The Things We Say To Ourselves: 5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now

People with anxiety and depression are notoriously bad about saying terrible things about ourselves. Most of the time, we say those things to ourselves

Oftentimes we excuse this negative talk by saying we’re just being “realistic” or “trying not to get our hopes up” about something. But, the problem is that with every negative word we speak, we’re only exacerbating the cycle of emotions and reactions that put us in the positions we’re in.

About 10 years ago, just after I first started writing this blog, I wrote a post called “The ne’er-do-well.” Basically, it was 1,000 or so words of me comparing myself to my friends and then trashing myself for not being like them. The following is just one of the paragraphs:

It’s Homecoming weekend at my high school alma mater and many of the people I grew up with and graduated with have come back to town to see friends and family they don’t often see. I’m here because on occasion I get a notion in my head that this time will be different – that this time I will have something to say, something to offer in conversation beyond meaningless platitudes about how great someone looks or how lucky they are to have such a beautiful family. For some reason the thought creeps into my mind that this year someone will say I look good or ask about my fantastic new job or how my writing is coming along. Keep looking, though – that’s me in the corner over there looking into the crowd with nothing to say. After all, what is there for me to say when I am as disinterested in my life as any of them are? There’s no question to ask to which they don’t already know the answer. The job is just that – a job. I get paid ten dollars an hour to listen to people gripe about their $400 telephones that don’t work and then I get to tell them to take the battery out and put it back in so that, as if by magic, it works again; and for that one brief moment I am their hero! I am their champion because I fixed their phone and now they can play Brickbreaker while their kids practice soccer or gymnastics. What more do they need to know about my writing? I write thousands of words each week and no one reads them. No, the questions are not necessary because the answers are always the same.

Holy cow! Even reading that now, all these years later, gives me the creeps. And trust me when I tell you, that is one of the more benign paragraphs! Those are an example of some of the things I said to and about myself on a regular basis.

Negative self-talk is poison!

Studies have clearly demonstrated that negative self-talk can do serious damage. It leads to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. It can damage our ability to succeed at work or school. And, negative self-talk can have devastating impacts on our relationships with family, friends, and boy or girlfriends, partners, and spouses.

Here are a just a few of the potential effects of negative self talk according to this 2018 article on VeryWellMind.com:

  • Limited thinking. You tell yourself you can’t do something, and the more you hear it, the more you believe it.
  • Perfectionism. You begin to really believe that “great” isn’t as good as “perfect,” and that perfection is actually attainable. (In contrast, mere high achievers tend to do better than their perfectionistic counterparts because they generally less stressed and are happy with a job well-done rather than picking it apart and zeroing in on what could have been better.
  • Feelings of depression. Some research has shown that negative self-talk can lead to an exacerbation of feelings of depression. If left unchecked, this could be quite damaging.
  • Relationship challenges. Whether the constant self-criticism makes you seem needy and insecure or you turn your negative self-talk into more general negative habits that bother others, a lack of communication and even a “playful” amount of criticism can take a toll.​

Additionally, for those of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, perpetual negative self-talk can lead directly to increased anxiety and even panic attacks through increased feelings of inadequacy.

In order to combat our anxiety, we must learn to 1) recognize negative self-talk, and 2) replace it with positive affirmations that build us up rather than tearing us down.

To help you combat negative self-talk in your own life, here are…

5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now

  1. I am not worthy/I am worthless. This is a LIEYou are absolutely worth every effort and every good thing that comes from those efforts. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are a living human being, you ARE worthy, you have worth, and you are worth the effort it will take to get better.
  2. I can’t do it. This is a LIE! You can do it! Whatever it is, you can certainly do it if you try; if you put in the work it takes to get it done. So what if you don’t succeed the first time? Who ever does? You can do it, you should do it, and you will do it.
  3. I can’t live without him/herThis is a LIE! Trust me when I tell you that you most certainly CAN live without him or her. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my life is to overcome my fear of being alone. Now, not only do I not mind being alone, most of the time I appreciate that quiet, alone time. As much as it may hurt in the beginning, you can live without him or her.
  4. I have to change who I am for people to like me. This is a LIE! Anyone who requires that you change who you are in order to be your friend is not your friend. Be proud of who you are. Here’s a secret: not everyone will like you! It’s another hard lesson I’ve had to learn, but it was liberating when I finally did. Surround yourself with people you care for and people who care for you just the way you areLet the others sort it out on their own. It’s OK that everyone doesn’t like you.
  5. I wish I’d never been born. If you say that to yourself, I want you to STOP right now, pick up a phone, and reach out to someone for help! I’m serious! If you think that you should’ve never been born, or that you don’t want to live anymore, or that you wish you would die, then you are at a point where you truly need help. There are some resources listed below, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, please use them! Or, call a trusted family member or friend, a pastor, a teacher–it doesn’t really matter who it is, just call someone you trust and let them help you find help!

There are millions more I could list, but these are a few of the things I’ve said to myself over the years. Most of them I don’t say at all anymore. One or two of them I still catch myself saying from time to time, but I immediately replace them with positive thoughts.

Next time, we will focus on the positive thoughts you can use to replace this negative poison in your life. Until then…

Love and light!
Jason

 

Tell me what you think! In the comments section below, talk to me about negative self-talk and how it has impacted you. Tell me how you’ve overcome it, or what you’re still struggling with. Or, just leave a positive word of encouragement. Just click “Leave a Reply” and write away!


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 8: Making Amends and Knowing When It’s Time to Stop Apologizing

In traditional 12 Step recovery programs, two of the steps are dedicated to righting the wrongs that have been done–or at least acknowledging them, apologizing for them, and, if possible, making some sort of reparation (not necessarily monetarily) for them.

Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

-12 Steps of AA

I don’t know a lot about the 12 Steps, but in my mind, these two would be near the top in importance (you can correct me if I’m wrong and you’re familiar with the program).

This last week, since my complete failure at returning to the classroom in a new district, I have been on something of an apology tour. I apologized first to my family, then the principal who offered me the job, then to a new colleague who’d been helping me, then to friends who’d vouched for me as references, then to some generous friends who’d offered direct support and encouragement, and finally, to all of you. I truly felt it was necessary to make all of these apologies.

What’s the difference between apologizing and making amends, and why is making amends so important?

Although I’ve sort of equated making amends with apologizing, truly making amends is far more than offering an apology. Just look at the word a-MENDS…you can see the difference in the very word itself. When we make amends, we MEND something that has been torn or broken–we fix it–or, we at least try to fix it. An apology, however sincere, can’t really mend something that is broken. It offers, at best, a temporary reprieve from the hurt that has been caused.

According to SoberNation.com:

Making amends is an integral part of personal growth and healing. It is so imperative to make amends with those people whom you have wronged that it is outlined, clearly, in Alcoholics Anonymous. Steps eight and nine of the Twelve Steps specifically call for amends.

The Difference Between Making Amends and Making Apologies

I won’t go into the different types of amends here, although I do suggest reading the article quoted and linked above, which explains them in detail. I’m writing about them now because it’s time for me to start making them to the people I’ve hurt.

It’s important to know when to STOP apologizing.

I am deeply sorry for any pain my actions have caused. But, it’s not enough to be sorry anymore. Now, I need to fix it. I need to make amends.

There are a few people I need to make direct amends to, and I am in the process of doing that. But, there are many more people for whom making amends will mean getting well, getting healthy, and moving on. For those people, seeing me stand on my own without their constant support will be the only real amends.

I suspect that for all of us who suffer from anxiety/panic disorder and/or depression and OCD, there are many people to whom we owe amends. I encourage you to sit down and think about those people. Stop apologizing and start making amends.


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!!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 5
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 6
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 7

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 7: Sometimes We Fail

Sometimes, we fail.

When I started this series over a year ago, I made a commitment to total transparency. Share everything (that is appropriate to share), hide nothing. Because only when we are totally honest with ourselves, with the people who love and care for us, and with the people who are helping us, can we totally heal. This post honors that commitment.

It’s been a long, difficult four days.

As most of you who regularly read this blog or follow me on social media know, I was to have started new hire orientation at a new school district on Monday. I was excited. It was going to be a huge step forward for me both financially and professionally. You’ve probably notice by now that I’m writing in the past tense…

I thought I was ready. I thought I could power through my anxiety and make it work. I was wrong.

By Sunday night, I was a complete nervous wreck. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I tossed and turned, and was up and down all night long. I finally drifted off into a fitful sleep around 4 a.m. My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I got up and got myself ready. By the time I needed to leave, I was in a full-blown panic attack, and I couldn’t get it to stop. But, I got in the car and headed out anyway–thinking, hoping, praying that I would settle down and be able to do it. I couldn’t.

I won’t belabor this story. The long and short of it is that I walked away from what likely would’ve been the best job I’ve ever had–certainly the best teaching job I’ve ever had. My anxiety. My panic. It won this time. So, this week, I found myself back at square one.

What does this mean for me? Where do I go from here?

The short answer is, I’m not sure.

The school district has the option and the right to place a sanction on my teaching certificate, and it could be suspended for a year. My hope is that with a note from my doctor and counselor, they will elect not to sanction me. But, if they do, then I will understand and accept that decision.

I don’t know what the future holds for me with regards to teaching. For now, I have to focus on the present. I have to focus on getting better. I have to focus on healing.

I’m still going to start work on my PhD in a few weeks. And, I’ll have to find a job working from home for the time being. I do have some longer term plans which I will share with you later. But, for now, what matters is the present moment and getting better.

I know some of you will be disappointed. Some of you may even be angry or feel betrayed in some way. Believe me, I understand that, too. I’m alternating back and forth between considering myself a total failure who shouldn’t be trusted and considering myself smart for recognizing a potential disaster (entering a classroom in a state of panic is not good) and doing what I could to avert that disaster, even if it meant damaging my immediate situation.

I only ask one thing of you: don’t give up on me. I’m in the fight of my life and I need people around me who love me, care for me, and support me, even if they don’t understand me. I’m human. I’m flawed. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I fail.

Sometimes we all do.

More later.


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!!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 5
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 6

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 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