He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:21-23)
I don’t know how I ever managed to fall asleep that dreadful night. The Lord must have been watching over me. I was moments away from a trip to the emergency room because my panic and paranoia were telling me that I was losing my mind. The new day did not bring any relief. I still felt “high”. I was so fearful that the feeling I had experienced would never go away that I had now become completely fixated on it. It was anxiety’s turn. Even if the effects of the drug had worn off, it could send me on a rollercoaster ride equally as devastating. The adrenaline shot through my body as if supported by an IV, and I quickly began to deteriorate.
That day my friend from back home and I had made plans to get together with my girlfriend and a couple of her friends. I had a really difficult time leaving the apartment and putting myself out in front of a group of people. What if I completely lost it like the night before? I wasn’t feeling well, my mind was pacing, heart was racing, and I knew that I might begin shaking with panic at any moment. At this point I wasn’t even aware that I had an anxiety disorder and was absolutely convinced that something more tragic was happening.
It was my first experience dealing with the disorder publicly and recognizing the impact it can have on your social life. It was completely frightening. I’m sure that I will get more into this later on, but it’s the fear of having the episode that is so debilitating. You dread the shame and embarrassment that you will face if someone is able to see what’s going on under the surface of your skin. What if you lose control? What if you hyperventilate and pass out? Or even worse, what if you have a heart attack or stroke? It sounds crazy, but to someone in the moment, those considerations are very, very real. That’s not to say they are logical, in fact they are far from it. But they are extremely difficult thoughts to repress, and they can and will wreak havoc with your life if you allow them to do so.
In the end, I managed to survive that evening. It was not enjoyable for me at all, but I had made it. I believe that I made the excuse to my girlfriend that I was sick in order to diffuse the indicators that something bigger was happening. I was just buying time.
A day or two later my buddy’s flight was scheduled to leave out of LAX. I remember feeling very uneasy that day about making the drive north and sending him back off to the east coast. It was hard to say goodbye, first because we were good friends, and secondly because I knew I was now going to be alone with the demons that had emerged in my mind a couple of days prior. On the drive back down the 405 to Huntington Beach, panic set in. I’m not sure how I made it home – again, thank you to the Man upstairs for looking after me.
I began to think about things that had never mattered to me before. Negative energy flowed through my body and tore into my brain. Throughout the first year of my time in California, I never felt homesick. The fact that I lived alone did not bother me one bit. I embraced the independence. And I loved everything about my experiences there. But now, all of that had vanished in a flash. I was scared to death. What if something happens to me? I don’t have anyone out here. I’m 3,000 miles away from home, my family couldn’t possibly get here fast enough! Am I going crazy? What is going on in my body? I felt lost, hopeless, and on the verge of a total breakdown.
Some of the memories from this period of my life are a bit clouded. I wish I could go into more detail, but being that I was in constant “survival” mode with my body trapped in its fight or flight response, I wasn’t trying to hang onto to much of anything – I was just doing my best to get through each day.
Panic attacks became a regular occurrence. In fact, often I’d experience them multiple times throughout the day. A blast of adrenaline would shoot from my head to my feet. My heart would race and pound as though it was going to jump out my chest. I’d feel lightheaded, my throat would close up, breathing would become a challenge, and I’d envision myself passing out or falling to the floor with a heart attack. I’d even imagine myself on the gurney on the way to the ambulance. I’d hold the phone tight in my hand, questioning whether or not this was it? Was it time to call 911? Or was it that I was just going crazy? And then, as I worked to take deep breaths and calm my mind, it would slowly pass. My body would shake sometimes for an hour or two afterwards. Many nights I would jump out of bed, waking up in the midst of another attack. There was no dream sparking them, and I had no opportunity to calm myself – I just woke up and it was on me. I’d be sweating, shaking, and my heart would be racing uncontrollably. Those were the most discouraging. The nocturnal attacks made you weary of falling back to sleep and they challenged your progress with the disorder because even if you could keep yourself calm and free of attacks throughout the day they could zap of your strength when you were powerless in your sleep. It was an experience that turned your world upside down every time that it occurred.
It took me awhile to understand what was happening inside of me. That’s what made everything so incredibly frightening. I had no idea what a panic attack was and I had no strategies to cope with the anxiety. I made many phone calls to my parents back home, trying to understand what it was that was taking over my life. I was desperate for answers. With their support along with that of my girlfriend, I zeroed in on the reality of my issues. I then did quite a bit of internet research and learned that many others had been suffering with some of the same challenges I was facing. I found comfort in the fact that I was not alone in this fight. But that didn’t eliminate or subdue my problem, it just gave me a bit of understanding.
I was afraid to share with my friends the reality of my issues. So I did my best to conceal them. The best way to hide who you are is to cut yourself off from interaction with the rest of the world. And for the most part, that’s exactly what I did. I blamed the fact that I did not hang out with them as often on the notion that I had a girlfriend and they no longer called me as often. I surrendered relationships with some of the realest people that I ever knew to this disorder. I didn’t even allow them an opportunity to understand. My fear chose our fate. It was only years later that I would find the courage to send an email and apologize.
The one person that I did allow to remain an active part in my life in California was my girlfriend. As I mentioned yesterday, I really was in love with this girl. And she had become the best friend I had ever known. We were close on many levels, it wasn’t just romance – it was mutual admiration and respect. I could share anything with her and never feel as though she would judge me for it. She was always positive, always upbeat, and her ability to provide comfort to those in need was a gift. I felt no fear in opening up to her about my problems, so that’s exactly what I did. She became my rock – an angel from Heaven sent to carry me through the most troubling moments of my life. I gave her every ounce of me, and in return she saved me. We had the type of bond most people only dream about. She was always available. She held me when I shook from panic, kissed me and reassured me that there would be better days, and somehow found a way to bring a smile to my face even when it seemed as though I couldn’t feel any worse. I was truly blessed to have her.
I was also fortunate to have one of the best family support systems that one could ever imagine. I regularly relied on calls back home to pull me through the low points in my days. The Deibler family has always been a bit dysfunctional. But we know how to pull together when faced with adversity. And that’s what we did. I made many phone calls to my father in particular. He could always reach me and bring a sense of calm and reassurance over me. I would call him in the middle of an attack and he would talk me through it. Then he’d work to get my mind focused on something else. There were nights we spent 4-5 hours on the phone. If that’s what it took to help me, he’d do it without hesitation.
But my idle mind was continuing to destroy me. I spent a lot of time alone, huddled up in my apartment. School was about to begin again for the fall semester, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage going to class and getting back on a regular schedule. I had become so handcuffed by my anxiety that I became agoraphobic. I could hardly leave my “comfort zone” to check the mail and get the things that I needed from the grocery store, let alone maintain my focus in a classroom setting for hours upon end each day. I needed to find something, a positive outlet where I could focus my mind and its attention so that I could survive the semester.
Like I mentioned earlier, I spent many nights on the phone with my Dad, and often our conversation would be directed towards college football. After all, it was a passion of both of ours and we looked forward to it every fall. We had been traveling to UNC with season tickets for several years at that point, and although I was now in California and wouldn’t have much of a chance to make the trip to Chapel Hill, we were still both excited for the new season to get underway. But it wasn’t just Carolina that we talked about, it could really any team. We’d go through rosters, coaches, conferences, and former players…anything to channel my mind somewhere other than on anxious, negative thoughts.
One day I went to the grocery store and I picked up a copy of the Athlon College Football Preview magazine. It came with a profile of every team in Divison 1-A. I allowed myself to get totally absorbed by it. I could tell you who Middle Tennessee State’s starting running back was and how he’d fare in their third week of the season against Louisiana Monroe. I knew all of the details. A couple weeks later I found that the magazine was completely falling apart because I was constantly carrying it with me and studying it. So I took a roll of duct tape and covered the front and back covers so that it would be able to withstand the season. I was a bit obsessed, yes. But this time it was about something positive.
Football had found its way back into my life, just when I needed it…