Having a dream to play professional tennis, working toward that dream every day was hard. However, having a dream to overcome my generalized anxiety and constant panic attacks and working toward finding a solution to them was much harder. To begin with, tennis training was around four hours a day total. Fighting the constant fear of my bodily symptoms, the thoughts that I was losing my mind or that I was losing control of my body was an exhausting battle that went on from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, day in and day out. I clearly remember days at a time where I would wake up in the morning already wishing that the evening would come quickly so I could go back to bed. I would often have a few alcoholic beverages to numb my anxiety symptoms to give me some temporary relief. I wasted so many days wishing that they would end or numbing them out in this way. This cycle kept me from being the person I wanted to be so badly and I was using all of my energy to fight this “thing” with everything I had, every moment of my existence.
As time went by I was able to find some solutions for my anxious symptoms, for example snapping my wrist with an elastic band when an anxious thought would start to overwhelm me, or twisting my nose to prevent a panic attack when I could feel the fears to remind myself that they weren’t real. These may seem unorthodox or strange, but they work, and I’ve been able to turn my anxious state around completely. What is it that caused me to keep on searching for solutions when it seemed hopeless time after time?
Perhaps it’s the fact that as an athlete I think of the word discipline differently from most of society. Discipline, for athletes, has a positive meaning behind it, an opportunity to create something magical and accomplish a goal through persistence and perseverance. Unfortunately, for most of society, discipline has a painful meaning. It comes across as having to give up too much in order to have the chance at fulfilling something they want. I’ve seen it over and over with people that I work with. I hear the words, “I would love to have more energy” or “I would love to be a more positive person.” These sound more like wishes and dreams than real goals. What starts as a potentially inspiring journey to improving a very important aspect of someone’s life turns into a half-hearted attempt at staying the course due to the challenges that are faced. It just becomes too difficult. If you are at this crossroads in your life, think of the word discipline and ask yourself: What will it cost you if you don’t follow through with your action plan in your future? This is the very moment, the very decision that will shape your future and you will become who you want to be or stay who you are now based on that decision.
Let’s agree on something definite – life is hard. Life will find ways to beat you down, but success in overcoming anything, especially an anxiety disorder, doesn’t come from popping a magic pill. It comes from your answer to the question, “If I quit trying and just learn to cope with my anxiety . . . how will I feel a year from now?” The most important thing that living with an anxiety disorder and working through it has taught me is that with discipline, applied correctly, you can overcome anything. If you work hard and persevere through your self-doubt, you will begin to handle your problems in your life with ease, knowing that the worst is behind you. I now look forward to every day not with dread, but with interest and curiosity of what that day will bring. You will get there too, I promise.