Heart starts racing a million pounding beats a second. Palms are clammy and your head is spinning dizzily around the room but you’re paying more attention to the fact that your chest is so tight you can’t seemingly muster a deep enough breath to satisfy your need for oxygen. You start to look around at those around you peacefully unaware of the explosion of adrenaline pulsing through your own body, wondering how stupid they’ll think you are if they knew you are fighting to stay sane in the moment. Your vision becomes tunneled and everything moves miles away. You eventually start hyperventilating due to the panic that is setting in and you feel as if you’re going to flip out and go crazy or even drop dead in an instant, and you know you can’t stop the onset of dread and terror that your mind has begun. The fight or flight ride of agony has begun and you are a victim of your thoughts and the emotions that come with it, enduring a never ending glimpse into hell itself.
Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults (18 or older), or about 18% of the population. For those of you that aren’t mathletes, about 1 in every 5 Americans have regularly experienced the situation above, and many more have had at least one episode. This is the most common “mental illness” in America, yet there is still so little understood about the process. My experience with and now love for anxiety begins years ago…
I was in the 6th grade in two groups called Sunrise Singers and Recorder Rascals. Please hold your applause AND your jealousy…We practiced early in the mornings before class, and were ready to roll into Central Elementary for a school wide concert. During the singing portion of the concert, I begun to feel tingly in my feet and arms and the gymnasium suddenly became non-regulation size, increasing to a mile long by two miles wide. My head inflated like a hot air balloon and was floating feet above my body, weightless but weighing 3 tons all at the same time. I didn’t understand what was going on but after we were done singing, I had to sit down and watch the rest of the Recorder Rascals bring the heat on Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had A Little Lamb while I brought the heat slowly breathing into a brown paper bag, pondering what I had just experienced. The teacher who supplied the bag casually informed me I simply hyperventilated, and unbeknownst to either of us, it would forever change who I was and who I would become as an adult.
After that seemingly simple event, I was never able to sit comfortably in a large group of people. Even though I never passed out during the concert, knowing that I could have done that impacted me deeply in my mind and psyche. Whenever I was in a large crowd, the same panic progression occurred, igniting terror throughout my chubby 10 year old self. These events kept occurring because I was afraid I was going to pass out and make a fool of myself in a group of people, even though ironically I have never passed out (and still haven’t to this day). You see, in the middle of a panic attack, the mind doesn’t even remotely think logically or naturally. It is a raging hurricane, violently sending waves of fear crashing over the walls of harmony, disrupting life completely and dealing damaging blows to the foundations of life itself. This fear of passing out soon gave way to the fear of the panic itself, leading to daily panic attacks to a young child meant to be living a carefree preteen lifestyle.
This was a time back when “panic attack” and “anxiety” weren’t really household words, especially to a young boy. I had no clue what was going on; all I knew is that it sucked terribly and there was no one around me that understood what was going on. I bottled these emotions and the entire situation up inside so no one would find out and make fun of my vulnerability, because I was already a chubby kid and that was vulnerability enough. I was the funny kid that had no problem making you laugh, all the while suffering and dying on the inside from the torment going on within. There wasn’t supposed to be anything wrong with me because I was the one who acted like nothing was wrong and I had no care in the world. Only a few close family members knew I was living a lie.
Fast forward to high school, the time you REALLY want to hide vulnerability and weakness as you grasp for the highest rungs in the social ladder of popularity. The panic attacks got worse, happening almost everywhere now. I wasn’t immune to them even when I was alone, because at the slightest panic I would go into the full fledged cycle once again. It happened daily, tearing me down emotionally and mentally wondering how I was ever going to live a long life experiencing such hell. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. How would I ever make it through college where the classes are larger? Would I be able to work every day around people and be productive in life? I can’t take this type of baggage into a relationship and hope she would be ok with that…I had little hope about a future at all, much less a future I could enjoy. There was no end in sight and no happiness to anticipate because anything good was cancelled out in a few hours by the onset of adrenaline. I was severely depressed and spent most of my time in my bedroom, away from everyone and everything. I started seeing items around me and instead of them just being objects, I started imagining how I could kill myself with it. Something as simple as holding a knife or a pair of scissors could quickly turn to finishing everything in a few seconds; driving toward a semi would satisfy my yearnings to be done just by a quick flick of the steering wheel. I know how dark that reads, but unless you have personally been there, you wouldn’t even know that’s just a fraction of the despair and darkness that is felt when you are completely and utterly depressed. Suicide is seen mainly as a completely selfish thing done by someone wanting to permanently leave a temporary problem, but that is the worst perception in the world. Is it selfish? Absolutely. However, When we are in that dark cave of desperation and isolation, it is one of the most giving decisions we feel like we could give to our family and friends. We feel like a burden to those around us, an object of chaos and stress to others, and it would be better for EVERYONE if we just weren’t around. That “selfless” delusion, although incorrect, is so deeply embedded in our mental state that it takes a lot to see that it is indeed false. We actually believe we would do those around us a great favor by snuffing our candle out prematurely, and until you are there personally, as hard as it is to understand, judgment and negative emotions just make it that much more of a necessity to commit suicide and rid you of the problem(me) that you are judging (me). I never attempted anything mainly because I had a faint glimmer of hope knowing that I was loved and the process and the possible pain scared me out of it, but I understand why it’s estimated almost a million Americans attempt and over 40,000 Americans succeed every year.
Now to get back to a normal life, I tried the drug route. I was on antidepressants at 15. The antidepressants took away my depression, but it also took away any other feeling I had about anything and everything. My entire family and friend database could have died in a plane wreck and I would have just calmly said “That sucks. I’m hungry.” It numbed me to the point that feeling emotionless began to depress me, regardless of the increasing dosage. It was putting a cheesecloth on my brain, not allowing any emotions of feelings to escape, eliminating them at the neuron level and keeping me sedated to life in general. I knew that this wasn’t a permanent answer, so I looked elsewhere.
This is the point of the story where the hero comes into play. A deacon in my church was also a psychologist that had a study in his office where he would allow people to come for counsel and help. He wanted me to come to his home and speak to him about what was going and what I was feeling, so I reluctantly agreed. Talking about this was the opposite of what I had always done with it. I pushed it down deep, so deep that no one could ever find it and know what my struggles were. That first appointment I rang the doorbell, heard the barks of Collies run around the corner, and saw his cheerful face walk around the same corner, motioning for me to come in, giving a cheerful “Come in, come in,” meeting me with a smile and a handshake. We sat down and that began a long friendship and mentorship that I will never forget. I can dedicate an entire post or two to the amount of help this man gave to me, but the reading would be far too long. Long story short, he made me tell him exactly what I was feeling and exactly how the panic attacks went, even going as far as trying to make me have them right in his office. He got me to see the attacks themselves would never kill me, and they are nothing to be afraid of. Instead of drugs, he wanted my mindset to shift; he wanted my perception of the problems to alter. Without fear, there is no attack, and without an attack, there is no weakness. Through meditations, breathing exercises, and just general mind control I began to see that no one can make me feel anything I don’t allow, myself included. It’s my brain and I have the power to control what goes on inside to an extent. Most importantly, he taught me that communication is the key to everything in life; pushing problems down only delays their surfacing. No matter how much you try to hide and cover issues, there will come a time when they explode out of you like a geyser, so why not take the initiative and let it all out right when it’s happening? This open book policy is probably the most beneficial thing I’ve ever adopted in my life. Relationships are so much better when you’re constantly communicating with each other, friendships are deepened when you share your insecurities and your challenges, and families are strengthened at the dinner table when you share your best and worst of the day. It’s something we all need to strive to practice a bit more often, but that’s just a few of the life changing lessons I learned in that study that smelled of an old library, surrounded by VHS tapes and a collection of books that had been opened several times throughout the years. I’ll outline a few of the methods he taught me below, but it completely changed my life. People around the Borger area and entire Panhandle know Harry “Gene” Kuhrt as a man who would give the shirt off his back in an instant if he saw he could help. He was active in almost every nonprofit locally and was loved by everyone I’ve ever talked to. Four years have passed since this man left the Earth to go Home, but his impact is still as strong as ever. My parents and other family and friends were always there for me and loved me dearly and I wouldn’t have made it through a lot in life without them, but I think I owe my life to Gene and the amount of time and effort he put into making me see the solution was inside of me all along. He invested a lot of counsel in me completely free of charge, and I don’t take that blessing lightly. To make things even deeper, I am President of the newly reorganized Borger Lions Club, a club that was near and dear to Gene and one that he served in several officer positions throughout his life. This office I hold isn’t one I would take lightly to begin with, but with the added meaning to me, I want to serve the way he served; to be able to help the way he helped. To fully explain all that he did for me would take more than the several pages in a letter I wrote to him during his final months on Earth, but I am eternally thankful for him, his wife, and the amount of caring shown by both of them.
The story of anxiety doesn’t end there, and thankfully it hasn’t ended. (Yes I say thankfully) I went on to Oklahoma State and Parker College of Chiropractic, graduating from both while being active in several groups and roles while there. I opened my own chiropractic clinic in Sanger, Texas, serving a Sanger Chamber of Commerce President for three years, moving back to Borger to open a clinic in my hometown last year, currently serving as Lions Club President. During that entire time there have been struggles. There have been random panic attacks when I allow myself to get too overwhelmed. Throughout my day I still probably experience thousands of more thoughts than the average person, constantly thinking of a few hundred things at once, but I have come to accept this as normal. I get influenced by stress easily (as evidenced by the fact I will probably be bald in ten years or at least be rocking the Bozo hair ring around the back), I am sensitive to caffeine and anything that stimulates the nervous system. I will always be sensitive to stress and anxiety, but what has changed in my life is my perception to that entire panic process and what it means to me in my life. I’m speaking in general terms of anxiety and depression because there are a TON of different types of anxiety and depression and the conditions that create within oneself. I am not trying to help anyone diagnose or treat their personal problems, but want to offer advice when there might be a lack of such things.
Communication is probably my favorite treatment for anything, relationships included. Whether you’re dealing with a stressful work situation or having anxious thoughts about life conditions, and especially if you’re depressed and having thoughts about harming yourself, communication is key. Society has taught us that everyone has enough cares of their own, so keep your problems to yourself, leading to feeling that we are alone in out situation with no hope for help. The first thing to realize is that we are never alone in our problems. There are billions of people on this Earth, so to think someone isn’t experiencing the pain or stress or depression we are is ignorant and illogical. There are support groups all over for things we experience, allowing us to interact with those who know what we are going through. Counseling services are extremely underrated and even looked down upon by the general public as something only the really weird or really mentally sick people need. Counseling is something that I have used and still use often, and it never gets old sharing your problems to an ear willing to listen, even if you are paying for it. It’s oddly therapeutic. Even if you don’t have someone in front of you to talk to, there are several online chats or even phone numbers you can call and talk anonymously to someone 24/7. The Samaritans, RemedyLive, and 7 Cups of Tea are just a few services out there. Whatever specific problem you are having, you are one Google search away from talking to someone. My personal cell phone is 940 230 7383 and if you need an ear, don’t hesitate to call or text. We can never have too many people in our lives to talk to, and every day it seems like less and less people are there for us. Know that you’re not alone and there are people around who will listen without judgment and will be there for you even if they don’t know you. COMMUNICATE.
Love the process
Stephen Colbert has an interesting viewpoint on life in loving the bomb. Read that linked article…seriously. It’s incredible. For those that haven’t figured it out yet, life is going to suck at some point. There is no perfect life without pain and suffering, so we might as well get ready to face whatever it coming our way. Instead of worrying about when it will arrive and what damage it will do, the best way to endure the pain is to love the process as it comes and goes. If you read the article, you’ll know Colbert lost his father and two closest in age brothers to a plane wreck when he was a child. If that’s not a reason to be bitter and depressed, I don’t know what else could be. Instead of living tormented, he took the belief his mom showed him daily. He speaks of her actions “that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity?” We will definitely endure terrible times. God promises there is a time for EVERYTHING. There will be times to laugh and to dance, but even times to weep and mourn. If Jesus Himself wept, who are we to think we can make it out of Earth without doing so?? The bad things seem to last longer than the good memories, but always know there will be a sunrise following every sunset. I do not believe you can truly experience great joy without experiencing great sorrow. To truly understand the deep satisfaction of happiness, you have to understand the deep tragedy of mourning. None of us are immune, so embrace the process and learn to love the bomb. Colbert speaks about his mother and the tragedy, “It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” Love the bomb. It’s going to happen.
One of my heroes that took me into the doctor lifestyle is Patch Adams, starting with the Robin Williams adaptation. I watched the movie and instantly fell in love with that style of caring for others. What I didn’t know until I researched the real Dr. Adams is that his life was so much darker than the film could show. He tried to kill himself THREE times before he was 18. THREE TIMES before he could even legally vote. The main thing that changed him was a simple change that all of us can employ if we choose to. He chose to be happy and to never have another bad day again. He said “At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into a endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.” That’s easier said than done for most of us, but if we really want to adopt this mantra, it’s doable. NOBODY chooses what we feel except ourselves. NOTHING can impact our emotions unless we allow it. When we choose to be happy right where we are, regardless of the circumstances surrounding us, an incredible paradigm shift can occur from depression to gratitude. We can and should be happy right where we are, and if we know we should improve any aspect of our life work to improve that while being happy in ourselves and everything around us as we go. Most people see that as a hippy movement or some cheesy approach to life, but once I started being grateful for life, change happened. I can be stressed and anxious and even have a panic attack and be grateful for it as it’s happening. Why?? Because I’m not numb to the sensations of panic. Because I am alive enough to still feel something so overwhelming even if it was once a negative sensation. Having joy in the midst of depression is the hardest of dualities to experience, but if we work to find it, it’s a game changing view.
Meditate, Breathe, Do NOTHING
The biggest thing to achieve is to become in control of your mind and your body. Without having to fear losing control gives you a freedom that is indescribable when you’ve been shackled by the chains of your own imagination for so long. Being able to stop the thoughts in a brain processing countless thoughts at once is the most powerful tool around, and all of us can use this with out fast paced way of living. There are so many resources out there that help in this realm of treatment, and I cannot list them all. I’ll post a few links to ones I use but I have several more if you want to explore them all.
Breathing Exercises – http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/08/6-breathing-exercises-to-relax-in-10-minutes-or-less/
Guided Relaxation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyy0ra2WcQQ
Do Nothing – Sounds easy but takes effort to achieve https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4yipKfO8nA
There’s even an app for that – http://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/top-iphone-android-apps
We all know of those great moments that change someone’s life in an instant. It could’ve been the first time you saw him or her walking toward you, making eye contact the first time and knowing your world would never be the same. It may be that moment you walked across a stage to receive a diploma realizing in that instant, you have reached that goal you set out to achieve. The birth of a child, the first morning of retirement waking up without an alarm, entering the home you purchased for the first time. All joyful moments that impact a life in the tick of a second hand. On the flip side, we rarely give the same respect and attention to the negative things in our lives that do the same. Now there are extremely terrible events that some of you have gone through, and I’m not trying to tell you to grin and bear it and simply be happy about it. There is more to work out in certain situations, but I’m saying that event has happened, and no matter how much you want to fight it, it changed your life as quick as it happened. We have to accept the occurrence and recognize its impact, choosing to make it as positive as possible going forward. It’s eerily beautiful to me how one “bad” moment can change a life drastically for the remaining timeline. Granted, there are times when I do think what it would have been like if I never sang that day, never hyperventilated in the crowd. Who would I be in a world without years of panic attacks? What would my mentality be if I was never tossed into the anxiety realm? I spend a few minutes with a sly smirk thinking about who I would’ve been down that road, but then a larger smile presents itself knowing who I am TODAY; who I am BECAUSE of it and loving the process. We all can love that process, embracing the bomb, knowing we have open lines of communication available to us if we choose to accept the journey. Live the adventure.