I’ve always had a hard time relaxing because my brain doesn’t know how to stop working. When I was younger, I could force myself to relax by having a few beers. This worked great for me as a teenager up and through college. I built up enough of a tolerance that I could slam a 12 pack in a 3 hour span and still write complex computer code. It got to a point where I was drinking almost every day. This obviously isn’t a great way to live your life and I ended up getting a DUI in 2005 (I wrote about that experience in a previous blog entry, “Life experience: Driving under the influence”). Part of the sentence given to me was attending counseling for a few months. After talking about alcohol for so many hours, drinking lost all of its appeal and no longer helped me relax.

Without a way to relax, my brain would keep spinning. It gets fixated and stuck on a subject for long periods of time, to the point where I feel physically ill. I would have an upset stomach and feel extremely fatigued all the time. I’d always feel tense and on-edge. These physical symptoms started to affect my social life. I would ditch events with my best friends because I didn’t feel good. Quite often I’d start feeling light headed out of nowhere and a few times I fainted. One day when I was working at Intel, I started having unbearable chest pains. The nurse came, checked me out, and called an ambulance for me. I really had to figure out what was happening to me. With all these physical issues, my brain is starting to second guess how I feel all the time, making the problem even worse.

In 2006, I spent a lot of time and money running tests at specialty doctors. I was diagnosed by one doctor as having Celiac disease, an allergy to gluten. I switched my diet and quit eating wheat and gluten products altogether for about a year and it did help. I lost weight and started to feel better. But the problem was still there. I got retested, this time taking a biopsy, and it turns out I didn’t have Celiac disease. I did barium tests, an endoscopy, and a colonoscopy. I had CAT scans, MRIs, just about every test in the book. The only diagnosis I got was IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). There was a gastrointestinal doctor I had saw and he told me straight up that the problem is in my head; there is no physical issue. I was insulted; what an idiot. I’m definitely not crazy.

Sometime in 2007, I flew up to Hillsboro Oregon one time for a 3 day business trip. I’ve been there a few times, my team was actually located there. I was working on a project with a few people and really needed the face time to finish the project. The first day was really great, I had a good time and we got some good work done. I was reviewing code with a few other folks and it was really nice to see them in person. The second day I made it about halfway through the day before I started to feel ill. I excused myself towards the end of the day and went back to the hotel.

I stayed in the room for a few hours, trying to sleep and relax, but this time I couldn’t handle it. Something is wrong with me. With all the tests I had done coming back with me being fine, the problem had to be in my head. That stupid doctor was right all along. This was hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accept in my life. I felt like a weak piece of crap for not being able to beat this, especially considering how good my problem solving skills are. I had a break down that night and called my stepmom and let her know what was going on. I had no idea what to do with myself at this point. I ended up canceling my stay and leaving Hillsboro early the next morning.

When I got back home, I started seeking out mental health experts. I met with the first person who was available, a lady named Danielle. After a few visits she diagnosed me with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It was great having a name for the problem and a plan for how to treat it. The really horrible feelings I have been having were called panic attacks. These are seriously the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. You get pumped up with adrenaline, your muscles get all tense, you start hyperventilating. It got to the point where I was obsessing and getting scared about having panic attacks. What happens if I go out and meet with my friends and an attack happens? These attacks were happening several times a week, sometimes several times a day.

I got on medicine. It took a few weeks to kick in but I started to feel better. Much better. The thing I noticed the most after taking the medicine was that I started to feel extremely happy again. After living with this problem for almost 3 years without a way to relax, I was seriously suffering from depression. It’s weird admitting that because I didn’t feel sad or anything. I guess I just didn’t feel happy.

Every day since then, my life has gotten much better. Relaxing is much easier. Once I started taking that medicine, I started to feel like myself again. I started having feelings I hadn’t had in years. Things just kept getting better. I switched jobs and now I’m doing something that I love every day. I met a great girl and ended up getting married. I never pictured myself where I am today when I was struggling with those issues.

I still deal with the issue, it’s just nowhere near as bad as it was. As much as I’d like it to just go away, it hasn’t. Every day I take steps to get myself in better shape. There are good days and bad days. However, like any problem out there, once you know the root cause, it’s a lot easier to solve the problem. The hardest part through it all was knowing my thoughts were irrational but just not being able to make them stop. In my case, it was not even possible for my mind to overcome the issue. I had to get medicine to get my brain up and running again.

So that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past few years. Feels really good to sit down and reflect on it. If you know me personally, you’ll know how I joke about being crazy. I’m not insane, but these are the issues I’ve been dealing with.