There is no other way to start than to tell you that I am truly blessed. I grew up in a warm, close family that supported me, loved me and afforded me every great opportunity that you can possibly imagine. I went to summer camp, traveled all over the country to play hockey, had plenty of great friends and for the most part, unconditional and unlimited love and support.
Despite having it just about as good as a kid could ask, from a young age, I experienced feelings that I couldn’t explain. I just figured the down days were normal and so, I kept my feelings to myself and just dealt with them.
Fast-forward to the start of college. Those feelings were always there, but about to get much worse. When my parents dropped me off at school, it was really the first time that I had to deal with my emotions on my own. I didn’t have the chance to cry to my mom like I did from time to time when I came home from high school or even to lock myself in my room after a bad day in school or a tough night at the rink. This was a new turn in my life that I was not prepared for at all. There wasn’t anybody I could talk to about my feelings or who could help me out of the funk that I was now experiencing more and more frequently. My parents, long distance, consistently offered their support and love, and tried to help divert my attention elsewhere, always telling me that I was fine and that it all “would be okay”.
But I wasn’t okay. I was unhappy way too much of the time – and I was frightened. It took about all of the courage that I had, but I told my parents that I needed to get help. Thankfully, my parents took my “cry” very seriously and had me fully tested and diagnosed – the verdict: anxiety and depression, with much more detail on possible causes and related effects that explained an awful lot about some of the challenges I was facing in my life.
You would think that diagnosis would have thrown me for a loop but it had the exact opposite effect. I was not only calm, but incredibly relieved. My feelings that something wasn’t right for such a long time were not only vindicated, but I would now get the chance to really understand my issues, where they come from and most important of all, learn how to feel better on a daily basis.
The next step was finding help. As much as I couldn't wait to feel better, I was none too pleased with the prospect of discussing my innermost feelings with a stranger. There was no way some doctor sitting across the room from me was going to be able to get how I was feeling out of me. And I was right! For over a year, I saw psychologists who reached conclusions about who I am, what makes me tick and what might be troubling in my life that were just plain wrong. They didn’t understand me. I am sure they were very fine doctors, but there just was no connection. I began to pull back from regular sessions because I felt like they were a repetitive and useless waste of time and money. Frustrating would be an understatement – and I was left in a more frequent and even darker place that ever before.
Fast forward – after almost two, full years of college and alot of struggling that I never would have made it through without the love and support of my family and closest friends, through a cold call to the head of the psychology department at a local medical school – who took the time to learn more about who I am and what is important in my life – we found the right guy. It took me less than 5 minutes to know that I finally connected with a doctor who understood what I was going through. It was the best feeling in the world and he was just about as excited as I was to get going on helping me feel better. While he laid out mechanisms to help me cope with my dark moments, academic challenges and other byproducts of my condition, he also told me that he could give me small doses of medicine that he felt would offer me the chance to raise my baseline of happiness dramatically.
Medicine -that word always scared me. I don’t like not feeling like myself. I am “no drugs” guy. My anxiety goes through the roof if I start to feel physically odd in any way. For most people, Advil makes them feel better. But the prospect of even taking Advil makes me so anxious that its hardly worth the possible benefits. It took an incredible amount of encouragement from my doctor and my family to get me to give it a try – but I finally mustered up the courage to do it.
It would be easy to tell you that right off the bat, the medicine kicked in and I was a new person. But if my story is going to help anybody, I have to tell the honest truth. The first medicine I took did not help at all. I actually felt worse and was having side effects that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I figured that it might be my anxiety taking over but my doctor felt that it just wasn’t the right medicine. I kept a promise I had made to my doctor that I would give him some room to figure things out, and tried another medicine. After a few days, I felt the beginnings of a significant change for the better. It wasn’t turning me in to a zombie or making me all crazy happy. It was leaving me exactly the person I am minus the dark nights and the almost constant worry and panic. For the first time I was just me, Brett – a ten thousand pound weight had finally, finally, finally been lifted off my brain, my heart and my soul.
I am not going to lie and say that I feel great every moment of every day. Of course, there are times that I am sad or anxious. That’s called being human. But the dramatic change in my overall feeling has allowed me to see life with much more clarity. It has enabled me to feel how fully blessed I am. It drives me every day to help other people who are facing the same struggles, because I KNOW that there is help out there if you have the courage to take the steps to share what troubles you and to get help. I have changed my attitude and promise myself to wake up every morning pop out of bed and take on the day with everything I have. I promise myself to be so active and enthusiastic about everything I do that I go to bed exhausted every night. This is my perfect equation and I challenge everyone to find theirs. But if you never take the first step, you’ll never know just how great your life can be.