further into my days. At first, they didn’t last very long, but over time I was able to look at the clock and see mid-day was here, and I hadn’t given up on being productive.

My morning routine saved me. It gave me the confidence to add other tools to my mental health toolbox. I started eating healthier foods, working out more often, reading in bed instead of watching TV, and going to therapy. All of these things aided me in battling my mental health struggles.

I’ve learned that sometimes, when our challenges feel daunting and unbeatable, we need to think big and act small, taking it one day at a time, or one morning at a time, or one breath at a time.

Sometimes one small positive choice can have a massive ripple effect and change everything—especially when it enables us to tune out the noise of the world and reconnect with ourselves. Life will always be chaotic; if we want calm in our lives we have to consciously choose to create it.

I write this to you three years after creating this morning routine, still doing it every damn day.

It has evolved and adapted as I have grown as a human from these life experiences that shook me to the core.

But I still make sure of one thing. I keep my phone out of my hands until my morning routine is done.

This is my time.

About Paul Marlow

Paul Marlow is the founder of Never Alone. Never Alone is a mental health help website that creates helpful content like learning what question to ask in therapy.

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