My Boring Personal Story About Anxiety, Written (discourteously) Not For Anyone's Entertainment, But Solely So That I Might Get It Out Of My System, So To Speak.

When I was a kid, I was supposed to be some sort of a prodigy. I was reading by the age of two and writing by three. My IQ was tested at a number I'm still a little uncomfortable copping to. Nobody at my little elementary school had seen anything like me. Maybe that was good, because to a great extent, they treated me like a normal kid. I managed to cruise through childhood and early adolescence with my self-esteem largely intact. You might even say I had confidence. I was actually a bit of a performer back then, and I remember feeling that nothing on earth was closed to me; that the possibilities of my life were boundless. I kept learning new instruments, I kept reading new books, I kept writing songs and poems and sprawling sci-fi manuscripts about dog people, writing fake newspapers, recording fake news broadcasts, painting pictures. I kept seeing '100%, A ++' right beside my name, again and again and again.

Around age sixteen, this ended. I don't really know why; I don't recall any specific trauma. It was something more...creeping. But sure enough, the attention that once felt gratifying gradually became suffocating. I became aware of a constant pressure, a pressure to live up to impossible standards. My self-dialogue began to involve the word, 'fraud.' I felt like, eventually, I would be exposed as a fraud, negated as a human being, and never taken seriously by anyone again. I felt, increasingly, like an animal trapped in a cage. This was when the attacks began.

The heart rate quickens. The voice begins to quaver. A tremor installs itself behind every conscious motion. It's fight-or-flight; you feel you have to flee, and right now, no matter what's going on around you.

As I grew older, I began to self-medicate with things like marijuana and alcohol in order to assuage the attacks. My attendance declined and my class rank began to slip (until I was fifteen or sixteen I don't recall having received a 'B.'). Still, I managed to receive scholarships from several good universities, along with a free ride to a school of performing arts in New York. Instead, I chose a small school close to home, where I felt I would be protected from this expectation of having to compete and win, to produce one stellar achievement after another. Attending class was acutely painful, and though I managed good marks in my writing courses, I couldn't even concentrate long enough to endure some of the crowded lectures. By the end of each day I was an exhausted mess.

Unfortunately, during my second year, I won several awards for my short fiction and poetry. I say unfortunately, because it brought more attention down on my head. People were asking me to attend readings and introducing me to professors from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. It was maddening. Around this time I suffered what could be referred to as a nervous breakdown. My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, deserves absolute credit for keeping me alive. Nobody had to do it. I left school, returned home, and got a job in a small restaurant owned by family friends.

About seven years later, I had my second 'breakdown' while working as Executive Chef at a large and prestigious hotel. I had just finished my first novel, which was written in one cathartic burst and revised over a period of years. Up to this point, I had been using my anxiety to advance my culinary career: it was a field in which my obsession with details, need for control and structure, and exacting relationship with time could become assets instead of liabilities.
Unfortunately, these qualities also translated into limited patience and unrealistic expectations for my staff. I began to impose my negative interior dialogue on the whole department. Two weeks prior to a major brand-inspection, I basically took over the entire kitchen, usurping the job functions of many of my staff. I remember standing in a walk-in cooler at 3 o'clock in the morning, adjusting the angles of the chives on hundred of canapes. I believe I had gone in at five-thirty the previous morning. The inspection went over well, as did two complete overhauls of the menu, but I was reduced to a stuttering mess by the 120+ hour work weeks. I tried to kill myself in my car, but was unsuccessful. For some reason I had the presence of mind to call my doctor and tell her what I had just done. This led to my first formal diagnosis.

Medication has helped to alleviate my fight-or-flight feelings, but I've got to try my best to identify anxious thought patterns before they become problematic behaviors. This is like trying to unlearn the game of tennis. A ball is flying past you and you've got to stop yourself from sticking out that forehand. I'm doing the best I can. I still have lots of regrets about wasted years and wasted potential. After all, I had a lot of opportunities in life, and I declined them all because of something that was going on entirely in my own head.There's a lot of guilt that comes with that, especially as I have children who could certainly benefit from a more successful father.

Recently, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. I also published my fourth novel. I'm planning on leaving the culinary field entirely and devoting the rest of my life to helping others in some capacity; I just wish I knew how. I still feel like a fraud from time to time, but now I feel like a thirty-year old fraud with no real skills and nothing but a culinary-school education. I scold myself, telling myself I should be so much farther in life; I should have a master's degree, at the very least. But then I have to remember that I'm lucky to be alive. My kids are safe and healthy, and I have a lot of meaningful work left to do.

dorbel3 dorbel3
26-30, M
2 Responses Nov 25, 2012

I have always wondered if there was a direct correlation between high IQs and mental illness. Your story could be mine. And now my daughters. She is 17 and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and OCD tendencies when she was 15. I suffer from depression. What I want to ask you is am I putting too much pressure on my daughter to do well and go far in school? She says her goals are what she wants to do and getting all A's is what she likes to do. But I can't help to feel like I have put that upon her, partly because my parents never guided me to do more in high school or college.

You seem to be stuck in some subconscious pattern of constantly judging yourself, it seems like you feel like you have to measure up to the standars that was set when you were younger and your intellect wasn't important to you, it was just something that came naturally and it made learning fun. You must have been vey curious as a child. After a while though, with everyone casting you in this role as "the wunderkind", you felt like you had to be that role but it was something that was forced upon you and not what you chose. People like to put people like you into small labeled boxes because it is easier for them to understand you and not feel threatened by you. This is not your fault. Nor is it wrong to feel fake because that role is too small for you, any label is too small for all of us unique individual humans. You stood out too much, that was your problem. People that think they are normal like to make people like you smaller. Don't take it personally. Keep being yourself and use these those gifts for good and charity like you want to. Any gift of giving is enough no matter how small and all contributions are going to be appreciated. You know what to do. Trust yourself. Allow for mistakes. have fun! :)