Conclusion: Life Beyond the Tunnel
(To read Part One, click here)
It would be nice, though less epic, if my story of anxiety had ended at year seven. It didn’t. But something had changed. I’d moved from trying to control my thoughts to trying not to control them; from fighting or fleeing the wave, to diving into it. The less I feared my thoughts, the more they became my own.
And the more God filled them.
The following year I titled my journal, “The Year of New Beginnings.” I wasn’t out of the tunnel, but the circle of light was growing—and the Father of Lights was in the tunnel with me.
I met with a therapist, but his “let’s talk about your parents” approach felt off. Like taking cough medicine for a sprained ankle. I suspected my issue was more about bio-chemistry than childhood memories. Still, I didn’t know what to “take.” Xanax was all the rage among the cool neurotics, but it felt like a band-aid. I tried running to boost my endorphins, but developed runner’s knee.
When a three-year-love ended, I panicked and tried to control my thoughts again. But God whispered, “No. Let go,” and I managed to resume “Don’t fight, don’t flee—flow” mode.
The following year I met the girl I would marry. She had no interest in being a surrogate therapist, and I had no interest in making her one. Life was sweeter. Completer.
Still, most nights I struggled to locate the elusive doorway to sleep.
So I began to read up on anxiety. My two drugs of choice were coffee and alcohol (I hadn’t been drunk since that fateful night, but still enjoyed a toddy). Both produce celebrated feel-good effects. But I learned that in people with OCD (which I suspected included step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother’s-back me) they can produce the opposite effect. Caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs deplete the well-being cocktail our brains normally produce, and stimulate an irrational fight-or-flight response instead. I also learned that in some people niacin (vitamin B3) can restore the proper balance of those chemicals. So I quit alcohol for a year, cut my java by half, and started taking niacin. Result?
After ten years in the tunnel, I stopped worrying about stepping on cracks, and stepped out into the light. I’ve had a few flare-ups since then, but they’ve been minor enough that I can gratefully say, “I’m the guy who used to suffer from anxiety.”
Would I willingly take that journey again? No! I’m not crazy! (I only thought I was.) But I’m glad I went through it, nevertheless. Because I learned who I was in the tunnel.
A friend who knew me in high school and reconnected with me years later, said, “You’ve lived a charmed life.” Hah! I thought. If you only knew! But then again… I’ve found the proverbial silver lining: my obsessive brain helps me shape stories, enables me to write and make films. More importantly, what I’ve been through has deepened my empathy for others, and empowered me to counsel those with similar pathologies. No, I’m not a therapist, just a seasoned hiker on the emotional trail.
But “a charmed life”?
Well, yes, I suppose it has been.