We all go through things in life and in my opinion…how we react to them defines us. Whether we let these things defeat us or make us better. Whether we let them push us forward or hold us back. It says so much about who you are as a person. For the last two months…Gary has been going through something that I haven’t talked about on here. Out of respect for him…and because I wanted to let him deal with it like he wanted. But when he came to me asking to do a blog post about his recent struggles…I sort of fell in love with him all over again. Because he didn’t just want to tell the world what he’s been going through…he wanted to talk about it because it would help people. Because what he has been going through is something SO MANY PEOPLE struggle with and he wants his story to help people. And that friends…makes me so incredibly proud to be his wife. So enough from me….
People often describe traumatic times in their life by saying ‘it came out of the blue’. The things I am about to say are not anything that I would have done three months ago. There are people in my life who are very close to me who are going to be surprised and maybe even shocked by what I am about to reveal. I kept this one close to the vest as I dealt with it. The thing is, the deeper I went into this and climbing out of it, the more I wanted to share my story with people. See, a little over two months ago…I was sitting at work on a Monday morning and wasn’t feeling quite right. I didn’t think a lot of it as I have never been one to take the flu or any other illness seriously. WebMD once told me to get to the emergency room right away and 36 hours later I went to the ER and ended up in surgery to have my appendix removed. But this morning seemed a little different. Around noon I started feeling some really intense pain in the upper left side of my chest, tingling in my left arm, and a little lightheadedness. A co-worker sat me down on the couch in my office and called 911. I was convinced at that moment that I was having a heart attack. It was as shocking as it was terrifying. The ambulance ride…the countless family history questions…the endless string of medical professionals and the unbelievable amount of cords hooked up to me. It was a very humbling experience. I had a moment where I laid there and just cried. I had so many emotions running thorough my body..but as the day went on it became more confusing than scary. Test after test came back negative. Everything seemed fine. The blood tests, the EKG’s, the stress test…all normal. I left the hospital the next afternoon with more questions than answers.
Fast forward to three more trips to the ER and nothing physically wrong with me and it was determined that I had developed an anxiety disorder. It’s scary to me to say that in a forum where so many people are going to read it. In the beginning, I was afraid of being judged or looked at differently. I went into some very intense therapy with a physiatrist to determine why someone so laid back and easy going and had a punch line for everything, suddenly couldn’t get through a day without having a panic attack. I have learned that so many people suffer everyday with anxiety. Some people have anxiety that leads to panic attacks. I was having full blown panic attacks. My panic led me to believe that I was about to collapse and die…hence the four trips to the hospital. And while there was nothing physically wrong with me that needed emergency medical attention, the thought that I was seconds away from death were as real to me as the air we breathe. It has been a truly terrifying experience and it seemed there was no end in sight. My only goal was to make it through the day without having a panic attack. I was missing work. I was dismissed from a National Guard weekend. It seemed the world was crumbling around me…and that’s when the therapy started.
I jumped into some very intense therapy. I went into some talk therapy that gave me an outlet to get out all of the things in my life that I had bottled up over the years. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a joke for everything but when it comes to something personal, well, you had a better chance at robbing Fort Knox. I also went into some other therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This therapy was so intense that last week my doctor induced a panic attack. Why? To show me that my brain has been lying to me. Tricking me into thinking I was in real danger. And after that day my life has been forever changed.
I talked to a close friend after this all this started that told me that I would get though it and when I did, I would see the world differently. This friend was 150% right. I have gotten to the other side of anxiety and panic and while I am not completely free of anxiety…I see anxiety differently. I haven’t had a panic attack in over three weeks and my medications to control this have been dramatically reduced. I am feeling as good about myself as I have in three months.
Why I am I telling you all of this? Why I am I telling you about my experience that has taken me to the lowest moments of my life? Because while navigating through this problem and talking about it, I learned that so many other people are suffering with anxiety. And the worst part is, the overwhelming majority that I have talked to, are suffering in silence. Let me tell you, silence, is like wind to a fire…it just fuels it. I am telling you this because if you are dealing with this, you don’t have to suffer alone. When I realized I was suffering from anxiety and panic, I dove in head first. Don’t get me wrong, nothing about this battle was easy. I had some very low moments. But once the fog started to clear and I started seeing anxiety for what it was, which is nothing that can hurt me, it was much easier to start dismissing it and not giving it the attention that it wanted. I appreciate the little things in life now way more than I ever have. Being present in a conversation and not keeping one eye on my phone. Enjoying a dinner with my wife and not spending the entire time complaining about work. I enjoy moments I have never given a second thought to. I hate that I had panic attacks but I am so much better for it. I am not expecting everyone who reads this to identify with it or understand what I am talking about…but I know there is someone reading this right now that has or is currently suffering the way I did. And I am telling you that you don’t have to do it alone. I am telling you that you don’t have to be ashamed. Anxiety and Panic is an illness that lies to you and makes you think you are in danger or something catastrophic is about to happen. If you had a broken arm, would you be embarrassed to go to the doctor? Of course not, you’re injured. Anxiety and Panic is a mental injury that you can fully recover from. And I have recovered and come out on the other side not only a better person, but a person with perspective and awareness that I have never had before.
Just remember, whether you’re dealing with anxiety, panic, or just a rotten day, there is something to be learned from every experience we encounter. I don’t know why I ultimately started having panic attacks, seemingly out of the blue but I know this…I am a changed person for it. I once apologized to my wife for her having to deal with this. She went on to tell me that while she hates what I am going through and would never choose this for me, that she would take this version of me over the pre-panic version any day. Why? Because I am so much more open and I am more engaging about the little things. When she asks me about my day, I tell her about it and am not dismissive because I don’t want to bore her with the details.
So just remember, the next time you grab a Starbucks, or a friend stops by, or you have a meal with someone you care about, take the time to enjoy that moment. No matter what is going on, your phone will still be there in an hour. Live the moment and truly experience it. We are guaranteed nothing in life. We aren’t guaranteed another breath beyond the one we are taking right now. Don’t waste that breath searching for the next shoe sale or wondering if the Cubs are going to be competitive next year. Enjoy right now. Enjoy this moment that you’re in. I had no idea what I was missing. But I know I won’t miss it again.