How I Rose from Rock Bottom and Turned My Life Around in Less than A Year (So You Can Do Too)

Photo taken by Ellen Nguyen

In 2019, I hit my personal rock bottom. Perhaps, in many people’s eyes, I had a pretty good life: a stable job, fun hobbies, close friends and family all around, and ultimately a smiley face in every photo taken.

But, deep inside, I was breaking apart.

I was in psychological pain every single day. My life was hollow. I found meaning and joy in nothing. I saw no future ahead. I thought of death constantly.

I hit that rock bottom because, for a very long time, I had run away from myself. I’d used life changes (job, apartment, hobby, etc.) and new relationships as distractions while I wasn’t happy with any of them.

Meanwhile, unresolved childhood trauma and the aftermaths of every breakup and bad habit kept piling up and pushing me down. And what’s more, because of all the life changes I’d frequently made, I’d laid no foundation. My feet wobbled till the day I crashed on my face.

At one point, I just couldn’t pretend I was okay anymore. I told myself I couldn’t fall any lower because I seriously feared I might not be able to go back up again. I might ruin my life for real and it might be too late to save it. So I focused on one thing: finding my way up.

But I didn’t just go up. I found the right way to go up. I straightened my life out for once and made beneficial decisions this time. I didn’t just want a good life, I wanted a great life that I deserved.

The journey was transformative, to say the least.

I did the next right thing, then the next right thing, then another, and another, until I finally felt okay again.

The ground underneath my feet stopped shaking. Soon enough, I found the confidence to live positively and march forward with dignity.

In September 2019, I got a corporate job offer to do something I enjoyed.

In October 2019, I published my first ever book. It’s rated 5 stars on Amazon and I was told it had changed someone’s life.

In June 2020, my Medium articles went viral and I exceeded the 2000 followers mark.

Today, I’m in a better place than I ever was. My life is happy and stable and supported by wonderful relationships. I feel loved and cared for on a daily basis by my partner, friends, family, and my writing community. I find meaning and joy in the things I do.

I couldn’t believe that, in less than a year, my life had taken a drastic 180-degree turn. It’s a true blessing.

Here’s exactly how I got here:

1. Accept that you’re at a bad place in life

I was in denial for years as a coping mechanism because, in hindsight, it was immensely painful to face myself and take in all the way I’d failed my own standards and expectations.

I had been so into the idea “you have to progress as you move along in life” that I struggled to accept I wasn’t progressing at all, everything sucked, and I hated myself. It was like I’d wasted many years of my life for nothing and, oh boy, that destroyed my ego.

But being able to admit all this to myself was a huge relief. It was a shock to my system initially but I realised that it didn’t kill me. The shame came and went much more quickly than I’d imagined. I was left with a sense of authenticity that was strangely comforting and motivating.

As it turned out, finally, I was being compassionate towards myself and this act of self-acceptance was miraculously healing. It was okay after all, I thought. I was still here and had myself, it wasn’t too bad.

It was when I came to the profound realisation that I was my biggest asset and investment and, as long as I was still alive, every minute was a chance to turn it all around.

2. Surround yourself with love and comfort from the things you genuinely enjoy and the people who truly care about you

On my way to rock bottom, one of my “favourite” activities was to manifest my relationship with myself in my romantic relationships. Well, I couldn’t really help it then.

I hated myself so I was especially drawn to people who were inherently different from me and weren’t able to appreciate my core values. I constantly felt anxious and unloved.

Only when I hit rock bottom and was left alone with myself did it hit me full force that my life was my choice. The people I surrounded myself with were my choice. The feelings I felt on a daily, as a result, were my choice.

I thought to myself: Wait, why did I choose this horrible feeling of being unloved? No. I want to be loved and there are people who love me.

This mindset shift happened thanks to not one thing but many things such as therapy and positive lifestyle changes. But even the decision to go therapy and form healthy habits in the first place came from that simple self-question.

Deep inside me was a desire to become better.

I never gave up on myself.

That day, I chose me and it changed my course.

In the following months, I focused solely on the things and people that brought me the feeling of being loved. I detached myself from toxic attractions. I ruthlessly cut off everything that made me feel bad about myself.

I removed phone numbers, dating apps, incompatible relationships. I spent more time with loved ones and doing the things that made me feel more myself. I learned to appreciate my core qualities and use them to make decisions.

It was incredibly hard at first as my self-destructive old ways frequently crept up on me but, slowly, I was breaking free and feeling better. I stopped comforting myself with self-pity; instead, I navigated towards good feelings.

As it turns out, loving yourself requires much more strength and courage than hating yourself. Hating yourself is actually easy. You just let yourself go and sink further into the comfort of having no accountability.

But loving yourself requires on-going effort. You have to take responsibility for yourself and others. You have to consciously recognise good things in your life and hold on to them dearly. You can’t just let go.

It’s hard but it’s a beautiful and powerful thing.

Once you let love in, your quality of life improves exponentially, especially because you know you will always have love from yourself and you can never run out of it. It’s abundant.

3. Capitalise on anything and everything you have

When I hit rock bottom, I thought I had nothing left. But I was wrong. I had me. And it meant I had something. Me meant something.

It’s true for everyone. There’s never nothing. There’s always something in our lives or in ourselves that is useful and valuable to someone somewhere — something that we could take advantage of to build ourselves up slowly, gradually. It might be small now but, as time passes and more effort is put in, it will become substantial.

It starts with your mindset.

The world can tell you many things — negative and horrible things about yourself — but, as long as you don’t say no to yourself, you can keep going and achieve great things. You will see beyond any imposed limitations and straight into your true power.

For me, I found ways to look at the bright side of everything I had then.

I wasn’t happy about my day job but I acknowledged that I had a job and I had learned skills from that job that could be used to score better positions. I was a nobody in the creative world, but I had my website, my readers, and I could work hard to improve my writing.

I also made a list of all my core qualities and areas of knowledge to see if I could make something out of them. Literally, nothing was left out. Every aspect of me and my life was counted and evaluated through a constructive lens. It actually helped increase my confidence significantly as a by-product.

Then I set realistic goals — both short and long term ones. I envisioned my life in the next 5, 10 years then worked backward to where I was. I sent hopeful letters to my future self. I wrote personal essays to reflect on my past and outline my next steps. Most notably, I was patient with myself. I took it one day at a time.

Over time, tiny, little good results added up and became my new reality. I went from having nothing to having something — something of value.

4. Focus on generating genuine value

During my dark days, at the height of my self-loathing, I was constantly chasing superficially good feelings. I wanted to feel like a superstar to quiet the ugly feelings I had inside.

I surrounded myself with superficial people who valued money and look and couldn’t care less about the meaning of anything. I joined their shiny parties to forget about my own reality.

Then I also forgot about my values. I lost my way. I didn’t know what was right and wrong. I didn’t know where to go next.

What saved me was my writing.

My writing was the most authentic part of me. It still is and has always been. I came to writing because of nothing but genuine love. I just love it so much. I love speaking up my mind and connecting with other hearts and souls. Through the lovely emails and messages people have sent me, I understand to some extent the impact of my writing on others. Even at my lowest points, I could see there was value in it.

And I knew that was where I needed to start.

It’s not what’s in it for me. It’s not how much I can make. It’s not what I can do to appear more successful and fancy than others.

It’s what I can do to help. It’s how I can make myself useful and do something good — even just for one person. It’s about the value I can create.

So I started shifting my attention and energy outwards.

I wrote more, I wrote often — not just to give therapy to myself but to provide real benefits for my readers. I volunteered for a local charity to serve meals for elderly people. I picked up Improv as a hobby and went on to entertain an audience live. I connected with my community and participated in activities that I thought would make people’s lives a bit better.

Meanwhile, I continued to invest in myself by reading, learning new skills, exercising, following healthy routines. I quit alcohol and mindless dating. I made sure I extended compassion and kindness towards other people and especially myself. I committed to generating positive value every single day, right where I was.

Around October 2019, I finally published my first book called “Love yourself enough to let them go” as an expression of my fighting spirit and a goodbye to the previous chapters of my life. It was a collection of essays detailing my heartbreak and lessons over the years and how I finally learned to choose and love myself.

It was a pivotal moment for me. I felt a strong sense of self and achievement.

I’ve had my writing published all over the internet but having a book published is different. It’s a complete, tangible product that I could physically hand to someone. It was a journey that I personally put together to show the becoming of me and hoped would inspire others.

Knowing it’s now out there and celebrated by the people I care about makes me feel full and motivated.

5. Keep at it

Once my transformed life had gained momentum, it was when the real work began: maintaining the good changes.

By the end of 2019, I was feeling stable and grateful. I kept up my therapy, my Improv, my volunteering, my workouts, my sports, my time spent with family and close friends. Every day I showed up and I put in the work. Every day was better than the last.

Though, undoubtedly, I had my moments of doubt and weakness. I was grieving my past self who was alone in all the pain. I was also slowly taking in my newfound reality which was so blissful and loving that I felt guilty of not doing it sooner and having hurt myself for so long as a result.

This process wasn’t easy. I had to work hard in therapy and in my daily life to avoid slipping back in my old ways of thinking and feeling. Fortunately, the healthy, trusted relationships and positive habits I’d built along the way helped pick me up and carry me forward each time I was low.

As for my writing, the moment I decided to choose myself and take my creative work seriously, good things came my way. Staying motivated, I started to publish twice a week on my website and daily on Medium. The consistency helped attract more readers and, soon enough, all the stats shot up. It was that simple.

Today I have goals and visions, but I truly believe it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey that I’ve learned to be present for and enjoy every minute of — either good or bad, up or down.

Closing Words

At the point of writing this piece, I’m working through my therapy ending. I haven’t had anxiety for a long time and I’m often happily overwhelmed by (and extremely grateful for) how much love I receive from the people in my life. I have a healthy and active lifestyle. My work is also going well. I write daily now and I’m working on fun, interesting projects that inspire me.

I will keep working hard to maintain this wholesome space and add more value to others. Speaking of which, I hope my sharing has helped you somehow through your own journey.

Here’s a quote I love:

“We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.”

— Charles West

Believe that you’re exactly where you need to be and you will get to where you want to be.

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© Ellen Nguyen

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