(Note: Along the Road is a new, ongoing column by Daniel Thompson. Unlike Thompson’s Take, which focuses on broader issues, this column will focus exclusively on mental health and addiction recovery.)
I won’t lie to you. Anxiety has always plagued my life.
As a child, this normally showed up in shyness or diverting questions to my brothers.
However, it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized how much it was affecting my life.
Thought it was normal anxiety
It was around the time that I turned 18 that I started to realize the true depth of my anxiety.
Now, my mental health had already started acting out on my body with psychosomatic symptoms by that point. For instance, when I was 17, I started blacking out randomly during the day.
I would be leaving my driveway in Kenosha and, next thing I know, I’m suddenly parked outside of a house 30 minutes away. And I would have absolutely no memory of the drive and never recovered any memories of it over time.
I had scans and tests done after that started. They couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me, and therefore, they could offer no help.
By the end of my freshman year in college, I started having trouble really sorting things out when I felt anxious. Inside of my head it would feel as if there was a balloon expanding, putting pressure behind my eyes and making it impossible to put thoughts together.
When it reached its zenith, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t decide what words to even say.
In academic life, this was easy enough to avoid. As long as I planned things out enough, I could manage it. However, once I graduated from college, this avoidance technique started to fall apart.
Journalism and the height of anxiety
I will say this in no uncertain terms: My constant anxiety made the first six years of my journalism career hell.
You see, I mostly have social anxiety. Therefore, talking to people has not been a very enjoyable experience for most of my life.
The near irony (if not solid irony) of having that problem and working in the very outgoing and public communication/news field is not lost on me.
However, for six years, I pushed myself through daily panic attacks to talk to people, to do my job and to give off the calmest appearance I could.
In fact, many co-workers throughout those years would comment on how calm I always was.
While that means that I was hiding my anxiety well, it also didn’t solve my problem or the resulting buildup of anxiety growing every day.
Again, this was the balloon feeling in my head. However, it now had the added element of a sharp pain starting to build in my mind until I wanted to do nothing but scream.
When I finally sought help
Even when that started happening, at first, I didn’t seek any kind of help for my anxiety problem, beyond what I had years before with a stint in therapy.
In my mind, life had simply dealt me these cards, and I just had to play them however I could.
Now, I had previously learned breathing techniques and refocusing techniques. I had plenty of tools at my disposal concerning what I could actively, consciously do for myself.
However, those can only get you so far when you’re dealing with a chemical imbalance.
After finally admitting that I just couldn’t go on living with that constant anxiety ⏤ which by this point made me near suicidal because I just didn’t want to face it another day ⏤ I finally went to a doctor and talked about it.
Talking about anxiety is not the end
I wish I could tell you that talking about it is all you need to do. But here’s the kicker: in talking about it, you have to make yourself be completely honest about it.
Quite frankly, this is the hardest part of it ⏤ and for reasons even beyond that your mind is already skewed negative.
When you open your mouth to explain how you feel inside, the words that come out will fail you. You may find yourself falling into cliches. You might find yourself sugar coating some things. And you may even try to make yourself seem like you’re not struggling as bad as you are.
That’s because, even when seeking help, we can’t really admit completely that we’re broken. I couldn’t.
My ego made me tone down how bad my mental health had gotten.
The honest truth of how bad it was
The truth about the symptoms of my anxiety that I didn’t tell people was alarming.
The one no one really knew about was this:
At one point, when nothing else would make me feel any different, I would start punching myself in the leg as hard as I could for as long as it took ⏤ leaving huge bruises ⏤ until the pain in my leg outweighed the anxiety in my mind.
I literally would injure myself to the point I would walk with a limp the rest of the day.
And somehow, the same mind that had me pulling down A’s in my college classes told me that this was the better option than therapy or medication.
In my anxious brain, injuring myself to get by was better because I didn’t have to be vulnerable or honest about my real condition to anyone else. I was an island unto myself, and I thought I had figured out how to maintain peace all by myself.
However, my reality is that I was a man living with anxiety and depression since nine years old and hadn’t gotten treatment except one round of therapy (at that point). By the time I started injuring my leg, I was 21. For 12 years I let things build without doing anything truly meaningful about it.
And in turn, that anxiety and depression took over how I colored my life, myself and my world.
Power, to me at that time, was having the ability to move pain from one place to another, not being able to get rid of it.
It took another 7 years after I started punching my leg in that manner for me to finally get to that day I mentioned when I went to see a doctor.
Finally on the right path
After those 7 years, I finally sought out a doctor, who would become my new primary doctor, and I told him the truth.
I was cagey, at first. But then, I just told myself, “Who are you trying to lie to? Him or you?”
So honesty started coming out.
And while I would run through five medications or more before I found one that worked for me without side effects I couldn’t live with, I DID finally find one. I call this beginning phase of getting on medication “the guinea pig phase” ⏤ which I’ll talk more about another day.
I’ve now been on anti-anxiety medication for about four years, and the difference I’ve felt in my life is monumental. However, for full transparency, that change is also due to routine exercise and other healthy practices coupled with that medication over time too.
I never get that balloon feeling, haven’t for years. I don’t panic when things go off book or don’t go as planned. And generally, I am the calm person I once pretended to be.
While I don’t advocate for everyone with issues to get on medication ⏤ the same solution is not right for everyone ⏤ if it’s something you’ve seriously considered, I encourage you to seriously look into it or to make that appointment to talk to your doctor about it.
If therapy is more your thing, then I encourage you to make an appointment to sit down with someone and address the issues you’re dealing with.
Sometimes our bodies need something extra in order to compensate for deficiencies in our chemistry that we have no conscious control over.
And that is perfectly okay.
It’s better to walk seamlessly with the aid of someone else, than to struggle to crawl over the bumps of life on your hands and knees because you’re too afraid to let someone help you up.
There is Help
Vivent Health offers fentanyl test strips, so that users can determine the presence of fentanyl in other substances. For more information, call 262-657-6644.
Kenosha County Public Health also offers free training and supplies of Narcan, a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/KCNarcan or call 262-605-6741.
The Kenosha County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Resource Center may be reached from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 262-764-8555.
The Kenosha County Crisis Hotline operated is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, at 262-657-7188. Kenosha Human Development Services operates the hotline.
Ep. 13: The problem of being overly positive – Inside the Mind of Daniel Thompson
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