Hi, my name is Jeff—and I suffer from anxiety. I have battled anxiety my entire life: low-level anxiety and even something far greater and more debilitating that comes in waves from this deep, dark chamber of my brain. It is only now, in my thirties, after having a full blown panic attack which woke me from my sleep, I fully realized what was going on inside my head.
I hesitated going public with this, putting it on my blog. Many suffer from anxiety after all. I’m no one special. And, it’s a private matter, right?
I decided for a few reasons to go public: I know three people, all in the grade below me, who committed suicide. Three people who are no longer on this earth. Three sets of parents who outlived their children. And while I am not suicidal (my great anxiety is death and dying, which, in a nutshell, means I am terrified of death and dying), I have an understanding of what it feels like to suffer solitarily, hiding what I experience from the outside world.
I have other friends who very clearly suffer from deep depression, who think they have it well hidden. Some try to mask it with drugs. Others, alcohol or sex or binge eating or exercise or overworking. But they can’t hide it from me. I can see through the facade. I am a former smoker who can smell cigarette smoke a 1/2 mile away.
I have one friend who had a gun in his mouth with his finger on the trigger when I knocked on the door of his house when we were teenagers. I didn’t know it at the time, of course. It’s something he told me months later—that he was going to, in his words, “blow his brains out because he couldn’t take it anymore.” He told me I saved his life. I knocked on his door that day to share the lyrics to a song I had written called “Fallen Angel.” I left the lyrics on his bed and told him to think of some guitar chords that would work well with it. There are a few lines in the song that read:
So he put a gun to his head and he started to cry
I said, “Man, it’ll be okay but not if you die.”
He said, “I want to be happy. I want to feel free.”
“I’m tired of living this life. I just want to sleep.”
“I never want to wake up. I never want to worry.”
“I’m tired of living every day like I’m in a hurry.”
I said, “You can’t die on me now.”
“I’ve known you far too long.”
“I know you can make it through this.”
“I know that you’re strong.”
I had no idea I had written a song about my friend.
They probably felt all alone, the ones that committed suicide or the ones who contemplate it, that no one ever went through mentally the terrible things they did. I also have relatives that suffer(ed) from mental illness. So, I am here to tell you, if you suffer from anxiety or depression or some other behavioral health issue (I think ‘behavioral health’ is a better term and has less stigma or negative connotations than ‘mental illness’), you’re not alone.
It’s the great crisis in America that hardly anyone wants to admit. I don’t know why. No one is embarrassed to seek treatment for skin cancer or high cholesterol or diabetes. Yet, behavioral health is this uncomfortable topic in America, in the world, that renders in the minds, because of this lack of national discussion, the afflicted as “weak” or “not strong enough,” someone who needs just to “suck it up.”
So, if you read my blog, you’ll begin to see me share my stories of anxiety, from the time I was four years old until now. I think it’s an important discussion and I hope it’s one you will take part in—even if you prefer to remain anonymous in the comments section below. I am also seeking therapy from a trained counselor, so I’m not just “doing it on my own” like I have in the past. That doesn’t work. We all need support. Today was my second visit. I felt like a new person after just my first visit. I feel great, again. I haven’t felt this way in a very long time, if ever.
This post is part of the Overcoming Anxiety series.
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Photo: Jeffrey Pillow. “Self portrait” in ink, paint, digital.