“I‘m falling apart, and have no idea what to do. Am I depressed? How to deal with anxiety? I’m even wondering if I’m suicidal. The questions overwhelm me! I’m confused and scared, and don’t see how I’ll awaken from this nightmare.”

Hey, you will – take my word for it. But you’re gonna’ have to ask for help, and work your tail off.

How would I know? I’ve been right where you are. I couldn’t have known what life was going to bring my way. But I sure as heck do now – and why.

I’m okay. And you can be, as well. Will you embrace hope?

We began this series several days ago, as I began sharing highlights of my case history. I started at age five and zoomed through high school. Included in the piece is my take on being predisposed to mood and anxiety leanings, and my views pertaining to temperament. Ya’ gotta’ read it.

This go-round we’ll pick-up my case history at my college years (of double-hell) and wrap with my recovery.

Mission Possible: If you can identify with my history, you can buy-in to  – “If he can do it, so can I!”

Let’s get goin’…

So it was day-one at Michigan State University. And it just happened to be my 18th birthday. Oh, and 18 was the legal drinking age in Michigan. I’d only consumed maybe two beers lifetime, but that changed as I attended my first dorm kegger. I don’t recall the event, but I do remember awakening in a laundry cart with a mystery woman  –  who referred to me as “Baby Doll” – the following morning. Though I hadn’t connected the dots, substance abuse/dependence was all over my family history. And the fuse on my genetic predisposition had been lit.

This is huge. I gave cannabis a go with a bunch of guys in my dorm room. I freaked because, to me, the high felt like a derealization episode. From that moment, my anxiety progressively intensified. As a clinician, I can tell you first cannabis use so often precedes mood or anxiety disorder symptom onset and/or escalation.

For the record, my grades were absolutely horrible. I just couldn’t focus upon the tasks at hand and couldn’t sit still long enough to study or comfortably attend class.

Fast forward to my junior year, age 20. Totally on the ropes! By the way, I’m in the midst of prime-time for the presentation of a mood or anxiety disorder. In addition to derealization, on came waves of depersonalization. My tics had now fully presented, and having folks poke fun at me was devastating. Oh, the E.R. visits began. I’d get shot-up with Valium and be sent on my way.

It’s now my senior year and time to graduate in the spring – for most. However, I became so anxiety-ridden I could barely sit in a classroom. Even the hooch wasn’t helping anymore. My schoolwork totally hit rock-bottom. I even flunked a couple of classes. So I took a semester off, earning my bachelor’s when I returned.

So off to adult life with me. But, damn, I was barely making-it.

Though I didn’t realize it, I took my first step toward anxiety-recovery when I was 30. My drinking had gotten way out of control, so I checked-in to a rehab center, and haven’t had a drop since. Granted, my anxiety had yet to be diagnosed – and was still beating me up – however, no more alcohol-medicating was a huge development.

The next, and most significant, step toward recovery was a day-long visit to the University of Chicago Medical Center’s Anxiety and Depression Clinic. I was 34. Now, this was 1989 and there was a ton of emerging mood and anxiety disorder science. I had all sorts of testing done and an intake session with a psychiatrist. Upon returning, I was given a panic disorder with agoraphobia diagnosis. And the doc cut me a scrip for the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine (Tofranil). Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil, Lexapro? Weren’t available yet. For the record, no benzos.

After about two weeks on imipramine I really began to feel better, and my symptoms improved more and more as I approached my therapeutic dose. And that gave me the confidence to again get out and participate in life. Man, I’d been off-and-on so horribly agoraphobic for some 15 years.

Taking everything into account, I chose to believe a nightmare of a journey had ended – and one of healing had begun. And as the years ensued, with the help of assorted therapists and psychiatrists, I’d once-and-for-all put my misery in the rear-view mirror.

One final piece of my story to share. I began my master’s work in counseling at the age of 49, and finished two years later. Those horrible grades I mentioned earlier? 4.0 this time around. And now I’m a very content and comfortable licensed counselor.

What do you think? Any of my history hit home? Did you like the outcome? So tell me, if I can so dramatically turn things around, isn’t it a given you can too?

“Am I depressed?” “How to deal with anxiety?” “OMG, could I really be suicidal?” I understand you may be overwhelmed, confused, and scared. But you’ll awaken from the nightmare, if that’s what you want to do.

I couldn’t have known what was to go down in my life. But I sure as heck do now – and why. And I’m just fine.

Take heart – and hope – in that, won’t you?


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