I’ve come a long way in a year.
At this time in 2014, I found myself in worse health than I had ever been in my life. But, unless you came into my bedroom and saw me curled up — too worried and anxious to talk to anyone or go anywhere — my sickness was invisible.
Stress and anxiety had taken over my life, and I hadn’t the slightest clue how to get better.
My mental illness was brought on by side effects of a medication I have been taking on and off for more than a decade.
That medication is prednisone, a steroid I took to help treat a chronic, unpleasant disease called ulcerative colitis, which I’ve had since I was a freshman in high school.
Especially in high doses, and especially when taken over long periods of time, prednisone can lead to severe anxiety and depression. It made my stomach feel better, but it completely changed my mindset and outlook on life.
What put the problem over the top was the fact I was in my first year of graduate school, busier than I had ever been. The side effects of my pills, added to the stress of a colossal courseload and fear of failure was practically paralyzing.
I was consumed by panic from the time my eyes jolted open in the morning until the moment I fell asleep at night, which was often after about three hours of staring wide-eyed at the ceiling of my bedroom.
For those who have been affected by something similar, you probably understand where I’m coming from. The best way I know how to describe the way the anxiety I felt is with the words “soul-crushing.”
It drove me to inaction. I didn’t want to go to class. I didn’t want to go out with friends. I didn’t want to do anything but be alone.
But when I’m healthy, I typically hate being alone.
Problem was, the idea of going to the doctor to talk to him about my disorder absolutely terrified me. It was more than two years between the time I had my first severe anxiety attack and when I finally worked up the courage to make an appointment.
Because, a second thing my fellow anxiety sufferers might understand is that nothing triggers your anxiety like talking to someone you don’t know about how excruciatingly bad it is.
But I finally had that talk. And it was miserable. I broke down and cried right in front of my doctor during that appointment. Hard.
But, that was also the day everything started to turn around.
It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight. The first set of pills I took didn’t do anything except ruin my appetite. I lost 10 pounds in two weeks, and I’m already a skinny dude. The second set took three weeks before I felt even a slight change.
But then, slowly, things changed. The anti-depressants started to work, and I got better.
I woke up with a smile on my face, rather than my eyes welling up with tears and my heart welling up with panic for, at least most of the time, no particular reason.
The only regret I had was that it took me two years to face my fears and talk about them, rather than bottle it all up and keep everything away from my friends, family and classmates.
But, no one has to let it get to that point, as I did. You don’t have to suffer for years because of the stigma against admitting your brain just isn’t quite right. Because that’s what I did, and it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.
Calling my doctor and struggling through that appointment when I finally addressed my anxiety was beyond difficult, but now, it’s 10 times as rewarding.
We all get stressed out. But when that stress begins to consume you from morning to night and change who you are as a person, it’s time — and, more importantly, it’s OK — to ask for help.
I did, and if you need it, I very much hope you do, too.