The following was performed as a monologue for The Naked Man Podcast.
I was around 13, tromping around the woods with a few friends when we decided to play an impromptu game of capture the flag.
My friend J and I were on a team, and didn’t really give a shit about the game. So we cheated — this was my idea. We just kept the flag in our pockets and resumed wandering the woods while chatting.
When our reckoning came, unsurprisingly, it resulted in an argument, an almost-fight that amounted to chasing each other in the woods, which led to accidental injuries for J and my friend S.
I was unharmed. My friend J was accused of cheating. No one suspected it was me, and no one even got mad at me when I confessed afterwards.
When we all sat sheepishly waiting for our parents to pick us up, S remarked, “You never get hurt, Andy.”
While he and J had actually gotten hurt, and were hurt when he said this, S didn’t just mean physically. I saw that in his eyes. And I believed him. I didn’t get hurt as much as other kids.
I didn’t allow myself to. Or more accurately, I didn’t let anyone see when I was hurt. I’m incredibly sensitive; I was and am hurt all the fucking time.
A decade and a half later, at my apartment in beautiful downtown Burbank, I’m hanging out with my roommate and another friend of ours. All three of us were struggling with work, with achieving what we wanted to achieve, worried about money and employment. Sounds familiar.
At a certain point in the conversation, when things were wrapping up, my two friends looked at each other, and talked about me as if I wasn’t there: “Andy’ll be okay,” one of them said, and the other immediately agreed.
As if I had nothing to worry about, as if I was somehow more okay than them.
I believed them too. I was going to be okay. I’m always okay. To trick my friends, I had to trick myself too.
A couple years later, I’m now dating Lili and it’s getting serious. We often gossip about our zany LA friend group. By comparison, she would say, “you’re the normal one, Andy.”
I’m the normal one.
And I believed her.
Because this means I don’t have as many problems. I believed that too. Or at least, it was a nice story.
Everyone else’s issues have always been far more real and worthy of attention than mine. Anything wrong with me, anything that upsets me, was my own fault, my own responsibility, and not worth sharing…
My whole life I’ve struggled with anxiety. There were obvious signs, like the fact that I’m a nervous sweater, and I’m sweating all the time. Or the stomach aches I would get whenever I was stressed.
When I was a kid, weeks, days and hours before every sporting event I was a part of, I would daydream. Not about having the game-winning hit or the game-saving catch. I’d imagine getting injured before the game started. I’d imagine scenarios where the game would be canceled. Rain, snow, family emergency, apocalypse. I’d imagine family members dying.
Once I was able to shake out of this loop, I’d be filled with guilt and shame for wishing for tragedy just so I didn’t have to play baseball, basketball or give an oral book report.
Even when I began therapy in my late 20s, I believed my anxiety wasn’t a big deal. Not compared to other people whose angst was so much more visible than mine. I mistakenly believed I had figured it out, I had managed it for so long, was used to it, that this was just how it was supposed to be, and was always going to be.
Recently, I had a four-day virtual writing conference. I was so deeply nervous for this event, for pitching my stories, for doing what I theoretically love to do, for what I’m good at, that I never actually made goals for what I wanted to accomplish, or what I hoped to get out of it.
I just wanted to survive and not make a fool of myself. I didn’t want to fuck up. And while I didn’t fuck up, I also had a really hard time enjoying myself.
I felt the anxiety in my body for days afterwards.
And I realized that I frame my entire life around my anxiety. I consistently live my life worrying about the next challenging, scary or new event on the horizon. They are like mountains that I climb, and once I have climbed them, and reached the top, I am exultant, free. But only for a moment.
Because then, on the horizon, the next mountain materializes, the next event in my calendar.
It’s never-ending. If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s that I almost always say YES to these events. I do more than I need to. I throw myself into them knowing how hard they are going to be for me, how much the anxiety build-up is going to suck. I overcompensate because I’m afraid that if I was being truly honest, I wouldn’t want to do any of them.
But what if I didn’t have to live like that? What if I was able to enjoy being at the summit a bit longer? What if I was able to enjoy the ascent and the descent?
This thought finally got me to seriously consider taking medication for my anxiety.
Of course, I have a month-long road trip ahead of me, my honeymoon, and that’s going to be fun. I’m not nervous for that. The subject of medication can wait until I get back, I thought.
When I voiced this thought process to my therapist, she asked why. Why not now? She saw through me. She saw that I was postponing because I was scared, or more accurately, I was postponing because I still didn’t want help, I still didn’t want to take responsibility.
And I’ve long been ambivalent toward medication.
Because it could change who I am. They could be addictive and I often don’t trust myself
But more than that, meds feel like cheating — it feels like something for people with actual problems, and I’ve spent my entire life convincing myself and other people that I don’t have any. If I admit I need help, I’m admitting that I’m not enough, I’m admitting that I can’t do this by myself and that opens myself up to relying on other people or other things.
This, of course, leads to my biggest fear: that once I admit I need help, once I give in to the darkness, nobody or no thing will be there when I FINALLY need them.
I have so much judgment surrounding meds because I’ve long been ruled by toxic positivity. A mind over matter maxim when it comes to mental or physical illness. If I ever start feeling sick, I simply decide not to be, like I’m Barney Stinson or my dad.
I’ve never taken medication in my life. I know I’m so fortunate to be able to say that and I probably sound like an asshole.
But I also know that admitting I need help is brave. It’s taking responsibility.
After my latest therapy session, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist.
Our session is in a couple hours. And I’m not nervous. I’m not imagining anything terrible happening to help me avoid it.
I’m actually excited. I’m actually proud of myself for taking this step, and curious to see what comes of it. I’ve always been so curious about the world and everyone else’s problems. It’s time to be curious about mine.
Who knows if it will help — I know there are no magic fixes, no complete answers, but that’s not the point. The point is that asking for help isn’t weak; it’s the strongest thing I can do.