Monday, May 13, 2013

Fearing Fear, Facing Fear, Fighting Fear

(close captioning is available)

I make a habit of mentioning, during my lectures, that I am extremely anxious about being in front of an audience and that I require a bit of medication to help settle the nerves. I do this for several reasons:

1) it's true
2) if I do get a bout of extreme nerves the audience will know what's happening
3) I think it's important to be up front with the fact that I have to deal with extreme anxiety
4) maybe someone, sitting in my audience, will feel less alone

There are lots of private things that I do not share, however my status as a member of the gay community, the disability community and the community of people who have to deal with some mental health issues as well aren't among that list.. It's odd that the first two are much more recognized and accepted than is the third.

Several years ago I went through a very difficult time. It was the transition from becoming an 'unknown speaker' to a 'known speaker'. The increase in expectations was almost incapacitating. As a fat, gay, bullied kid, I had spent most of my life trying to be out of public view and suddenly I'm required to put myself on display. All of this got to me and I nearly lost my career. Finally when the anxiety was such that I was becoming unwilling to go out at all - and I was considering ending my career as a trainer and lecturer - I went and spoke to my doctor.

She was an extremely kind and incredibly talented woman. She listened carefully. She took my symptoms and their consequences seriously. Slowly she helped me pinpoint the moment of highest anxiety that I face, she helped me develop both real world coping skills as well as prescribing a PRN for me to take about 20 minutes before I am about to experience that bone deep fear. So with 'stress innoculation' and with a tiny bit of medication, I've managed to control the nerves and the fear. I still face them, but with more and more confidence as the years go by.

I tell you this because I promised to tell this story, here on this blog, to someone who attended a conference recently. Our initial contact was hostile. She accused me of 'making up' my anxiety to 'get sympathy' from an audience. Her evidence was that I didn't appear nervous and therefore must be lying.

I told her that not appearing nervous or anxious was not the same as not feeling it. I also told her that the very fact that I was managing as well as she seemed to think I was managing was evidence that the strategies I was using to cope were working for me, and working well. She stormed away. Furious.

We spoke again later. She came and sat beside me. Told me that she lives a life of fear and frustration. That she's lost all joy in her life because the fears she fears are ever present. It takes all of her energy to pretend to be normal and as a result she's lost all sense of normality. This time we talked more seriously and I expressed how much it helped to get help. That seems like an odd sentence but it's one that people often feel can't be true. Somehow getting help is an admission that you are beyond help.

Not true.

I was once at the point of being debilitated by anxiety. I am no longer at that point. I haven't been there for years. But every day that I get through is done because I know what to do and when to do it. I have strategies for moments of panic - real world strategies. I have medication for the peak times (only when lecturing) of fear. I'm good with that.

That moment when I sat down in front of my doctor and told her that I had lost the ability to cope was probably the best act of coping that I've ever done.

I told the woman that I spoke to, the woman fighting fear and fearing failure, that I would write this here in my blog. That I would give my own fully public testimony that I am not ashamed of having a problem with anxiety and I am not ashamed to having sought help,.

What's shameful is that some people will see this declaration as shameful.

I am, sometimes, ashamed of some of the things I do, some of the things I say and some of the decisions I have made. I earned those.

But I am not ashamed of who I am, the path I'm on, and the journey I'm undertaking. The fact that I needed help along the way does not diminish me, it simply makes me fully and completely human.


My name is Dave.

I experience deep fear and anxiety in my life.

(Hi Dave - says most of the world.)


Glee said...

Onya Dave :)

Jayne Wales said...

You need a lot of courage to face your fears and this depends so much on many other factors. To share your fears and strategies is another act of courage.
Yes I have faced many and still have more to come. Some much bigger than others.
Thanks for sharing yours. It encourages me to go and change my doctor who when I confided in her wrote about me on my records and questioned my safety with my child. Never again will I see that bitch but I have to formally change it and say why she lied about me.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning, Dave!

Thank you so much for sharing this. I get such a kick out of people who say..."Well you don't look nervous/anxious." It is quite obvious they are looking merely at the surface and not recognizing the coping mechanisms that are working in overdrive under the surface.

We have experienced alot of ignorance/judgement regarding the anxiety that affects our daughter- folks who suggest that she is merely, "looking for attention or trying to escape an undesirable activity/task..." They just don't get it... nor do they try to understand it.

I am proud of you for speaking up about this and I hope you are proud of yourself. I am so happy you chose not to end your lecturing career, the field needs you. (NO PRESSURE)

Have a great week! :)


Anonymous said...


I can identify with your post. I too have sought help cos I couldn't continue living the way I was living.
In the beginning I felt a failure, and afterwards I felt it was the best gift I ever gave to myself!
My immediate family, daughter, son and husband also benefited for the new me!
Don't get me wrong Dave, the process was very hard work but also very liberating!

To anyone reading this who knows they need help, I say take the first step and ask and let the journey unfold for you!

Thanks for having the courage to write this Dave!
Love Linda.

painting with fire said...

It's a generous act to share your fears. I think it's very easy for people to look at someone who is successful, who is in a public role and assume that they are immune to such fears. I think the more we all hear that we're ALL a big fragile and a bit vulnerable the more likely we are to treat each other with compassion - at least that's my hope!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

without asking for professional help I wouldnt be here anymore.

If you start thinking about suicide (and I really was short before committing it) you know that you can not live on the way you used to live.

I searched professional help and like Linda stated; it was the best thing I could give to myself and the people who love me and my friends.


Louise said...

Thank you for sharing this. Are there any of your coping strategies you could share too, sometime?

Kristin said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Dave. My oldest son developed a sever anxiety disorder that centered on school (long story) and it helps him to hear about others who have dealt with a similar kind of fear.

Anonymous said...

"That moment when I sat down in front of my doctor and told her that I had lost the ability to cope was probably the best act of coping that I've ever done." You just described my experience very well :)
- A

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
And thank you, Dave.

Unknown said...

This part of the world says, "Hi, Dave". I too face fear and anxiety. I face it on almost a daily basis, usually first thing in the morning. I take a medication for it and may do so for the rest of my life. That's ok, it works for me and I am not embarrassed to tell others. I am glad you share as well.

wheeliecrone said...

Hi Dave,
Many years ago, a very wise person told me that it is smart to ask for help when you need help.
I was in a bad place at that time, with no confidence in myself or others, and asking for help seemed to me to be a terrible admission of failure and lack of worth. My wise friend told me that I was wrong to believe that I was a failure as a person and that the realisation that I needed help could be the first step along the path to recovery. She was right.

Anonymous said...

I have always been an anxious person, even as a kid I was a huge worrier. About a year ago I experienced my first full blown panic attack. To make a long story short, I would get a panic attac any time I was out. Grocery shopping made me have a panic attack!

I started staying home, never leaving the house, which actually made things worse, I developed agoraphobia. I broke down and went to the doctor and my life has changed. I too have a PRN for the panic. I hardly ever take it now, but just knowing I have it if I need it has helped so much.

I have now finished school, and have a career supporting people with autism. I could never have had that without asking for help. When I first went back to school, I needed my PRN so many times, it was a struggle. When I started my placement in a setting that supports adults with autism and some pretty big acting out behaviours, I was sure I couldn't do it bc of my anxiety. I have never once had a panic attack, or even come close while I have been supporting the people I work with. I am truly at home at work.

So much for a short story, lol. Thank you Dave for speaking out :)

Defying Gravity said...

This is really helpful to me because I have extreme performance anxiety but also do a job where I have to speak regularly in public (a couple of times a week usually) and at the same time do things that require a steady hand. I also have some medication for it. One little tablet does what hours of therapy, CBT, and hypnosis couldn't do, and means that I can actually gain some positive experiences of 'performing' instead of an ever-decreasing spiral of anxiety. But I have been too ashamed - of the medication not the anxiety - to tell anyone except my partner and one or two friends. And even then I try to make it sound like it's treating a side-effect of another medication (i.e. tremor) than treating the anxiety.

sandi9876 said...

As always you awe me with your honesty, openness and transparancy. You lead humbly.
You teach us all it's OK to be frail- especially those of us who are in a field (DSW) where we care for those who appear more frail than ourselves.
I don't stop by your blog as often as I'd like, but every time I do, I read something that touches me.

We teach the people we support it's OK to ask for help. Sometimes we need to stop and ask for help too.
ALL of us.

As always, you are awesome. Thanks for continuing to advocate. You help me to do my job better. If you only knew how often I quote something you've said...

Louna said...

Your post reminds me of that one class, towards the end of the winter, where the prof started by telling us that he had been feeling blue lately, because of the season, so that if at some point he didn't make much sense this was the reason. He said that really matter of factly, and the students all took it in stride naturally. That really made me feel less alone with my struggles with depression. I admired that prof for his openness then, and I admire you now.

Stephanie Allen Crist said...

A lot of people are encouraging me to be involved in public speaking. I have decided that, yes, this is something I will do. Eventually.

I'm not quite ready to face that fear head on.

Working with someone who really wants to get me up in front of a crowd, but who also appreciates my fear, I have taken something of a middle road and am working on developing podcasts. Public speaking without the public presence. Or the need to stand up feeling stupid and tongue-tied.

I'd heard about some people who took meds to help with the anxiety, but the testimonies didn't make it sound very promising for me. It seemed too close to "doping up" for my comfort-level, considering there are many people in my genetic heritage with very bad drug problems.

Your statements are helping me to reconsider my decisions. Talking to my doctor seems the way to go.

Thank you.