Life With an Anxiety Disorder

It was 1987. I was five years old, playing out in front of my house. I was with my friend Darryl, and we were using sticks to try and dig out the edges of a sewer grate because we thought that would be a great way to meet the ninja turtles. The sewer grate was in the middle of the parking lot that was part of our housing complex. On the grass in front of my house, my ThunderCats castle sat, a hose going through the front window. I like the idea of a castle with a waterfall.

Darryl got up quickly, seeing a danger that I couldn’t. I turned and began to stand. At that moment, a car shoved my body to the ground. I woke up about 50 feet away, under the car, having been dislodged by a speedbump. I stood up and ran home, passing out on the grass in front of the house.

I remember sitting in the car on the way to the hospital. I was in the car that hit me. I looked down at my leg, seeing meat and bone. I was interested in it, and tried to touch it. My mom stopped me, and told me I was in shock and that’s why it didn’t hurt. She asked me what I was doing when I got hit. When I told her that I was looking for the ninja turtles, she started asking me questions about them. She was keeping my brain going so I wouldn’t pass out.

At the hospital, things were much different. They didn’t want to anesthetize me because I was in shock, so they stitched my leg immediately and without anesthetic. It was a very cold stinging feeling.

In the years that followed, I remember things like walking back to the school from the schoolyard and feeling like something was pulling me backward. My friend Michael asked me why I’m walking as slow as an ant. I had no idea what it was. At such a young age, it might well have been a ghost holding on to me, preventing me from walking.

I was suddenly terrified to get on buses. The feeling was much stronger then, almost incapacitating. A complete, enveloping terror. My mother couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and eventually took me to a psychiatrist. I was soon diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder. The likelihood is that it came from head trauma from being hit by the car.

My ability to socialize was stunted. School was difficult. I had no idea what my triggers were, I had no idea that triggers even existed. I would find myself in blinding terror in the most innocuous of situations. Even as a youngster, I had the presence of mind to explain it to the person in front of me though. That didn’t stop me from getting bullied. The bullying, in fact, became so severe that my mother moved me to a different school. In retrospect, it was easily a very burdensome process for my mother.

Junior high came, and though I made friends, my disorder still relegated me to the realms of obscurity. This lasted through high school. Girls made it very clear to me that they liked me, but I could do nothing about it except seem unfriendly.

As I grow into an adult, I felt afraid to do anything but take the path of least resistance. Getting and keeping a job was difficult. No one understood what my problem was, despite knowing I had this disorder. My doctor, on multiple occasions, even recommended that I go on disability. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be limited.

I met my wife online. I had a fairly popular blog in the early 2000’s. Does anyone remember Mightyskunk from open diary? She was one of my readers, and we began talking on MSN, and eventually on the phone. She took a plane ride up to Toronto to meet me. My anxiety attacks lessened around her. She understood me, and even learned to soothe my attacks.

Skipping far ahead, I ended up moving to the United States. She and I got married, and I started holding down good jobs. My confidence grew. I also began looking at my anxiety attacks analytically. I started studying them. Instead of avoiding my triggers, I tried to encounter as many as possible. Eventually I got a drivers license, despite all reason. Driving is one long anxiety trigger.

After years forcing myself into my triggers head-on, my strength against my anxiety disorder has grown. Though regular daily life is still a constant source of terror, I’ve become good at masking my symptoms and sublimating the terror within me. There are still things that I won’t do. I love roller coasters, and go on them any chance I get. The Tower of terror at Disneyland, however, is a different animal. The worst anxiety attack I have ever had was on that ride. Just thinking about it scares me, even though I know it’s deeply irrational. I actually find the humor in the situation.

I still need to pause and compose myself when a person is walking toward me. I still have difficulty making eye contact during handshakes, though that’s mainly due to habit at this point.

In the 30 years that I have spent dealing with a severe anxiety disorder, I have found that confronting it head on is by far the best remedy. Avoiding triggers and succumbing to fear only makes it stronger.

In related news, has anyone out there listened to the Black Eyed Peas? Even if they’re not your kind of band, they cover some interesting subject matter, including anxiety disorders. They actually have a song where they discuss an anxiety disorder, and how truly terrifying it is.

 

I don’t fear none of my enemies

And I don’t fear bullets from Uzi’s

I’ve been dealing with something that’s worse than these

That’ll make you fall to your knees and thats

The anxiety

The sane and the insane rivalry

Paranoia’s brought me to my knees

Lord please please please

Take away my anxiety

Millennium

The year 1999 was a huge year for me in formative terms. I have more memories of that year than any other. It was a time of strong emotion, of the strengthening of bonds between friends, of learning just how awful and how great my small world at the time was.

For a little perspective, the version of me that exists now is actually a little disgusted that the 1999 version of me existed. I think, in retrospect, that I needed that version of myself in order to become the person I am. I was seventeen, had dropped out of school, and didn’t have a job. My friends were potheads, druggies, and drunks. It was a hot summer, and the neighborhood smelled a lot like the East Indian shops that lined the streets. Strong rotten smells of fish from the convenience stores, and acrid curry smells from the restaurants.  Scarborough was a garbage heap, and still is, as far as I’m concerned.

I was poor, but managed on a couple of dollars each day. With no perspective, I didn’t think anything of how little it was, or that I got it from my mother. I was deeply depressed that summer, had been all year, and had already made a suicide attempt by taking my entire bottle of antidepressants. I’m going to assume it didn’t work. I slept for two days straight, and had muscle spasms for a year or so after.

The song “Millennium” by Robbie Williams was big for a few of the months that I spent being “Depressed, Summer ’99 Mickey”. The song itself was somewhat mediocre, though it had a very unique sound, and was on TV or the radio constantly. I was only sleeping an hour or two a day, usually between eight and ten in the morning.  I often had bouts of a week or so in which I didn’t sleep at all. I’m sure I could have qualified as certifiably insane.

I have only heard that song a few times since that summer and only once since leaving Canada. It always brings me back to a specific day, during sunset, walking to the store with a friend, noting how yellow everything looked, and how the street looked shiny despite being dry. The reflections off the windows of the apartment buildings on one side and the shops to the other side made it even more yellow. A car passed by with Millennium playing on the radio. I mentioned how the song sounds shiny. Kevin, my friend, agreed.

The neighborhood stunk to high heaven, we were poor and depressed, he may have been a little drunk, but the world was shiny for a moment.

Depression.

Depression can sure be a bitch, can’t it? You think you’re out, and it pulls you right back in. This past week was supposed to be the start of something wonderful, a new page in the book of life. Instead, it has been a battle against myself for no prize. See, life isn’t necessarily treating this family well.

As patriarch of this family, I feel like it’s my duty to ensure that my family is protected from as much of the detritus of life as possible. Sadly, people who hide behind corporate phone numbers and computer screens don’t really have a duty to see to my ability to do that.

I had a job a while back. An injury put me on worker’s comp. The day I was released, medically, to return to work, they sent a letter in the mail that said my services were no longer required. I tried to keep my head up. I was certain that I would manage to make good of this situation. I began to blog. I began writing, and doing it earnestly. I continued to go on morning runs, and listen to thought-provoking podcasts.

Meanwhile, inside a part of my head I have no access to, something else also thought it would make good of this situation. Slowly, my motivation to do anything disappeared. My body felt like how you feel when you first step back out of a swimming pool. My tolerance for my wife and kids almost completely vanished. My tolerance for myself did completely vanish.

I tried going through the motions. Humans are creatures of habit, and no dumb depression is gonna keep me from creating a positive foundation, right?

Wrong.

So wrong.

I haven’t written in almost a week. I have done basic menial tasks when I’m feeling less heavy. Today I helped my wife shelf books at her new job. Her first job in six years. She’s excited, but it wasn’t even remotely the plan.

She’s excited about almost everything. She’s an amazing support, and I know I wouldn’t have made it without her.

She supports, and she knows me. She knows my depression well. She knows what it looks like and sounds like. Some days she can see it before I’m willing to admit it’s there.

She doesn’t understand it, though,

Those without depression have no idea what it’s like. They don’t know what the lead weight inside my head feels like. They don’t know what a constant bubbling anger under the surface feels like. The fear of anything that might set me off. The fear of saying or doing something I’ll regret before I can get it all back under control. There’s a desire to sequester myself, to lie in bed and hide under the covers until the storm passes.

I can’t though. Guilt eats me just as readily as depression. I disappear from my family for a day, or two, or three? I feel like I’m shirking responsibilities. So instead, I go through my day, half-assing some things, doing others properly, depending on the ebb and flow of chemicals in my brain. I keep my eyes on the job at hand. I stay quiet. Of course the kids notice. They’re very forgiving of a depressed daddy.

What kind of home is that to raise kids in, though? Daddy is supposed to be the protector, the walking party, and the law, all in one. He’s not supposed to cry in front of his wife and kids because he knows he’s failed at life because the chemicals tell him so.

I haven’t cried in front of them in a long time. I’ve learned to logic my way past all of that. I know the failure isn’t real, despite how well-made the simulation of it is. I know it’s all chemicals, and that it will stop in a few days. I just want it to stop now.

I get happy in the evenings, because I know the day is ending. I know that I might wake up in the morning feeling like myself again. I like myself. I sure as hell don’t like this guy that I am now.

I want me back.

 

 

Boy, this was kind of all over the place.

In the spirit of the feeling, how about this. I’m going to share one of my depression wallowing activities with you.

Have you heard of Jann Arden? Beautiful music. Her “Time For Mercy” album, and her “Happy?” album are deep, dark, warm pools to wallow in when I’m depressed. Give her a try, you’ll be sorry you did.

 

And, I’m done for now.