Living Around Anxiety

By: Derek Smart
Reprinted with permission

True fact: I myself battled various forms of anxiety for years. Even went on SSRIs (Paxil mostly) for several years. Didn’t like the side effects. Then one day, many years ago, I quit cold turkey. Just like that.

There was a point where I couldn’t even leave the house without having that nagging “Did I leave the stove on?” feeling. Or walking into a room full of people, panicking and going home. My wife came to expect it, so social gatherings were particularly brutal. Going to industry trade shows? Heh, that was a challenge to say the least. Without drugs, I’d never do it.

Since I had carefully crafted a career that allowed me to work from the confines of my home, I was able to deal with and control it the best I could. I remember one time, back in the late eighties, my then employer had sent me to a Novell (if you reading this were/are in IT and know who that is, you’re as old as you think you are) training because they wanted me to spearhead the installation of networks at the Qantas airlines office in London. Training was supposed to take all day. I didn’t last thirty minutes. I left.

And that’s when I knew – without a doubt – that something was definitely wrong.

The next day, I walked into my boss’s office and much to his chagrin, quit my job. A top paying job that, back in the day where very few had a handle on computers, let alone the IT field. I couldn’t even give him the real reason because the last thing that I wanted him to think was that I was on drugs (something that I’ve never dabbled in) or something. I simply told him that I needed a part-time gig because juggling a full-time job while pursuing a degree was too much to handle.

My next course of action was to sign up with a contracting agency (CompuWorld, I think they were called) in central London so that I could pick and chose what jobs I could take and when I could go on site. My first gig was at an IBM shop where I met another engineer whose brother apparently had ADHD (I forget what it was called back in the day). We bonded; the rest is history.

Even when I chose to pursue graduate degrees, the trek was as debilitating as you could possibly imagine. Lucky for me, the advent of the Internet and online degree programs were upon us, so that spared me some of the agony of doing the daily trek; though I still had to do it on occasion.

For almost twenty years after coming to terms with it, I lived with it. Never went to the doctor, let alone took medication. It wasn’t until I returned to the US many years later and a life event happened, that I stepped foot into a doctor’s office.

On my very first visit, I left with a prescription. Go figure.

As I look back, I think the primary reason that I stuck with my current gaming career, even though I had a false start with my first game back in 1996 and could have quit, was because I really didn’t think that I could have a life, let alone make a decent living, if I had to actually go out into the world to do it. Which is why, I am probably one of very – very – few successful industry veterans who has never worked for any company in our business. Ever.

I knew something was wrong with me and that it fell on me to make the life choices which would shape my life; and in doing so, I had to fashion a lifestyle that would allow me to cope with anxiety.

To this day, I still have an on-going battle with it, but martial arts (I have trained since I was in high-school, over a lifetime ago), meditation, breathing exercises and herbal remedies have made all the difference. I don’t envision ever taking meds again.

For some people, the impulse and effects are insurmountable, which makes medication the only recourse.

Nobody ever got cured by reading a book. You can only learn more about what you’re going through and gain an insight into how to combat and treat it.

Mental illnesses, especially anxiety-related ones, affect a lot more people than society realizes. Not to mention the fact that the stigma associated with same, results in people not realizing nor acknowledging just how widespread it really is. Most would rather admit to smoking pot, breaking a leg, having the flu, being gay, etc. than admitting to having a mental illness of any sort. It’s a decision thing borne of society’s ignorance and stigma-induced rhetoric.

And the aforementioned denial is what usually leads to misdiagnosis, suicides and the like.

Then there’s misdiagnosis because our society is one in which most doctors are quick to give you a prescription than fully investigate the symptoms. Which is primarily the reason that kids are more often than not, improperly diagnosed with ADHD and similar.

Education is key. If you know what exactly is going on in your head and body, you can help yourself – and your doctor – combat it. Denial and ignorance are not an option.

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