I’ve been struggling with anxiety disorder most of my life. To say that I was a sensitive kid would be a huge misunderstanding. When we had a talk in school about drugs, I had all the symptoms. When I was watching a documentary about anorexia I immediately had it. Not literally of course, but I FELT like having it. When I watched some episodes of ER with my family I had physical symptoms. SARS epidemic in China? I had it. Information in the news about bird flu? I had it. Gynecomastia among bodybuilders? I had it.
As you can see my childhood was no joke. But it’s only the beginning. The fun started when I was first kicked in the face by a massive panic attack. Explaining what a panic attack is to a person who never had it, is like explaining what an orgasm is to a virgin . You can say that orgasm is pleasant and a panic attack is not. You can explain that your heart beats faster and you probably get sweat on your back in both cases and that’s true, but you cannot explain in words this tremendous, inexplicable energy that comes through you whole body with a force of an earthquake (I am talking about panic attack because this is what I am most familiar with – I don’t know what an orgasm is.)
You feel like either you are going to explode or you are going to die, and you don’t know which is going to happen first. But you are sure you will not survive it, and you want to run away thousands miles away from this experience, from your body, from yourself. But you do survive it. You are exhausted (just like after proper orgasm I guess) and you start wondering what the heck was that? And you think whatever it was you couldn’t survive the next one. Little do you know. You will survive hundreds and thousands more. To my own amusement – I did. But here is the interesting thing – you are afraid of being afraid. That’s meta. But it’s real. I am not here to tell other people stories but the fear of having another panic attack, in public where others could see you losing your mind is so paralyzing to many many people, that they stop leaving the area where they feel safe for days, weeks, months even years…
My bad, I didn’t introduce myself properly. I am a magician. Street performer. Corporate entertainer. I do magic tricks for random people on the streets as well as for presidents of huge companies, TV stars and people with four digit IQ. You may wonder: how on Earth is it possible that this hypochondriac, oversensitive, self-centered kid is performing in front of those people? I don’t know either. My guess would be, that this whole experience made me feel the world differently than most of people, and it made me feel people differently than most of people. Sounds confusing, but when I am in front of an audience I just KNOW how to make them feel good and special.
But let’s go back to panic attacks. They came in episodes. Couple of months of total chaos and madness followed by couple of months of bliss when anxiety and panic attacks seemed like a dream and a joke. That cycle lasted for years. What’s interesting is even when I had my anxiety loaded months, my public shows, street shows and corporate events were my temple of calm mind, because I was precisely in the place where I was supposed to be. Until one time…
I am doing a street show. Maybe fourth that day. I had the crowd already worked out, they loved me, laughed and cheered really loud, they loved my magic, the show couldn’t get any better. And suddenly I was struck by the unbearable force of a panic attack. In the middle of the show! Even though I had hundreds of them before, yet each and every one feels special, feels like the first one, feels like THIS TIME it will defeat you, feels like THIS TIME you are going to die. There is nothing you can do about it. It is happening right now. YOU ARE DYING.
And so I was, dying inside, in front of 300 people. There is nowhere I can hide. I can’t run away. There is no one to help me. In front od 300 people I felt alone. The battle was happening only in my own mind. But I had enough will power, that I didn’t stop the show. Not even for a second. No one realized that there is something terribly wrong with me. I persevered. I continued to make them laugh. I continued to show them amazing magic. Even though my heart rate was close to 200. Even though I couldn’t breathe properly. Even though my face was numb. I didn’t let the fear, the anxiety, the panic attack to have control over me. I survived. I finished the show, made pictures with an audience, collected money. And I was telling to myself „not during the show, not during the show. It’s my temple of peace!”
Sadly my intellectual mind didn’t listen. And he kept playing his tricks on me. I was afraid of having panic attacks and I had it. But I never let panic attacks to get control of what I would or wouldn’t do. I’ll explain. I wanted to go to cinema, but I knew I’m going to have a panic attack. I went to a cinema and had a panic attack. I knew I am going to have a panic attack at the gym. Went to the gym. Had a panic attack. Every time. Panic attack after sauna? No problem. I’ve attended sauna couple of times a week and had panic attacks every time.
But the most difficult for me was that I started having panic attacks during EVERY SHOW I DID. And that year I did 217. 217 shows! 217 panic attacks! Each and every show I did was disturbed by a panic attack. Each and every show felt like I was hit by a truck. Each and every show made me feel like I’m dying. Looking back I am amazed that my rickety body received such amount of impact and pressure from my own brain. It couldn’t last long. After more than 200 shows I had a massive nervous breakdown.
My nervous system had such overload that I just begged for someone to “pull the plug” for me and that I could collapse in total darkness and emptiness. Luckily I had people around me that I cared about and they cared about me. They’ve contacted my mom. My mom contacted the psychiatrist. I got sedatives and continued to take them so my nervous system could rest a little bit. It’s amazing how our mind impacts the body. They are not separate. After a marathon with panic attacks I’ve felt like I’ve run 47 iron man marathons in a row. My body was useless. My brainpower was 9% of what it used to be and I considered myself pretty sharp.
My nervous system slowly started to heal itself. I got help of a very caring psychiatrist. She prescribed me some new generation SSRIs because at that time I was afraid of taking anything. I thought I could overdose vitamin C and die. I was in such a bad shape that if anything could help me I would accept the help. I am a very conscientious person. Bear in mind that during my panic episodes, I was reading everything I could on that topic. I was listening to podcasts. I tried meditation. And although I understood intellectually that it’s only anxiety disorder with panic attacks, there was something really broken in my brain that couldn’t grasp it emotionally and I just couldn’t integrate this knowledge.
Right after starting the antidepressant treatment I began Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which totally changed the game. Sedatives and SSRIs calmed me down. No doubt about it. They stopped emotional reaction to nearly anything. Looking back with perspective of time I consider it a good thing, but I didn’t think that back then. I thought they made me a zombie. But overall they did their job right. They calmed me down. Then and only then could I detach and look at the whole situation from a different perspective. I started to understand that my brain was broken and it needed healing. Only a combination of antidepressants and CBT achieved what I was trying to do on my own for past 10 years. My brain was broken. They fixed it. And now I understand, I really understand that it required professional help and professional tools to show me how my flawed patterns of thinking took control of my life.
Right now I can proudly say that I conquered this terrible monster. I’ve been trying to do so for 10 years. 10 years I suffered needlessly. One and a half year of professional help and treatment made it disappear completely.
I did hundreds of shows since. And I never felt a deeper connection to my audience. Weirdly enough I am very grateful for that experience. Without it, I would be lesser performer and human being.
Looking for professional help is not a sigh of weakness. Looking for professional help is a sign of tremendous courage. I wish it to all of you dear readers.