By Jeffrey T. Fitzwilliam
I experienced social anxiety when I was only five years old. I couldn’t speak to anyone, especially girls, all of my elementary school years. In 1958 there was NO awareness or understanding of Mental Health so I was just considered shy and told by many to “just snap out of it and get some guts.” This only added to my anxiety and effectively stunted my growth of any self- confidence.
When I started Junior High School, I discovered my “magic pill.” I began using drugs or alcohol. When I was using, I became a new person, self-confident, cool, and “hip.” The next 20 years I found myself effectively self-medicating , followed by 10 years of trying to get that “magic pill” feeling back. Then still another 8 years of dark and gloomy necessity, which included one suicide attempt and many days of feeling useless and unwanted, despite the fact that I was raising my son and daughter from the ages of three and two on my own.
At the age of 48 I had reached the end of my rope. In a moment of clarity I called a school friend who was the director of a drug and alcohol recovery center. He found a bed for me at a detoxification and recovery center. I entered a 12-Step program and, for the next few years, was happy, joyous, and free. Sobriety was the answer I was always looking for.
After a few years, my diagnoses came back with a vengeance. I was helping my brother and sister-in-law move and suddenly I felt as if I was having a heart attack. My vision distorted, my palms sweating, my equilibrium way off center, and my heart racing. I was hospitalized and diagnosed for the first time in my life with anxiety disorder.
Soon after, I fell into a deep depression, but knew what I had to do. I began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. It took some time to find the right medications but once I did my life was my own. I became a son, brother, father and a man finally at the age of 51. It felt then, as it does today, wonderful.
My biggest blessing was having good insurance coverage. Mental Health and Addiction Recovery has reached a critical point. With the growth in sheer numbers and the seemingly constant cuts in funding, less and less people can receive the help they so desperately need.
It is my hope that my story will help raise awareness, disprove stigma, and perhaps hit home with a brother or sister consumer. In doing so, I hope it will improve their own awareness of the recovery that is possible.
My addiction/diagnoses are lifelong maladies which are, in my case, being defeated one day at a time with the proper recovery actions and assistance.