A little over two years ago I had an anxiety attack at the intersection of Rock Road and Central in Wichita, KS as I pulled into the left turning lane on my way to work. I’d experienced this feeling before in life but only for short confusing intervals. This one was different…it didn’t go away. In fact, it got more intense. My fight or flight kicked in and I flew. The days following were torturous as I could not leave my bed, the weeks following I improved to only being able to not leave my house, then I got to the point where I could painfully kind of go places, then I got pretty functional, and then…my CBT therapist’s office screwed up my bill and I said to heck with them and embarked on a year of self exploration to mentally toughen up and get back to “normal.”
If you want the full story you can go HERE.
Fast forward 2 years with leaps and bounds of progress and things are pretty darn good. I still had anxiety but my ability to dissect it, analyze it, cope with it and move forward with my life was astounding. Then I started asking myself if I should explore going off anti-anxiety medications and that opened up my internal discussion of what effectiveness they had or didn’t. Am I better because of them or are they the crutch that got me mentally ready to move forward? My gut says the latter since I spent 33 years without needing anything but realistically going off them is…well…its taking the crutch away. So the debate built up in my head along with other things I have no control over and as I argued with myself, my anxiety plotted its triumphant return. Sensing this I started seeing a new therapist (whom I love) and have come to realize that while I made major progress in the past 2 years…there is not a finish line in life, just a constant track to run on. Whether it is uphill, downhill, or even is what I have some control over…but I cannot stop.
It was about Midnight the second week of July when my first anxiety attack in a while hit me. I was piloting a boat on Lake George and had just rounded the Northwest Bay buoy and was heading north into dark waters and a shoreline miles away without lights when I felt the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where I was. I knew where I was…but not exactly. It has been a year since I drove the boat at night and this was a new boat with different blind spots, gauges, and sounds. It is understandable to get spooked in the middle of the dark doing 25 mph on the lake and realizing you are not 100% sure of where you are. Your eyes play tricks on you at night. Distance is hard to read and boats don’t have headlights. I was overwhelmed with the fear that I would not be able to find the dock I was driving to and that my wife Kate would have to take the wheel, or worse: Talk me down from an anxiety attack in the middle of the lake with no cell reception.
Cell reception. Seriously? I used to do everything in my power to get away from cell reception. I used to adore being alone. I used to love impossible situations. Add fog, rain, waves higher than the boat and I would have stayed calm the whole way and loved the thrill of it all. Now? I just don’t want to be alone…I want shared responsibility.
Today it hit me again, and this one struck a chord. At the intersection of Rock Road and Kellogg the light turned red as I went to cross the highway…a long light. As I pulled into to the left turning lane I became acutely aware of how “trapped” I would be and started playing the “what if” game. “What if I panicked right now?” What if I just ran the light?” What if…” The game became the “what is” game. I watched the car in front of me slow to a stop (silver Civic), I saw the car in the rearview pull in close behind me (beige Buick sedan), I looked right and saw the truck boxing me in (blue Tundra), and as I began debating making a U-Turn to the left out of the double turn lane a silver Kia pulled in next to me and I found myself with nowhere to go…and I panicked…bad. The sunglasses came off my face and I started talking myself down but it was no use, I was deep in it and could feel my body wanting to ditch the car and run off screaming. Not an option! I told myself as I dialed my wife who picked up on the fourth ring. Before she could finish saying hello I told her, “I’m stuck and I need you to help talk me down!” She asked where I was and in the time it took to tell her and explain what was going on the light turned green and I proceeded through the long overpass intersection and was “fine” again.
My hands are still shaking a bit. It was too similar to my initial attack 2 years ago just 2 blocks away. The only difference is 2 years ago I walked away from the incident asking what was wrong with me and if I’d ever be okay again. Today, all I can think is “stupid anxiety!” Seriously. Stupid f**king anxiety. I’ve given up trying to understand why this is happening to me and just started accepting that it does happen to me. I’ve clearly got some crap bubbling up to the top again right now and need to find a way to release the pressure valve…but honestly, I think I just need to find a better way to silence my brain. My brain is like when you get stuck on a single song lyric and it plays over and over and over and over again in your head. Sometimes I just get stuck. Writing helps…and here we are. All I know is I am fighting a battle between what my gut is telling me to do and what I want to do. My gut wants me to avoid life, especially the situations where it could suck to have anxiety…but I want to live life to the fullest. There’s the rub and maybe the best lesson I’ve learned in my life: Things are not going to get easier – but I will get better at overcoming obstacles if I keep trying. No one who ever achieved greatness in life was faced with no hardship. I doubt people will remember me in history books, my name is not in lights, and my triumphs are small in the eyes of others…but every day I get out of bed and find the will power to keep fighting my instincts so I can do what seems natural to so many others. I’m striving to be a good person, a good father, a good husband, and most important: Happy.
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