Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brief Update

My anxiety has been much better recently. I had been experiencing some setbacks lately, partly due to stress from a new job and adjusting to divorced life, partly due to poor self-maintenance. But I am still happy and proud to report no panic attacks! I do feel confident that the panic attack chapter of my life is behind me. What a relief that is!

I am feeling much more confident again as I am getting life back on track. Spring coming around always has a positive effect on me. It is here in full force in South Carolina, reminding me why I made some of the life choices that I have. Overall, while I still my moments where anxiety sneaks up on me a bit, I feel I now have a supreme understanding of it. This gives me a lot of confidence in the face of anxiety, and I no longer fear it the way I used to. It has gone from a great white shark to maybe a Rottweiler.

I don't have the time that I would like to devote to this blog and to sharing my experiences with others, but I sincerely want to thank everyone who has supported me along the way. A supportive community of understanding has gone a long way to helping me to grow and overcome.

I cannot personally thank everyone, as there have been so many who have helped me through this amazing (often terrifying but rewarding in the end) journey. But I do want to offer thanks to those who have been there for me. These people are listed frequently on my blog if you explore around. I have found epic help from some of the books and video/audio programs listed under my resources tab. I assure you, I do not recommend lightly. The same goes for my blog roll. Every blog listed there comes from a person who has offered me, personally, fantastic advice and support. Please support these people, not for them, not for me, but for YOU. They share the same motivations as me, to help others.

I don't want to overstate things...and do not misunderstand, my journey is far from done. I realize that. This is no victory celebration. Anxiety is just a part of who I am, and of what I will go through in the entire journey that is life. That journey is far from over, and if I allow myself to forget the lessons taught in this most recent chapter of my life, I will surely repeat the same woeful times. I realize that and remain hole and focused.

Lastly. I want to leave you with two things. If you get nothing else from this useless rant off of a blog post, please get these two things.

-be positive and love your life. Do not take things for granted. If you are reading this post, you enjoy aspects of life that millions in this world can not even begin to dream of. Adopting an attitude of gratitude can go a long way in life.

-PLEASE do not hesitate to reach out to me. I love to offer support for anyone going through the struggles of mental illness. This is why I maintain this blog. I suffered immensely during my earlier years with anxiety before finding help. If I can provide support that helps someone to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering from mental illness, this is all worth it. My contact info is available under the contact tab on this blog.

Much Love!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Anxious Life

I have been living the anxious life for many years. Really, to some extent this has been all my life. It is just in more recent years that the pot began to boil over and anxiety became a severe problem in my everyday life.

I have always been shy, quiet, reserved. As a kid I was always more nervous than most of social situations. In fact, I often avoided them. While a very intelligent child, I often refrained from raisin my hand to answer a question unless nobody else did. Through my life I have always fallen into this role, while full of thoughts and opinions, reluctant to share them with others.

I have had friends, lovers, even been married. But historically I have been a loner. I was used to spending lunch hour alone as a kid. Did not even mind it, except for my perceived perceptions of the other kids. I did not want to be seen as the loner, the introvert. I had always thought that when I did make connections with people, I made strong ones. But as the years have gone by, I have let most of those connections with people fade away. I am now in the process of divorce and with few friends to turn to, aside from my loving family.

The loss of old friends as you grow older and go your own ways is not unusual. I consider many of my old friends still good friends today, though we rarely connect. Life takes people in different directions. But people typically make new friends. They get married and start families. I was on my way to that. A life that I wanted. But the unresolved issue of anxiety came in my way.

I knew that I was socially anxious throughout my life. I did not feel it to be a medical issue until my mid twenties. I had always thought of it as shyness (while I have always hated that word with a passion), and something that I need to man up and get over.

As I grew into an adult, I felt I had actually made a lot of progress. Growing up, you realize that it really doesn't matter what others think of you. You see the hot shots from high school fade into nothing. You see that you are just defined by what you do now. But it's hard to escape the mentality of "keeping up". You compare yourself to what others have accomplished.

But overall, despite the constant self-pressure of thinking I should have amounted to more, I felt I had an overall happy life in the works. Sure, my job was stressful well beyond what the pay would ever justify, but I had so much to make it worth it. It was actually more than enough money to support the modest lifestyle of my girlfriend and I at the time. For the first time n my adult life, I felt little pressure from bills and finances.

There were other stress factors, sure. I won't discuss these here as they are more personal in nature. Life at home was stressful for many reasons, but it was also happy. My girlfriend and I were living a pretty good life. I would gladly go back to that time if I could. It wasn't perfect. We lived in a crappy apartment in a bad area of town, but life was good. It has a lot to do with perspective. This apartment may not have been awesome. Living may not have been easy, but this was the first time I had really lived without a roommate, just me and my girl. And it was the first time I was earning a salary vs an hourly wage. I knew I was able to pay the bills each month and then some. My truck was finally paid off. My career had potential. We were dreaming big!

But even then anxiety was starting, though I did not tell anyone. I did not want to worry my girlfriend at the time. Did not want to scare my family. Certainly did not want my employer to know anything was wrong. But I was feeling heart abnormalities while driving home from work. I was afraid I was having a heart attack, but I really was not as afraid as I should have been. Either I knew it was a false alarm, or I had surrendered myself to it and did not care. I do remember being thankful that I lived near a hospital, though I never visited it.

My girlfriend and I went to Gatlinburg, TN for a vacation. This is a trip that I have made many times in my life. We rented a cabin in the mountains. It was romantic. I had planned for months that I was going to propose. I even snatched her Grandmother's ring from her drawer before we left. She had always said she wanted to wear this ring when she got married. But I found that the trip through the mountains freaked me out. Maybe the thought of proposing did too. I wasn't afraid of marriage, or of being turned down, she had made it clear in her subtle ways that she would say yes, but still I found myself chickening out. We had an awesome time, but I returned home with my tail between my legs. No proposal. No blushing bride to be.

A few months later I did propose. It was not in nearly such romantic fashion as I had planned, and I almost chickened out again to be truthful. We went to a nice dinner and movie downtown. I had planned to propose that night downtown, but never found he moment right (another way of saying I wimped out.) After we got back home, I realized I could not let this moment pass again. I talked her into going out for a drink at a dive bar nearby. I could not propose there, so I caught her in the doorway to our apartment on one knee and proposed there. I could barely say the words, I was so nervous, but fortunately the symbolism of my stance said it all.

That girl actually did marry me, believe it or not. I'm sure some of my female readers are horrified by the lack of romanticism here, but she and I really did love each other. Sometimes that's all that matters. Sometimes not.

It was a little while after this that my anxiety or shyness began to turn into full out panic attacks. This is when anxiety began to shatter my life to pieces. One quiet morning, I was getting ready for work. I had an early shift as a restaurant manager. We had a brunch service starting at 7am so I had to be there at 5am to set up. My best cook was out sick. This was stressful, but I had faced more adverse situations than this. I had gotten up in plenty of time for work, I liked to drink my coffee, eat my breakfast and get my thoughts together before work.

I remember it vividly to this day. I had just put on my socks. I put on my left shoe and was starting to put on my right when it hit me like a lightning bolt. Inexplicably, I stood up, tossed the right shoe to the side and began pacing. That thought haunts me to this day. It happened so suddenly that I tossed one shoe aside and began walking around my apartment with one shoe.

The next thing I remember, I was standing in front of our bathroom mirror, my heart racing, pretty sure I was about to die and debating whether or not to wake my wife up. After all I had had many false alarms before, though I had never shared them with anyone n none had been anywhere near this terrifying.

Ultimately I did end up waking her up. She was very scared, but very understanding. We talked a minute, I calmed down. I then went on to work, and had no more anxiety issues. I went through my shift with this unexplainable problem in the back of my mind.

I came home home and began to research what had happened to me. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever encountered. Initially, the more I read, the more anxious I became. All of the material suggested that the more that you thought about it, the more it would happen. This was horrifying to me. That experience was not one that I ever wanted to relive, but it seemed I was destined to. I spent many years battling with panic attacks. Mostly they have occurred while I was driving, aside from that first one. A most memorable one was on the way back to IN from SC, and in the mountains of NC. I had done that drive, even somewhat recently. But I felt it coming on before I got to the highway. Shortness of breath, lots of sighing. These were the same symptoms a few months ago driving from Lafayette to Indy, when I had a panic attack and had to turn around and go back. We spent the night at my parents house and never were asked why. It was at this point that I finally learned to identify the signs,

I was willing at that point to do anything to get rid of this anxiety. But it did turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been living my life anxiety free, but it took many years of trials and tribulations. I lost my wife, who I held so dear, in the process. But now I live a better life. It is fulfilling and happy. I have learned many life lessons from my exhaustive battle with anxiety. I do believe it has made me a stronger person. I would not be the strong person I am today without my struggles with anxiety and panic.

My goal, what I hope to accomplish, is to create a resource one can come to and receive answers about anxiety and panic before it can consume their lives the way it did mine.