I was born in Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, where my father worked as an actor for a year. He was on stage, double casted, portraying Pontius Pilate, and Satan, while my mom was giving birth to me. Isn’t that a welcoming way to enter the world?
A year later my Dad got a job as a activity counselor at a Christian nonprofit drug rehabilitation center, in Rehrersburg, PA.
My mom didn’t know it at the time, but she was creating an anxious adult, by pointing out so many flaws at an early age. When I was a teenager, it became much harder for my mom to homeschool me. She had already homeschooled my brother, who was easy. He just did the work. I always had my head looking out the window. I wanted to go to school, but I was afraid, because my mom was tough, and it shot down my confidence at an early age.
There was nothing that I could do that didn’t receive a critical review. My mom never just told me, “Good job!” or “You’ll do better next time.” By the time I was in 9th grade my mom was working so much she didn’t have time to teach me, nor do I think she had the patience, but the work had to get done one way or another.
I tried really hard to teach myself, but I’m sure you can guess what happened... because no one except a genius can teach themselves Algebra, Chemistry, and Physics. Let me tell you, I am no genius. Every subject had about 5-10 pages of work in my portfolio, yet the evaluator signed it every year (clearly I’m a portfolio expert). My work looked amazing, but I learned nothing! I’m probably the most uneducated man you’d ever meet.
The dysfunction began when I started singing. My brother was six years older than me, and a baseball junkie. My dad didn’t have anyone to bond over music with until I was a teenager and wanted to sing with him on his album (like my brother did when he was a kid). When I was 18 it was time for my dad to record his next album, and I was dying to go to the studio to sing with him. He said it wouldn’t be cute anymore because I was too old (I wasn’t going for cute). I was trying to bond with my father.
Year 20 was an anxious awakening
I always felt different… I couldn't focus like other kids could, or I would focus on things other people wouldn’t even notice. When I entered adulthood, I knew I had to seek psychiatric help on my own. This lead to me leaving my parent’s house after an argument one evening.
I can’t tell you what we were arguing about, but my dad asked me if I’d go with him to a place called Pilgrim Camp.
Yes, this place exists too. My dad took me there every year, or I’m schizophrenic. (if you want to picture me just think of Bill Murray from the film “What about Bob.” I may have slicker hair, but that character is exactly who I am, and how I react to the world, including the paranoia of conditions. It’s funny but it’s real and immobilizing).
I had a feeling my Dad and I couldn't reconcile, so I figured going with him this one last time was the least I could do. I never thought I’d say this but…
Thank God I went to Pilgrim Camp.
Not because my Dad and I reconciled. We didn’t.
But over the course of just two days at this camp... I fell in love, and someone fell in love with me.
I’ll never forget the first time I looked at her, because she was looking at me (I found out later she didn’t know I was also staring), but we didn’t say hello then. It wasn’t until the last evening, that she sat down at the table where I was eating, and she said hello. It caught me off-guard, completely... most girls didn’t just blurt out a hello to me, and if they did, about 30 seconds later and they would awkwardly walk away.
For some reason I felt comfortable with her, as if I had known her my whole life, and she was the first girl I had ever just been completely honest with (without tampering the embarrassing parts). The irony is that much of the past that embarrasses me, she found hilarious. For the first time I was laughing at things I used to cry over; but there were also times when I told her something that she thought was awful, and for first time I had someone to cry with me, and dry my tears with that beautiful hair, that always smells like Pantene Shampoo.
Neither of us knew at the time how important it was that we met.
My wife is the most incredible human being I have ever known. She saved me so many times from physically hurting myself. My anxiety, depression, panic attacks, have only gotten worse as I have gotten older. Everyday before work I'd feel a pit in my stomach which would lead to feeling anxious, which would lead to my head spinning. I would think that my heart must be beating really fast, but when my wife would check my heart rate… it was normal, and then she'd feel it spike, and panic would set in. I was so confused with my feelings. Sometimes it would lead to hyperventilating, thinking I was having a heart attack (scaring my wife half to death). This would lead me to not eating for two days, going to urgent care, only to be told it’s all in my head!
Its taken me a long time to find a balance in my life.
After our first two years of marriage I noticed my wife’s strength diminishing. She was holding up the relationship because I was too busy with my worries. I realized that if I didn’t make a difference, and take control of my thoughts somehow, our marriage will break apart.
And it almost did. We had an argument one day that got so bad, it led to me saying that I didn’t love her. Try to come back from that one. The next two hours all I heard was “We’re done! That’s it!” and “I can’t believe I married you!”.
If I didn’t have an amazing sister-in-law, who drove 3 hours to our house and calmed both of us before we said anything worse to each other, I’d probably be divorced today.
Ultimately, I knew I’d end up alone (probably divorced), if I didn’t show my wife that I wouldn’t accept defeat without a fight.
What finally changed was the way I handled my anxiety.
I stopped trying to be perfect, I accepted that Jesus was the only perfect Being to have lived, and that God is bigger than my anxiety.
That hasn’t stopped me from needing or taking medications, but I've learned in my short few decades on earth, that until you face your fears and your anxiety, and actually get to the root of what immobilizes you, learn to have faith and respect for God, all the assets in the world couldn’t help you.
It’s difficult to accept these failures (especially when you suffer from anxiety), but
it is ten times harder when we see our lives as zero sum games.
You might ask, “What do I do when I struggle with my job, because some days I just can’t imagine going back to that place.” I have good news..
You DON’T have anxiety.
Anxiety, is when you wake up in the morning and you see your bedroom door handle. Your brain knows it’s now time to get up and go open that door, which leads to the hallway, which leads to the bathroom, which leads to a series of tasks that must be performed in order for you to be ready to leave. If you make it that far, the next room awaiting you is the kitchen which requires you to eat (this is not an issue for everyone, but my anxiety takes away my appetite to the point where some days, all I consume is water, and if I can stomach it...a cracker). Then if you can finish breakfast without a panic attack, and if you remembered to take your medicine on time, and if you can actually bare to look at the door that leads out to the open world…you might sneak a peak.
That is anxiety.
But God is Real
He didn’t create us to be anxious people, those are mistakes of the past. But it was also a problem I was born with, that my parents ignited.
Wait that’s a contradiction. How could I be born with mental disorders, and say in the same sentence that God doesn’t make anxious people?
Well for one thing, I can tell you just from my own memory that I was not a child riddled with anxiety. In fact I had no fear as a young kid speaking to other children or adults, but my mother criticized everything I did. And I was always observing my Dad, who was always looking depressed and miserable when he’d come home everyday from work. So some of my issues could indeed be inherited.
What’s my point? It’s never ONE thing.
It’s not your parents, it isn’t how or where you were raised, it’s not the people you met…
It is the combination of them all together that created the chaotic mess you’re dealing with right now. These things may be what shapes us and gives us our character, but it is not what defines us. The one idea that actually made the difference was God. Not a building…God, and the pursuit of a personal relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
The awareness that if you learn to look away from yourself and love others… God uses your life, because we are not here on this earth to beat each other, to win over the other, but to love and be of service to one another.
Tough challenge I admit, but that’s the task.
Prayer changed my life
I remember when I realized that I had never really prayed prayerfully to God in faith that the medicine I was taking would work, or about my career, or my relationships. In fact I found myself leaving God at the dinner table praying for a glass of water and a cracker.
You may have been born with it, or you may have been conditioned. Either way, you are NOT molded by it. Remember the root of the your problem is in your head. Which means it can be defeated. The mind is so powerful. And so is God. He is bigger than our minds. Which means even at our best, He is greater. Forgive. At least in you, on your side.
God calls us to love, but we can’t do that if we can’t forgive. You may think there are things that are unforgivable. So do I... but God doesn’t.
I was praying one day by myself at home, when my wife was gone on a business trip. I hate being alone. My anxiety and depression is at its worst when I’m alone, but I as I prayed, the phrase from a particular film came to my mind, and it made me weep as I said it outloud to God. It’s become my life motto, and has given my mind it’s most formidable moment of clarity…
“My face is mine, my hands are mine, my mouth is mine… but I’m not… I’m yours. “
-Captain Fantastic “Ben”