Today is World Mental Health Day so I wanted to share my story about anxiety:
Four years ago, I went out to lunch like normal, but I started to feel nauseous and was unable to finish my meal. Later in the day when I was in the office I felt dizzy and short of breath. It was very strange since I had never felt this way before. After this happening for a few more days I decided to go and see my doctor. I was sent for a few blood tests and then wore a heart monitor for a day, but nothing turned up. In my follow up appointment my doctor diagnosed me with anxiety and referred me to a therapist that specialized in the treatment of anxiety.
Prior to this I never thought of myself as somebody that would need to see a therapist, because I thought just being smart and strong would get me through any problem. It was also surprising that somebody like me that is so outgoing and friendly would have anxiety. However, at that moment in time I just wanted to get better and didn't think twice about it. I contacted the therapist and after a brief phone screening had my first appointment. The first few weekly appointments went as expected with lots of talk about my history, family and my current life. It wasn't long though before the homework began and we started to tackle some of my anxiety issues.
My therapist follows the Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy (wikipedia.org) approach for treating anxiety and doesn't prescribe medication. So my first job was to figure out situations that made me anxious, like going out to lunch or visiting a crowded place. We would then list out those things and then I would have to go experience them and afterwards document how I felt while doing them. I think my analytical mind really enjoyed this type of feedback loop and trying to correlate map activities to their outcome. All of the documenting was done using Google docs so I can go back today and see all of the different tasks I had to complete and all of the improvements and sometimes setbacks I faced.
After about a month I started to make progress with eating out at lunch and started to feel much better in general. However, it turns out this was just the tip of the iceberg for my anxiety, because once we started to talk it became clear that anxiety had affected me in many other ways throughout my life. I started to recall panic attacks I had at different large public events, small fears I had about checking into hotels, migraines from the anxiety associated with air travel (thanks TSA), meeting new people and many others I won't bore you with today.
Slowly over the last four years I tackled one problem after another and started to recognize my anxieties and then how to best deal with the situations causing it. It hasn't been easy and I have definitely gone into more than one exposure that pushed me to my limit, but today I am so much stronger and happier because of my treatment. I feel there is such a stigma associated with going to therapy, but it has actually made me open about the fact that I do go and how much it has helped me. It has really changed my life and if you have ever considered seeking help, but were worried about what people might think, just do it!
Special thanks to my therapist, my family and of course my amazing wife for supporting me through all of this.