“I have social anxiety. It’s easier up on stage because there’s security in being there. When I’m off stage I’m trying not to be a manic freak.” — Sia Furler
It starts with this sinking feeling in my stomach. I feel like I can’t breathe properly. Even though I’m in my warm and cozy bed, my body starts shaking uncontrollably. I just cry and shake for about half an hour.
Something’s definitely wrong, but I don’t know what.
Earlier that day I was mounting a turbo on an engine when I got a pain in my stomach so bad that I had to sit down for a while. I got up and tried again, but after a couple of minutes it was back. I looked sick so my colleague got our boss who told me to go home and take it easy.
This is a Thursday, and I called in sick on Friday thinking that I’ll be alright by Monday. On Sunday night the same thing happens. I shake and cry myself to sleep.
In the morning I call the boss and tell him I’m going to see the doctor.
I’m experiencing this pain in my left shoulder and tell the doctor about it. He examines it and tells me I’ve got an inflammation, prescribes me an anti-inflammatory medicine and asks me about my tasks at work.
He gives me sick leave for a month and tells me to come back in 3 weeks for a follow up. Feeling satisfied, I don’t bother to tell him about my other problems.
During the following weeks things get better, but the week before I’m supposed to go back to work my mind starts to race and that sinking feeling, shortness of breath, shakes, and tears come back.
After my check up, I tell my doctor about what’s been going on with the stress at work and he says:
“Your shoulder still hasn’t recovered. What I’m going to do is to give you sick leave for one more month. I’m referring you to a psychologist. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re NOT crazy. But it sounds like you have panic anxiety, and you need to address this before it becomes a major issue.”
This is a huge relief, and I go see the psychologist the following week.
During our talk she asks me some tough questions. Things like: “What was your childhood like?”, “Why are you working there? It’s clearly not for you?”, “What do you want out of life?”, and so on.
All of the things that I’d been ignoring because I didn’t want to deal with them. Why? Because whenever I’d tried to broach the issue people got really uncomfortable and made me feel bad about it.
So, instead of dealing with my issues, finding rewarding work, and working toward my larger goals, I punted all of it.
In the end I got fired from my job, went into a depression, and that was my life for about 3 years.
Now, I’m not attempting to skip that part. Those years were tough. There just wasn’t much interesting happening there. I had moments of joy and optimism, but it was mostly living on welfare, spending it on alcohol & drugs, and writing & playing music. Oh, and living with my parents.
At 22 I decide that I’ve had enough. I’ve spent 3+ years of my life doing shit that didn’t get me anywhere.
I don’t know how I got the energy to do it, but I took the money I had saved and rented an apartment in Stockholm over the summer to get away from all the things that were keeping me down.
From there my life took a turn for the better. I got a job, I got a place of my own, it took some time but I got rid of my depression and the panic anxiety vanished.
It stayed that way for about 6 years. Then came the downward spiral.
I had a lot of stress at work, I had my studies, my mom became ill, and I started getting dizzy spells.
Soon after that I started having panic attacks again.
One thing that was different was that I stopped the cycle before I hit the point of depression. I started seeing a psychologist and continue doing so to this day.
While it wasn’t fun to go through those periods of darkness, today I’m glad I did. It helps me to understand and help others who are going through the same things.
There are plenty of people suffering unnecessarily from various mental health issue, simply because we’ve built a culture of shame around it. We shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help when we need it. We shouldn’t have to carry all of it alone.
We should encourage people to shine a light on the darkness.
What worked for me was to make some radical changes to my environment. What will work for others is hard to say. There’s medication, therapy, support groups, and other resources out there.
While you have to do the work, you don’t have to go through it alone.
Now, this is my journey and the final chapter isn’t written yet. I can’t say for sure that I will never experience stress, panic anxiety, or depression again.
All I can do is to be mindful and try to notice the signs.
If I do, I’ll talk about it, and I’ll ask for help.
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