Recently I was walking around Lake Washington at night. I saw a horse riding towards me, which didn’t seem all that unusual. What was unusual was that the horse was surrounded by strange sparkling lights, which made no sense. “Oh, these hallucinations again,” I thought. “You can’t fool me this time. I know there are no weird sparkling lights surrounding this horse.”

As the horse came closer I noticed something interesting about it. I was expecting to hear that “clop, clop, clop” sound that a horse’s hooves make. But this horse was silent. About 15 seconds later I realized the truth.

There was no horse at all. The entire thing was a hallucination.

I still see things that don’t exist. When I say I overcame my mental illnesses, and I did overcome them, what I mean is that those hallucinations no longer emotionally affect me. And that means the paranoia, the extreme experiences of random rage, and the sense of frightening isolation are all gone.

But here’s reality. I lost 15 years of my life to mental illnesses. Those years are like a black hole. I barely have memories, even. I can clearly remember my high school years, and I can clearly remember my very late 30’s. But almost fifteen years of my life, from my early 20’s to my mid 30’s, have disappeared like they never happened.

One day I woke up and asked myself a simple question. Since overcoming my mental illnesses, what do I really want? The answer:

I want those 15 years back.

So I did all the things I wanted to do in my 20’s but didn’t. At first, truthfully, I mostly just wanted to have fun. Fun is something that, for a good decade and a half, I basically didn’t know existed. So I went to Las Vegas to watch the UFC and eat at the buffets. I danced the night away at clubs with women I’d never see again. I hung out with my friends for absolutely no reason other than to hang out. We played video games, went on random adventures to creepy abandoned buildings at 3 AM, took short road trips to watch rodeos and sing karaoke. I didn’t do anything extraordinary, all that memorable, or terribly exciting. I just enjoyed myself.

Now, that simple desire for fun is fading, because I fulfilled it. If I hadn’t fulfilled it, I never would have matured to where I am now. And now what I really want is to create, and to create things that other people value.

So as I’ve matured, I’ve also gone back to who I was at 7 years old, when I used to fill notebooks with languages that I created, and detailed maps of cities that existed only in my imagination. This is who I was when I was a child, it’s who I tried to bury when I was mentally ill, and it’s who has been resurrected now to create, not just for myself, but for anyone and everyone.

That’s how maturity works. In some ways, maturity means returning to who you always were in the first place. But it’s not some straight line process. And you will never get there unless you go after what you really want, right now. Sometimes, the hardest part is simply to admit what you really want. Or, the hardest part may be to let go of what you used to want that no longer serves you.

Those who can’t admit and can’t let go are destined to remain stuck in limbo, half-way between destiny and hell. As for me, I didn’t fight those wars against mental illness only to get stuck in the mud of mediocrity and indecision. And maybe the way out of the mud only made sense to me. That’s fine, because I was the only one who really needed to understand.