How I Make Sense of Anxiety and Depression and Live with Vitality
I had the perfect childhood.
Neighborhood friends, squirt guns, laser tag, kick the can, N64, Mario Kart, Goldeneye, packed lunches, family dinners, amazing parents who loved me (even after I blew up my treehouse) and a weird, cuddly Miniature Schnauzer named Angel.
When I think of my childhood, happy thoughts come to mind. I can only remember the best of times spent making homemade videos, playing capture the flag, eating Airheads, watching “Saving Private Ryan,” doorbell ditching, having sleepovers, playing pranks during those sleepovers and wandering the neighborhood streets with my friends in the wee hours of the morning.
It was all truly perfect. Filled with kindness, love, adventure, suspense, sugar rushes and friendship.
So when I saw a psychologist during my sophomore year in college, I couldn't satisfy her with a simple answer that might have explained my panic attacks, constant stress and anxiety, spurts of drowning depression and everything else that made beautiful days feel wasted.
Why was I having panic attacks during class? Why was I waking up from daytime naps with fear and a pounding heart? Why was I so unmotivated and tired and afraid of getting out of bed? Why was I so scared? What caused this?
I had so many questions yet no answers.
This lack of answers made me believe that if it weren’t for the anxiety itself, I would have never had anxiety in the first place. I understand that this statement may seem trivial and obvious, but it's also the most true.
I really feel like my anxiety came from nowhere, like it was inherent -- like the beating of my heart, my need for sleep and my draw to impassioned music.
Because my severe anxiety lacked obvious roots, it was intolerably difficult to understand and manage. It was also incredibly frustrating for me as well as for my dear psychologist.
Where Did My Anxiety Come From?
At first, I thought everything stemmed from simple things in life: childhood acne, occasional bullying, family tension and deep existential thoughts with no resolutions.
But after thinking more about the origin of my anxiety and having lengthy discussions with friends, family members and a psychologist, I realized that "life" was only a small part of anxiety's long equation.
I'm no psychologist, nor do I read extensively about anxiety and depression or their causes. I am, however, someone who trusts his gut and has been aware of his feelings from a young age.
It would make sense if my problems stemmed from acne if my high school pimples left huge craters on my face. But they didn't. It would make sense if my problems stemmed from familial events if my parents were mean-spirited people. But they're not.
When I thought more about the origin of my anxiety, three things came to mind that led me to realize my problems weren't largely life-related.
Instead, I found they were related to something over which I had no control over: genetics. The three things that made me realize this were:
#1 My Fifth Grade Presentation
Up until that presentation (I must have been 12 years old at the time), I loved reading aloud in class and was comfortable speaking my mind in front of large groups of people.
I appreciated being looked at and heard and being the center of attention. But something happened the day I had to give a presentation on “The Girl Who Owned a City.”
I felt strange when I was walking up to the front of the class, like I was facing a matter of life and death. It was the first time that I met anxiety and let it win.
I wasn't strong enough to fight it and because I was too inexperienced to handle such a complex thing, I unintentionally invited it to come back and prey on me some more. And it did, for years. Days within those years felt like years themselves.
It continued to take advantage of my inability to understand it and fight back until I finally chose to do something about it during college.
I chose to see a psychologist, which was a brave and important step in controlling my anxiety — the same anxiety that made me suffer, yet somehow appreciate life and its people in a deeper, more open way. Seeing a psychologist is one of the ways I controlled my anxiety.
#2 My Grandma's Anxiety And Depression
It was so severe that at one point, I swear she made the air around her heavy with sadness, fear and hopelessness. I knew she had been relatively sad since my grandpa died, but I never knew to what extent. Looking back, I realize that her husband’s death awakened in her the same thing that “The Girl Who Owned a City” presentation awakened in me.
She lost an initial battle with anxiety — a battle that came years after her grieving — and unintentionally let the little devil make a home insider her like I let it in fifth grade.
#3 My 8-Year-Old Cousin's Diagnosis Of Anxiety
Just recently, I learned that my cousin was diagnosed with anxiety — at the age of 8.
I believed the news almost instantly, not due to my cousin's lively, energetic personality but because I already knew that anxiety ran deep in the Gibb family – my family.
If you have anxiety and depression with an origin that’s hard to locate, I hope you realize that you're not alone. I also hope you realize that there's nothing you did that caused the stubborn episodes you're experiencing.
You didn't cause it. It's not your fault. And more importantly, you can live better. You can stop those episodes of depression or anxiety in their tracks and live the life you want to live.
I know because I have trudged through the sh*t and emerged victorious — just like you will.
But before you go out and start living better, I want to leave you with something. This isn't just for people who constantly battling severe anxiety and depression. This is for anyone who has let even the smallest and rarest episodes of anxiety or depression negatively affect their days.
Here are some ways I control my anxiety and depression:
-I embrace it. I feel it. I recognize that it's there and try to identify the stressor that caused it. And then, whether I locate the stressor or not, I let go and I don't hold on.
-I listen to inspiring people who have battled lifelong episodes of anxiety and depression. One of my favorite people to listen to is Andrew Solomon: a haunting, eloquent man with mind-blowing insight.
-I let people in on the secret that I'm anxious and depressed and need someone to talk to. I then talk to them, listen to them and recognize how loved I am.
-I occupy my mind with useful thoughts. I focus on adding value to others through the business I conduct and the life I live. I write and work on projects that are meaningful to me. I also pound it into my head that the world isn't too big for me to make a difference and more importantly, that differences do matter.
Top Photo Courtesy: Platform Photo