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.


  1. Aaron K,

    How did you address your triggers? After six years of medicinal (citalopram) therapy & CBT, I still avoid my trigger of people interaction in a work setting. After a few days of a work assignment I find myself "flipping out" and not returning to work or school. I know this is a particular experience & I do not expect any clinical solution to my issue, but I would like to see if I can pull any general lessions from your anxiety experience.



    1. Also please refer to my posts on opposite action. I find this to a great coping tool.

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for your reply! I have found that it is important to look deeper, beyond just the singular triggering situation. There are likely other factors there. Also, by breaking the trigger up, it makes it seem less monstrous, which is really the root of it all. Anxiety and panic attacks have a lot to do with fearing fear itself. When you break that one big monster up into many little ones, it can be easier to cope with.

    I found, by delving deeper, that there were underlying "sub-triggers". Many of them are physical. There is a strong connection between mental and physical well-being. I found panic attacks were more frequent and severe when I was tired, dehydrated, hungry, or just out of shape. By correcting some of these physical factors, I found myself better able to cope. There may also be other emotional factors. It's important to look at what surrounds that triggering situation. Are there times where that trigger is less or more stressful. Why?