It shouldn’t take the stigma surrounding mental health to hide my story. It shouldn’t take the embarrassment of going through mental health issues to keep things to myself. It shouldn’t take the shame I’ve felt that having a mental health disorder is like the Scarlet Letter. In the wake of the pandemic, there are so many brave people telling their stories about real-life mental health issues. The leading reason why I’ve been hesitant to share is because... Who am I? Who would care about my sob story? Would it be too self-serving? There are so many people suffering right now as COVID-19 has rattled our lives. There is death, ever-growing unemployment, isolation and so much more. But the Coronavirus is adversely affecting individual’s mental health, whether we want to talk about it or not. The Ad Council can put dollars behind a TV campaign, but what does it accomplish beside general awareness without people taking the next step to talk? Isolation always tips into a downward cycle of agony. Well, the reluctance for me to disclose my mental health disorders is the anxiety talking, and as my family, my girlfriend and the medical professionals I trust have told me, stories about mental health can help save lives. Even if it’s just one. So, here’s mine…
In December 2018, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). At the time, I didn’t realize GAD occurred more frequently in individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) than they do in the general population. According to a report from The National Comorbidity Survey Replication, 47% of adults with ADHD had an anxiety disorder of some kind. But…how? I thought I had done away with ADHD. I thought it was managed. Locked-away. I was 30 at the time. With no significant bursts of anxiety from when I was in middle school, why is this happening now? Little did I know the perfect storm of anxiety was always there, underneath the surface, ready for just one little thing to trigger it. The concerning thing though this time is it was not only gradual, unfolding slowly, but it coincided with surges of anxiety as well. Imagine already running on a treadmill at an all-out pace, while medicine balls are being thrown at you left-and-right as you to try to dodge them. Fun, right? But to understand what happened then and what continues to happen now is to rewind the clock…reverse engineer this whole thing.
My family realized there was an issue with me in terms of my hyperactivity and attention span in first grade. Remember, ADHD wasn’t as cool back then. The first descriptions of ADHD were in the early 1900s; in fact, it wasn’t even called ADHD until the 1980s. The rise of ADHD cases happened around the time I was diagnosed in the 1990s as not only was the medical community becoming more aware of it, but able to report and alleviate the symptoms. In 1994, the pediatrician wanted us to deal with it through diet. Cooking only natural organic foods to treat my ADHD diagnosis. WHAT? I don’t recall too much about this at an early age, but a diet? In looking back at research, it was one of the more speculated, long-studied areas of ADHD. However, this made no difference in curbing my behavior. From there, I was placed on Ritalin – the drug du jour at the time – by the end of first grade. Close to a year later, I had to be taken off it after developing facial tics (how fun!). Then, I was moved to another medication called Tenex, which accelerated symptoms of anxiety. Thus, if I ever teetered on the edge of anxiety, it was as if my brain wanted to push on the pedal and go from 0 to 60 in a nano-second. This even led to separation anxiety when I would have weepy frenzies about not being near the vicinity of my parents. This is all so bonkers even thinking about it.
You’re a grown man. Yet, the day before Thanksgiving, I literally got home from work, waited for my girlfriend to get to Orlando and just fell and cried into her arms for most of the night. Something needed to be done. I finally admitted I needed help in December 2018.
At long last, the pediatrician recommended the best psychiatric specialist in Gainesville. They put me through studies to aggregate all the issues, which eventually led me to Adderall. Finally, a drug that worked well in terms of my behavior towards others and the ability to learn and focus in class. Except surprise…middle school rolls around. My anxiety magnifies again because of the change in class structure and insurmountable homework assignments. The shock of going from an environment I was accustomed to for six years at elementary school to a brand-new format at middle school was too much.
From a parental standpoint, I know this was devastating and heartbreaking for my Mom and Dad to watch their child suffer through something that caused so much pain and there was nothing they could do. They didn’t know how to make it better. However, they were also amazed they could see me totally anxiety ridden in one moment, but then walk into a classroom for six hours and keep it together. I had the ability to fight what was going on inside my head and move past it. Regular meetings with my psychiatric specialist allowed an outlet of pent up frustration, while providing me a routine to do so (I enjoy routine for those who know me.) Luckily enough, Concerta to the Adderall helped make middle school a walk in the park after the bumpy start. While the Adderall had dealt with the ADHD specifically, now the Concerta would focus on the anxiety itself.
Once I got to high school, we phased out of Adderall to Strattera. The difference between those two is Strattera is a non-stimulant. The more mature sibling of Adderall as I wasn’t as hyperactive as I used to be. From there, we decided to remove Concerta from the equation at the beginning of UF because we all felt the ADHD was under control, so this is what I continued on through the age of 27. Beside just routine appointments to get the prescription and use it as an outlet to talk (if need be), I was totally fine. Felt great. And guess what? It was almost as if I don’t remember this person who went through all of that. Those memories are much more vivid for my parents than me sometimes, and I could just compartmentalize it into a bag of bad memories. I’m grateful my Mom and Dad had the faith to never give up on me. It was a true team effort between my parents and my doctors in that they were never going to let me fail, while giving me the tools to succeed. We all knew I had it in me to fight through the ADHD. So, when I began working at a previous job and due to the tier structure of Strattera under our medical plan, I made the unilateral decision to wane off it completely. Never look back. Sunshine and rainbows. Roll credits.
Hold-on…stay through the credits…post-credits scene. It’s October 2018.
My girlfriend and parents noticed something was wrong that month. My personality was slowly changing. Meticulous. Although this was new to my girlfriend as she had met me with the ADHD was under control, my parents knew what was going based on the stories I was sharing with them at the early onset. The anxiety was back. What was scary is this was happening while I had a job, not as a student.
The best way to describe what was happening is this. Remember in Back to the Future when Marty McFly is slowing disappearing on stage as the band plays Earth Angel? If you recall, he’s disappearing in the photo he’s holding as well at the same time. That’s how I felt. Except I can’t remember in the movie or if anyone noticed the band when they see McFly hunched over on stage. But the anxiety? Everyone notices. You have the self-awareness enough to realize this. And yet, for two more months, I did nothing about it. I thought I could just take care of it. Call it a bad day. Rationalize it however I wanted. Let it fester however I wanted. Do you see the theme? I. I. I. The thought was I’m the only one who can take care of it. Well, let’s read some articles online, download podcasts, try Headspace, etc. Anything to avoid going to get help. The ADHD was a part of your childhood. You were a kid, so you needed assistance then. But you’re 30. You don’t need help now. You’re a grown man. Yet, the day before Thanksgiving, I literally got home from work, waited for my girlfriend to get to Orlando and just fell and cried into her arms for most of the night. Something needed to be done. I finally admitted I needed help in December 2018.
I isolated myself from coworkers while I was at the office. People I truly cared about. Because of the anxiety, I was overworking. I was burning out.
We were able to get the psychiatric specialist in Gainesville to recommend someone in Orlando at the NeuroPsychiatry Center, and it was there I was diagnosed with GAD. Good. Great. Awesome. And guess what? Just like ADHD, there’s no cure and the symptoms are always going to be there. Hold on. I thought I cured of all this. The ADHD was gone, right? No…the unrealistic worry and tension…no matter how little or small…was always there. It’s just now, there are triggers in your life that are causing you so much distress, it’s interfering with your ability to lead a normal life. In fact, this might be the toughest challenge yet. Thankfully enough, we were able to make a quick diagnosis and get me on the right medication, while also introducing me to something new – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
To make a long story short, it’s learning and developing skills to help you alter emotional responses that are harmful to your mental stability. It’s trying to change the thought and the behavior that activates or worsens the anxiety. Essentially, thoughts → feelings → behavior. If you can change your thinking, your feelings and actions will change as well. For example, if someone at work said I did a bad job, it caused a spiral into feelings of shame, sadness and fear. Then, it went to “…I’m mortified of being terrible at my job and the world is going to end because of it.” When I had these feelings, then they must be true. I was having irrational thoughts which were altering my perception of reality. My mind is convincing me that it’s true, when it isn’t. Fundamentally, it’s supposed to help you identify the negative thought, challenge the thought and replace the thought with a realistic one. My therapist was really trying to get me out of my comfort zone. Trying to break these negative habits. Be more self-aware. Tricking your brain out of this normal routine you’ve found yourself in.
Awesome. CBT is going to help. I’m going to get back on track. So now I’m coming out of my first appointment in January 2019 feeling like I’m understanding the CBT, while also excited about how I was going to practice it and work on some tasks assigned to me. And then…the bottom fell out…again. After an appointment that month, when my therapist billed for CBT services, my medical coverage wasn’t covering the therapy. The bill was going to be way more than I could afford. This was not only going to hurt me, but countless other patients at this clinic who were with this coverage. So, again, I made a unilateral decision to just go with the medication from clinic and see how it goes. There had been enough fine-tuning of the medication mix – three that I’m on now which I won’t spill the beans on as I’ve already done that enough – which do have side effects, but it’s worth risk. WRONG MOVE, GUY!
It was destroying my relationship with my girlfriend. It was hurting my relationship with my parents. I didn't want to go out with friends because I didn’t want to be a drag on their life. I felt worthless.
Before we go any further, why was all this happening? In the short amount of time I had gone to NeuroPsychiatry Center, what did we find out? It was work anxiety. I was working at an incredible job. Before I ever got the gig, I put that job on a high pedestal before I even started. I created my own set of expectations at how things were going to go. However, as time passed, I was starting to exercise excessive, irrational worrying. I had trouble falling asleep. I was shaking and trembling in front of leadership and none of my sentences made sense. I wasn’t sure my abilities were showing up when needed. Reading over emails multiple times because I was concerned one misplaced word would set-off a nuclear code to destroy every deal I was trying to get done. I isolated myself from coworkers while I was at the office. People I truly cared about. Because of the anxiety, I was overworking. I was burning out. In fact, there was an entire work week I stayed up all-night because my thought process was…you love this job…this isn’t work to you, this is just the process of you doing the job. But what I had done in setting these expectations for myself is I created an unhealthy work environment. Where I was working more, relaxing less. Where my self-worth was completely tied into the job. Where I was just living in constant fear. A part of my profession is living in the grey when you don’t want to. Living in the vague. Whereas before I was able to manage it, all sudden it consumed me. It ate me up.
And it was destroying my relationship with my girlfriend. It was hurting my relationship with my parents. Not wanting to go out with friends because I didn’t want to be a drag on their life. I felt worthless. I lost confidence in what I did. I wasn’t outgoing anymore. Feeling like I didn’t matter. I told one person about it at work early in the process, but I was ashamed to dive into more detail beyond mentioning why I had to leave work during the middle of the day for two weeks in a row. I brought up the CBT. They were receptive. They asked questions. I was so grateful they did so. But I didn’t tell them why necessarily.
Two months later, I just said screw it. This isn’t getting better. Every day is a struggle. Just pay the exorbitant fee for the CBT appointments and let’s get back on track because you’re fading away. As things began to unfold and deeper problems arose, we’re discovering I more than likely needed to change my work environment. See, maybe someone without GAD might look at the situation and assess it in a rational manner. They can look at it more objectively. My current wiring wasn’t allowing me that option. I connected my value to the scoreboard of the job I was hired to do. I said the anxiety is my fault. I’ll take the blame. I wouldn’t accept it was a chemical imbalance. Between my girlfriend, my parents and the medical professional I was seeing, we all determined I was going to have to change jobs. I had internalized all the expectations of that job, and at the end, I just felt like a complete and utter failure. Metaphorically speaking, I fired myself.
Sometimes you must move on no matter how painful it might be. You must look at the positives and use that to build on what you'll need for the next part of your journey.
Let’s fast track to almost a year later. What have I learned now that I’m on the right medication mix and I’m on a normal routine with CBT? Well, it’s just that. It’s been a combination of therapy and medication. If I had done just one of the two things, I don’t know if I would’ve figured it out. I’m getting there, but it’s still a work in progress. It’s going to be a process. Anxiety isn’t a binary thing. It’s a battle of mitigating it the best way I can. Life isn’t like a movie where you learn your lesson, and everything is kum ba yah after. Sometimes you must keep learning the same thing repeatedly. My head was hurt. I needed help. I had to be proactive in taking a stand against GAD. We all make the choice to react and feel how we want. And that’s the hardest thing to do. It’s to admit there is something wrong with you. I still have reactions to things and they’re very strong. But rather than let it subside and hopefully go away, I try to ask myself why I felt that way? Why am I reacting this way? Why did it get that emotion out of me? I need to give myself crap sometimes and really make the concerned effort to get better. I had to choose I can’t do this alone. I had to choose to grab onto this with both hands. I’ve gotten over the shame of needing help. Needing medication. Needing therapy. I don’t want to be weird about it anymore. I didn’t like talking about, but I see little glimmers of when I do. However, I’m not diving all in the way I am right now. I’m still not too far removed from 20 months ago. How I live my life every day is my choice. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s how you deal with it and handle it. I wish this was a broken leg and I could just put a cast over it and it be fine. But it’s not. I’m having to speak to each thought with gratitude to dry the worry out. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one.
I’ve also learned people are put at certain places at certain times for certain reasons. Sometimes you must move on no matter how painful it might be. You must look at the positives and use that to build on what you need to do at the next part of your journey. I still find struggle in seeing value in myself at times. I’m so appreciative to have a great network around me, but I’m going to have to put in the work. I know I have it in me where I can fight. Quit psychoanalyzing everything. Doing things without any expectations in return. Wake up every morning and enjoy what life has to offer. Remember how much fun you have doing this job. There’s no wondering if you can. You can do this.
As we wrap up the month of July, I’ve been amazed by people sharing their stories – celebrities, athletes, business professionals, etc. Especially those who are experiencing anxiety during this pandemic. Everyone is unique to their own mental challenges. Each mental disorder elicits a different reaction out of everyone. It can cause one person to go one way and someone else in an entirely different way. There was one story I read recently which led me into the 501(c)(3) We’re All A Little Crazy and their #SameHere Global Mental Health Movement. This led me to finding out more about how all of this got started by Eric Kussin and his story. This led me into reading other stories. This inspired me to apply for board positions with mental health associations in Central Florida. These stories bring together communities across the entire world to spark a conversation. Now more than ever, we need more action from healthcare coverage, community leaders and news outlets to talk about this more – especially, during a pandemic. According to an article from The Hill, calls to the federal mental health crisis hotline are 900% greater than this time last year due to the emotional toll and fears about the Coronavirus. Taking this from a previous post I saw: If you’re feeling levels of increased stress along with the inability to leave your home to seek out mental health services, I implore you to look into “tele-health” as an avenue to access mental health providers from your home. Mental health is a real issue and it shouldn’t be stigmatized. Prior to COVID-19, one in five American adults were dealing with mental health issues. That’s staggering.
So, to take what Eric has started…we’re all a little crazy. I’m a little crazy. Guess what? It’s cool. You’re not damaged. You’re just human like the rest of us and that’s totally fine. I’m willing to connect, engage and talk with any professionals in my network who do suffer from anxiety. Just as we say at Florida Gators football games, “In All Kinds of Weather, We’ll All Stick Together.”
Chris was appointed Senior Manager of Business Development for Florida Gators Sports Properties @ Learfield IMG College in July 2019. Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Chris received his undergraduate degree in sport management with a minor in mass communications at the University of Florida, and then went to pursue his MBA at the University of Alabama. With more than eight years of experience in the sports industry handling corporate partnerships, sponsorship strategy, contract negotiations, account management and premium seating, Chris' responsibilities include connecting brands with passionate Florida Gators through multi-dimensional, fully-integrated marketing partnerships based on specific business and marketing objectives. Before assuming his current role, Chris was previously with the Orlando Magic from January 2016 to June 2019 as a Partnership Development Manager. Chris got his start in the field with Learfield Sports in three separate capacities from May 2012 to December 2015: Corporate Sales Assistant at Learfield Sports headquarters in Plano, Texas, Account Executive at Coyotes Sport Properties in Vermillion, South Dakota, and then Business Development Manager at MVC Sports Properties in St. Louis, Missouri.