And I give you… my anxiety disorder
I’m only thirty-three years old, so I figure I’ll have another good fifty years left to live before I’m dead, that is if I don’t get hit by a car, bus, train, get shot, stabbed, bludgeoned to death or just simply drop dead because the internet is a scary place and always tells me that I’m dying. It’s frightening to think about actually, but this is how my brain works every day, and I cannot shut it off.
I’ve had anxiety and panic disorder my entire life, but it really didn’t expose itself until I was 17 and let me tell you, it was the fucking Blitzkrieg of mental invasions. I was horrified at first, I didn’t know what was happening to me and after my first metal breakdown at 18, I started to resort to many alternative and unorthodox methods to try and cope with what I was dealing with.
Drinking was my first go to resolution, but as usual, that only made my situation worse. Then when things started to get really bad, I mean really dark, when I couldn’t differentiate between my reality and my irrational fears, I started to cut myself. Just like the drinking, the cutting didn’t help either; nor did the drugs, excessive partying, hooking up with girls and getting myself into constant trouble in the streets of New York City. It would be a long and trying journey to self-realization and finally getting the help that I both deserved and needed.
Since the times of teenage partying and cutting, I’ve been to countless doctors, psychiatrist, psychologist and cognitive behaviorists. I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depersonalization disorder and PTSD. Whew! And now, today in 2018, I have anxiety-induced vertigo just to makes things a bit more interesting for myself. It’s like the other four disorders weren’t enough, so life said, “Here you go Ricky, don’t about forget your imaginary vertigo.”
One of the hardest parts of living with mental illness in today’s world is the ugly name and tarnished image that comes along with it. We mental health suffers are more or less branded as dysfunctional and societal outcasts and it really hurts. Even with all of the millions of people who have anxiety, depression or any other mental illness, I still feel alone, because it really isn’t that easy to tell a friend or a co-worker that your “suffering” from a panic disorder. Most people just don’t take it as seriously as opposed to telling someone that you have Cancer or MS. I feel as if they almost look at me differently like I’m the new pedophile in town who keeps his shutters closed all year round. “Children, you are not to go near that man! He has Panic Disorder!”
Since it’s near impossible to tell anyone that I have panic disorder, I’ve done really well at hiding my condition from friends and family. Most of my twenties were spent lying on my couch getting drunk and thinking about my horrible childhood; worst combination ever by the way. Like salt and open wounds, intoxication and PTSD do not mix.
I never liked the idea of taking a prescription to help with my anxiety. I didn’t want to have to rely on something to make myself feel better; like the way, I relied on bourbon and cocaine to get me through my writer’s block. I always thought that I would be a failure if I had to depend on medication. “How could I not get over this on my own? I’m strong.” But eventually, I gave in to my stubbornness and sought out professional help for the right reasons and not just for a cheap high.
By the time I was done doctor shopping, there was Effexor, Lexapro, Clonazepam, Xanax, Prozac, and Adderall and out of the six of those I probably only needed one, but regularly abused three of them.
Eventually, at some point in life, you may be forced to make a crucial decision. You can stop what you’re doing and choose to live, or you can continue on a path of self-destruction and potentially die. It took me a few years, but one day, I would eventually make the choice to live.
So today, I am no longer drinking and shopping for doctors. I take my Lexapro with tea at night and I have my two cups of coffee in the morning and I honestly feel great. I’ve come to terms that my anxiety and I will live together as one entity forever and I’m okay with that.
If I’m ever having a bad day with my anxiety, all I have to do is recite a mantra from an amazing doctor in Rochester NY. He was a Cognitive Behaviorist named Tim E., and we naturally worked a lot with cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ll never forget what he told me one day during a session. He was giving me pointers in the event of dealing with a sudden panic attack and he said to me, “If you’re having an attack, just stop, take a deep breath in and say to yourself, ‘this isn’t real, it’s only temporary, it really sucks and it will be over in 10 minutes,’ say that to yourself and you’ll be fine.”
And ever since that session, I’ve been reciting those words to myself while panicking at work, panicking on the New York State Thruway and panicking in line at the grocery store and it’s worked every time. He was one of the good doctors.
All I want today is for the world to accept mental illness the way every other disease is accepted. I shouldn’t have to be afraid or embarrassed to tell my office mates that I’m having a panic attack. I should be comfortable doing that the same way someone can comfortably tell me that they’re having a dizzy spell due to their diabetes.
I’ve come to terms with my condition, now I’m just waiting for the rest world to catch up.
My name is Richard De Fino. I’m a 33-year-old writer and columnist living in Buffalo, NY. I was born and raised in the Bronx NY and had my fair share of unfortunate events throughout my childhood. My goal here is to use my written words as my own personal therapy and through that, I hope that my past and current struggles will resonate with my readers and make them feel less alone. When I am not writing, I enjoy spending time with my wife Andrea, our dog Zeke, and cat BeBe.
I am a Columnist for Feminine Collective and a serialized writer for Channillo.com. I’ve also been published in Buffalo Black Book, Two Cities Review, Purple Pig Lit and forthcoming in Nameless Digest in the spring of 2018 and Chickpea Magazine forthcoming in the Spring of 2018.
Visit Richard on his website