Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The bottom.

"Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up. I’ve seen it. It’s fascinating.” He releases me but doesn’t pull away, his hand grazing my jaw, my neck. “Sometimes I just…want to see it again. Want to see you awake."
― Veronica Roth (via psych-quotes)

As someone who has battled anxiety and panic attacks straight head on, I can relate to this quote. When faced with a truly challenging situation, it tends to make all other tribulations seem trivial. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger can be little comfort at the time, depending on how you look at things.

I have been at the absolute bottom of the world looking up. Trust me, when you’re at the bottom of the world, it’s tough to even imagine seeing the top again. When you’re crying in desperation on a bathroom floor, a nice vacation in Key West is not even a thought that you can even fathom. You struggle to see tomorrow. But, I was in this situation and amazed myself with this revelation… If I can survive this (and it’s irrelevant whether the world at large can understand how large of an obstacle this is. At this time it is seemingly insurmountable to me) I can overcome anything.  This was the empowering thought that allowed me to get up off the floor and ultimately overcome the anxiety that put me there to begin with. I now live a life without those limitations.

While I may have overcome many things in my life, mental illness was been by far the most challenging for me. Anxiety caused me to retreat into myself. It almost cost me my career and did cost me my marriage (which I now realize was never all that strong if this could break it. “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health… and all that.”) But this experience has taught me a ton about resilience. It did make me stronger.
While for a long time I did feel that fear was shutting me down, ultimately it woke me up and made me alive.

The only light that I could see at the end of the tunnel at this particularly dark time was the stronger person that this experience was going to make me. And this was true. I do have to remind myself of this from time to time for sure. I can now tell myself that I should not take each day for granted because there was a time when I could not see the future that I am now living and thriving in.


There was an experience recently that tested this resolve and reminded me of this part of my past. It was good that it reminded of this part of my past, because it is very easy to forget the lessons that are taught by such tough times. Recently I was robbed at gunpoint. This is a situation that would send anyone's heart rate through the roof and bring out anxiety in anyone who is not Liam Neson's character from "Taken".

While I did get a little worked up and I didn't exactly handle the situation the way Martin Riggs would, I did keep my composure pretty well. I was taken by surprise, physically assaulted, held at gunpoint and forced to give up the money in the safe that I was responsible for. Was I scared? Yes! Anyone would be! I do not too closely analyze my actions during this traumatic experience. I am told that people in my situation have frozen, not been able to recall the safe combination, etc... This can get you killed. I am trained to follow preventative measures, but to simply comply if confronted like this, and that's what I did. I look more to the actions that I took after the incident took place.

I have simply broken down into a ball of anxiety in the past over so much less. This was a legitimately stressful situation that would make most emotionally tough people break down into jitters. I held my composure to the point that I was a little concerned about being considered as a suspect or as being false with my statements to the police due to being overly calm. There was evidence immediately on the scene that this was an inside job. Security procedures at my workplace are pretty tight and pretty much the only way a robbery like this could take place was for someone inside to comply or assist.

I am proud of myself for having the peace of mind in this stressful time to examine the other people there with me well enough to realize to understand that one was much more traumatized than I was (though I was the only one actually physically assaulted) and one was much more calm than seemed normal. It turned out that the one who was overly calm was the one who was involved in the robbery and was later arrested and is now serving time.

Anyway, the details aren't that important. I just want to express to those who may be at the bottom the way I was a few years ago, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it is not simply looking out the tunnel to see a return to normal, to the life that you were used to before. What lies at the other end of the tunnel can be much greater if you embrace it. The only thing that got me up off that bathroom floor was the idea that there was something greater that I could achieve. It was the fact from the viewpoint that you have with your face flat on the ground, a small fire-ant hill looks like a mountain.  If you put that in perspective, you can see yourself standing up, stepping over a mountain, and saying "what's next?" Then you look at a real mountain and you can say "bring it on!" While others who haven't faced these challenges still fear a challenge of this magnitude.

When you've felt life slip away from you, a lot of power can come your way. This is certainly not limited to anxiety and panic. There are many severe forms of mental and physical illness that can bring this type of revelation. The blessing with mental illness is, that while I will certainly not say it is not a real thing, it can usually be less terminal than physical illness.

Anyone who ever considers ending things needs to think of one thing... once you've considered the end, the world has now opened up. Seriously. Hate your life where you're at? Suicide is not the way to go. Once you've considered the end, you have little to lose, much the same way that someone who is diagnosed with terminal cancer is faced with the end (only you can choose to continue on). Instead of ending it all, you could move to Guatemala and surf for the rest of your days or go to Alaska and become and Eskimo guide. Would those options not be better than being #456 to jump from the Bay Bridge? For sure!

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