As a sufferer of anxiety and panic disorder you develop incredible senses and awareness. You become very watchful due to your constant apprehension and you take note of everything going on around you, and you do it to a fault. Your senses become overwhelming at times because they constantly remind you to worry and they feed generously off of the vulnerability of your negative mindset. Even most the most positive responses and emotions can find a way to turn themselves against you. There have been many times in my life when I’ve allowed myself to get too excited or anxious for something and it has led to a setback. It can absolutely wear you out.
As a result, you learn to truly appreciate the periods in your life when you are able to keep the monster at bay. Living a “normal” lifestyle feels like Heaven on Earth. And those keen senses that I had mentioned earlier actually begin to work in your favor. You see things in a completely different light, and they appear all the more grander than ever before. The morning sun, the sounds of the outdoors, the smells of the changing seasons…the little things in life become the most meaningful. In many ways, anxiety is a curse, but in this regard it’s also a blessing. Though we may often fall far deep into valleys of darkness, we can always appreciate our climb to the top of the mountain because our view will always be the most magnificent.
I’ll always look back on that period in North Carolina as a time when I was most appreciative of life. Things had fallen apart with my relationship and I had every reason to fall back into a whirlwind of anxiety. But I stood up, I fought, and I won the battle. I became thankful for every day, and I developed an independence that I hadn’t reached in several years. I had a completely new lease on life.
I transferred into UNC as a junior, and that made it somewhat challenging for me to make new acquaintances on campus. Most upperclassmen had their friendships already well established, and I lived alone and really didn’t know anyone. In time I was fortunate to meet some really nice underclassmen, and I hung out with those guys every now and then. But for the most part I kept to myself and went about my business. And I was completely fine with that. It wasn’t always ideal, and I did get lonely at times, but I was comfortable with myself and I didn’t have a problem doing things alone. And I was on a very health conscious kick…running daily, working out, eating right, and rarely mixing in any alcohol – I wasn’t a target companion for most college-age guys. But I wasn’t going to change who I was for anyone. After all, I was feeling the best I had in a couple of years and I didn’t want to risk getting off track.
I found a new appreciation for my family. I realized after all that I had been through that they were always the one constant. They supported me through the good, the bad, and the ugly. They didn’t always agree with my choices, and I’m certain that they never fully understood what I was dealing with, but they did do their best to keep an open mind and stand by me. I found myself beginning to worry about their well being since I knew they were getting older. I felt like I had wasted opportunities to spend quality time with them at times when I personally lost sight of my priorities, and I began doing my best to hang around the house when I visited on my breaks. I’d even set my alarm to make sure that I was up with my Dad in the mornings because I knew he was an early riser. These were good habits to practice. At least I was learning from my mistakes.
The second half of my junior year went by pretty quickly. I decided to stay in Chapel Hill over the summer to take several courses to catch up on my requirements for graduation. When I transferred in, I forfeited 13 total credits due to the fact the UNC would only accept business courses that were taken in their prestigious Kenan Flagler Business School. This was a full semester’s worth of work. But it was my priority to graduate in four years so I remained focused and committed to the classroom and completed four courses that summer. I would head into my senior year on pace to graduate in the Spring of 2005.
Fall was the best time of year in Chapel Hill. It had always been my favorite season, but now I was living only a couple of miles from Kenan Stadium, the home of my Tar Heels. As I mentioned in previous posts, my family had season football tickets and they maintained those during my time in school at UNC. So I got to see them several times that fall for visits and games, and we had a wonderful time together. That season I witnessed an amazing four down goal line stand as we held off NC State for a wild victory in an intense rivalry game. And I also saw Connor Barth split the uprights and send a 4th ranked Miami team packing in an improbable upset – we had been projected as 5 or 6 touchdown underdogs. And on top of that, I was able to visit Virginia, Wisconsin, Utah, Wake Forest, and Duke for road games. Utah was an amazing trip with my Dad – close second to Colorado on my all-time favorites list. Beautiful city, breathtaking mountains, and incredibly friendly people. Our team finished 6-5 and qualified for a bowl for the first time in several years. It was a lot of fun to be a part of it as a student.
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time at UNC dating or chasing women. For many months following her departure, my heart remained with my ex. It took me a long time to come to grips with the situation and accept that fact that she was gone and would not be coming back. And for a period after I came to that realization, I just felt completely numb. I dated two girls for short periods of time, but nothing significant developed with either. I was comfortable with who I was, and I didn’t feel as though I really needed anyone.
In August of 2003 at my summer orientation I remember having seen a girl that caught my attention. I was there with my girlfriend, but I couldn’t help but notice her presence as we all gathered together forming groups for a tour of the campus. She was gorgeous, and her beautiful blue eyes reeled me right in. She was there with her mother and I can still picture clear as day what she was wearing. I only spent a matter of minutes nearby her that day, but her impression on me would last forever.
I found myself continually looking for her on campus. And from time to time during my two years in Chapel Hill I would pass her in the quad. Considering there are nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at Carolina, this was a bit like locating a needle in a haystack. Was this a sign? I’d do my best to make eye contact and smile towards her, and every once in awhile I swear that I’d see her do the same. But there was just really no opportunity to talk in passing, and I felt like I’d always wonder if there was anything to my curiosity about her and I.
Then one day as I was working out at a local fitness center, I saw her wandering about the floor of the club. I learned through a friend who worked at the gym that she had just started there as a personal trainer. I couldn’t believe it. This absolutely had to be fate bringing us together.
For weeks I’d see her on a regular basis, but I couldn’t seem to stir up the courage to talk to her. But eventually, I learned her name through my friend at the gym, and I decided to give it a go. I asked her if she had transferred in to UNC, and she said that she had from the University of South Florida. And then I proceeded to tell her that I remembered her from orientation, and that I had been hoping since that day that I’d have the opportunity to talk to her. She seemed flattered, but a little uncomfortable about it all as well. I’m guessing that it probably struck her as a bit odd that I remembered all of those details.
As I drove away that evening, I thought about leaving a message for her at the front desk with my phone number since I hadn’t summoned the courage to take our conversation that far inside. And before I made it back to my apartment, I wrote the note, called my sister for a pep talk, and headed back to the gym shaking with anxious anticipation…