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

Be Your Own Advocate

In today’s increasingly selfish and desolate society, it is important to know that there is one person who will always stand up for you:

You.

The Current Meta

Advocacy and allyship groups continue to become more fractured, not being satisfied with their problem being part of a whole host of problems being solved. Instead, their very specific and often undefinable problem must be first in line. The LGBT movement alone has become a warzone in which transgender people now call gay people oppressive. Straight black men are considered the white people of black people. There are even transgender groups that call other transgender people transphobic. It’s mind boggling just how ready people are to be at the throats of people they once allied with or held close.

Even unions, the time-honored vanguard against morally corrupt corporations and small-time bosses who would feed on their workers have become a veritable mafia; using thuggish intimidation tactics and harassment to ensure that equity, not equality, is enforced. Anyone who doesn’t want to be part of the club is going to have a very hard time at their job. The Union wants its dues.

Even party politics has become a mine field. With no side currently being decent, the people who are decent have no home.

Who Can You Turn To?

You’ve made it this far, haven’t you? Despite all of the things that have happened in your life, including the things you were sure you’d never make it out of alive, here you are. Maybe you ought to listen to yourself.

Even if family, friends, and other people wish you success in your endeavors, it is ultimately up to you to push yourself to the finish line. No one can do it for you. The good part of that is, once you’re determined, no one can stop you, either.

 

My Road. Or, Escape from Ism’s

I am a 35-year-old man. I have a wife, four kids, and a house. I have worked plenty of different jobs, and have done well at all of them. I have pride in myself, and a desire to bring that feeling to others.

A mere 15 years ago, I was a 20-year-old liberal. I held women on a pedestal, I believed Margaret Sanger and Gloria Steinem were heroes of modern humanity. I believed feminism was all earth needed to make it good. I believed in socialism. All of the liberal tropes, I carried proudly in my heart.

When I was shown alternative viewpoints, I would shy away from them, assured that I was right and that I didn’t need to read them or hear them. They were wrong, after all. A huge rift between my brother and I likely stemmed from that, as I would demonize him for even the slightest infraction when it came to the fairer sex, let alone an expectation that I would, maybe, act like a man!

I was a socially awkward loser. I lived at home with mom. I played video games or had “deep” discussions with my friends. I pined after women, rather than have the balls to go talk to them. I was merely a man, and they were goddesses, after all. That, or they were whores. There is no middle ground for that kind of guy, right?

I hated sports, because I hated competition. I hated the idea that there had to be a winner and a loser. You know who else hates those ideas? Losers. And I was one. Of course I didn’t want a reminder when I could just dominate a video game.

I thought individuality was paramount. I didn’t want to look like everyone else, and I used to have a ridiculous hairstyle. Maybe one day I’ll post a picture of it. If I’d had the money, I would likely have ended up with some sort of piercings or tattoos. Luckily I was too much of a loser to get a job.

I hated Republicans, and thought that they were uneducated religious zealots. I thought guns were terrifying, and ought to be erased from the landscape altogether. I believe that jobs were not simply a means to an end, that instead they were the trap you got caught in. I knew that’s how people got money, but I also knew that no matter how much my mom worked, nothing ever got better. I thought it was due to The System.

I was content, languishing in generational poverty. I was 20 and didn’t have a job yet. I had dropped out of school, because I thought my ideas were more valuable than those of the “System”. I had no money, no prospects, and no plan.

The place were I grew up was a place where people were not simply poor in their wallet. They were poor inside of their own heads. That kind of poor is different. No amount of money can fix it. Have you seen those people who win $100 million in the lottery, and it’s gone within a year? They have no investments, and they’re broke, despite having five Lamborghinis. Those, of course, eventually get taken away.

That’s what generational poverty does to a person. It makes them unable to function with money. The problem comes when people see their poor roots as a source of pride, something to cling to, rather than as something to escape from. They cling to their old ways, fearing that they will lose themselves in pursuit of a better life.

I escaped. I got my GED, and developed a healthy work ethic. I grew into the person I needed to be. I didn’t lose anything. What I gained is my true identity, and a new legacy for future generations of my family.

Aside from that, I crave opposing viewpoints. Knowing what the other side thinks allows you a bird’s-eye view of an issue. Lately, I find that most people’s views stem from selfishness. I know that view very well, as it was once mine.

It’s always going to be a hard road. Why not take the one that will bring you somewhere?

Open yourself up to opposing views, uncomfortable situations, the possibility of mockery and failure. Succeeding at laying down is not success at all.

 

On Motivation

Most people think they know their motivation. Do you?

What motivates you?

Motivation is not just a buzzword. Your motivation is a deeply personal thing that only you truly know. You might not even know what it is, and this lack of knowledge could be what keeps you from reaching your true potential.

These days, in the United States, it seems like most people are motivated by bills, and keeping up with the joneses. There is such a desire to look successful even when you’re not, that people will work miserable jobs, long hours, and have an overall unfulfilling life.

When these people were in elementary school, and the teacher asked what they want to do, how likely is it that one of them said, ” I want to watch my hours burn away in a mailroom, and then working in front of a fryer, while my friendships erode around me”

More likely they said they want to be a firefighter or a police officer or a doctor. More likely their answers were rooted in the desire to do a job they’d enjoy rather than the desire to pay the bills using the job as a vehicle.

Are you doing what you like right now? If not, are you pointed in that direction?

You ought to be. If you hate your job, your free time ought to be spent finding a new one. A more fulfilling one. Maybe even a career. Your free time could be used to make yourself better for the life you want. School, or online coding classes, anything that will help you become the person you want to be.

I’ve found my motivation. My motivation is joy. Over the next few years, you’ll learn more about me, and you’ll see why it took three decades to figure this out, and why it’s such a revelation to me.

Until then, go seek out your motivation.