‘I Am Royce White: Living And Working With Anxiety Disorder’ by Scott Neumyer

ImageReally powerful piece came out yesterday from Scott Neumyer over at SB Nation LongformIt’s about Royce White’s famous battle with anxiety disorder, but it’s really about much more. Trust me, it’s worth the read. It’s a tough read. But definitely worth it.

If you deal with anxiety, and you’ve never gotten professional help — it’s okay, go get help. It’s no way to live. There’s remarkable stigma around mental illness, especially in my neck of the woods, down here in the South, where Christianity rules and thus people believe we should trust God to heal everything. Especially mental illness, which in many’s mind is just weakness, just part of the depravity of man, something else to be overcome in Jesus’ name. But the more simple and more helpful fact is that sometimes human beings just get sick, and a mental illness is illness same as a cold. Anxiety disorder is the flu for your mind. So go see a mind doctor. Get healed. It’ll change your life.

OK, stepping down off the soapbox. Go read something good. Here’s Scott:

I am Royce White.

I am not 6’ 8. I can barely grow a beard, much less one of the epic varieties that White often sports. I’ve never been named “Mr. Basketball” in Minnesota, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, my basketball career ended before I finished high school.

I’m also not a former top-five NCAA basketball player, nor was I the 16th overall selection of the 2012 NBA Draft. Royce White plays basketball better than most people on the planet. I’ve merely worked typical 9-to-5 office jobs, worked in publicity, and I’m a journalist with credits for ESPN, Wired, Esquire, Details, and many other outlets.

So it’s clear that I’m not, in fact, Royce White. Physically and financially, White and I are worlds apart. Despite these differences, however, in the one way that might matter the most, I am Royce White.

I’ve been dealing, mostly in secret, with a mixture of generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder for nearly 10 years now (and probably even longer than that). My family knows. A few of my closest friends know, and (generally out of necessity) some former co-workers and employers know. I haven’t, however, been completely honest with most of the people that know me — the online community, the same community that, because of my anxiety, has become an integral part of my daily socialization.

Royce White’s battle with his employer, the Houston Rockets, over what accommodations they will make and what provisions they will allow him to have in order to feel “safe” at work while also dealing with his anxiety disorder, has made me painfully aware that I’ve been hiding. It’s time for me to step out from behind the anonymity of the Internet to give my thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, the kind people who read my articles in various publications, and those that consider themselves my friends a chance to understand who I really am — a guy not all that different from Royce White. We’re both trying to navigate the professional working world while also dealing with serious anxiety disorders.

I am not just Royce White. Royce White is also Scott Neumyer. And he’s also anyone else with the same problem.

You never forget your first.

The first time I can remember consciously having a full blown panic attack — the kind of panic attack that isn’t just a fleeting few moments of anxiety, but one that turned my body into a viscous fluid, barely able to stand and form coherent sentences — I was in the upper deck of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field waiting to see Bruce Springsteen. Moments later I was sitting in a bathroom stall at one of the country’s newest sports stadiums with my head between my knees, sweating from every pore of my body.

Everybody has anxiety. It’s one of nature’s greatest tricks. It keeps us alive, alert, and ready to brace for impact in the case of dangerous situations. It’s one of the most important things your body can do and it’s helped humans survive for many years.

This was not that.

This was what happens when your mind and your body start going haywire, firing synapses, blasting adrenaline through your veins, and causing your fight-or-flight response to start binging out of control even when you’re in no immediate danger. That is what happens during a panic attack.

How you react to that first instance of panic determines just how deeply you’re about to slide into a panic and anxiety disorder. Once you decide to internalize that attack — once you ingrain that harried moment of maximum anxiety into your brain — you become sensitized. Personally, it makes me feel like my head is in a guillotine and, at every moment of every day, the man in the black hood might cut the rope.

I worry that something is going to happen and that something is probably going to kill me. I worry about being unable to stop that nameless something from happening. I worry about every single thing I do and every single move I make, wondering if the slightest change, feeling, emotion, or mistake could make that terrible, nameless, faceless something happen.

I worry about worrying.

And then it just starts going around and around in a circle. A (seemingly) never-ending fucking circle that goes round and round and round and round and round and round and round.

An old adage often attributed to Albert Einstein states, “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is what it feels like to have panic and anxiety disorder. Only you’re never really expecting different results. Instead, you’re always expecting the same result: worry. At times, you literally feel like you’re going insane. It could be generalized anxiety, agoraphobia, or some other specific form of anxiety in the spectrum, but the feeling is the same. It feels like a lonely, hopeless, worry-filled hell.

Now you know what I worry about, and what Royce White worries about.

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