Every morning, my alarm goes off.  Evey morning, I spend hours trying to get out of bed.  I wander over to my desk, chain smoke cigarettes, and wonder how the day is going to go while working up the courage to leave the house.  That’s usually the first panic attack of the day.

Many of you know me, and a small fraction of you know my daily struggles.  It’s my hope in this post to not only to disclose my daily struggles, but to raise awareness that people you interact with on a daily basis also go through the same issues in which they hide it so well, that you would never know.

I’ve been having panic attacks and rather intense anxiety for as along as I remember.  In my teenage years, it was especially bad in which I turned to razor blades and matches for self harm as an outlet for the feelings that I didn’t understand.  Throughout the years, I have learned both constructive, and destructive ways of dealing with these issues thanks largely to the help of my wife, Jamie.

I’ve best described the feeling as this:  Have you ever been in a car accident?  If you have, you likely know the feeling of complete panic and terror between when you realize it’s going to happen, and when the impact occurs.  This usually last just a couple seconds.  For me, it’s several times a day, sometimes for hours.

I’m honestly not sure if writing this down will help, but hoping that getting it out will help me, as well as others who may be dealing with the same thing.

Many of you know me as the guy at the WordCamp who will drink with you all night at the after-party.  The co-creator of WP After Hours whom is likely sipping his beer, making loud conversation, calling people on their bullshit, and gets quieter as the night goes on.  The guy who has a passion for restoring arcade machines and classic video games.  What you didn’t know, is those are all forced coping mechanisms to keep me at a somewhat stable state.

Several years ago, I discovered that if I was drinking a beer, my anxiety would begin to diminish, which led to drinking binges and later to day drinking during the week.  This escalated to the point that my best drinking partner, and a person whom I consider one of my best friends, called me out on it.  At that point, my business was failing, and ultimately caused everything I had worked for to crumble and I knew I had to make a change.

I packed up, and moved to Virginia Beach.  After becoming involved with the WordPress community, I realized that people genuinely do care about others, even if they live hundreds of miles away.  In a sense, I feel like no matter where I am, I have close friends I can rely on.  WP After Hours is one of those things that made me realize that socializing isn’t so bad.

Due to the success I was making in the WordPress community, InMotion Hosting wanted to send me to WordCamps to meet all of those online connections in person which is a bit of a double-edged sword for me.  On the upside, I get to hang out with friends I have met, and on the downside, I have to be around people.  While I enjoy socialization, I hate physically interacting with people.  Thus, the WordCamp drinking problem started again.

WordCamp Lancaster is when I came to this realization.  I was nervous like always, and grabbed a beer like normal to relax.  My lack of self-control completely went off the rails and while to everyone else I was just having a good time, it was actually to avoid the realization that I was having “one of my days” as I call it.  The next morning hit and it was even worse.

Not only did I feel like complete shit, but my anxiety issues were so intense, that I was barely able to leave the hotel room.  I went to the WordCamp, chatted with a couple people, did my presentation, and went back to my hotel room to avoid human contact as much as possible for the next few hours.  This continued on to the after-party in which I mostly sat on the couch, and didn’t make much conversation.  Not because of the night before, but because at that moment, I simply couldn’t bear the thought of human contact.

Many of you reading this may have attended WP After Hours with me, and many have also wondered why we launch the Google Hangout so late.  Well, you finally have your answer:

It’s simply because I have to work myself up to it.  In a sense, while I do like all of you, it requires quite a bit of building up courage to actually go live.  Most nights, Jeff Chandler and I will be on there for around an hour chatting about the past week before I broadcast the link simply because I need to work up to the thought of other people.

My best advice to anyone coping with these same issues is to just find something you’re passionate about, and dive head first into it.  For me, it’s arcade machines.  I love them.  While I don’t have the physical space now for any more projects, I do as much as I can to work with what I have.  If you can waste your time with something productive, all of that joy will make you feel much better.

Of course, I can’t spend 100% of my time working on arcade machines due to a need to pay the bills, so I do have to leave the house.  Forcing myself to do the small things such as driving to the office or putting on WP After Hours on Friday nights do feel better once I do them.  It’s a feeling of accomplishment in conquering my fears.  Thankfully, once I get to the office, I have been fortunate enough to have people that make me feel comfortable and that’s the best treatment of them all.

For those of you reading this, wondering how you can help someone else with this same issue, my best advice is to accept who they are and make them feel normal.  My mother-in-law said to me a few days ago, “can’t you just calm down?” and the honest answer is “if I could, I would”.  My wife on the other hand, simply accepts who I am and lets me do what I need to do to get through those bad days.  The key to it all is accommodation.  Find out what they need, and provide it.  Sometimes all I need on those days is quiet and alone time, while other days I may need to play NBA Jam with a close friend.  Finding out what a person struggling with mental illness needs, while difficult, is the best way you can help.

I know, this post has been a bit of a rant.  I’m in one of those moods where I just keep writing and writing and it’s helping rather well, although that “publish” button to the right is absolutely fucking terrifying.  My hope is that once it is clicked, you all have a better understanding of how mental illness can affect people, even if you don’t recognize it right away.  If anything at all, at least writing this makes me feel better.

Thanks for listening,
Jeff