It is time to be brave. I have decided to share my story with mental health and 9 year struggle with anxiety. The issue is so prevalent and I know as I have shared with just a few, they too have opened up and shared with me about their story. I am not an isolated case and neither are you. This is very common and my goal in sharing is multi layered. The first, is to open up the conversation about the reality that we are all facing and to let you know you are not alone. The second, is to share resources and methods I have done to help me to overcome and still working through to this day. The final one is to remove stigma attached to mental health. While I am not a medical profession by any means, I have learned so much over the years and have been determined to get better.
I want to acknowledge my story is not your story and yours is not mine. While they are different, we can find comfort and solace in the fact that we are not alone. I also want to be clear and say I have been dealing with anxiety and not depression which are two different things but often they go hand in hand.
Whatever you are experiencing never belittle it regardless of what state you are in. There is no shame in what you are going through. You matter and are seen and I hope that by me sharing this will empower you.
Additionally, I want to confirm this is not medical advice. I am not a medical professional and if you are struggling I encourage you to talk to someone and seek the help you need.
While there is so much to my story this is by no means an exhaustive version. I do hope to share my whole story in further detail one day but for now these next few posts will serve as an intro to my story with anxiety.
I plan to share this in various ways. This is first of many blogs and vlogs as well as sharing posts of resources I have found that are helping me overcome. This isn’t a one post wonder but rather an unfolding journey I am committed to share with you.
ANXIETY TAKES A WHILE TO SHOW UP
Anxiety doesn’t happen overnight. It is built up over many layers in our life. For those reading, I know you connect with this as you to have your own layers that have led you to where you are. A little bit about my story. I have been married since 2002 and we have two children. My wife and I spent 6 wonderful years in Australia but when we moved home on 2010 I went through my own journey that most likely contributed to my struggle with anxiety. I had gone through 3 different jobs trying to find my place here in Canada. The first job was a very manipulative environment which led me to quit and remove myself from this toxic environment. I started a business venture with a friend that went south and then worked another job that I actually got fired from due to differences. This left me in a financial struggle and at the time had just had our first child and the pressure to provide was on.
It was 2014 now and I was growing on social media, although this brought no income. I had just launched Socality which had taken off but at the same time there was also no financial support with this. It was a labor of love and I found myself building both my personal page and Socality but still trying to figure out how to take care of my family. With these pressures and the stress of the last few years, it was all about to lead into my next phase of life.
HELLO ANXIETY, MY NEW FRIEND
In 2015 I started experiencing heart palpitations that were constant and ongoing. These would go throughout the day and would intensify at night when I laid down to sleep. I could feel my heart at all times. It was always pounding and would not relent. There was no moment of calm. It was worst at night and I had a fear going to sleep because it’s all I could hear in my head.
One night, while my family was away I was trying to sleep but these palpitations only were getting more intense. I got up and drove myself to the nearest hospital however the hospital I went to was a clinic that wasn’t opened through the night. This caused my panic to soar. I then drove to the larger hospital that was further away that I knew would be open, but as I did this I had what I know now to be a panic attack. My mouth went dry, my vision went to full tunnel vision and I could hardly see. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack and I would never see my family again. Gripped with fear, I pulled over to the side of the road and called the ambulance. This evening was the beginning of my anxiety exploding into full force and would begin what has been a 9-year journey since.
After this incident the anxiety would worsen over the next year. For the next few months, I would awake in the middle of the night to panic attacks. This was a common occurrence. I remember one night going to the ER and just crying to the nurse and saying I don’t understand what is wrong with me. I have always been a happy person and I found this physical and mental response even more confusing. But you can be happy and struggle with anxiety at the same time.
In addition to the constant panic attacks, I experienced major dissociation. Everything around me felt like it was in 3D and I would often need to leave the room or meetings as my brain felt it was spinning out of control. Sleeping was near impossible and this only made everything worse.
One morning I woke up and noticed a patch in my beard. It just appeared out of nowhere. I went to my dermatologist and turns out it was a result of stress. Through treatment and dealing with stress it has eventually grown back but there are still episodes where new patches occur and it can take months to grow back. My anxiety was manifesting itself in so many different ways. This is something I am still dealing with to this day.
One of the hardest things I was unclear on was who to talk to during this time. While my wife is a great support, she was pregnant with our second child and I didn’t want to be a burden to her. Additionally, I am a person of faith and this is never talked about in the faith community. People are always trying so hard to hold it together because you try and be perfect and eventually the performative nature breaks down. Additionally, no one wants to actually admit that they have a problem so you do everything you can to hide it but inside it only gets worse.
THINGS ARE NEVER AS THEY SEEM
Social media gives such a wrong perception of what one is actually going through. It comes with its own pressure. Since it is one of the main ways I make my income, stopping wasn't really an option. So, I just kept pushing myself, knowing that a lot was riding on my shoulders.
Social media is all about the highlights and never shows behind the scenes. Fair enough as well , as that responsibly is on me to show it. I remember one time a person had commented on one of my posts saying. “It must be nice to be a millionaire”. I responded, “ yeah it must. Let me know when you find one”. There is a preconceived notion that one has made it, but I am still very much in the hustle. Raising a family isn’t easy and while I have been blessed with great opportunity, times can be very stretched.
As the months went on, the anxiety was manifesting in so many different ways. Burdened with financial pressures and the huge sense of responsibility to take care of my family, my anxiety would always escalate at the sight of my daughter. She would come into the room and she was so filled with love and endearment towards me but all I could think about it is, “How can I take care of you”. The feeling would overwhelm me. Each day when I would leave the house, to go to a job I was not thriving in, she would wave to me out the window and say she loved me. I would drive away with tears in my eyes, feeling like such a failure and couldn’t see hope on the other side.
1. Providing for my family
2. Social media performance
3. Balancing work/ life
4. Fear of failure
5. Health Anxiety
1. Therapy and support network
2. Open vulnerability and honesty with those close to me
3. Exercise, mediation and prayer
4. Focused nutrition
6. Journaling and retraining my brain
I will detail more of these practices in a future blog.
During this phase of life, I was doing both social media on my personal page as well as building Socality. I was working on these in the evening but neither were providing any income so I was working a full-time job at the same time . All of this was a balancing act of building family, growing a business that had no resources and working a job to sustain my family. On the outside there was momentum but, on the inside, I was unraveling. Pressures were mounting and often quite crippling.
I was in meeting after meeting working on Socality only to have to leave the room as my head would be spinning and I was experiencing major dissociation. My heart would be racing and my mouth would be dry. I can only explain it that I felt at any time that my whole body was just going to shut off. Health anxiety would increase and my fear of not being around for my family would intensify. I was barely making ends meet and what would happened if I did die. What have I done to make sure my wife and children are ok? My only goal was to see them happy. It was a race against time and each day the pressures were mounting.
A FEW THINGS I HAVE LEARNED
1. People always say don’t worry- That sounds great, I would love that. I would love to turn my brain off. However, life is full of pressures and we are complex people. It is just not that simple. When people say this, they dismiss the reality that you are experiencing. Mental health is a serious issue and cannot just be turned off.
2. Anxiety will never give you best case scenario. It is designed to protect you and when we listen to these prompts we can keep yourselves in the anxious stage. It fills our mind with what if's, different case scenarios and fears. When we believe these stories the anxiety can shape our outcomes and realities.
3. This is not an overnight fix. It took a while to get here and it will take a while to get better. The journey requires patience’s and commitment.
4. Find a safe space to be vulnerable with a close friends helped me process what I was going through. I began speaking about this very candidly and without fear of judgment. Acknowledging where I was at allowed people around me to support me. Burying your anxiety and walking through it alone will isolate you and make it worse.
5. Commit to showing up and determine to get better. You will have to fight all the intuition inside of you but your anxiety can keep you in a negative state. It is the commitment to getting better that will eventually lead you out through education, therapy and many other practices.
6. It will get better. A thought that would go around in my brain is "what if I never get better". However, I am here to tell you it can and it will.
A STEP FORWARD
No one wants to admit they have a problem. We try and get these things under control but in the end, they control us and eventually takeover. I was at the end of my rope. I went to my Doctor to seek help. He diagnosed me with anxiety and this would begin the journey to healing. I am a believer in dealing with everything holistically so I came at this from every angle.
The first step was I was determined to get better. You can’t help anyone if you can’t function as yourself so this was imperative. The second was to focus on my overall health by trying to get activity, do things that would refresh me even when it meant going the opposite direction of my feelings. This looked like going for hikes, getting outdoors and discovering the beauty of nature around me. Another thing I did was go on antidepressant. I am of afraid to admit this and I hope to remove the stigma of medication. My goal was to eventually get off on it as I didn’t want to depend on anything but there is no shame in medication. It has truly made a massive difference for me. Our bodies and brains are complex and sometimes it takes more than just sheer willpower.
After an intense year I saw a major turn around around with the symptoms subsiding and finally coming under control. My anxiety would continue and over the years as panic would come on. I would now have the tools and methods to deal with it. A major thing was understanding what was happening and acknowledging I wasn’t in danger. I would learn to breathe through panic attacks to keep them from blowing up. They would slowly come on while talking with friends, in meetings and on planes. By beginning to understand what was happening I was able to breathe through this and work my way out.
For the most part, I thought I had conquered this. Times were looking up. We were moving forward financially. The kids are getting older and Socality is now on its feet. However, a whole new wave anxiety was about to set in and it would come with unfamiliar symptoms and experiences.
THE WORST WAS YET TO COME…
In January of 2023 a whole new wave of anxiety would come over me and this time it would come with all new symptoms that would take it to a new level including constant physical pain that would make the simplest day to day functions very difficult. I am still unsure of what has triggered this but regardless, it arrived unannounced.
The first part of 2023 has been some of the worst I have faced as I was gripped with fear, physical pain and health anxiety. The physical pain I experienced was constant, without relent and through my abdomen and lower back. This led to me not eating, losing weight and spinning in a cycle that had me at the Doctors office every week. I could not sit down as the pain was so intense and the only comfortable position was to lie down. This had me in bed many days just looking out the window, unable to do the simplest tasks.
I began a series of tests to see if there was something physically wrong with me. Everything just kept coming back normal. Perfect blood work, clear scans etc. Yet, the pain was intensifying and getting worse.
I remember one night spending 14 hours at the ER, hunched over in pain and in tears because all I could think about is I should be at home as my kids wake up to say good morning. Was this pain ever going to end and will I get through this?
After many months of tests, my Doctor confirmed this was anxiety and it was manifesting in physical pain. But how do you relieve this pain and was it possible? The loop of "What if I never get better" played over and over in my mind.
Over the last few months, I have been on a journey of healing and education to overcome this and I have seen a major turn around in my life and have even seen the pain finally go away.
I am looking forward to sharing not only this experience but the things I have learned that have caused a major difference in my life. From retraining my brain and nervous system to therapy and self care.
I am not out of the woods yet but I can see the light and have seen the pain be alleviated after many months. For those who may have their concerns about me, I want to stress I am ok. I am in a good place and do have the support system I need to get better.
If you are still reading this, wow.. thank you!! Thank you for following along. May you find encouragement in my story and have the ability to tell your own. You will get better.
Part 2 is coming...