Overcoming Anxiety: Meet the Author

Overcoming Anxiety is a mostly serious but sometimes humorous online manifesto on how to overcome severe anxiety, fear, hypochondria, and intrusive thoughts.

Previous entries, in order, include:

Title Date
Hi, My Name is Jeff, and I Suffer from Anxiety June 9, 2015
Overcoming Anxiety: An Introduction January 18, 2016

AUTHOR’S NOTE

First things first. I insert humor into my writing. Not to make light of the subject of anxiety or any condition, but because I believe in and expect three things as a writer and as a reader: (1) I expect a full range of human emotions in the experience: happy, sad, angry, confused, the whole gamut; (2) Please don’t bore me, please don’t bore me; and, (3) No other writer has done to my brain what David Foster Wallace has done to my brain as a reader. I want to do that to your brain too on a far less talented scale. Part of the reason, perhaps, I enjoy DFW’s writing so much is because I write in a similar way—though I’m nowhere near as gifted, nor do I mistake myself to be—but more so than anything, he writes intelligently with wit and candor and also he uses/used slang occasionally. I like to use slang occasionally. And he talks about issues that are important. Addiction, anxiety, depression, life, death, lobsters, Canadian wheelchair assassins, what is water. CANADIAN WHEELCHAIR ASSASSINS! if you didn’t catch it the first time.

Second things second. These posts will sometimes contain abrupt stops. Sometimes to the point, you’ll say, TF?! I have to force myself to do this. Otherwise, they’ll keep going and going and going and I’ll never release anything into the wild. So, there’s that.

Third things third. If this series on anxiety or anything I write brings value to your life or touches you in some way, share it on social media or by email with friends and family. Because I write it, I feel slightly icky sharing my own work on social media. I hate self-promotion. I really do. It makes me cringe to login to Facebook to share my latest blog post. It’s just the self-promoting part about it. I just hate it. I’m not a vain person who thinks what I have to say is all-important so I hate to feel like I come across that way. So, ease my pain. Share this on social media so I don’t have to as much.

Meet the Author

I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor. My wife is. Though I can only imagine how many ideas a novelist could extract in one eight-hour workday if I were. The gold to sift in my pan. I did not study psychology in college from a man who wore black slacks and a black button-up every day (my wife did) nor do I hold a degree in any related field (my wife does) — though some would argue pursuing and getting your degree in English Language and Literature is a bit psychotic.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me about your B.A., young man.
ME: Why, yes, yes. I went to the University of Virginia.
INTERVIEWER: Fine school. Number two public university in the nation, I believe.
ME: Yes. Number one ahead of UC-Berkeley when I attended. Fell to #2 when I graduated. Hope I didn’t cause that.
INTERVIEWER: [Audible laugh]
ME: [Nervous laugh to create a measure of camaraderie with the Interviewer’s sense of humor]
INTERVIEWER: And what did you do while you were there?
ME: I read a lot. Lots of books.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of books?
ME: You know, books.
INTERVIEWER: Such as?
ME: The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
INTERVIEWER: So what brings you here to apply as a senior partner at Goldman-Sachs? I see your prior work experience is predominantly cutting vinyl siding before returning to college.
ME: Did I tell you I also wrote a lot in college? I mean, lots. Wrote a memoir actually, and a novella. I had the choice to write a 20 page critical essay for my final assignment or a short story. I chose the short story. The short story turned into a novella. I had to email my professor to make sure she was cool with that. Oh, hey, I know this was supposed to be 20 pages but, eh, um, it’s 88 pages and I’ve already cut out 30 pages editing. I’m not cutting anymore.

Under our roof, my wife holds the degree in psychology. My wife is the counselor, albeit not to grown men like myself, but to children. She catches them while they are young. Before they start blogs and re-live childhood traumas carried over into adulthood online for a public audience.

Why do I tell you this?

I’m not a professional

Because I’m not a professional, and more than likely, if what I write resonates with you in this series, I recommend you see a professional as part of your action plan. A professional who has his or her diploma nailed to the slightly olive wallpapered wall above their executive desk accentuated with a harvest cherry finish. With a license underneath that says, “Take my advice.”

Classical music plays softly in the background. The latest issue of Reader’s Digest always awaits you in the waiting room when you arrive five minutes early for your session.

Seeing a professional doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong. More on that later. And yes, I am well aware of my incomplete sentences. This is on purpose to create effect, as Noam Chomsky might would say. Might.

While I am not a professional clinician, I am a bit of an expert in the field of anxiety. I’m down in the trenches every day, living it. I wake up to it. I go to bed having to quiet it. I live this. I’m to anxiety what Chuck Norris is to action flicks, except for the whole super-Republican, build a bunker fellow preppers, the world is going to end tomorrow because of liberal American values thing.

Chuck Norris. I love you, but stop making YouTube videos. Delta Force, man. Delta Force. “Sleep tight, sucker!” Remember?

Granted, what I am is an amateur expert anxiety sufferer.

You just put four words together in a row. What does that even mean? Let’s break it down. I am amateur in that while I’ve suffered from profound anxiety my entire life, thus making me an expert anxiety sufferer, I am still an amateur in identifying my symptoms and formulating a plan to manage my symptoms.

Which might make me the perfect candidate to write this series. Or the worst candidate to write this.

I have suffered severe anxiety my entire life. Not until I was age 33 (I am now 34) did I realize what I have been afflicted with since my first memory. Seems late in life to learn the name of my tormenter, but that has more to do with the normalcy of anxiety in my household and family growing up. Anxiety has genetic roots too.

Also, I thought maybe I was a wee bit crazy all my life and didn’t want to tell anyone.

ME: Hi, my name is Jeff. I think I might be a smidgen crazy.
GENERAL PUBLIC: [Crickets] [Silence because that’s how America as a whole discusses mental health] [Mass exodus] 

If you’ve read this blog for a decent amount of time, you’ll have gathered that one of my big fears with anxiety is death. I’m scared to death of death.

I’m no mere hypochondriac

But that’s not all. No, no, no. I’m no mere hypochondriac. For an additional $5.99 to cover shipping and handling, I also deliver on the absolute worst case scenario for all sorts of situations totally unrelated to death and dying. In a mere two minutes, I can weave a narrative of my life spinning entirely out of control: career, finances, family, health. You name it. But I’m not always anxious. It’s like a stealth disease that catches you unexpected.

I’ve also suffered multiple panic attacks, knowingly and unknowingly, throughout my life. And how can you suffer a panic attack and not know it?

I’ll tell you how.

How to Suffer a Panic Attack — And Not Know It

You’re 15 years old and decide to smoke a lot of pot one day. You’ve smoked it plenty of times before. It never made you happy and goofy like all of your friends. You actually got a little paranoid, but didn’t tell anyone. You just sat there freaked out. Little do you know at that age, you suffer from anxiety. Little do you know, marijuana is one of the absolute worst things you can take part in if you suffer from anxiety because it exacerbates the symptoms.

As one of my successful writer friends on the West Coast said to me after I posted Hi, My Name is Jeff and I Suffer from Anxiety: If you smoke pot, STOP!

Thankfully I did 19 years ago.

Back to the story…

So you smoke pot in a circle of friends next to the mayor’s house, in the front yard. Because that is a fantastic idea. You smoke more pot than anyone. You hold the smoke in so long it doesn’t even come back out when the blunt reaches you again. You don’t know it yet, but your prize is an increased heart rate.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Self high-five!

The pot smoking party is over and you walk to B&D Mart to get a Welch’s grape soda.

You walk to the basketball court and sit on the hillside and open your Welch’s grape soda and take a sip. You start having hallucinations thinking you are burping crystal clouds. Does anyone else see the crystals popping? Nobody does. Nobody sees the crystal clouds. Just you!

You start to feel your heart through your chest. You can see it pumping up and down through your shirt. It looks like it’s going to explode. You can’t breathe. You start to panic. You walk to your friend’s house to lay on his bed. Every person your age it seems is standing around you at the bed. You think you’re going to die of a drug overdose. You know you’re going to die. The pot was laced with something, you think. Angel dust? I don’t know anything about drugs. I should have stuck with cigarettes.

I’ll never smoke pot again if you just let me live God, you plead. Everybody looks really concerned. There’s Brian. Rick. You’re 15 and you’re going to die. You’ve never even had sex. You’re going to die a virgin. There your girlfriend is. The look on her face is of worry. She’s so beautiful, you think. You chased after her all summer and now look at you. What have you done? You don’t even like pot. It makes you feel terrible. Your mom is going to be so sad. Her son died of a drug overdose. Your dad, your sister. The family who lost a child to drugs. Another statistic.

A guy from your neighborhood who you’ve teased occasionally, who just wants a group of friends to hang out with, is there. He grabs your hand and squeezes it and tells you you’re going to be okay. It’ll be okay, he says. Why is he being so nice to you, you think? You’ve essentially bullied this kid to a certain degree for the past year. It’ll be okay, he says. It’ll be okay.

You live.

Almost 20 years pass before you realize, while in therapy talking about a recent panic attack, your first you think—which is what brought you here to therapy—the pot you smoked that day wasn’t laced with anything. You were having a panic attack. You were having one of the worst panic attacks of your entire existence. It wasn’t laced with anything.

And things start to become more clear. It all starts to make sense.

Your entire life starts to come into view a little better.

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