Anxiety battle update / 2019
Please call 1-877-968-8491 if you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or any mental health issues.
Since first posting about my battle with anxiety last June I’ve been blown away by the out pouring of support and love. To this day I still hear from people who’ve read my blog and even have their kids read it who were going through similar things. I find more and more strength to continue to share it because all your words and encouragement. Although my anxiety is getting better (because I’ve been working hard on it), I still deal with it everyday, let me explain.
Lately I’ve been able to identity my triggers and work towards resolving them. My main one, still, is a fear of fainting. What started late last year when I first began having anxiety attacks, lead to me faking a leg injury during a guest lecture and feeling like I would faint on the marble floor in front of 300 students. In never having this happen to me before, I wanted to fix it and the next day went to the doctor to get on medication and began to deal with this new fear. After months on meds and therapy sessions, I learned that just covering up my problems wasn't going to fix anything, so I decided to quit and begin the rebuilding of my body and mind. I looked at all the things that made me feel anxious, and begin to work towards eliminating, or adapting to those situations. It’s been a struggle this year, and it still sucks, but I feel like I’m begun making progress. I love public speaking and feel like it’s one of my god given gifts, but the anxiety I now have when speaking and fear of fainting has changed my relationship with the thing I like the most. I now say no to speaking engagements that I would have loved to be part of, and am constantly worried about situations in which things will be out of my control.
Another big trigger, and something that has come on since the fainting anxiety, is now a worry around food. We live in a place with more food options than anyplace in the entire world, yet I’m still worried about every meal, where I’ll get it, and what I’ll eat. When I’m not full or unsure of where I’ll be eating I feel anxious that I’m going to faint and the mind begins to race. It rears its ugly head particularly when I travel or attending and event or situation that’s out of my control. What if there’s no food available? What if that food doesn't align with my eating habits? What if I can’t find anything? These questions go round and round in my head and leave me feeling anxious and worried. I now can’t go through a day without knowing pretty much exactly what, where or when I’ll be eating before I even leave the bed. It’s such a silly thing when you look at it from 10,000 feet up, but the worry is there, and it makes me feel on edge.
The other worry and fear I have is around accessibility to a bathroom. Yup, said it lol. When I’m anxious I seem to never know when I’ll have to go to the bathroom, and my heart starts racing as soon as I know there isn’t a bathroom available. You know how that goes, you don't even think or worry about something but when something becomes unavailable, you instantly need it. That seems to be my relationship with the bathroom. This fear of fainting, mixed with a need to always have food, and constant accessibility to a restroom can drive me nuts sometimes.
All of those came together on January 9th when I injured my back playing pickup basketball for the first time in years. I came down on a routine rebound and my lower back locked up. I couldn't move. I managed to get off the court but my back muscles were just frozen. I was in terrible pain and had never experienced anything like this before. I tried to walk it off but it would seize up and I’d have to collapse down to the floor. After 30 min I finally got to my car and drove home. Upon arrival, Noelle (my wife) was shook by my condition. 1 hour early I ran out the house, and now here I am barely able to hobble up the steps looking like I was 90. I managed to lay down but the back pain was terrible and I couldn't really move. Describing the pain is hard, it’s not sharp necessarily, but just immobilizing. It was like half of my body wasn't connected to the other. After heating pads and lots of advil I finally made it to bed. Tossing and turning all night I was never fully able to get comfortable.
I awoke in the morning really needing to go to the bathroom. I got out of bed too quickly and instantly seized up and went to the floor. I crawled to the bathroom where I finally made it up onto the toilet. Sitting was when the pain was the worst, so my back began to lock up yet again, and I felt a warm sensation. I was holding myself up by my arms as much as I could to eliminate the pain but it was harsh. I yelled “Noelle” and the next thing I remember is coming too and her on the phone with 911 in front of me crying and shaking me. She said after I yelled she came around the bathroom and found me passed out backwards on the toilet making really weird noises. She said I was out about 45 seconds where she began calling 911. As I came to she hung up and helped me down to the floor where I couldn’t move. She said as soon as I get up that we were going to the emergency room. But wait… I need to eat something, what if there’s no food there? What if I have to go to the bathroom and can’t because my back? She made me a smoothie but I could hardly eat, the worry about my body and the anxiety was too high. We made it to the hospital where my brain wouldn’t stop thinking about “What if I have to go to the bathroom again?” “What will I eat if I have to stay there?” “How am I going to fix my body?”
After a few hours, x rays, and meeting with a physical therapist they sent me on my way. They just said it would be a slow grind back and that I would need to take it easy for a while. My immobility in my hips, quads and hamstrings created a flight or fight tension in my back and it locked up to protect itself. I have always known I have tightness in my body, but that wasn't fun to stretch and work on. I only wanted to do the fun workouts, things that got me stronger, and things I, and others could see! Here I was, 28 years old, immobile, suffering from back pain, walking with a cane and needing physical therapy twice a week, chiropractor twice, massage, stretching twice a day, and not able to do anything active for weeks. Wow, what a shift in my life. Laying on the floor that first day back from the hospital, after my new wife having to call 911 because her husband was passed out with eyes rolled back, I knew I needed change.
Stretching sucks, but in the last 45 days I’ve had to do it as much as I can. I go to all these appointments to fix my body and try to get it back to where I was. I now do yoga instead of lift weights, I go for 30 min walks at 6:30 AM and get to watch the sunrise. I don’t lay on the couch or sit in chairs anymore. I have to drive with a backrest so it doesn’t tense up. I’ve had to become more aware of my movements, and rebuilding my core and leg muscles (not all upper body) and I’m reestablishing what mobility and health looks and feels like to me.
Why is it though, that my body needs these traumatic experience for my brain to learn I need change? Why does it take fainting, and anxiety, and emergency room visits to feel that things aren’t right? The biggest thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s all related to distractions. We don’t take the time to listen to ourselves, our bodies or our brains, we just keep cramming social media, the news, meetings, wasteful thoughts, and tv down our hatch. Even if our bodies were trying to warn us, or prevent these things from happening, we’re too caught up in everything we have going on and consuming more and more of everything that we push it down. Two days before when I was shooting hoops I remember my back straining a little bit, but I was able to walk it off and didn’t even think twice about it. Was this my first sign? After suppressing these things for long enough, your body reacts and lashes out to MAKE you notice. I knew I didn't like this any longer, and needed to work on it. In the end I’m a fixer and like to just get things done.
Over the last 45 days I’ve made a total 180 in mindset and emotional health. I now hardly watch TV (beside the occasional Profit episode or Blazer game) and really fight off the urge to flip it on. I used to come home from work at 5, turn the TV on, watch something pointless on Netflix, mixed with social media on my phone, and half assing talking to my wife, followed by a Blazer game at 7:30 on TV, then dinner at halftime, then off to bed where I’d check my phone a few more times to consume a bit more. Do you know how terrible this is?? All I was doing is consuming and making my brain run at a million miles a minute. I felt like I could never consume enough, because every time I checked there was something more to see. As I’ve been able to step away from it, I noticed how bad and hard that spiral was on me. I’ve had to become really intentional in how I spend my time and focusing only on things that bring me joy. I now do my best to turn my phone off every night at 9PM and not check it until I leave for work the next day. No pointless scrolling before bed, no waking up and starting scrolling again.
I’ve read business books the last 6 years and have always made an effort to read a bit each night, but do you know how much I can get through without turning on the TV or checking my phone or email? I'm easily crushing 1-2 awesome books per week which now leave me feeling inspired, motivated and fresh. I take walks first thing in the morning to get my body and muscles moving and use it as a time to thank god for everything I’m grateful for, and start to think about my day and what I want to accomplish. I have better conversations with my wife and she can tell how present and aware I am (this will always be a work in progress). I journal, I write goals, I just look out the window and watch things, and yes I even take baths. (and if I get extra lucky I’ll toss in some rose petals and essential oils). At church we’ve been in a lesson on the importance of sabbath, and taking 1 day per week to really rest. It’s in the bible, and very well known that we were made to work, but resting is imperative to a healthy and sane body. I try to take 1 day a week and REALLY turn off. I don't even check my phone at all, no social, no emails, no texts, and no plan. I just do whatever I want. Sleep in, read books, go out to eat, do yard work, take a nap, write, dream, cook dinner, go to church. Do you know how amazing this day feels? It’s incredible, and something I hope Noelle and I can implement our entire lives.
My anxiety is not gone, far from it, but being more intentional with my days, putting the phone down (because believe it or not, everything will still be there the next day) and taking care of my actual body, seems to have me at least on the right path to finding balance. I’ve also learned through this whole process how many people have anxiety, I bet nearly everyone of you struggle with it in some way. When I was giving a talk last week to a small group, and got my nerves before, I remember looking outside and seeing all the cars driving by, all the people walking, everyone going and doing something, all having no clue about what I was feeling. Weirdly this made me feel better. The world is so big, there are so many moving parts, so many people, that it makes my problems feel pretty insignificant. I have great friends, I love what I do for work, a close family, a beautiful wife, I have so much good going in my life I need to work on just being more appreciative and seeing what I have, instead of always worrying about the what ifs.
I know what you’re thinking “well you post on social media everyday and want people to consume it.” I understand that, and that’s a battle I deal with too. I want people to understand though that I would never want people to consume our content in a negative way, or that brings you stress or anxiety. Our content will always be there, you could check Instagram twice a week and still see everything we do. My hope is that you can also start to find balance in your life and learn to cut down on the things that aren’t making you feel good.
I had the pleasure of visiting local non profit Lines for Life last week which is an organization that helps prevent substance abuse, suicide, anxiety, and working to promote better mental health access to all, especially the youth. It's done through an outreach program that promotes drug and alcohol awareness, creates and manages substance abuse prevention programs, and works on public policy (such as legislation) to promote high standards of mental and physical health.
The most public way they help keep people safe is by managing a dedicated series of crisis lines. Please call 1-877-968-8491 if you’re dealing with anxiety, depression or mental health. This organization can de-escalate 97% of phone calls, saving lives every day. I believe in what they’re doing and if you’re struggling with anything in your life right now, please do not hesitate to call them and find help. Sometimes just talking your problems out loud can begin the process of healing. My journey to mental health and balance is just beginning but I hope that by making it public and sharing it with you all, we can work on overcoming these things together.