It scares me to write this, but I feel compelled to write it. And so I shall.
I’m tired of suffering in silence. I’m sure many others like me are tired of it as well. Maybe you’re tired of it. If you are, hopefully this will give you permission to come out and no longer have to suffer in silence.
My name is Andy Stitt, and I have anxiety.
November 3, 2016
This is a day I will not soon forget. It’s the day that I did client work in the morning, had lunch, and then drove myself to my local hospital crisis center.
I parked in the garage, and then took the long walk over to the crisis center.
I rang the bell and told the receptionist over the intercom “I’m here to check myself in.”
She buzzed me into the first set of doors. I had to wait in the vestibule for about ten minutes before the security guard came.
He had me empty my pockets of everything. He then told me that I could either take off my shoes or take out my shoelaces.
I decided to take off my shoes.
I knew why he asked me to do that. He didn’t want me coming in with anything that I could use to hurt myself. I was incredulous in that moment that it had come down to this.
But I needed help. So, I took off my shoes.
I went inside, filled out paperwork, and then waited for what felt like forever to be seen. I sat beside an older lady who had been there all morning and complained about having to watch Law and Order SVU. She asked for the remote so that she could change it to Judge Judy.
I struck up a nice conversation with her. All the while thinking to myself, “ok, this is where you are right now. This is where you’re at. Right here, right now. You should accept it, as you have been practicing acceptance for over a year, and start from right where you are instead of where you wish you were.”
But how did I get here????
My history with anxiety
I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. It has manifested in different forms, including social anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Yes, the real OCD. Not anal-retentiveness and being overly neat. The real OCD.
I don’t begrudge anyone for saying “I’m OCD”. If you’ve said it, then I know you didn’t mean any harm by it. Just understand that you’re not really OCD, and be grateful for that.
I have had quite the journey over the past almost two years. In that time, meditation has helped me become more self-aware than I’ve ever been.
I’m now aware of how much anxiety has taken away from me. How many opportunities I’ve missed because I was too afraid to go for it.
Racing thoughts? Yes. Rapid heart rate? Yes. Many of the typical symptoms that you expect with anxiety have happened to me.
However, those aren’t the main killers. Those didn’t cause the many missed opportunities.
The main killer has been this: constant expectation of a negative response from other people.
I still find this happening to me quite often. Before I send a text, or an email, or say a word, I’m afraid of getting a negative response.
So, I stay quiet. I don’t ask for something I want or need. I don’t give advice that I think will be helpful. I play the background, because it guarantees no negative response.
When I’m lucky enough to realize this fear in the moment, I push myself to send that email or text to see what happens. So far, my positive response rate has been 100%.
But still, the thoughts persist.
Taking away my last bit of stability
One year after losing my marriage and my father in a short time span, I decided to take the leap. I quit my job and went into full-time freelancing.
It was a dream that I had deferred for 12 years. I finally had my chance to spread my wings and soar.
I had no idea that it would turn into an epic battle with my mental health.
I have had lots of victories in a very short time of being a business owner. Getting client work, getting my name out there. I have much to be grateful for.
However, freelancing is inherently unstable, especially when you’re first starting out. Instability with money is the main thing.
It’s also very isolating working for yourself and working remotely. You get to be alone with your thoughts for most of the day. That isn’t always pretty.
And so, my anxiety levels started increasing over time. I didn’t really notice it at first. No alarm bells went off. It just started happening.
Once I got a clear view that freelancing full-time was not going to be anywhere near what I imagined it to be, my anxiety started soaring. I started trying to right the ship. I started looking for a full-time job to get my feet back underneath me. I started trying to get stability back into my life.
But things like that take time. It didn’t happen as quickly as I wanted it to happen.
So, as the next two months went on, my anxiety kept getting progressively worse. My reality? I was fine. Not in any danger of not making rent or putting food on the table. I had what I needed to be ok.
The reality in my head? I was not good at what I did, I would never get a job again, and I wouldn’t be desirable to any woman because I wasn’t good at what I did and would never get a job again.
The world is huge and scary, and I no longer knew my place in it.
Combine these racing thoughts with the increased heart rate, constant sweats, inability to sleep, increased physical sensitivity to everything, brain fog, and onset of depression, and I was in a world of hurt. Having to deal with a kidney stone and healing on my own post-surgery didn’t make matters easier.
The pain became unbearable enough that I finally told a few local close friends about what I was going through. Then the next day, I went to the hospital crisis center. I figured it was a better alternative than hurting myself.
I didn’t actually want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop.
“Why are you here?”
That’s what the intake lady asked me. She went through a lengthy questionnaire with me, and I was able to tell her that I don’t do any drugs, socially drink alcohol, and am a regular with meditation, running, boxing, healthy eating, and going to therapy.
She looked at me like “why on earth would you need to be here?” Despite being the picture of good health, the pain wouldn’t stop no matter what I did. So, I was there for help.
The doctor saw me and recommended that I see a psychiatrist at the same practice where my therapist is and get on meds.
And so I did once they discharged me.
I am exhausted but hopeful. The meds that I’m on have already started to take effect and should fully work in about two weeks.
The future is still uncertain, but I’m keeping on keeping on. I’m still networking, applying, and interviewing. I’m still doing client work. I’m still volunteering. I’m still spending time with friends and family.
I’m still showing myself self-love and compassion, especially after realizing the enormity of what I just went through.
Going after my dreams turned into a nightmare, but I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself through this experience. I’ve learned how important stability and structure are to me. I’ve learned what makes me tick and how to manage that.
Most importantly, I’ve learned what an incredible village I have built around me. It takes a village to raise a child, and an adult for that matter. I have an incredible village, and I have not leaned on them nearly enough.
Anxiety tricks you into thinking that you’ll get a negative response from people, and so you hole up and suffer in silence. There’s no good reason to do that, especially when you need their help.
Mental health awareness and advocacy
I don’t know why it takes such bravery for me to write this. I wish it didn’t. I wish there wasn’t a stigma surrounding mental health issues.
I suddenly feel a push to become a mental health advocate, but I don’t know where to begin. I’ve never ventured into this kind of territory before. I know I’ll find my place. Awareness of my desire is good enough for me right now.
In the meantime, I’ll continue speaking up. I found a great website where I can read the stories of others with anxiety and depression. It has been an excellent source of inspiration, and I’m going to try and become a contributor there. Reading stories here on Medium has also been great.
If you’re suffering, tell someone. Anyone. You can even feel free to leave a comment on this post if it helps. Just make sure you tell someone.
And I promise you’re not alone, no matter how much it feels like it.