I was working at a bar on the beach in San Diego four years ago. It’s a local spot, and I was surrounded by friends and people I was very familiar with. Mid conversation with a group of friends who had just come in, I felt something was wrong. My heart started racing and I was struggling to form sentences. It felt like I was losing touch with the planet and about to fall straight off of the universe. Every possible bad circumstance that could happen was about to happen. I drank some water. I stepped outside. I wondered if I should call 9-11. I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me.
It was near closing time and I asked the other bartender if he would mind if I took off early, I wasn’t feeling well. To my luck, he didn’t ask many questions and obliged. I walked home, locked myself in my bedroom, and shivered in bed wondering if I was losing my mind, maybe even dying. After a few hours my heart stopped pounding, I began to calm down, and was able to type in some symptoms online to what had just happened to me. I learned that I had just experienced my first panic attack.
After that first episode, I was pretty shaken. It took me a few days to recover from, and unfortunately happened a couple more times that month. I was afraid I was going to have to move back to my original home because I wasn’t confident that I had the right support system in California, where I live now, to deal with this new issue. Trying to deal with it myself, I realized, wasn’t going to work. I eventually broke down and saw a therapist, something I had wanted to avoid, and was given some medication, something I wanted to avoid even more. The medication has greatly helped, but what I learned had helped the most was confiding in a few certain people about my issue. The more people you let in, the bigger your support system grows. You also learn that these issues aren’t your issues alone.
I wanted to share some of my thoughts on my panic attack and my mental health in general. I know for sure, but didn’t realize at the time, that my anxiety issues stem from depression issues. The depression issues I’ve known about for some time. I can even remember when they started. The very beginning of high school I had my grandmother pass away, an uncle take his own life, and began a major life change at a school I had very much not wanted to go to in the span of three months. I went from being a really happy and bright kid to what I perceived as the loser brother, deadbeat son, and the guy who was too sad to do ANYTHING. I couldn’t explain why! Looking back I can remember imagining a car crash where no one was hurt but me. It seems insane to think that thoughts like that didn’t raise a million red flags, but those weren’t things you talked about. You didn’t want to be weak and you didn’t want to scare people.
Depression can be a brutal cycle and it has a way of providing its own continuity. It can seem like it will never end. It may not.It’s invisible, but surrounds us like water or air. As time went on, and I continued to not reach my potential, miss opportunities, and not live the way I had wanted to because I was too sad to move forward, the depression only continued.
I do remember a breakthrough. It was an epiphany moment where I had to very much decide to get past all of it, no matter how much it felt like it was weighing me down. I began writing lists about what I wanted from life. Started to take steps that scared me, but would ultimately take me away from the dark place I felt I was in. I do not think it was a coincidence I made the move from Delaware to Southern California. I can see a direct correlation between wanting to chase the proverbial sunshine and fresh start of SoCal and leave the dark cloud of sadness and perceived failure of Delaware behind (not to give paint First State in an unfair allegorical light). I consciously decided I would learn to thrive despite depression.
I still deal with depression and can still feel it, perhaps even daily. Perhaps with age, but also with help, you can learn to live with it. Though it’s a weakness, I think it takes a form of strength to confront it. Some of the tenets of what make someone tough may need to be revisited. Especially in men. Personally, my worst fear of sharing this is to be treated differently. That is part of why I think many others do not want to share their experiences as well. I don’t want to be perceived as unreliable by people at work. I don’t want to appear weak. I don’t want to appear crazy! However, burying issues and trying to move forward doesn’t help. Creating a better environment for talking about mental health is where we need to get to.
Though I’d considered writing something like this for some time, I was ultimately moved to do so by reading Kevin Love’s essay in The Players Tribune about his anxiety issues. He ends his essay with, “You’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through. Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do.”
I still regularly have to talk myself out of panic attacks. I still feel a dark cloud from time to time, but I’ve been learning to work through it. I truly feel that every move I’ve made since I was 25 was an attempt to prove to myself that I’m much more than my depression and anxiety. Making up for the lost time it robbed from me. As awkward and embarrassing as it is to share, I hope it can help some others that I did. It helped me just to write it down.