My daughter sent to me what appears below. It was written as a blog by a recent college graduate who she knows. There is nothing I can add to it other than to express my gratitude for his willingness to share his challenging and beautiful journey.

“Saturday, August 22, 2020

Survived My Worst Days 

Crazy how fast a year goes – the speed of time which moves entirely too quick for my liking….I write today because it has marked one year since I have opened up to my family and friends about my intense struggles with an anxiety disorder. This has been the single most important decision I have made in my lifetime. Yes, it is always liberating to bring the thoughts and feelings I have pent up for too long into reality. But the decision to be open about my struggles saved my life.

Rewind to August of 2019. Coming off an uncomfortable summer spent in Boston, Massachusetts, my once happy, go-lucky life appeared to be nothing other than a spiraling and repetitive routine of being unable to fall asleep, unable to eat, and unable to focus on anything other than the pain that had taken over my mind. I’ll just be blunt – I didn’t want to be alive. The realization that this type of thought actually came into my mind still scares me to this day. However, an inclination from deep within my heart and persona constantly reminded me that these thoughts were never the solution for my pain, inspiring me to fight every single day. In a very real and true sense, I was fighting for my life.

Initially, I was unable to see any sort of positive from my anxiety disorder. We know that with any storm, it usually takes a while for the clouds and rain to pass before a rainbow appears. I have adopted the perspective that my anxiety disorder is similar to a storm. It rains a little, it downpours and thunders, but it always passes. And it’s because of the storm that I appreciate the sunny and bright days so much more.

I wanted to write today because I often forget what makes my anxiety disorder so great. In retrospect, there have been a vast number of positives that outweigh the negatives. First and foremost, my anxiety disorder has made me a more empathetic version of myself. I’ve always prided myself on having the capability to place myself in another’s shoes. However, the anxiety disorder has brought this to new heights. I grasp the struggles of other people dealing with mental illness. I know what it feels like to not be able to get out of bed, to not want to do anything, or not have the capacity to focus on anything of substance. It is tough, but my disorder has provided a new foundation of empathy that can only make this world a better place.

After getting used to the SSRs (I am a proud user of Zoloft – there should be no shame in taking any sort of medicine to feel better), I realized that my anxiety disorder allows me to “feel” in a way that I wasn’t able to before I was diagnosed. Whether it is watching a TV show, a movie, or listening to a song, I am much more willing to accept and feel my emotions. I smile more, I get angry more, I laugh more, and I also cry more. As I have touched on in my past posts, men are programmed by society to suppress or hide any sort of emotion. The anxiety disorder has seemingly stripped down my walls and guards whether I like it or not. I appreciate acts of kindness in a new way – like individuals reaching out to check in on me, going out of the way to make my life easier, or simply smiling at me from across the room. I feel emotional while watching Twitter videos that pull on the strings of our heart. I also feel the pain and joy in music like I’ve never felt before. I’m more connected to myself and the world around me.

Finally, my anxiety disorder has opened me up to connections and relationships that I would have never imagined. Ever since coming out and sharing my struggles with my network, I’ve found that my friends and connections are much more willing to share their own struggles with me. Individuals reach out to ask for my advice. I’m getting emotional writing about it. My relationships with my friends and family have grown exponentially. We are all human. We all struggle. We all have our bad days. WE SHOULD TALK ABOUT THEM! In today’s day and age, I found myself getting caught up in relationships that revolved around interests, school, and going out on the weekends. Those relationships are great, but it’s what happened after my diagnoses that make the connections special. These relationships became full of conversations about life goals, values and principles, personal struggles, and even conversations about faith and politics. Because of my anxiety disorder, my sense of what makes a relationship strong shifted entirely.

The positives of my anxiety disorder are what keep me ticking every single day. I will say, however, that the negatives SUCK. Just because I appear to be doing well does not mean that I actually am. I still fight for my mental health every single day I wake up. What many individuals who don’t experience mental illness don’t know is that it takes a tremendous amount of effort to simply get through the day. I’m constantly in a battle with my own mind, having to stop my daily routine to fight off a spell of intrusive and negative thoughts. There is no single solution to fix my anxiety disorder (If there is, please let me know!). It is hard. But here is one thing that I have learned – my anxiety disorder does not define who I am. Rather, it is how I fight it. I’ve survived my worst days. I’m still fighting. I’m still struggling. I’m still going. But just like a storm, the sun is still shining behind the rain and the clouds.”

From Kevin Brennan, Willow Sweeney and Tom Cody, with whom I share storms and sunny days.

Paul Bernabei
Top 20 Training