Archive for Anxiety

My Dark Passenger…

Posted in Ramblings..., The present... with tags , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by henryconley

On the Showtime series Dexter, the main character (Dexter Morgan) is a serial killer that refers to the part of him which makes him kill as his ‘dark passenger’.   In one episode, he makes the following comment about the topic:

My dark passenger is like a trapped coal miner, always tapping; always letting me know it’s in there, still alive.”

This quote hits home as  yes, I too have a dark passenger.  Wait!!! Before you go calling the authorities, let me explain.  My dark passenger does not make me want to kill or even bring harm to anyone.  Not at all.  My dark passenger is a different kind of monster.  One that eats away at me and can make the world around me a terrifying place.  It’s name is Anxiety and it too is always there like a trapped miner, tapping and letting me know it’s in there alive.

When you suffer from a chemical imbalance which triggers irrational anxiety (as many, many people do), your world becomes unnecessarily complex and scary.  I’ve written about this topic before, but feel the need to again.

For someone who does not suffer this fate, I think it is almost impossible to understand its grasp and impact on one’s life.  You see, this monster, dark passenger or whatever you want to call it, goes against logic.  I am a logical person.  In fact, my career has called for logical, sound thinking and risk analysis for over two decades.  I can apply logic and risk assessment skills to complex problems without breaking a sweat.  However, my dark passenger doesn’t believe in logic.  It fights against it.

I’m going to bring back an analogy that I’ve used before to help explain.  If something happens which triggers a normal, healthy fear/concern reaction like a broken sump pump in your basement which threatens to flood your cellar, a ‘faucet’ is turned on which releases certain chemicals in the brain that tell us there is a threat and we react accordingly.  Once the crisis has passed and the threat has been taken care of (in this case, the pump is replaced and a backup is installed and even the ground is cleared of all valuable items.), the average person’s brain would turn off the faucet.  Appropriate measures have been taken and there is no longer an imminent threat.  As the chemical flow stops, you are able to move on to other things and your thoughts are no longer consistently based on the welfare of your sump pump.  For someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, the ‘faucet’ stays on.  The logical side of the person’s brain assures them that all the proper measures have been taken and all is well, but because of that ‘stuck faucet’, a residual sense of anxiety remains.  It is unrelenting and can result in obsessive behavior like checking the pump over and over again.  This cycle can go on for weeks and months if not treated.

When a person without an anxiety disorder hears the above example, they either think it’s silly or crazy.  Granted, on the surface it does appear so, but the person suffering from this is responding to the same chemical reaction that has evolved in us and is crucial to our survival.  That chemical reaction keeps us alive and well when it is working properly.  If when facing situations that threaten our well-being or the well-being of our family and possessions, that chemical reaction makes sure we know we need to respond.  Since those same chemicals and part of our brains are at work in the mind of the person with the anxiety disorder, their reaction and need to address their worries is just as real as when the real crisis still existed.

I’ve lived through the above example and it ultimately let me to get help with my anxiety disorder.  With the help of the right medications, things have been brought back into check… most of the time.  Like that miner in the quote, it’s always their threatening to take over my mind.  Most days I can quiet my dark passenger and move on.  However, if I’ve been going through a stressful time and things have built up, it can break out, disrupt my thoughts and sense of well-being.

During an episode I will feel a sense of doom and gloom despite my logical brain telling me all is okay.  It’s hard to explain and most people would never know I’m going through an episode.  I can still function at work and home without showing too many outward signs.  After all, we must keep our dark passengers secret and tucked away, right?  Why?  Because our society is cruel and judgmental.  We fear that if we expose our disorder to the light of day it won’t go away, but instead expose us to people judging and labeling us as crazy.  I can tell you, I am quite sane.  My mother had me tested (a little Big Bang Theory humor there).  I am at times deliberately immature, silly and even odd, but that is by choice.  If you are too normal, life is boring.  Like a recent meme I saw so perfectly stated; “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine“.   So, yes I may be a bit odd or eccentric, but rest assured, I am quite sane.

Why do I share this and expose myself to potential ridicule, or risk having someone think this makes me weak?  I share this (again) because people need to understand that this is a real condition and it is treatable.  Those that experience what I have, should seek help.  Like I said, it doesn’t mean you are crazy or weak.  I think I am a very strong person.  I could (but won’t) share stories of the very real threats my family has faced in recent years and how I was perfectly capable of taking the lead against something that could have done great damage to us.  My disorder (when an episode occurs, which is rare now that I have gotten help) is a very private one.  I suffer and in many cases do not even tell my wife.  Not because she would not support me, it’s just that hard habits die-hard and since this dark passenger has been with me as long as I can remember (even as young as four or five years old), I spent too many years keeping my pain on the inside.  No one should do that.

For those of you who live with or are friends with someone suffering from an anxiety disorder; do not tell them they worry too much or that they are being silly.  Do not play the logic card either.  We are painfully aware that our worries and anxieties are going against logic.  Well, let me step back… you can try to logic things out with us or tell us everything is going to be alright, everyone needs to hear that, but understand that we can’t turn the anxiety off.  Just like a diabetic can’t just tell themselves to stop producing too much sugar, we can’t just simply stop the anxiety.  So be patient and understanding.  Be there for us without judging the validity of our concerns, we’re already doing that over and over again.

In closing, if you are suffering like I have in the past, please get help.  You’ll thank yourself for doing so, trust me.  For those around us, love us and be patient.  Remember, we are not crazy, silly or worry-warts.  We have a condition and it is not our fault.  My hope is that if more people speak out about their experiences with an anxiety condition and its good friend the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), we can bring this out of the shadows.  I’d love to make my dark passenger less of a dark passenger and more of just an over protective friend.

I hope my sharing this has been helpful.  Peace my friends!

Footnote:  The incident that made me decide to write about this topic again is quite ironic.  I’ve used the faucet analogy for well over a decade now and yesterday a pipe connected to one of our faucets burst and began flooding the house.  Thankfully, my daughter’s boyfriend had come by to take out her puppy.  He heard it burst and shut off the water without any real damage.  This started an episode for me, but not as intense as if I was not being treated for anxiety.  With the help of my lovely wife, I am taming my dark passenger and despite problems getting a plumber I am turning that internal faucet off as well.


Looking Back… Part 8: Anxiety Disorder…

Posted in Ramblings..., The present... with tags , on November 21, 2010 by henryconley

I got a lot of feedback and questions when I wrote about my anxiety disorder. I’m not going to share any of the comments or questions as they were private, with the exception of one… Why did I openly share my story?

I shared my story because there is no shame in have an anxiety disorder. It’s a chemical imbalance and I feel no more shame or embarrassment sharing the fact that I’ve suffered from this than I do in discussing the fact that I had pancreatitis. Why should I?

My anxiety disorder has been a living hell at times in my life and if sharing my story helps someone else, I’m glad to do it. However, once again I see it no different from telling someone about another ailment. Sure, it can be awkward to talk about, but no more than sharing the stories related to my nine hernia operations. Well, actually it’s less embarrassing to discuss my anxiety disorder…lol.

I’d like to continue to be honest about it and share that since the original entries I wrote about the topic, I’ve had some really rough times. The trials my family have been through this year brought out some of those anxiety demons again, but once again I’m addressing it and not avoiding it.

Something else I’d like to share about this is how private of a hell it can be. When I suffered from it the worst, I still functioned at work, at home and everywhere else… on the outside that is. Inside I was a wreck and a shell of a person. Only those closest to me realized I was suffering and even they didn’t realize to what extent. I look back and realize how unnecessary that suffering was and hope others can learn from my experience…

Baby Steps…

Posted in Ramblings..., The present... with tags on October 26, 2010 by henryconley

As I’ve written about so many times before, so many people I know are having the most difficult year of their lives. Between the economy and a series of unfortunate circumstances, many of my friends and family are struggling. It seems that there’s a new crisis every day and something else to worry about.

Now, let me make it clear… I know I am not a professional counselor and would never try to be one (it’s too exhausting, God bless them), but I am sort of an expert on anxiety and getting through the day. Not because I’ve studied it or have a degree in the medical field, but because I’ve lived my entire life with an anxiety disorder. I’ve written about it before and felt the need to do so again in hopes that someone can benefit from the lessons I’ve learned.

I’ve got stress it again… There is no shame in seeking professional help or needing a prescription to help you deal with your anxiety. Too many people seem to think that getting the right help is a sign of weakness or in some cases, they are just too afraid of what it means. Well I can tell you it’s nothing to be afraid of and speaking with a professional helps. I’ve had to do it several times in my life and I’m neither ashamed, nor afraid to say it. Does that make me weak? Nope. It makes me human.

One day at a time… I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but like most people I’m familiar with their motto of “One day at a time”. As I’ve said before, sometimes it’s one second at a time when you’re dealing with anxiety or stressful situations. You know what? That’s okay and the best way to handle it sometimes. When in a crisis (big or small) sometimes you just need to focus on what gets you through the next seconds, minutes and hours. Take baby steps. When faced with a difficult life-challenge (vague description because each person has their own situations to deal with) it often helps to look at the situation in small chunks and not in its entirety.

Learn from the past, don’t forget the past, but let it go… Things happen. Sometimes things happen to you and sometimes things happen because of you. Either way, you can’t go back and change what’s happened. So you must determine how you’re going to handle your reaction to what’s happened. Learn from the situation, do what you need to heal and move forward. The “if I had only…” game will get you nowhere if you get stuck on it. Yes, review what you could have done differently, that’s the learning process, but to dwell on the “if onlys” will not allow you to move forward.

Last, but not least for me is prayer. When things are tough, I pray a lot. I find comfort in it and truly believe in its power.

So life is hard… no new revelation there. This year it seems to have been particularly hard for a lot of us, but what can we do? We can get help, take baby steps, pray and move forward. Remember, no matter what the situation, you are not powerless…

Corey Haim Died… Why We Should Care…

Posted in Ramblings..., The present... with tags , on March 13, 2010 by henryconley

Corey Haim died a few days ago. He hasn’t had a hit film in decades and the reality show ‘The Two Coreys’ that aired a few years ago showed him as a train wreck. So it’s no surprise he’s dead, right? Why should we care? I’ll tell you why, he was a fellow human that when he was at his best as a child actor, he entertained us and we loved him.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Lost Boys. It was one of the first modern, horror-comedies and it blew me  away. The movie was so cool and had such a feel to it. The two Coreys played a big part in that. After that movie, I made it a point to see any movie that featured them. Sure, they weren’t all great or successful, but they entertained us.

When the Two Coreys reality show came on a few years ago, I had to watch. I was hoping it would lead to a comeback for them. It wasn’t easy to watch… It was true reality television, very raw and ugly. The fights, the talk of drug abuse and see the way their lives had played out was very rough to watch.

Corey Haim was a very serious addict. It was obvious from the show and not easy to watch. Seeing the damage done and the struggles he faced was not light and easy to watch. Some people who read this will think, so what, he was a spoiled Hollywood brat that got messed up and couldn’t get back into movies… poor baby. 

Well, let’s stop and think about it for a moment. When you made it to the level he did, people remember you and you end up with plenty of ‘hanger-ons’ that don’t go away when their star fades. Lots of people willing to help them get whatever they want… enablers. Many among us have turned to a drink to dull the pain we feel. Some perhaps, other substances. Now imagine the pain and rejection of famous, then being unable to get a job. Now imagine that there are people willing to get you anything you want to dull the pain. Some of them medical doctors. It’s a slippery slope… Now his death has not been ruled an overdose yet, but the damage done to his body from the drugs had to have played a part in it.

I gave up drinking on June 11, 1996 on a whim. I just quit one day and never had anything stronger than an O’Doul’s from that day forward. So when I had my worst episode (described over the last fe posts), I did not turn to the bottle and I’ve never been into drugs, so that didn’t happen either. However, if I had been surrounded by enablers and someone, particularly a doctor offered me access to an opiate that would have made the anxiety go away and make me feel optimistic again, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t have jumped at it. If a doctor had okayed it and would have kept it secret (the way most celebrity doctors do) and done so without revealing my real issues to the doctor, I cannot say I wouldn’t have said no. Often, doctors can be wooed by celebrities and will prescribe pills that may not be needed. If I could have had something that I thought would make me feel better without having to bare my soul, well that’s probably what I would have done. I’ve felt (for legitimate reasons) what Vicodin does to you. You forget your worries and feel euphoric. Everything seems okay… If circumstances were different, it could have been me. I like to think I’d be strong enough, but realistically it could have been me… That’s as brutally honest as I can be.

Rest in Peace Corey…

Prayer is Not the Answer…

Posted in The 1960's, The 1970's, The 1990's..., The 2000's, The present..., Those Crazy 1980's... with tags , on March 12, 2010 by henryconley

Prayer is not the answer… Yikes! Or better yet, prayer alone is not the answer. So I got your attention now… Let me clarify before anybody thinks I am cheapening the power of prayer. I am not and would not. Prayer has gotten me through many tough times and I’m sure it will get me through many more.

Okay, so I’m going to get a little religious here, be prepared…

At the height of the obsessive-compulsive behavior that grew out of my anxiety issues (at least I believe it grew out of it, I’m not a doctor but do know they were related), prayer became a obsessive-compulsive behavior for me. I had to pray constantly (not a bad thing in of itself) but thought that if I did it wrong, I had to say a prayer over again.

God gave some us the wisdom to become doctors. I firmly believe that it is a gift to have the mind and patience required to become one. With that said, I also believe that God has provided doctors as an answer to prayer. Sometimes you need to pray AND go to a professional for help. Before I sought out help for my condition, I spent years trying to pray away my disorder. I do believe pray can heal, but sometimes God expects us to help ourselves and take advantage of what he has already provided for us. I believe in miracles, but not everything requires one.

As you can tell, I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years and it’s not easy sharing all these very personal things, but I feel it’s important that I do. You see, as someone that was brought up in a very prayer-filled environment, I often took it to the extreme and used it as an excuse. Like believing that I didn’t need to get help for my condition, I only had to pray. I had kept my condition as secret as possible and God would take care of it and leave it as our little secret. Well, that wasn’t a healthy attitude and it led to obsessive-compulsive praying. Yup, it exists and I’ll admit I was one that did it.

Now please do not take this the wrong way. I still pray many times a day, but instead of constantly asking for miracles I prayer for peace of mind and many other things as well, but not in an obsessive-compulsive manner and with more realistic expectations. We have to do our part in this world as well.

Letting go of my secret and accepting that I had to do something about it myself was a very difficult lesson, but also very freeing. It didn’t make me feel like God had failed me in any way at all. Quite the contrary, I was thankful that he gave me the strength to step forward and get help. Now I’m thankful that he gave me the strength to come forward with this part of my story.

I did not share this part of my life looking for sympathy or pity. There is no need for either. I am quite happy and feel very blessed to have the live I’ve been given. The good and the bad… We only grow if we are challenged.

So yes, I will complain from time-to-time. I am human and get frustrated and angry. Sometimes even angry at God… Oh, and please don’t think that I believe that I’m a ‘saintly’ person, for I would never, ever claim to be. I’m not proud of every part of my life. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them. That’s all we can do as humans.

So that’s another layer of me peeled back for all to see. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go through with the posts of the last few days, but I did. I’ve laid it all out there and exposed one of my biggest, most closely guarded secrets and it feels good. As I’ve said before, I just hope that it hits home with someone out there. If just one person feels like they are not alone because of this, I’d be thrilled. If not, that’s okay too. I just hope that maybe those that do not suffer from extreme anxiety may now realize how serious it can be. Look for the signs in your children or your significant other. If you see it, try to talk with them about it.

Well, perhaps I’ll return to some more light-hearted fare tomorrow…


Anxiety Sucks… New Millenium, New Life…

Posted in The 1970's, The 1990's..., The 2000's, The present..., Those Crazy 1980's... with tags on March 11, 2010 by henryconley

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post…

Now I had made it through so many episodes before in my life that I just thought this one would pass like the others. I was able to function just fine at work and was still a very present father and husband, but inside… well not so good. By this point, my older brother had noticed the signs and started to tell me I was becoming obsessive-compulsive and needed help, but it took another year of dying a little each day, and trust me that’s what it felt like, before I was ready to admit I needed help. The straw that broke the camel’s back was Y2K. I wasn’t worried about irrational things happening, but it required me to be away from my family and my home for long days and nights. Long days and nights that I should have been checking the sump pump… Or so my mind told me.

On January 1st, 2000, after waking up from a nap (I had worked around the clock monitoring the bank’s processing systems as the new year rang in), I sat Deb down and told her that I needed to see the doctor as soon as possible. For the first time, I fully shared out loud what had been going on inside of me and that in of itself was a relief. Deb made the appointment for me on January 2nd and I went and told my doctor everything. He told me he could help, but I would need to see a psychiatrist to determine the initial drug and dosage information. I hated the idea of having to see a ‘shrink’. I was afraid that I was crazy and that it couldn’t be fixed by a drug and that it would be a long road to recovery. I was petrified that I would be in therapy forever…

A few days later, on a beautiful snowy day I went to see him on the East Side. We talked and much to my relief, he assured me that I would find relief. He prescribed a regiment for me and told me to come back in 10 days. I did and by that point, was starting to feel like my old self again. So on yet another snowy afternoon, I went to visit him again. We talked and he told me that my physician could handle things going forward. I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t in need of year’s of therapy. No, I simply needed to get some help fixing a chemical imbalance that I’d had all my life.

The help had been there for years, but a life full of hiding from the issue had prevented me from getting it. At times relief had come from a bottle, but since I had quit drinking in 1994, I was flying solo when the rain began to fall in 1998. Without any bad crutches to lull me into coma, I was forced to face my problem head on. What a beautiful, but painful lesson.

So I’ve revealed my soul here today. Please don’t let it be in vain. If any of you suffer from the kind of anxiety I suffered from, get the help you need. Talk to your doctor, talk to your family, do whatever it takes. Maybe the solution for you is therapy, maybe it’s medication or perhaps it’s something homeopathic, whatever works for you. Just don’t suffer unnecessarily like I did all those years. Yes, I still have rough days. Yes I’ve had to have things ‘tweaked’ from time to time, but life is good now. The past ten years have been the best years of my life.

 As I’ve said many times, my life is an adventure. I didn’t always see that way, but on that new years day 10 years ago, I started to really understand that better. In fact, the road to recovery was the best adventure yet. One that has opened the door to so many other adventures in this wonderful life I’m living. So please, if you need help, start on that adventure soon. I promise you, you won’t regret it…

Peace my friends…

Anxiety Sucks… Crying out for Help…

Posted in The 1970's, The 1990's..., The 2000's, The present..., Those Crazy 1980's... with tags on March 10, 2010 by henryconley

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post…

When I was in high school, it manifested itself all over my school notebooks. Without even noticing, I would sit there laughing along with everyone and smiling while I wrote the word ‘HELP!’ (including the exclamation point) all over them. I would be sitting there and suddenly notice that I had covered a page with that single word hundreds of times. I would quickly turn the page and hope nobody had seen it. Of course, inside I must have wanted to someone to see it, but I told myself to cut it out and move on. Nobody noticed or at least nobody mentioned my behavior.

Thankfully, I never suffered from clinical depression or felt suicidal. In fact, as strange as this may sound, I was often both very happy and very anxious at the same time. So while my insides turned to acid (literally), my outsides smiled for years without every letting on.

Another strange thing about my anxiety has been that it’s never about anything too serious. Those things my brain seems to know how to handle. I was always good in a crisis and even when I became a parent and had a son that was born prematurely and with genetic defects that I had passed on, I could deal with it. Ian also had hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain, as an infant and between that and not knowing the severity of his genetic defect, you’d think I would have been in a tailspin. However, I’ve always been able to balance those things out. I could be strong and wait for the next test and have faith that he would be alright, but I couldn’t deal with the rain…

The anxiety must have been building over the years. I can think of no other explanation… In the late 1990’s I reached my breaking point. On a beautiful spring day in 1998, we returned home from a nice day at my brother’s house on the Cape. I went to the top of our cellar stairs and threw a stack of newspapers down to where the recycling bin was (I had gotten to were I could get them in without looking) and instead of hearing a thud when they hid the bin, I heard a splash. Our cellar had flooded because a sweater had fallen off the washing machine and on top of the sump pump, preventing it from switching on. The cleanup took days and I lost many items that could not be replaced. However, I cleaned things up, got things up off the basement floor that could be destroyed and moved on. Until one day at work, someone was talking about their sump pump and I told them what had happened to mine. They asked if I had a battery backup in case we ever lost power. I didn’t. That set off a year and a half episode that broke me down.

That very afternoon, an irrational terror set in. I had to leave work and go buy a battery backup. I rushed home and set everything up and once it all worked, the crisis should have ended. It didn’t. I became so obsessed with that damn sump pump that I had to run downstairs and test it several times a day. It had to be the last thing I did before I went to sleep, the first thing I did when I woke up and well, you get the picture. When it rained, I was a mess and my testing of the system increased. The rain became my enemy and I watched the weather constantly. If there was rain in the forecast, ugh… I was unable to think of much else. Now, since I had a lifetime of practice under my belt, I hid just how obsessed I had become from everyone quite well for a while. Sure Deb noticed me running up and down the stairs, but I always told her I was just making sure everything was all set…

Tomorrow… New Millenium, New Life…