I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this blog. I wasn’t worried necessarily about being judged by my friends, but I realized that potential future employers can see anything I put on the internet, and I didn’t want to create an impression that there is anything wrong with me. In other words, I didn’t want to go out of my way to introduce a possible objection to hiring me in the future. But then I realized something: any future employer who does not value mental health is not an employer for whom I want to work anyway.
Last year, I went to Salt Lake City for a bunch of meetings with customers and prospects. Upon sitting down for one meeting, my heart started to race for no apparent reason. My mind became anxious about my racing heart, which only seemed to exacerbate the issue. It was truly a vicious cycle: my heart racing, and my anxious mind feeling it happening and making it race even harder. Soon, it felt like something was truly wrong and I was having an emergency.
While this was happening, the customer was speaking to me from across the table and I was not sure what to do. What would happen if I said something? What if I interrupted saying I needed to go to the restroom?
Soon enough, the sensation stopped, and everything went back to normal. I asked my customer what was probably a silly question because I had not been able to focus on what he had been saying for the last thirty seconds or so that this was going on. I don’t think he noticed or realized anything was wrong, and the meeting went off without a hitch from there.
Once the meeting was over, I had a lot of nervous energy and anxious thoughts about what had just transpired. I had never felt my heart race like that before, and I thought perhaps I had a physical condition of which I was previously unaware. Fortunately for my anxious brain, there were some weather issues affecting my flight, giving me good reason to hop on an earlier flight home and not needing to worry about this episode happening again in other meetings or really just being away from home.
Over the ensuing months, these mini panic attacks would happen on occasion. However, I found that I would bring them on on my own. I was so psyched out about what had happened the first time that occasionally my mind would wander and think about it, causing anxiety, making my heart start to race a bit. Essentially I was feeding the monster. It got to the point where I would go into meetings nervous about the idea of me getting in my own head and bringing on a full-blown panic attack. All the while, I rarely if ever actually got to the point of having any sort of real anxiety, and if I did, it would go away quickly.
I brought this issue up with a therapist I had been seeing. We spoke over the course of a few sessions about the times where I had had these little panic attacks, the times I had thought about having them, and what might be behind them. But ultimately the greatest finding through these discussions was that nothing serious ever happened whenever I had these anxious thoughts or panicked feelings. What I learned to do moving forward was to egg on the anxiety whenever I felt it with the assurance that nothing bad had ever happened before. “Let it happen,” I tell myself, and somehow, this seems to have completely erased the issue.
I have participated in therapy on and off since high school. My senior year of high school, I lost a good friend in a car accident. A month later, I fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree. It was miraculous that I survived and even more so that I came away from it with minor injuries. I remember the medics in the ambulance telling me that it was a perfect storm of good luck: if I had just been going 5 MPH faster, or if I had woken up right before the crash, or this thing or the other thing, I would be dead or at least have lost my legs. To boot, I remember waking up in that car accident, realizing what had happened, and thinking of the irony that I was going to suffocate to death in the car because of how caved in the steering column was against my legs. It was only in that moment of fear and panic that I was able to wrestle myself free (with scars on my legs that you can see to this day), and escape into the backseat and out of the car.
Anyway, my senior year of high school was a little difficult. While most of my friends enjoyed social lives on the weekends, I could no longer drive and spent a lot of time in the hospital so that someone could come up with a diagnosis for what had afflicted me. I felt (and still feel today) that I was honestly just exhausted from the rigors of and stresses of going to a very challenging school and an even more tiring soccer practice. A relationship I was in ended in large part because I was too busy seeing doctors and doing schoolwork (without a car to go on dates).
I got in a funk. I hesitate to say I was depressed because looking back at it, I think this was just a perfect storm of bad stuff happening to a less mature version of me. Let’s just call it some very bad teenage angst. But I was in a dark place. I resented people because of this failed relationship. I was stressed out about school and getting into college. I hated that I had to see doctors all the time (all they ended up with was some mild sleep apnea after a myriad of tests). And I had survivor’s guilt from the loss of my friend and my own car accident.
My mother had picked up on what was going on and had me start talking to a therapist. This was my introduction to talk therapy. I don’t remember whether or not this person was very helpful, but it did set the stage for me later in life to seek out help when I needed it. Looking back on it, I probably resented the idea that I had to talk to this person. I probably did not thank my mother for it then, but I can thank her now, because it set an important precedent that it is OK to seek help when you think you need it.
Things turned out OK for me. I finished out my senior year well and I got into Princeton early decision. I placed in the New England wrestling championships and was on the 4×100 relay team that won a New England Prep championship that year. I became happier and eventually – due to a prescription for medication used by the military to stay up at night – I was back on the road.
Life throws curveballs all the time, and as my life went on, I found that some times were more challenging than others for me. I have used talk therapy when appropriate to help overcome smaller issues as they arise, and larger challenges that have persisted throughout my life. I have been fortunate in that I feel as though I have never been truly depressed. I have heard what it feels like to be depressed – like there is a weight holding you down and keeping you from wanting to do things – and that has never been me.
I am also fortunate because I feel OK talking about this stuff. One of the reasons we lose people prematurely is because they do not feel that they can get help and they feel that mental health is unnecessarily stigmatized. They feel as though something is wrong with them and that they are unique in their suffering. The reality is, we all fight our personal battles. We might not talk about it openly to people we have just met, but it is a safe assumption to make about other people. After all, we are human beings, and human beings are emotional creatures.
In my current workplace, my boss knows that I see a therapist once a week. Sometimes that may be during the workday. I never feel as though that is a problem, and again, I am fortunate for that. To be fair to myself, I work incredibly hard and I like to believe that people can see my intense work ethic (and results). The work gets done. But I never feel like I will have to put others before taking care of myself.
In my career, I have interacted with people who are similar to me in that they have embraced therapy, meditation, or even just routine exercise as a means towards feeling happy and less anxious. I have also worked with people who struggled immensely, including a co-worker with questions about sexuality and gender, and others who have had routine panic attacks. The number one thing I stress to them is that whatever they go through has no impact on how I feel about them personally and professionally and has no bearing on what our working relationship will be like. The moment someone feels like your trust will be eroded because of their struggle is the moment that that individual sinks even deeper into the hole, feeling as though you are no longer in there with them trying to help them out.
So why did I write this? Well, my blog is not world famous, but I know that some people do read it. And I guess I want those people to see that there is someone in their life who acknowledges that life is hard in different ways for all of us. The way we overcome things like depression and suicide is by being open and honest and making people feel less like they are alone. It isn’t about posting all the awesome stuff we do in our lives on Facebook and Instagram. I certainly do my fair share of that. But that’s really part of the problem. These issues have skyrocketed with the advent of social media and the relative comparisons millennials are now making to one another.
Ironically, the world might be a much better place if we were all a little more willing to share the sadder parts of life.