My anxiety was thriving because I was trying desperately to hide it.
I had some anxious moments in my childhood, but for me it really started to peak as I got into employment.
Some anxiety showed up as I got into the workforce in my early 20’s. Particularly in the way of social anxiety. I was constantly scared of embarrassing myself or of not being enough or doing enough.
On one of my first job interviews I managed to sweat so much that my shirt was completely wet through. The people interviewing me kept asking if I was that hot, maybe I should take my suit jacket off. But I didn’t want to reveal my soaked clothing, so I just said no and that I was fine. By the time I left I’d sweated through the suit jacket as well!
As I got into my career, I felt like for the most part I was doing OK and keeping any obvious anxiety below the surface. But it was always there like lava from a volcano, occasionally nearly erupting but often just bubbling away and steaming a little bit.
I think my deep down anxiety was caused from wanting to be accepted and not really feeling like I was good enough or deserved the success I was getting.
I once received a call from someone very senior in the company, who wanted to ask me some questions about a deal I was working on. I could feel my throat start to swell closed a little bit and I couldn’t catch my breath when I spoke. That’s the first time I’d felt those kinds of sensations. It was very unnerving and afterwards I was questioning myself and trying to figure what had just happened. But I just put it down to not being fully prepared and moved on.
In those days I often got nervous before a big presentation and sometimes felt a few beads of sweat roll down my face. But I knew that once I started talking the nerves would subside and I’d do a good job.
THEN IT HAPPENED….
Looking back I had created the perfect storm
- Lots of travel away from home and my family
- Drinking alcohol in excess and too often
- Staying up late and then waking myself up with gallons of coffee
- A number of years of abusing my body with bad food & not enough exercise
- Working in a job that created no meaning for me
That morning I turned and looked at the audience, I launched into my typical intro but this time something was off. I tried to push on through and suddenly this wave of heat enveloped my body. It felt a bit like someone pouring warm water over my head. At the same time I felt some dizziness and felt totally out of sorts.
My heart began to race and my throat felt as though it was swelling shut. Couldn’t... get... any... more... air... in.
You’ve probably seen the film 8 Mile where Enimem chokes on stage and leaves, well I felt like that was me.
In those few seconds I felt I was experiencing the most embarrassing event of my life.
Fight or flight kicked in and I needed to escape. I was looking at the people in the room who were kind of staring at me wide eyed and confused. I mumbled “excuse me” and headed for the door.
Once in the bathroom I splashed water on my face and stood there in a full on panic attack trying to make sense of it (at the time I wasn’t even sure what a “panic attack” was, but I was having one and it was intense).
I went back and finished the presentation, while the shock and embarrassment was still setting in and making me sweat and shake.
My body was in shut down mode and I broke out in many spontaneous sweating episodes, constantly felt as though I needed the toilet, couldn’t sit still and felt dizzy the whole time.
That night back in my hotel room I was all over the place. I couldn’t sleep but didn’t want to be awake. I was shivering quite a bit and felt constantly dizzy. My body was extremely tired from all of the hormones it had been pumping around all day.
I thought about killing myself as the shame and embarrassment of my new found anxiety started to eat away at my ego.
I was deep in the shame and embarrassment, expected that I’d lose my job and was catastrophizing a lot about the future. I thought I had to tough it out, so went to work the next day feeling terrible.
I got through the next couple of days of the trip with a forced smile and feeling uncomfortable the whole time, I told people I had the flu to account for looking terribly pale the whole time. On return to Canada I went to the doctor, as I wanted to be FIXED immediately. What I’ve come to learn is there is no quick fix to Anxiety, no miracle pills or potions that make everything all right. I was given anti depressants after a couple of days my wife convinced me to not take them at all.
My anxiety persisted, some times it faded a bit and other times it was full on. I went to see a psychologist to talk it out and found the only thing I learnt out of that was some good breathing techniques.
But I continued to have panic attacks at work, sometimes publicly, sometimes with my office door closed.
I got anxious all the time, meeting people, talking to my family, traveling on planes, in meetings, driving my car. My senses were all on high alert, it was SO tiring.
My anxiety was thriving because I was trying desperately to hide it.
How is it possible that a guy who’s been in sales for years and is a VP, has a family and established life can be having Panic Attacks! I couldn’t get my head around it for a long time, I was totally resisting it.
Once I started to open up and share my vulnerability, I stared to get some insight that I’d never considered before.
Maybe many aspects of my life were contributing to my anxiety.
I didn’t just randomly crack at some point, but my lifestyle and the stress I was putting my mind and body under eventually said enough is enough, and so my anxiety was a way of pulling the rug out from under me.
In many cases Anxiety isn't a chemical imbalance, it's a lifestyle imbalance.
So I had to take a long look at my life and what I’d created, to see if it was serving me still.
Here is the short list of things I felt were likely contributing factors:
- I was overweight and ate badly all the time
- I traveled often away from my family
- I drank alcohol too often
- I didn’t love my job
- I derived no meaning from my work
- I was constantly under pressure and stress to perform
- I wasn’t investing in my key relationships
- I commuted for 3 hours a day
- I didn’t love the place where I lived
- I had acquired many material possessions which were weighing me down mentally
- I was handcuffed into a lifestyle that required me to earn a certain amount of money to support it
- Spent time with people that weren’t lifting me up
An amazing thing happened, I started to work on my anxiety through leaning into it and not running away from it. I started to meditate and exercise a bit and began to look at what was going into my body. This gave me enough confidence to then start making some bigger life shifts over time.
In no particular order here’s what I did (again this took time but the initial catalyst was acceptance of my anxiety and encouragement from my coach to be more vulnerable)
- Quit my VP job along with the 6 figure salary
- Spent more time with my young family
- Starting working on Real Estate investing to create some income
- Started selling things & stopped acquiring unnecessary material things
- Moved to the west coast, close to the things I love (Mountains & Ocean) to live in a place that inspires me
- Significantly decreased my monthly expenses
- Got into the best physical condition of my life and put huge value on my health and wellbeing
- Lost 35Lbs
- Cleaned up my diet to remove extra anxious feelings and in order to sustain my weight and support my fitness goals
- Cut out the bullshit and spent time only with people that enrich my life and lift me up
What has become clear to me in all of this is that there is no instant cure for anxiety, but with support and strategies in place you can absolutely live a life that isn't controlled by anxiety.
We all have it built into us as humans and it’s there to protect us in many cases. But when it starts interfering with your life and directing your life, that’s when things are out of alignment and action is required.
I also decided that I was not willing to cope with Anxiety, yes it might always be in my life but it wasn’t going to run my life. I run my life now.
Do you find yourself avoiding certain situations because of your anxiety?
Are you constantly concerned about what others think of you and that in itself sets off your anxiety even more?
Do you feel like even though you’re coping with anxiety from time to time, you’re never really escaping it’s clutches?
If yes, I urge to join me, in not just coping with anxiety but with living a full life!
Less Anxiety. More Life