Location: Massachusetts > California
Occupation: Actor + Writer
When do you first remember having anxiety?
I think I've always been an anxious person. My parents used to joke I was 6 years old going on 45. But I think the first time I knew it was a problem I was about 17. Time to apply to college. Time to care about life. And I was sitting at the computer one night, probably just wasting time, and then I noticed I was crying. Like no provocation at all from the internet or wherever, I was just shaking a bit and crying. And I think that was my first panic attack.
Does anyone else in your family have anxiety?
I was rushed to the hospital one evening after a particularly bad panic attack, and I called my Dad the next morning to let him know. "Oh yeah. I had one of those at about your age." Oh, thanks for letting me know, Dad. He told me more about what he and other family members have dealt with - and now I know. Turns out worrying about the future is a common problem for a lot of people.
Did you ever discuss how you were feeling with your family/friends?
Too much, too often. I never learned to be tactful with what needs to be said and when to say it. It's been very difficult for me to express my worries and issues in a way that isn't so loud. I have a lot of people who support me, but I feel I'm quite a handful.
What are others' reactions to your anxiety?
It varies. I have friends that I love dearly. Sometimes those friends want nothing to do with me, because it is quite simply more of an effort to sit in a room with me than your average human (unless I am in a shining mood). I'm a pain in the ass, and I'm so grateful to everyone who lends me their time. Most people listen, but it's hard to make them understand. I've decided I'm going to express these things that ail me more through my scripts than my human interactions. I can either tell you how I feel, and you humor me- or I can show you, and we can grow together through art and love.
Did you assume that the anxiety meant there was something wrong with you or your life?
For me it's more like a crippling superpower. I can see all of the problems I face from a variety of ways, but I can't isolate and deal with them. I ask too many questions, and I worry about things that don't occur to others (and I am really worried about those things). "What is wrong with me?" was then always asked with a laugh or a smile, and that got me through.
In what ways has anxiety affected your self-esteem? Your relationships? Your behavior?
My self esteem is a really complicated self portrait that I've been repainting forever. I am genuinely proud of a lot of the ideas I have, and I'm really confused by the rest of them. I truly believe you can do whatever you put your mind to. The problem is that my mind gets bullet-train tunnel vision, and I'm never really sure where I'm going for the ride. It becomes difficult for me to really open up with girlfriends or family or amigos, because I can't figure out where I am in the present long enough to see how it will affect our future. I have a lot of bad habits and no tricks to break them- like how I can find a way to rationalize anything, because I got really good at arguing. And that terrifies me still. I can be insufferable.
Have you ever seen a therapist about it? If so, in what ways did he/she/they try to approach your anxiety (in other words, what tools did they give you/what did they teach you to help you handle it)?
I am incredibly stubborn. One of my college acting professors is even more stubborn, and she's the one who finally got me to go speak to a therapist. The first one didn't work. I got worse and had to look inward to figure everything out - which isn't the worst thing in the world. But then I started seeing someone else, and she managed to hear everything I threw at her then ask me something about myself I had never thought of. She reminded me to stay present and literally list out what has to be done if that will help me to do it. She also helped me realize how much power I have in all of this. Every panic attack was just as much a permission on my part as it was an external factor that I let bother me.
Was help [for what you were feeling and thinking] readily available?
That answer is tough for me, because I was never sure who I could really talk to without just "complaining." It's very difficult to try to rationalize the erratic thoughts when you are having a bad spot of anxiety, so I always felt like I was flooding them with information that they don't have the experience necessarily to process. They'd just say, "Be positive. Don't worry," etc. Sometimes I just need to talk to people so I can figure it out on my own, and I'll just talk about whatever, whenever I can.
What type of thoughts do you have?
I mainly worry if what I'm doing now puts me on the "right track" for later. I'm not good at doing things I don't like - if I'm not passionate about it, it sort of slips away from me. So I tend to tune out of survival jobs in worry of which script I should be writing or why I still don't have an agent. Silly little rebellions against the fact that you just have to earn your way in life. But the tiniest thoughts become crippling. I need to shower, and I have 17 minutes until I must leave. But if I want breakfast I need to leave - you get the point. Minute details become glaring billboards of frustration just because I am so inexorably linked to the necessity of a time schedule. Stress.
What were your panic attacks like?
From age 17 to 18 I experienced them fairly regularly. By 19 I was having a minimum of 1-2 a day for a period of almost a year. Panic attacks are funny for me, because they are the ultimate surrender to everything that ails you. I give up, body. And then you shake. And then you cry. And then you stop breathing. And then you wake up 5 minutes later, and the last few minutes are a little blurry. Then there are the ones that last for hours. The unfortunate thing I had to learn is they just need to run their course. You can only dam up a waterfall for so long before some cracks need to spring free. It's an exercise in pressure, and I've sure had plenty of practice.
Has your anxiety created any other issues?
I believe the depression and anger were there first. Although to be honest, they're sort of three sides of the same triangle for me. My anger problem I have mostly gotten under control - besides mild temper flashes- but nothing compared to high school. Sometimes I'm just sad. And other times I smile and the world opens its arms to me. These things are just pieces of my puzzle, and it's gonna take a long time to solve. But hopefully the picture is pretty at the end.
What have you done in order to better handle your anxiety?
Therapy has helped quite a bit. When I was about 19 I started smoking marijuana. I had been very against it for years and years, and then I stopped breathing during an attack and had to be rushed to the hospital. After that I thought it was something I could try casually just to calm down and process. It's changed a lot for me. I don't need to be high to receive the benefits of the outside perspective it grants me. Now that I've seen through that lens, it is fixed in my proverbial camera bag, so to speak. But a lot of times I just need to keep creating artistically to blur out all the buzz that is ever whirring in my head.
What was your darkest time/hardest day(s) with anxiety?
I moved out of home at 18 to go to school for theatre, and I made the decision to find work and stay up at school almost year-round. So I went from having very little responsibility to quite a bit of it in a short period of time. My mental state just wasn't prepared for the shift. My darkest period was more depression-based during high school when I was still suicidal, which is a thought process I have since ruled out. The honest truth is any day could be my darkest, but I'm the one who controls the light. I've come to learn that my life is chaotically charged. I will be so fortunate one moment, and the next the world comes crashing around my ears. Everything is balance, so I'm always on my toes.
Did you ever have thoughts of harming yourself or others(or did you)? If so, what were they/what was it like?
I used to get in fights but it was more for self protection than to do harm. I was bullied up to the start of high school. But when football players learned I hit back, I was usually okay. I'm too selfish to worry fitting harming others into my own self destructive schedule. The feelings are mainly routed in anger. I used to punch walls. Now I climb trees or do Parkour to get it out. Or I sing. My soul needs a release from being stuck in a human body every once in a while.
Do you think your anxiety has had any positive influences on you? How?
Like I said, it's a crippling superpower. I hate people. I love individuals. But everyone has something different to offer, a different light to shine. All you have to do is listen. I've learned that when I smile and be myself, I can be a source of hope for others. And that's something I now feel obligated to share.
What do you think you can do to help yourself each day? Are there ways you should or could be taking care of yourself but aren't?
I exercise fairly regularly - riding a bicycle in LA helps. But I could certainly eat better. That's more because I'm poor than because I don't "want" to. Making lists helps. Keeping time schedules. And just smiling. I have this belief that everything in life is funny- everything- even the really horrible stuff. You can choose to accept the course of events in your life any way you wish, so I'm trying mine with a grin.
Do you think that if more people opened up about anxiety, it would be helpful to you? Would you have become chronically anxious or depressed if mental health was more openly discussed?
Yeah, I think I still would be. Talking helps, but at the end of the day it's there because its part of my own heart- not necessarily because the lack of someone else's. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if we build that bridge earlier in childhood then we can cross it together and never fall in. My thing is - life is supposed to be hard, you're supposed to struggle to achieve. But it doesn't mean we have to do it alone. Cooperation is key.