Not Dying Was Easy. Surviving Was the Hard Part – 17 Years Ago Today

17 years ago today my life changed forever. What follows is that story…

Not Dying Was Easy—Surviving Was the Hard Part

I wonder sometimes what might have been if I’d taken my normal route home; if I’d swerved faster; if I’d not been driving on the spare; but, I didn’t, I couldn’t, and
I was, and everything in the world changed because of it.  

“What time is it?” I asked. Everything was dark, but I knew someone was in the room with me. I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids felt like they were made of lead, and what little light penetrated them was so bright that it hurt.

“It’s 4:30.” It was my mom’s voice. “You were in surgery for about seven hours,” she continued. “Do you remember me telling you about it when they brought you back to the room?” She asked. What she said didn’t make any sense. The last I remembered it was about one in the morning. How could I have been in surgery seven hours if it was only 4:30?

“4:30 in the morning?” I quizzed her—I was too confused to say more. 

“No. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon.” She was standing next to my bed and had her hand on my right arm. She wasn’t crying, but I could hear the worry in her voice. With her blocking the light from the open door, I was able to open my eyes enough to see her standing there. My brain was foggy, but I understood now what she meant.

“What did they do to me? I don’t remember if you told me.” I heard her take a deep breath and clear her throat. “Shit,” I thought to myself, “my arm is gone!”

“Mom, did they take my arm? Just tell me,” I said in a more demanding tone.

She squeezed my right arm, “Shhhh. I’m going to tell you, but you can’t scream in here.” I guess moms never stop being moms, even when their babies are hurt.

She told me that the surgeon spend the first two hours of the operation suctioning “bone dust” out of my arm. Every bone in my left arm from my shoulder to my wrist was shattered, and I literally had no elbow left. They implanted two titanium plates, sixteen screws, and a six inch titanium rod was inserted into the radius. The incision started in the middle of my upper arm and extended to about three inches above my wrist. She also told me that my left lung and kidney were both bruised, that there was extensive bruising on my torso and left leg, and that I had a concussion. 

“You have a long recovery ahead of you,” she said as she wiped the streaming tears from my face. “The doctors say probably a year or more until you’re fully recovered. But, you didn’t die, and that’s a miracle.” Not dying was the easy part—surviving was going to be the real trick.

Less than twenty-four hours earlier I was on my way home from my family’s Christmas celebration. I had dinner planned that evening with a friend whom I had not seen in some time. I was running a little later than I’d hoped and was driving above the speed limit. I never saw the small piece of metal in the middle of the highway, and the next thing I knew, I was struggling to stay in one lane. I pulled off the road. I got out and walked around to the passenger’s side of the car. BLOWOUT! The right front tire was completely shredded. Now I would be late for sure.

I opened the trunk to get the jack and spare tire. It was full of boxes and when I finally reached the spare tire, I discovered it was nothing more than the “donut” that car manufacturers included with new cars. My frustration growing by the minute, I unpacked it and the jack and went to work. As I tried to maneuver the jack under the car, I realized that where I pulled off the road was uneven and that the right side of the car was resting on a small hill. There was no room for the jack to fit. I tried it under the front bumper, but it was too small and wouldn’t hold sturdily to the car there. 

Thankfully, an old man passing along the road saw the trouble I was having, stopped and offered to help. I rode with him to his home not far away to get a big jack like I’d seen in mechanics’ shops. He told me that was the only way we’d get the car lifted to change the tire.

As we returned to the car, I saw my sister’s green Ford Expedition pulled over near it. She, my mother, and my niece were headed to Dallas for shopping and happened to notice mom’s disabled and abandoned car. As the old man put the toy spare tire on the car, I stood and talked to them. 

My mother tried her hardest to convince me to turn around and go back to her house. She was worried about me driving on the toy spare. I promised I would be careful and that I would go first thing the next morning and get a new tire. I pulled back onto the highway and headed for Dallas. 

As I reached the Stemmons/Highway 183 split, I noticed a small, gold-colored sedan traveling almost parallel with me for some time. Somewhere between the Walnut Hill and Royal Lane exits, the little car swerved and collided with my right front quarter panel. The impact wasn’t that hard, but the little toy spare couldn’t handle its force. I was stranded. 

I stepped out of my car and noticed that another car was stopped just behind mine. A young woman was behind the wheel. I motioned for her to wait and began walking toward her. She was driving a brand new silver Lexus with the dealer tags still on it. I walked up to her passenger window. I leaned in and asked if we could use her phone to call 911. She said we could and handed me the phone. I made the call and reported the accident.

“Do you know where Frankford Road is?” the Good Samaritan asked. I leaned into the window again and began to tell her how to get to Frankford. Then I heard the noise. . . like metal grinding followed by a gunshot. I looked up just in time to see the front end of an eighteen wheeler barreling toward us. Before my brain could process what was happening, the truck slammed into the back of the Lexus. Then, darkness.

photos of two wrecked vehicles On the left, the car I was standing next to. On the right, the truck that hit us.

I felt myself get hit, first from the right and then from the left. Everything moved in slow motion. There was no light and no sound, but I was not unconscious. I was keenly aware of what was happening, but at the same time there was nothing. It’s not true what they say–my life didn’t pass before my eyes–nothing did–it was just dark, and still, and deafeningly quiet. I never lost consciousness. I knew when my body was thrown into the air and I knew when I came crashing to the ground with a thud. 

In just a few seconds my brain assessed that I was still alive–I could feel my heart beating and I could hear myself breathing. I was hurt–badly, and I was still in the middle of the freeway. “Jason, get your ass up before you get hit again!” I don’t know if the voice I heard was my own, my mind, a guardian angel, or some other celestial sentry charged with saving my life. Whoever. . .whatever it was, I trusted it and picked myself up off the pavement.

My glasses were gone, but the rest of my clothing seemed intact: shoes, check; pants, check; belt, check; shirt, check. But, something was not right. I only felt one arm. I looked down at my left side. The arm was there, but I could not feel it attached to my body anywhere. I began to panic, thinking that the only thing holding my arm off the ground was my shirt sleeve. I heard myself scream in terror, “NO!” Almost simultaneously I realized the fingers on my left hand were moving. I couldn’t feel them moving, but I saw them moving. Left arm, check.

Traffic was completely stopped. I walked toward the right shoulder where I could see the back of the truck peeking over the ledge of the deep ditch between the freeway and service road. It was burning and people were rushing around from side to side. 

It was then that my head cleared and all of my senses returned. The smell of rubber and diesel burning filled the air and irritated my eyes and the inside of my nose and throat. The entire left side of my body, from shoulder to knee, felt like someone had smacked me as hard as he could with a baseball bat. It was an intense, burning and aching pain. I grabbed my left arm with my right hand and bent it at the elbow. I could feel the bones moving freely under my skin. As I brought my arm to my abdomen, I could hear them moving. It was a nauseating grinding and cracking sound.

“Somebody help me!” I screamed for my life. Until that point I don’t think anyone knew I was there. A man who was standing nearby ran to me. He grabbed my shoulders, and a lightning bolt of pain shot through me. I nearly collapsed, but the man caught me and sat me down on the pavement and leaned my back against the metal guardrail.

“Where are you hurt?” he asked calmly.

“I think my arm is broken,” I said, now writhing in excruciating pain. “No, I know it is, but what about my pupils? Are my pupils dilated?” I don’t know why I asked about my pupils, but I asked at least three times before the man assured me that my pupils looked fine. 

Before long, paramedics, firemen, and police officers descended on the scene. As they attended to me, I noticed a familiar voice. I opened my eyes and squinted. Through the strobe of red and blue lights and the smoke from the truck, now completely engulfed in flames, I was able to make out a familiar face. “Ben Roberts?” I asked. Ben was a friend from high school whose parents were the youth leaders at my church. I had not seen him in over ten years.

After a moment he recognized me, too. “Jason Walker?” He asked. “What are you doing here?”

I grabbed his hand and squeezed as tightly as I could. “Don’t let me die, Ben. Please.” I began to cry—the first tears I’d shed during the entire time. Ben assured me I was not going to die, but was honest and told me that I had significant injuries and that they needed to get me to the hospital quickly. I asked him to ride with me in the ambulance and he agreed.

It was surprisingly quiet and calm on the ride to the emergency room. Ben asked me to tell him exactly what happened. I told him the whole story: the first of about ten repetitions of it that night. Then, I took Ben’s hand again and asked him to pray with me. He agreed and proceeded to ask God to protect and heal me, and to give me peace and comfort. I did begin to feel peace—finally, peace. When he finished, I asked him to call my mother and tell her what happened. He reached her on her cell phone and told her where she would need to meet us. I could hear her crying on the other end of the call and Ben assured her that everything would be alright.

We finally arrived at the Parkland Memorial Hospital Emergency Room. Ben and the other paramedic wheeled me in on the stretcher and we were met almost immediately by a nurse who jotted down the vital signs Ben gave her. After they transferred me to a hospital gurney, Ben told me that he had to leave, but that my mom should be there soon and that he would check in with me the next day. I thanked him again and closed my eyes as he walked away.

There were what seemed like hundreds of people milling about in the hallway, and from time to time I would hear blood-curdling screams coming from down the hall. Since the accident happened, time had stopped. My watch was gone and I couldn’t see a clock. I had no concept of how long I laid there on that gurney in the hallway waiting. Waiting for someone to help me; to give me something for the horrific pain I was in; to tell me I could go home and get me out of that hellish place. 

Home. Five days later I was on my way, but not to my home. I was being released from the hospital and was headed to my mother’s home. I couldn’t take care of myself at all. On December 30th, the day I left the hospital, my left arm was still tightly wrapped in bandages. A drain tube and bag still collected the blood and puss which constantly oozed from the wound. I couldn’t take a shower or bath. I couldn’t dress myself. I could eat, but only if it was something which could be easily manipulated with my right hand alone. I was helpless, and if it hadn’t been for the wretched physical pain I was in, I would have felt that way. I had a fabulous apartment full of nice things which I’d worked hard to get, and something inside of me knew I’d never be back there again.

The first two weeks after I arrived at my mom’s house were spent in bed in various stages of consciousness and alternating between hydrocodone for the pain and Phenergan for the nausea that it caused. During the day, while Mom was at work, my sister would come and stay with me. Every other day for those two weeks, Eric, a friend from high school who still lived in town, came to help me get cleaned up. The entire situation was demoralizing and humiliating. I was ready to get out of bed, get moving, and get back to my life, but that wasn’t going to happen for months.

At the end of January, my doctor, who I had been seeing once a week since I left the hospital, released me to begin physical and occupational therapy. In the beginning I went three days a week. It was the hardest work I’d ever done. Even the simplest tasks wracked my body. My therapist began each session by having me lie on the floor. I held on to one end of a Theraband, and she held the other while I stretched my left arm as far across my bod as I could. The goal was to touch my right shoulder with my left hand—it took almost three weeks before I could do it. Each time I tried my weakened body would tremble, sweat would pour from every pore on my body, I would be as short of breath as if I’d run a marathon, and I cried like a brokenhearted schoolgirl. 

During those days, victories were small, and they were few and far between. Tying my shoes, spreading peanut butter on bread, combing my hair, and shaving were cause for celebration. But, there were many days when victory was nowhere to be found. After one particularly difficult session, I called my mom at work. “Mom,” I said, sobbing, “why didn’t you just tell them to cut my arm off.” I was sitting in the floor of the bathroom where I’d collapsed trying to get into a hot shower, the only thing that seemed to help my arm. The physical anguish was bad enough, but nothing compared to the unbearable sadness I felt the day I sat in my mother’s living room and watched most of the things I owned being sold to complete strangers for pennies on the dollar. There was no victory in that.

My adult life up to the point of my accident had been largely directionless. I played around at college for almost ten years before giving up and going to work full time. I had a good job, but not a career, and certainly not what I felt was my true calling. During the nearly nine months I was recovering, I had a lot of time to think, to reevaluate my life, and to consider my options. In an odd way, the same accident which turned my world upside down had also cleared my head about life. I finally had an appreciation for what I’d heard people say all my life—it’s too short to waste a minute. 

I was released to go back to work in early September of 2004, and I secured a job at Southern Methodist University that November. I was responsible for the operation of the Information Commons in the Hammon Arts Library. It was a dramatic cut in pay and responsibility from the job I had before my accident, but every day I was surrounded by people who valued education and hard work, including my boss, the library director. He knew my story and knew my goals. In November of 2006, after two successful and empowering years, I sat in his office and tearfully handed him my letter of resignation. I had finally saved the necessary money and was headed back to school full time. I was scared to death about what his reaction might be.

“Jason, I think this is wonderful, and I’m so happy for you,” he said with an enormous smile on his face. Not only was he gracious and encouraging, as usual, he gave me the biggest surprise of my life when about a month later, just before Christmas, a package arrived for me. It was a brand new computer with the latest software installed. It was from him. There was a note inside which read, “You are greater than your past. Love always, Tim.” I was overwhelmed.

Many things about the accident and the two years which followed it overwhelmed me. The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to also be the best thing. Coming literally within inches of losing my life saved my life. Working to regain the ability to use my arm for the most menial tasks taught me that those things are not to be taken for granted. And, the day I walked across the stage at Texas Tech University, all of the pain and all of the heartache seemed somehow worth it.

In the end, surviving was the hard part. But, I could, I did, and everything in the world was better because of it.

 

Pencils Down, Your Time Is Up: 5 (+1) Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety (A Reader Request)

For the first time in almost 10 years writing this blog, I’ve had a reader request that I address a particular topic! So, of course, I am very happy to oblige, especially since this particular topic is one that is very important to me as both an educator and a student–TEST ANXIETY!!

I suppose that I’ve been fortunate in this particular area. With all of my anxieties, and there are many, test anxiety is not something from which I’ve ever suffered. I’ve always performed well on tests and taking them never produced much stress for me.

However, that is certainly not true for many friends, family members, and my students. I personally know a large number of people who suffer from test anxiety–some of them experience severe, adverse effects.

What is test anxiety exactly?

In his book, Test Anxiety: The State of the Art (1993), Moshe Zeidner defines test anxiety as, “a combination of physiological over-arousal, tension and somatic symptoms, along with worry, dread, fear of failure, and catastrophizing, that occur before or during test situations.”

That’s a whole lot of what my grandmother used to call $5 words that basically means when you go in to take a test, you’re so worried about failing or not doing well that your sympathetic nervous system (that part of the nervous system that controls our “fight or flight” response) kicks into overdrive causing both psychological and physical symptoms in the body.

It’s important to note that these symptoms don’t only occur during tests. Often times, people experience anticipatory anxiety (symptoms of anxiety prior to the event) which can cause problems for days or even weeks ahead of time.

What causes test anxiety?

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), some of the causes of test anxiety include: fear of failurelack of preparation, and poor test history.

Fear of Failure
Often times, students who have high expectations for themselves, or whose parents, guardians, family, colleagues, etc. have high expectations for them, have an intense fear of failure. This fear is directly linked to those expectations. Although the expectations are a constant in that student’s life, fear associated with the thought of failure intensifies during tests.

Lack of Preparation
Some students are anxious about tests simply because they did not adequately prepare for them, or because their preparation was hurried or “crammed” into a very short period of time close to the date of the test. As the student becomes aware of their lack of preparation, anxiety sets in about the outcome of the test.

Poor Test History
Of all the causes of test anxiety, poor testing history has been the most common among my students and people I know. Without getting into the quagmire of opining on our education system’s obsession with standardized tests, suffice it to say that students now days are tested far more than when I was in school. And, the truth of the matter is now, just as it was back then, that there are some students who just don’t test well. After multiple experiences with failure on tests, many of these students develop a mental “block” about testing, which leads to anxiety, which leads to poor performance…and the vicious cycle is born.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety?

According to the ADAA, symptoms of test anxiety may include (but are not limited to):

  • Physical Symptoms–“Headache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and feeling faint can all occur. Test anxiety can lead to a panic attack, which is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort in which individuals may feel like they are unable to breathe or having a heart attack.”
  • Emotional Symptoms–“Feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment are common emotional responses to test anxiety.”
  • Behavioral/Cognitive Symptoms–“Difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others are common symptoms of test anxiety.”

These symptoms are, of course, not all present in every student; and some students may experience symptoms which are entirely different.

To read the ADAA’s entire page on Test Anxiety, click here.

5 Strategies for Avoiding Test Anxiety

  1. Be prepared. The biggest mistake I see my students make when it comes to taking tests is that they don’t adequately prepare. When they do assignments leading up to the test, they simply complete the assignment and then move on. They don’t study what they learned from the assignment while they’re doing it, or when it is returned to them after being graded. Students often wait until a day or two ahead of time, or even the night before a test and “cram” for it. According to researchers at UCLA, cramming for tests, and the “trade off” with lack of sleep, is one of the least effective ways to study for tests. They say that the best method for test preparation is “maintain[ing] a regular study schedule” (UCLA Newsroom, 2012).
  2. Use good test taking strategies. This really isn’t rocket science. In fact, you’ve likely heard this since your very first days in school. When taking a test, you should do all of the following:
    • Read the directions. Too many students don’t bother to read the directions and miss questions because they didn’t.
    • If you don’t know it, skip it and come back. As a general rule, I allow myself about one minute to read and think about a test question (depending on the number of questions and how much time I have to take the test). If I’m not sure of the answer by then, I flag it–mark it to come back to later–and move on. Then, if time allows, I return to the question and give myself a little more time. If I still don’t know it…..I MAKE AN EDUCATED GUESS! Never leave a question blank. If you do, you have a 100% chance of missing it.
    • Keep your focus on the test. It’s important that, while you’re working on the test, you stay focused on the test…on your test. Don’t get hung up on what other students are doing or on which students have already finished. Your job is your test. Just focus.
  3. Keep yourself healthy. I wrote in one of my other posts how important it is to be physically healthy in order to maintain good mental health. Fighting test anxiety is no different. Before your test be sure that you’ve a) had enough sleep the night before–don’t stay up cramming, and b) you have a good, nutritious meal. Yes, your grandmother was right! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Be sure that you eat it, even if you think you’re too nervous to eat! That goes for other meals during the day if your test isn’t in the morning.
  4. RELAX!! Part of the reason that many of my students who consistently performed poorly on tests did so is because they couldn’t relax. They got themselves so worked up over the test that they almost certainly doomed themselves. It is important to be as relaxed as possible. Some nerves are ok…they mean that you care. But, getting so nervous that you lose focus is not good at all. Before the test, if possible, find a quiet place. Close your eyes. Try not to think about the test. Take some long, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing at least 2 seconds for each. If you don’t have a quiet place to do that before the test, just sit at your desk, be quiet in yourself, close your eyes, and breathe. Then, while you’re taking the test….keep breathing!
  5. Stay positive. There really is no substitute fora positive attitude. If you walk into a test believing you’re going to fail, you probably will. But, if you walk in telling yourself that you know the material, you’re prepared, you’re going to focus and try your hardest, then you dramatically increase your chances at success.

And now, your +1

Examine  and evaluate expectations. One of the traps that people with anxiety disorders often fall into is the trap of unrealistic expectations. From time to time, we must take time out to examine and evaluate not only our expectations of ourselves, but also the expectations that other people have for us.

When examining and evaluating expectations ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Is this an expectation I have of myself, or is this someone else’s expectation of/for me?
  2. Is this expectation realistic or achievable?

It’s OK to say “No.” No is a sentence all by itself. If the expectations that you are laboring under are either a) someone else’s for you, b) unrealistic/unachievable, or c) both, them dump them! Just say no! Reevaluate and regroup. It’s OK to change your expectations and to change your mind!

Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

Changing your mindset, your habits, and your focus can and will help curb test anxiety. However, if your anxiety has reached the point where it is impacting your ability to function and succeed in your education or job, it is very important that you seek help.

As with any other type of anxiety, there are professionals available who can help you overcome this severe anxiety. Don’t ignore warning signs! They are the same as with other forms of anxiety: chronic sadness, thoughts of suicide, feeling hopeless about your life, separating yourself from the outside world, diminishing physical health. These are all signs that your anxiety has reached a level where professional help is necessary. Seek it out. There is hope!

I hope that something I’ve written here will help you overcome anxieties about taking tests. I know this is a big problem for many students, but I also know that it can be overcome.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or encouraging words, please leave them below in the comments section.

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!

 

 

It’s Not ALWAYS Anxiety: Recognizing, Owning, and Dealing With “Real” Emotions and Symptoms

Sometimes it’s easy for those of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks to blame everything on anxiety. It’s easy for our friends, loved ones, and even our doctors, too. But, I want to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready?

It’s not always anxiety.

It’s true. Not every emotion and not every symptom we experience is a product of our anxiety. One of the most important keys to managing our health, both mental and physical, is knowing the difference between anxiety/panic and “real” emotions or symptoms.

man holding his head as if in painOf course, all of our symptoms and emotions are real. We’re not imagining any of them or making them up. When I use the word real I’m talking about emotions or symptoms brought on as a direct result of anxiety and/or panic vs. those that have their origins in an external pathological stimulus beyond our control.

I could think of a ton of examples of times when I’ve experienced emotions or symptoms that I wasn’t sure were “real” or driven by anxiety. This is especially true for people with panic attacks because, often, those attacks happen out of the blue and don’t seem to have any trigger.

But, it’s important that we know the difference and that we stand up for ourselves when we recognize the difference. There are three keys to that end…

  • Recognize “real” emotions and/or symptoms.
    This is a tough one because we (folks with anxiety and panic disorder) frequently have unexplained emotions and symptoms, especially when we’re in the midst of a panic attack. Every person is different, so there’s no one sure-fire method of determining whether your emotions or symptoms are driven by anxiety or are pathological in nature. That’s why it is so important to seek professional help. A trained counselor or psychologist can give you the tools you need to know yourself well enough to recognize the difference. That is really the foundation of this step–knowing yourself enough to know what looks, feels, sounds, and acts like anxiety and what doesn’t. I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek professional help!! It is vital to the healing process.
  • Own those “real” emotions and symptoms.
    When you know yourself well enough, you’ll know what’s real; and when you know what’s real, OWN IT! Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t let anyone else second guess you. Even people with anxiety get sick. And even people with anxiety get upset, angry, hurt, sad, happy, excited–our emotions are intact just like everyone else’s. There really are external stimuli which cause those feelings; and there really are germs and bugs out there that can make us sick. If you feel a real emotion, own it. Let yourself feel it. If you get sick, own it. Go to the doctor, get some medicine, and let yourself get well. Don’t ignore the real things!!
  • Deal with it.
    This is maybe the hardest step of all, because when I say deal with it, I mean deal with the people who doubt you when you tell them something you’re feeling is real. We know they mean well…..most of them anyway. But, they really don’t know best–YOU DO! Stand up for yourself and for your health. Don’t be aggressive, but be assertive.  If you need to speak with someone about something they said or did that caused emotional pain, be assertive and insist that they listen. If you need to see a doctor because you’re sick, be assertive (yes, even with the doctor if necessary) and insist that you see them. Deal with it–don’t let other people deal with it for you!!

I know. This is difficult. There are so many questions we ask ourselves, and so many answers we give ourselves that may or may not be right. But, it is nonetheless important.

Never make assumptions where your health is concerned. Never make apologies for your feelings. People who really love and care for you will either understand, or you might need to move them out of the way.

YOU MUST TAKE CARE OF YOU!!

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason

Tell me what you think. In the comments section below, leave your thoughts and experiences about “real” emotions and symptoms vs. those produced by anxiety. Do you have specific ways of determining which is which? Tell us! Or, just leave a positive word of encouragement.


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where Do We Go from Here?

I started this series of posts a long time ago. In fact, I posted parts 1, 2, and 3 (you can click on the numbers to read them) over a year ago. I had every intention of writing this fourth part back then, but a funny thing happened on the way to writing it…I went back to work as a teacher!

If you read it, then you may recall that in part 1 I wrote that anxiety had robbed me of a promising teaching career that was still in its infancy at the time. That was true–I did think that at the time. But, about two weeks after I wrote part 3, I got a call from a school district nearby asking me to come in for an interview. I went and interviewed first with the principal, another English teacher, and the counselor. Before I got home from that interview, the principal called me back and asked me to come and meet the superintendent the next day. I did so, and before I got out of the parking lot, the principal called again to offer me the job. I was amazed.

In the interest of total honesty and transparency, I will admit to you that, in that moment (and many moments yet to come) I had my doubts about whether or not I could really do it. After all, the last time I had stepped in a classroom had been a year and a half earlier, and the bout of anxiety I was enduring was better, but still pretty bad. I was worried.

I won’t belabor this story except to tell you that I did it. I made it through the whole school year. It was difficult, and there were days that were very bad. I did miss days because of my anxiety, and I wasn’t able to be as big a part of the school community as I would have liked. I told my mom late in the school year that every day had been a battle, and that was true. Every day of the school year had been a battle to one degree or another. But, just as there were days that were very bad, there were also days that were very good.

I was fortunate to have an amazing group of students to work with. From day 1, they were welcoming, friendly, respectful, and willing to learn. It is true that no school is perfect because no person or group of people is perfect, but while not perfect, my students were capable and willing to work–and I asked them to work hard. In the end, the most important lesson of the year was the one that they taught me during the last days of school–I wrote about that lesson here.

My kids and me! Well, mostly the top of my bald head, but I’m not the important one in the picture.

Now, I’m preparing to move on to another school district and meet another group of students. And, again, in the interest of total honesty and transparency, I will admit to you that I am scared.

The last few weeks since school was out have been difficult. For some reason or another (with anxiety one almost never knows for sure), my anxiety has peaked again. The best and only theory I can come up with is that I’ve broken the routine I was in for 10 months; and sometimes my mind and body don’t respond well to a broken routine.

And this brings us to the central question of this post: Where do we go from here?

I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’m physically and mentally exhausted from, literally half my life being caught in the ebb and flow of my anxiety disorder. I have to find a way out of it–or, at least find a way to deal with it so that individual panic attacks don’t become strings of panic attacks, and that strings of panic attacks don’t become months- or years-long episodes of debilitating anxiety. I just can’t do that anymore–not and have any hope of a meaningful life or career. So, I’m taking what for me will be a big step…

In two weeks I will enter the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program for Anxiety Disorders at UT Health East Texas. This program provides people like me who suffer with anxiety and depression with skills and techniques designed to help us cope with this disorder. It is not typical group counseling. I won’t be sitting around in a circle with a bunch of other people talking about my problems–not that there is anything wrong with that; it’s just not the way this program is designed. Instead, I will be in an educational environment three days a week, learning.

Hey! I’m a pretty good student these days…this could be great!

I have high hopes. I’ve tried cognitive approaches before, but have never been able to maintain the discipline and focus necessary to make them effective. Since this program is guided, I will be accountable to someone other than myself. I think that will make the difference. Hopefully, by the time school starts, I will be in a better place–a place where I can, at the very least, not worry so much about all of the what if’s.

That’s a lot about where do I go from here…what about the we?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, too. I’ve been thinking about it because WE in this country still focus more on the mental part of mental health than we do the health part.

We must get to a place where we recognize mental health as part, a BIG part, of our overall health as human beings. We must focus more of our attention and resources on the research and treatment of mental health issues, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug or hide them out of the way in shame.

The statistics detailing the number of people suffering from some mental health issue are staggering. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

The costs associated with lack of treatment are equally incredible:

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.17 Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14­–21 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,20 the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.
  • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.

(You can read the full report by clicking here.)

Just think about that for a minute. Mood disorders are the 3rd most common cause of hospitalization in adults aged 18-44; suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10-14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. Why should we even have statistics for suicide in people who are that young?!

We’re better than this. We have to be better than this. We are the wealthiest country in the world–the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and yet, we cannot seem to find a way to allocate enough resources to adequately research and treat mental health issues.

The budget proposed by President Trump earlier this year dramatically cut federal spending on mental health services. Likewise, the House Republican plan left the lion’s share of responsibility for those services to the states, which according to a report in U.S. News:

…would mean a cut of about $1.4 trillion over 10 years from projected spending. States would face hard choices over competing priorities like mental health or addiction treatment, nursing home costs or prenatal care for low-income women.

Fair-minded and caring people can make the argument that federal spending and debt is so out-of-control that it must be curbed before it is too late to do anything about. I don’t disagree. However, when a health issue becomes a burden to the economy–and mental health certainly has–a smarter, long-term strategy would be to allocate a level of funding that can do some good.

Regrettably, this, like so many other issues which should not be mired in partisan politics, has become mired in partisan politics. What that means is that most people who suffer from some mental health issue will, most likely, not get the treatment they need because it is either not available in their area (rural areas are hit especially hard by this crisis), or they simply cannot afford the services. Even people with health insurance are often left untreated because their plans do not cover treatment adequately or at all.

I am, by nature, not a very politically active person. I certainly have my beliefs and opinions, and from time to time I will offer them, but in general, I try to stay away from politic activism. But, I’m not sure I can stay away from this issue much longer. It is one that, for obvious reasons, I’m very passionate about. While I don’t have a lot of time to spend on it, I can certainly make my voice heard, and try to bring attention to it. I would hope you would consider doing the same.

Mental health issues touch almost every one of us on some level. Either we suffer ourselves, or we have friends or family members who do. That is what makes it imperative that we become more vocal and advocate for adequate mental health services. That is what makes it imperative that we stop sweeping the issue under the rug out of shame and fear.

We can do better.

We must do better!


If you, or someone you know or love, is suffering from a mental health problem, I urge you to reach out and seek treatment, or offer your support and help for your loved one who is suffering. Below are a few numbers to call for help in finding resources near you.

Please like and share this post…you never know who you could help!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800.273.8255 (TALK)

Veterans Crisis Line – 800.273.8255 (Press option 1)

Treatment Referral Hotline – 877.726.4727

For more resources: www.mentalhealth.gov

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2: The Things You Need to Know About GAD & Panic Attacks

Last week, I posted Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1: My Long & Complicated Relationship With Panic. In it, I gave a brief description of how and when I began experiencing the crippling effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks. If you have not yet read part 1, reading it before you read this post might help with context.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

The Mayo Clinic defines GAD as “. . .excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities.” People may develop “generalized anxiety disorder as a child or an adult. Generalized anxiety disorder has symptoms that are similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they are all different conditions.”

Symptoms of GAD include:

Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event
Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
Worrying about excessively worrying
Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness
Fatigue
Irritability
Muscle tension or muscle aches
Trembling, feeling twitchy
Being easily startled
Trouble sleeping
Sweating
Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
Headaches

Symptoms in children and teens can manifest differently than adults and may include:

Performance at school or sporting events suffering
Difficulty being on time (punctuality)
Fear of earthquakes, nuclear war or other catastrophic events
Feeling overly anxious to fit in
Being a perfectionist
Tendency to redo tasks because they aren’t perfect the first time
Spending excessive time doing homework
Lacking confidence
Striving for approval
Requiring a lot of reassurance about performance

What are Panic Attacks?

The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as ” a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” Further, they note that “Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder. . .Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life.”

Panic attack symptoms vary widely from person to person, but they almost always come on suddenly and without warning, even at times when there does not seem to be anything that would trigger a panic attack. Many people, myself included, have been awakened in the middle of the night from a sound sleep having a panic attack. While symptoms are not the same from one person to the next, they can include:

Sense of impending doom or danger
Fear of loss of control or death
Rapid, pounding heart rate
Sweating
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
Chills
Hot flashes
Nausea
Abdominal cramping
Chest pain
Headache
Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
Numbness or tingling sensation
Feeling of unreality or detachment

I have experienced all of those symptoms over the years. Most of the time, my panic attacks have multiple symptoms at a time. They are incredibly frightening, embarrassing, and create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that someone who doesn’t experience them simply cannot understand. They are exhausting, and after they end, I feel as though I could sleep for days. But, the worst part about panic attacks and panic disorder is the fear that they will happen again. That is why I, and so many other people who suffer from them, avoid situations where they might occur. That leads to isolation, loneliness, and depression. As I said in part 1, relationships with family, friends, significant others, and co-workers can be dramatically impacted by these conditions.

But, the symptoms of GAD, panic attacks (panic disorder) are not the only things you need to know. There are several more that those of us who suffer want those of you who don’t to know–not about the conditions, but about US!

We Are Not Crazy
People who suffer from GAD and panic attacks are not insane. In fact, on the whole, we are among the most sane, intelligent, and creative people you’ll ever meet. Leann Rimes, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Emma Stone, Joey Votto, Kim Basinger, Scarlett Johansson, and Adele are just a few of the people known to suffer from GAD, panic attacks, or both. Some psychologists and psychiatrists who’ve studied his writings believe that Abraham Lincoln also likely suffered from GAD. (from CalmClinic.com) While GAD and panic disorder are classified as mental/emotional in nature, the people who suffer from them are most certainly not mentally disturbed or insane. You don’t need to be afraid of us.

We Don’t Have A Switch To Turn It Off
Oh, that there were a switch that would allow us to turn off the worry, the fear, the panic, the racing thoughts–I don’t know that there is a price we wouldn’t be willing to pay. Unfortunately, that switch doesn’t exist. As much as we want to (as much as YOU may want us to), and as hard as we try, we can’t just turn it off. Many people with GAD and panic disorder have suffered with it since childhood; and while there may be times when we are perfectly fine, we always know that the panic could hit at any time. There are effective treatments for GAD and panic disorder which help many people who suffer with them, but they are just treatments, not cures. We will most likely always “have it.”

We Probably Can’t Tell You What We Are Afraid Of
I have a fairly sizeable list of phobias: heights, closed spaces, large crowds, etc. But, ask me during a panic attack what it is that I’m afraid of at that moment, and I probably won’t be able to tell you. The vast majority of my panic attacks are not triggered by any of the phobias I have. I can’t tell you what most of them are triggered by, and most of the people who I’ve talked to who suffer like me say the same thing. We can’t tell you what we are afraid of during a panic attack. All we know is that the fear is very real.

We Need You To Be Our Friend Even Though We Can’t Always Be Yours
This is, maybe, the hardest truth about GAD and panic attacks that I know of. Those of us who suffer need people around who care about us. We need people around who know what we’re going through and who still love us anyway. We need people around us who will continue to be our friends even though we are not always very good at being yours. This flies in the face of everything we’re ever told about friendships. You know–they’re a “two-way street.” That is true. Unfortunately for those of us who suffer from these disorders, we’re not always able to travel down the other side. We know we need to. We know we should. But, just at that moment, we can’t make the trip.

We Haven’t “Given Up” On Life
One of the things that I dread most when I talk to people about GAD and panic attacks are the looks of pity on people’s faces. You know the look–furrowed brow, eyebrows raised, head tilted to the side, weepy eyes. It’s a look that suggests the thought: “Oh, you poor, hopeless thing. You’ve given up on having a happy life.” But, we haven’t. Most sufferers of GAD and panic attacks may have some level of depression accompanying the disorders, but we don’t often just give up and go to bed. Even during the times when I’ve been housebound, I’ve been busy about trying to get better. It may just be that my “busy” doesn’t look the same as yours. But, trust me, I (we) haven’t given up.

Lastly, and the most important thing we want you to know…

If you know someone who you think may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or panic attacks, please talk to them. Let them know that there is help available and that they don’t have to suffer alone. This is especially important for little kids who might be suffering. The earlier GAD and panic attacks are caught, the easier they seem to be to treat. Please don’t let someone you know suffer alone. There is hope and there is help.

If you think you may know someone who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or Panic Attacks/Panic Disorder, check out the resources available through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

And, don’t forget to be a friend!
Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: The Things People Say That I wish People Didn’t Say
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Let’s Get Serious About This

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1: My Long & Complicated Relationship With Panic

I don’t remember how old I was when I had an anxiety attack for the first time. Looking back, knowing what I know now, it was probably around age 10 or 11. It’s hard to say, though, because back in those days, nobody used the terms anxiety attack or panic attack–at least not anyone I knew. Back then, the closest thing I’d ever heard of resembling an anxiety attack is what people called “nervous breakdowns,” and they were only spoken of in hushed tones when kids were out of the room. Back then, only women of a certain age had nervous breakdowns; and it was only after their husbands had cheated on them. After having nervous breakdowns, women started taking Valium and keeping to themselves more. Men didn’t have nervous breakdowns. Men had “midlife crises.” They didn’t take Valium and keep to themselves. They bought Corvettes and had affairs with younger women. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why so many women took Valium. I’m not being sexist–that’s just the way things were back then.

But, I digress…

I suppose that if those days had been these days, someone might have noticed that I was an extremely nervous little kid. But, those days weren’t these days, so nobody thought much about the fact that when I was 5, 6, and 7 years old I twisted my hair in knots so tight that my mom had to cut them out with scissors. I was just a goofy kid with a weird habit. Nobody thought much about the fact that, often, when it was time to go to school, or go to church, or go to my dad’s house for the weekend, I would get sick to my stomach and vomit several times. I was just a kid with a “nervous stomach.” Nobody thought much about it the morning that I was supposed to participate in Field Day in first grade and I woke up covered in hives–they were so bad that I cried until my mom let me wear jeans instead of shorts because I was embarrassed. I was just allergic to something–maybe a new soap, or freshly cut grass. Nobody thought much about it because kids didn’t have “nervous breakdowns” or “midlife crises,” and nobody knew anything about anxiety and panic attacks–at least not anyone I knew.

In truth, I think my mom probably did think more about it than just that. I think she knew that something wasn’t right, because otherwise ordinary little boys don’t twist their hair in knots while they’re sitting on the couch watching TV. Otherwise ordinary little boys don’t get sick and throw up every time they have to go somewhere. Otherwise ordinary little boys don’t get hives all over their bodies for no apparent reason. But, what would she have done? What could she have done? Whom would she have talked to about it? She was a single mom with few resources and an ex-husband who was all-too-willing to point the finger of blame every time anything went wrong. Besides, I wasn’t really hurting myself, and I certainly wasn’t hurting anyone else, so we treated the symptoms and hoped that someday I’d grow out of it.

But, I never did grow out of it; I only grew into new symptoms. As I said, I think I was probably 10 or 11 when I started having what I would later come to learn were (and still are) panic attacks. Back then they were infrequent–not something that I dealt with daily, weekly, or even monthly. In fact, for the most part, they didn’t intrude in my life at all. I went on field trips, band trips, family vacations; when I started driving I drove myself 30 miles away to take private trumpet lessons, and later 30 miles in the other direction to play in the Tyler Youth Orchestra. I still had problems with my “nervous stomach” and would, quite often, get sick before I went places and did things. I took enough doses of Donnagel, Pepto Bismol, and Maalox that I wish my family had purchased stock in the companies. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that things really started going downhill.

I was a big shot musician in high school. I played trumpet, and I wasn’t half bad. I won a lot of awards and I was selected to a lot of honor bands. I had more than one scholarship offer, and the Marine Corps was even after me to come play for them. To put it quite bluntly: I thought I was the shit. In August of 1990, however, at my very first day of band practice with the East Texas State University Marching Band, I quickly learned how easy it is to be a very big fish in a very small pond. My high school graduating class had less than 60 members, and I was sitting next to trumpet players from some of the biggest 5A schools in Texas, who had graduated with 1,000 or more students. I had two years of private lessons. Some of them had been studying privately since they first picked up their horns. I was used to being seated first chair–the lowest I’d ever sat was second, and always played the 1st Trumpet part. At ETSU, I was seated 11th and was playing 3rd Trumpet in all of our music. I was a Music Education major and my dream was to become a band director. I had never been unsuccessful at anything involving music, but I failed my very first assignment in Music Theory I–and I failed it miserably. I began doubting myself and my abilities. I questioned everything I’d ever thought about myself. And, I panicked.

The first of what I refer to as my “modern era” panic attacks–the ones with symptoms I now recognize–happened on the ETSU Marching Band practice field one afternoon. We were running through our opening drill, set to Sir William Walton’s “Crown Imperial March,” one of my all-time favorite marches. The practice “field” was a concrete slab with yard lines and hash marks painted on it. Under the full glare of an August Texas sun, it was blistering hot; and the drill was FAST! In college band drills, there is very little marking time–you hit a set and immediately begin moving to the next one. I had to march forward, backward, from side-to-side; I had to do 180’s in mid-step and head the opposite direction. Our drills sometimes required moving 15 or 20 yards in only a few short counts. In short, it was a workout; especially while holding and playing music on a polished horn that reflected that sunlight right back in my face. The director stopped us to make an adjustment to one of the sets. While I stood there waiting on the drum major to call us back to attention, I got very dizzy. Everything around me was spinning. My ears started ringing and I felt like I was going to pass out. I collapsed to the ground and was helped off the field by a couple of my band mates. I sat out the rest of practice and the symptoms didn’t last long, but the incident scared the hell out of me. There’s no doubt that I just got overheated and needed to rest and re-hydrate, but the next day it happened again, this time before we ever finished our warm-up. On the third day when it happened as we were walking from the band hall to the practice field, our band director, Mr. Bennett called me to his office after practice. He was worried and wanted me to see a doctor. I was worried, too, but I never took his advice. Not only that, I never went back to band practice. After not showing up to five straight practices, Mr. Bennett told me that my scholarship was in danger if I didn’t either get a doctor’s note or come back to practice. I told him I understood, and that afternoon I went back to my dorm room, packed all of my belongings in the trunk of my car, and drove home. That was early September of 1990–I never spoke to Mr. Bennett again and have not been back to the school since.

One of the things about Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks, which I was officially diagnosed with in 2002, that is hardest to understand is that the debilitating attacks are not constant. In fact, over the last 27 years since that day in 1990, there have been periods of time–years at a time–when I was in what might be considered a “remission” of sorts. I’ve had jobs that required long drives to and from work. I’ve gone out with friends. I’ve gone on trips and haven’t experienced any problems. Then, suddenly and most of the time without warning, they come back and I find myself unable to do the things I want to do. Jobs suffer. Relationships suffer. Family and friends suffer under the unrelenting uncertainty that comes with the malignant periods. If there were some way I could see them coming–some warning sign or symptom which might alert me to the cliff I was about to go flying over–maybe I could do something to avoid it. But, one of the most insidious things about this disorder is that those signs and symptoms simply don’t exist.

Looking back over the last 27 years, there have been four major periods when my anxiety attacks were manifest in such a way that my life was dramatically altered because of them. The most recent and current bout began last spring and continues to this day. This time it robbed me of a teaching career which was only two years old, and has sidelined me, allowing me only to work from home doing technical support for a major cable internet provider. It’s unbearably painful to look on the wall behind my desk and see a framed diploma from Texas Tech University, and to know that, any day now, I will receive my master’s diploma from the University of Texas at Tyler. It’s unbearably painful to look at my resume and see the 3.8 and 3.9 GPA’s listed; and to see my two teacher certifications listed; and to see my students’ terrific test scores listed as part of my accomplishments as a teacher. It’s unbearably painful to know that last year I went home from school sick on the Thursday before Spring Break and never came back, leaving my students confused and worried. It’s unbearably painful to look back at the many valuable friendships which have simply withered on the vine because this disorder makes me unreliable in those relationships. But, the most unbearable pain is knowing that my own family cannot count on me to always be present and available for important events. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are, simply put, unbearable pain.

My purpose in writing these posts is not to garner sympathy, or to gain more readers, or to earn praise for my “transparency.” My purpose in writing these posts is three-fold. First, it is an effort to give voice to people who are voiceless. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are too embarrassing for many, if not most, people who suffer from them to speak about. We tend to hide ourselves away, avoid contact, and make excuses for our absence and inability to interact. I want to give those people words that maybe they can’t say, or that they’re afraid to say. Second, it is an effort to bring understanding to people who don’t suffer from GAD/panic attacks about just how confusing and scary and debilitating this disorder really is. And, finally, I want to join my voice to the chorus of other voices who are demanding that resources be directed to the study and treatment of, not only GAD/panic attacks, but toward mental health in general.

This series will be at least four parts–maybe more. I want to encourage you to become a part of this discussion. Please comment, and please…if you’ve never shared anything I’ve posted before…please share these posts!! You might know someone who suffers from GAD/panic attacks, or there might be someone in your life who suffers silently. Please share these posts with and for them. I can’t tell you how passionate I am about this issue, and I want to help whomever I can, however I can.

Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2: The Things You Need to Know about GAD/Panic Attacks
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: The Things People Say That I wish People Didn’t Say
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Let’s Get Serious About This

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Coach Ron McCown

Coach Ron McCown

He was one of the very first readers of this blog and became its most frequent commenter. I knew something was wrong when his comments stopped sometime before Christmas. Coach Ron McCown was a teacher. He was a mentor. He was an encourager. Most importantly, he was my friend. Coach passed peacefully from this life into the Church Triumphant this afternoon and is now worshipping Our Lord face to face.

My first encounter with Coach McCown was in 7th grade. He was one of the football coaches and I was a manager for the football team. On the field, he was boisterous and tough and sometimes pretty harsh. Off the field I don’t remember a moment when he wasn’t smiling and laughing. In high school I had Coach McCown for two classes, World Geography (World “Joggerfer” as he would say in his best East Texas accent) and then Psychology and Sociology. He was a great teacher! I still remember a lesson on the Phoenicians and their wooden boats sailing around the Mediterranean Sea — who remembers that 25 years later? Not many, but Coach had a way of teaching that made you listen and take notice and remember. Then in Psychology/Sociology my senior year, he had a friend of his come to class. The friend was a polygrapher — a guy who gives lie detector tests. Our whole class was absolutely enthralled and we all wanted to be guinea pigs that day. I don’t remember who he picked, but I do remember him joking with us that we were all teenagers and none of us could pass! That’s the kind of teacher he was and that’s why I’ll not soon forget those lessons.

Some years after graduating, our paths crossed again when he was asked to emcee the Miss Van Zandt County pageant and I was running sound. Just as I remembered from school, Coach McCown was light-hearted, funny and supportive of everyone in the pageant. On the second night of competition there was a snag in the schedule. The person set to be the “entertainment” while the girls were changing clothes between portions of the competition was not able to perform. I happened to have an accompaniment tape of “The Midnight Cry” in my truck. I went outside and got it and sang that song. From the coach’s reaction, you would’ve thought Pavarotti had just sung (it was far from it, I assure you). But, he gushed and gushed. At the end of the night he pulled me up on stage to sing it again. He never forgot about that and in the last few years he asked me over and over again to come sing it at his church. Because of my anxiety I was never able to do it. I regret that.

Most recently, Coach McCown has been an encourager par excellence! As I said at the beginning of this post, he was one of the very first readers here. From the onset, Coach read my work and pushed me not only to fight through this latest bout with anxiety and depression, but to continue writing. He offered wise counsel, sound advice and consistent inspiration. He never stopped teaching even all these years later. In one of his comments, after I’d taken some of his advice and learned a lesson, he referred to me (to all of his “students”) as his raison d’être, his “reason for existing.” He was just that kind of man. He had the heart and soul of a teacher and friend. We, his students, are the better for it.

I have lost friends before, but this loss is especially tough. I guess I didn’t realize how much I looked forward to and relied on his words until now. We don’t get many opportunities in life to experience real wisdom. Coach McCown gave those of us who were lucky enough to learn from him that chance. Oh, how I could have used some of that wisdom and encouragement these last few days. It was and will continue to be truly missed. His last comment on one of my posts exactly one month ago today read, “O my! How positively entertaining and informative. Well done, Jason.”

Coach, I know that you have heard those very words tonight, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Rest in peace, my friend!

…This one’s for you…