Living with anxiety was, and continues to be, a monumental challenge for me. At the same time, it has been empowering and has allowed for tremendous personal growth. Overcoming anxiety has been a long process filled with crushing setbacks and thrilling bouts of self improvement and self discovery along the way. I felt ostracized and alone, while my friends, family and support system felt powerless and frustrated. At times the path I was on seemed endless. I felt alone on my travels; isolated from the outside world. Those who were by my side weren't always able to be as effective as they’d hoped. It was hard for them to completely identify with, and properly support, someone who’s battling an enemy that they didn't understand. Anxiety doesn't only affect the person struggling, but also their loved ones. I'm fortunate to have had the support system that I have, they helped me cope, they supported me even though they didn't necessarily understand and are responsible, in part, for the improvement in my mental health. For them I am forever grateful.
Anxiety is a broad category that encompasses several anxiety disorders including Panic Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and other more specific phobias
While all anxiety disorders are different, and each person experiences those disorders differently, all anxiety disorders share some general symptoms:
Panic, fear, and uneasiness
Not being able to stay calm and still
Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
Shortness of breath
The brain is infinitely complex and researchers aren't sure exactly what causes anxiety disorders in various people, but environmental stress, genes and environmental conditioning can all play a role in the development of these disorders.
Throughout my journey - both therapy and self discovery led me to realize that much of my anxiety stemmed from the pressure and unrealistic standards of perfection that I set for myself. While having such lofty standards could potentially put you in an environment for short term success, it's likely to end in disaster. I lost my confidence and I started to measure my self worth on arbitrary things that didn't matter. I had always been quick to avoid loud and busy places, so it was normal to me. When the physical symptoms started to creep up, I knew something was wrong. I started to wonder what was wrong with me; I couldn't figure out why I was experiencing a variety of symptoms including dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, etc.
Did I have a disease? Was it cancer, heart disease or something else? Was I going to die before ever truly accomplishing something in my life? This false narrative and unhealthy thought pattern led to a vicious cycle of anxiety and OCD dominating my thought process and keeping me in a perpetual state of perceived illness and unexplainable anxiety. I visited doctors and specialists countless times, had hundreds of tests including x rays, blood tests, cat scans, etc. The inaccurate, but overwhelming, realization that I was going to die before accomplishing anything relevant leeched the joy from my life. It was a permanent cloud hanging over me and it followed me everywhere I went. The doctors, nurses and receptionists knew me on a first name basis and I think they started to get tired of me.
I reached an all time low when I made three emergency room visits within the span of a week. I hadn't ate in 24 hours. Every single test they performed came back negative. I sat in tears as what would be good news to others truly brought me no comfort or answers. I sat in my wife's arms and cried; I was inconsolable. It was at that very moment where I came to the realization that anxiety and OCD was the cause of all of my pain, my depression even my physical symptoms. My obsessive checking and need for reassurance was the catalyst for the downward trajectory that my life was on. It needed it to stop and I needed to take my life back. For a five year period in my young life I was so afraid of dying, that I never truly lived. For my wife, for my friends, for my family, for myself - I vowed to take my life back.
The process to self discovery is painstaking. The truth and inconvenience hurts. Parting with old destructive habits and relationships can be complex and agonizing but it's entirely necessary if you're ever going to get better, if you're ever going to grow. So during this process, I had to find out what those things were and eliminate them from my life. Certain friendships were contributing to my unhealthy patterns and I had to remove them. My thought process was flawed; I was crippled by my quest for perfection. I had to learn to love myself for who I am, not for the accomplishments or accolades I'd accrue. I thought I had nothing to offer beyond winning, so why would people like me? I often changed the person I was in hope for acceptance, but in the end I didn't accept myself because I didn't like who I was becoming. I didn't believe I was good enough, so I'd seek reassurance from the outside in all contexts, but it never worked because ultimately you have to love yourself before anyone else can.
It's been a long and arduous process, but eliminating those negative thoughts and habits led me to an unbelievable improvement. I still face setbacks, but now because of therapy and my self discovery I'm able to overcome anything.
Just recently when I launched my website, my coaching business, my decision to pursue running at a high level - I was scared. These things have been years in the making but I was apprehensive. What if I failed and people judged me as hard as I judge myself? What if I was a complete joke? That's when I reminded myself that I'm capable. That maybe my story will make an impact. That I might fail, but that's okay too, as long as I do my best.
It's rather ironic that the very thing that almost stole my life from me has given me the opportunity to reach others, to help others and to be what I consider a success. I'm now successful in my career, I'm successful as a coach, I'm successful as an athlete and I'm the companion, teammate, friend and family member that I've always wanted to be. I've had hundreds, if not thousands, of people reach out to me about how my story helped them in some way and that alone, to me, is my proudest and most important contribution.
I thought anxiety was the worst thing that could have ever happened to me, but I was wrong. It made me a better person, it made me more empathic, it made me more caring and understanding. Facing anxiety and adversity made me realize that there's nothing I can't handle. Anxiety didn't take my life away - it gave me a purpose.
There were several times in the past that I faced anxiety and I wanted to give up. It wasn't getting any better and nothing would bring me relief. I thought because of my anxiety and mental health struggles that I had no future. I was wrong. So, when things are tough, please don't give up. Please don't think you can't do this - or anything for that matter. You can overcome any obstacles that may stand in your way. It will get better, it will get easier, you will get stronger. Don't give up.