A Matter of Life
"You good man," a friend of mine asked as we rode along. Of course I wasn't. "Yea, I think I'm fine," I replied unsure of what had just happened to me. I lied, I was scared out of my mind. In the middle of an intense debate about who was better between Biggie and Tupac, I struggled to get air into my lungs while my heart beat as if I had just ran a circuit of the Boston Marathon. Almost as if invisible walls were closing in on me, my friend who happened to be driving, noticed the difficulty I was having. I had never quite felt that way before. Terrifying thoughts bounced around my cerebral cortex. Am I dying? Did I just have a heart attack? I didn't know and that was the scariest part of it all. In my brazen attempt to be cool about it, I brushed it off as possibly acid re-flux but when it happened again minutes later, I reluctantly asked him to take me to the ER. Medical machines, pesky forms, sounds of moaning patients and long wait times were the terms I could use to describe that evening. Embarrassed by what had happened, I thought of that day long after it passed. Thankfully everything checked out fine in terms of my body, but what I did learn, changed me forever.
"Wait a minute Doc, say what?" I replied after he mentioned the word anxiety. To my knowledge at the time there wasn't anything that I thought I was actively worrying about. I got on the internet after I left the doctors and earned the nickname, google master by my then girlfriend. Lord, did I. Day and night I researched things which led to a small bout of hypochondria. Web MD will honestly have you believing you've got everything. If I was honest with my self, I would have realized I actually worried about quite a few things. I worried about how I’d pay for college at the time. I worried about my health. I secretly worried if I'd ever find the one. You name it, I worried about it. Admitting I had a challenge was probably one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. All of those stressors piled on top of each other as if they were bricks, layer by layer, continually wearing me down until I cracked under the weight of it all. That panic attack was an eye opening experience for me. I made a decision that day, I wouldn't allow anxiety to control me.
Learning how to manage stress became my highest priority. As a compassionate person, I developed a tendency carry other people's burdens which was not healthy. There were nights I'd lie in my bed unable to sleep because I felt the pain of those I loved who shared stories of abuse, stress and other gut wrenching situations. Over time with help, I was able to learn to care for others in a healthier way without sacrificing my own health. In the many years that have passed since that bout with anxiety, I can honestly say it taught me so much about myself. As a black man who spent years feeling embarrassed about those panic attacks, I can proudly say today, I've grown so much. I encourage men to be open about what they feel on the inside. In fact, my upcoming novel, Digging Deep Within: A Story of Courage and Liberation, addresses the same issue on a much deeper level. I don't know what you're facing today but I want to let you know you're not crazy for having uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.
Today, we face so many different things on a daily basis. People are burnt out by their jobs on top of the demands that reside from taking care of our families and other important obligations. Just making a living can feel like you’re trying to keep your head above water. It can be a lot to shoulder on your own. I wish to encourage anyone who reads this, that feels like they need to seek help, don't second guess yourself. Learn the signs of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Please, don't be ashamed of it either. There's nothing more honorable or courageous than taking care of one's mental health. It's so important and in some cases it's the difference between life and death. So many people feel afraid to confront these challenges because they worry about what others may think of them. This is about you and your life. You're going places. You're strong. You are not alone. We're in this together. There's hope.