When I was fifteen I got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It wasn’t a slow onset — it hit me like a hard punch in the throat. I’d been at a party, everyone was drinking, smoking and talking crap, when all of a sudden I thought I was having a heart attack. It was a bizarre sensation: a plague of locusts had been let loose inside my chest and I felt the urgent desire to run away. I went white as a sheet, began to tremble, and some of my friends began to crowd around, asking me what was wrong.
This made everything worse. I wanted these people to get as far the fuck away as humanly possible. It’s like they were tearing out my entrails with their teeth. I suspected they weren’t even human, just empty shells programmed to drive me insane, and then I began to freak out thinking I was schizophrenic for having such suspicions.
For a whole week I was sick. I lay in the bath trying to calm down shaking like an epileptic. My mum thought I was showing the first signs of some degenerative disorder. When I eventually went to the doctor, the friendly old bird put it how it was: “You’ve got a panic disorder. You need to take medication, get counseling, and read these pamphlets.”
So I did all three and I learned to live with a vaguely tolerable level of anxiety, that pretty much fucked my ambitions but allowed me to stay sane, for about the first ten years of my adult life. Dealing with the anxiety was a self-perpetuating run of bad habits: porn use, alcohol, drugs and constant evasive measures. I’d either socialize too hard to avoid the hell of my own head or isolate completely for fear of being seen as the slavering, nervous wreck I’d sometimes become.
This of course, made me very depressed. All my childhood dreams seemed to have escaped me, now that I spent most of my energy trying to maintain a tolerable level of mental ease.
By about the age of 25, I decided I couldn’t live this way any more. There were two options: suicide or self-improvement. I considered the former but chose the latter. Thankfully the doctor I went to when I made this decision told me the best thing I could do to deal with depression and anxiety was to do “hard, brutal exercise,” as he put it. Many other doctors would have loaded me up on pharmaceuticals, referred me to another quacky therapist, and sent me on my way. But my doc, god bless him, was no slave to the industry. He knew the age-old secret of dealing with a wayward mind: hard physical activity. After all, our distant forebears spent too much time worrying about where they’d find the next mammoth to kill and whether that pride of lions would eat them, to get all debilitated by opaque, existential worries.
So first things first: I started running. Every day for half an hour. Gradually increasing the length and speed of my runs.
After six months I started weight-lifting. Then I started boxing. Then eventually, I quit jacking off to porn (though this is a process that takes a long, long time to properly achieve. A nervous brain becomes conditioned to relieving itself through erotic fantasy, and without it, life can at first seem like a nasty, intolerable place. I recommend groups like nofap and tutorials like Your Brain On Porn).
I’m a highly imaginative beast and with that comes all the dark baggage of universal possibilities. But with it comes a lot of light as well. I began to write down my dreams (not just my ambitions and aspirations, but my actual nightly subconscious meanderings as well) and set achievable goals for myself. I realized that in order to escape the constant need to escape, I had to make my life worthy of living. I began a long process of self discovery and improvement of which I am still just in the early phase.
Of course, there are plenty of doctors who’ll prescribe you Xanax and plenty of online courses that claim to have the answers. Too often I feel that these are band-aid solutions to a problem that must be addressed through holistic changes to your lifestyle and self-belief system.
I can’t say that I’m completely cured. Sometimes I still lie in bed too long and have to force myself up and at it with the enthusiasm of a robot. Sometimes I still wonder what’s the point, and stare longingly at the clouds wishing I could become one, so I wouldn’t feel the futility of my own existence. But mostly, I feel pretty good, and I allow these bad days to just happen, because I know that there’s no such thing as perfection, and to long for a perfect utopia in which everything is fine and dandy is to strive for constant disappointment.
There are plenty of “solutions” out there. Here are just a few that I’ve come across. I could never afford to try them out so I have no idea if they work or not.
All the best in your own journeys of self-improvement and discovery.