At the start of practice today, my client couldn’t speak, he couldn’t look at me, he was barely holding it together breath by breath. I asked a few questions and quickly realized his brain was on tilt. He’d lost the battle of living an unaddressed, stress filled, anxiety ridden life. He’d been avoiding pain for so long that his emotions took over and his self control was gone. I’ve seen this look before, I recognize those tears, I know that breathing cadence. It was me 8 years ago.
In 2006, my wife and I decided to adopt a second child from Guatemala. Life was going really well, I had good control on things, and in general, our days were predictable and manageable. Any little blip out of the norm was no big deal because we could usually get everything back in order fairly quickly. However, when my son came home at 8 months old, I realized this might not be a blip.
I joked with people that two kids felt like three. I’d lost the ability to course correct and create a predictable and manageable life. Over time, my wife’s feedback got more and more hard to hear. “Why are you always on edge, what’s wrong with you?” was the melody line. Naturally I received this feedback incredibly poorly and redirected the blame to her and my son. We grinded our way through the pain with a don’t ask, don’t talk, avoid at all costs, approach.
Like all well ignored problems, it disappeared into a new norm of numbness, so we decided to adopt another child, but this time from Ethiopia. As the trip got closer, I grew more and more nervous about traveling to a third world country. It started with, “What if I get sick? Wait am I feeling sick? Is my throat sore, I think I might have strep.” And grew into “What if our daughter is really sick and really hard to care for?” On the official travel day, Christmas Eve 2009, I made it all the way through security and half way down the terminal before I began “surviving” breath by breath. I lost the battle, my brain went on tilt. I started sobbing uncontrollably and refused to get on the plane.
Somehow my wife managed to call the orphanage in Ethiopia (Christmas morning there) and get confirmation she could come without me. My brother had bought a ticket to travel with my wife and pick up my daughter for me. My sister-in-law was waiting for me outside of the airport and gave me one of the most loving hug I’ve ever received. The road from there was a painful one and started with me admitting I was not doing well.
My stigma of mental health was obliterated when my doctor told me he sees more patients regarding stress and anxiety than any other issue by a mile. From then on, I chose to embrace leaning into the pain, seeking out what it was that was messing with my head, literally. I can’t pin point any particular moment when I “got better” but I can tell you that I did. Day by day, brick by brick. If you’re still reading this rant and my story hits close to home – take action my friend, take it now before you’re just “surviving” breath by breath. Surviving or thriving? The choice is yours.