Mar 27, 2018
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
I’ve spent most of my life as a quiet, reserved guy, and there were plenty of times that I found it nearly impossible to go out, even with the closest of friends.
It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression that I started to understand why.
My teenage years were full of mental and some physical abuse, but I made it through them in one piece. I didn’t believe they had done any kind of real, lasting damage, and that the negative thoughts I frequently experienced were just that – negative thoughts that I controlled.
I had to be fine, right? Wrong.
These thoughts carried over into my adult life, which brought me marriage and fatherhood. Being diagnosed with diabetes three years ago put extra strain on me, but I was still afraid to acknowledge that I needed help. I had made it through life this far, including the abuse. I was going to the gym daily and in the best physical shape of my life. I had a wife and kids and a successful management career – I had to be fine, right? Wrong. Turns out that’s when I would hit my rock bottom.
I found that I was becoming less engaged with everybody around me. I would not go out. I stopped doing the things I loved. I wasn’t sleeping, going entire weeks on a total of about 20 hours of sleep, drinking an excessive amount of energy drinks to compensate in order to make it through what I considered to just be the daily grind. I was tired. I was confused.
I wanted a way out.
Despite pleas from my wife to seek treatment, I feared the stigma so refused, not wanting to appear weak. I decided instead that the most logical solution for me was to end everything. I planned to take a lethal dose of diabetes medication and painkillers once my wife and kids had left the house for the day. I was ready to quit trying. Why bother, I thought. I believed my family would be better off without me and nobody would miss me. I still don’t know what stopped me that day, but I am thankful.
I knew something was wrong.
Though I had made it through my darkest hour, I remained in a very dark place. Yet I still insisted I was alright, continuing on with the daily grind. I had beat it as far as I was concerned, by deciding not to take my life. Over the next six months, I would often notice my racing heartbeat, the illogical thoughts, and the fear that everything was going to end up in the worst possible scenario, but I was still afraid of admitting I needed help. What would other people think? What would happen with work? My productivity at home and at work had slowed to a halt, I had become almost completely disengaged with family life, and had lost almost all motivation for day-to-day tasks. I knew something was wrong, but insisted I was just tired. This was a constant theme until one morning, I suddenly couldn’t breath, my chest was tight, and I had pain in my back and shoulder.
Once my wife convinced me to let her take me to the hospital, I found out that my blood pressure was 186/99. Fearing a heart attack was inevitable, the doctors put me through a series of tests to ensure my heart was alright. I was told that my heart rate was likely due to high levels of anxiety, so I was referred to the psych department and was officially diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression.
Over the next week, my heart rate had increased further to 176/111 until I was able to see my family doctor, who told me that I was on the fast track to a heart attack. I should have gone sooner – being scared of the stigma had almost killed me a second time.
I have since been working to learn more about my anxiety and depression. And while I am no expert on mental illness, I can speak very confidently about my fight with the stigma, and the danger it brings. Why are people so quick to label those with mental illness as weak?
Living with mental illness, the fight isn’t limited to the cage.
I started thinking about Anderson Silva, arguably the best MMA fighter ever, and I asked myself: would I look at any of his losses and call him weak? Not a chance. So why am I so critical of myself after fighting through a day and feeling like I didn’t come out ahead? It didn’t make sense. Living with mental illness, the fight isn’t limited to the cage. Some days the bell rings and the fight starts as soon as we open our eyes. We’re not weak, we’re fighters.