When I’m asked to tell my story I always think of a million different places to start. This is no diffident, so I guess I’ll start here.
Hi, I’m Nicholas Fletcher. I’m a husband, a father, a hip hop artist, a business owner, and not exempt from anxiety.
I have struggled with anxiety to some degree my entire life, I’d say from run of the mill to slightly above average.
My wife would probably disagree with that, but you could say I was used to my level of anxiety.
Throughout my childhood to present day I’ve had a brother who for lack of better words made it rough for me.
That compiled with I’m sure many other relatable circumstances made me the perfect candidate for anxiety. The qualifications to fit the part were easy. Just be human.
This whole experience has taught me just that. We are all human and as different and special my anxiety feels to me, its not. Now after that long-winded introduction here’s where I’ll choose to start my story.
In August of 2018 I had an experience that left me with some pretty severe PTSD.
I didn’t realize how badly it had affected until months later in October, when I had a panic attack while home watching a movie with my wife. It felt like it came out of nowhere and was so intense. When I say intense, I mean like sent me to the ER intense.
Mind you I was the kind of guy who would only go to the doctor’s if I was the outbreak monkey of some strange new disease and got hit by a bus in the same day. Even then it took some convincing.
I’m exaggerating of course but you get the point. Back at the ER the doctor said, “Sounds like you’re having a panic attack.” gave me a pill to sedate me then sent me home. In all the 2 minutes that he spoke to me he gave me no insight as how to treat it or what to expect. I went home, went to bed, and woke up to what has been the most difficult and trying time of my life.
Allow me to give you a bit more backstory.
For any anxiety I grew up with you sure wouldn’t have known it. I was the class clown in school, always getting put in the hallway for talking to much. Even that wouldn’t stop me. My mom always tells the story of how once one of my teachers moved me out into the hall for talking to any other student I was placed by.
Once in the hallway she heard my little voice talking away and discovered I had stopped the janitor to have a chat. Basically, I’ve been a social butterfly ever since I’ve be able to walk and talk. That had trait has followed me all throughout my life.
As self-conscious and awkward as I felt growing up I always managed to be charismatic and charming enough to have many great friends and relationships. Early on in my teen years I fell in love with music and started making my own.
I grew a decent fan base and started frequently performing live at shows. Although idealistic music was not paying the bills, so I had to get a real job. I had many jobs growing up but the one that stuck is the one I’m still doing to this day.
I work with the mentally and developmentally disabled. I stared out at a few different local companies before deciding just to start my own business in the field. I’ve been in this line of work for 10yrs now. The job entails helping my clients work on goals to better their lives and promote independence.
A large base of it is social and community based. Along with that I have a beautiful wife and two darling children to support. To make an even longer story shorter, I have built a life that is not conducive with severe anxiety.
Let’s go back to the day following my panic attack. It felt like a switch had flipped.
Over night I went from the fun-loving social butterfly Nick to a guy literally afraid to leave my house. The side effects were far from subtle. It was so fast and so intense I thought something else had to be wrong with me. In the span of two weeks I was prescribed 6 different medications.
I of course self diagnosed that I had to have every illness and ailment under the sun. I jumped down the rabbit hole of Google, which by the way is never a good idea. See all my previous symptoms prior my first panic attack is where I set the bar for anxiety.
I was guilty of being ignorant when it came to people suffering severely in the past. I used to think “Toughen up it’s just nerves and simple anxiety” whenever a friend would vent to me about not wanting to leave the house or go to social events.
Based from my previous knowledge these new symptoms couldn’t just be anxiety. How does a guy go from the life of the party to the hiding in the corner praying no one talks to him over night? Let alone if I made it to the party in the first place.
My extremely active social life was snuffed out like that. I stopped making music. I struggled to get out of bed and was late to work almost daily. I stopped going to the gym lying to myself saying I would just workout at home.
Friends started asking why I stopped hanging out and responding to texts. It was next to impossible to connect with my family. I felt isolated and alone. Hopeless… I felt hopeless.
On my quest for answers I only found more questions. More angst and confusion. I learned fast there was no miracle cure or quick fix.
The medication doctors recommend only fueled my anxiety. I felt like I would get negative side effects just by looking up what they were.
I became a mental and physical hypochondriac. On the testing end at the doctor’s office everything came back clear.
I felt worse than I had ever in my entire life and had a massive spiderweb of questions as to why. Every time I tried to follow a stand I got stuck.
Let talk about the symptoms. Oh the many, many symptoms.
Should we start with the mental or physical? On the physical side of things, it ranges from racing heart, sweating, tremors, exhaustion, loss of appetite, upset stomach, migraines, and the list goes on.
The mental side and in my opinion the much more bothersome ranges from panic (obviously), racing intrusive thoughts, bad dreams, fear of losing control, depression, obsessive behavior, reassurance seeking, projecting, and many, many more.
A few in particular that worried me the most. Which now brings up a great time to talk about D.A.R.E.
I got introduced to D.A.R.E by my beautiful wife Felisha.
It’s easy for me to feel like a victim in all of this but that poor woman has been so strong for me.
We tend to forget that we aren’t the only ones who suffer in this. In her relentless pursuit of helping me find peace and a remedy she bought me the D.A.R.E book. At that point the mere thought of sitting quietly and reading seemed impossible.
Anxiety had literally robbed me of the ability to relax.
Even without anxiety picking up a book let alone finishing it was uncommon for me. Plus, to be honest I didn’t expect a book to help much. To my great relief I was wrong. I brought it to work with me and started reading.
Right away I was intrigued and hooked in by the in-depth explanation of anxiety. Symptom after symptom I checked off the list and then there was one of the big ones. One of those more bothersome symptoms I talked about earlier… Depersonalization/Derealization.
It was the first I had ever heard of it and just reading the words I knew it was the explanation to what I had been experiencing. The way Barry explains it and helps take the fear away from such a distressing sensation was an immediate relief. As I read on all my prior hang ups got put to rest one at a time.
Every time I felt my anxiety was different and special, I was reminded it’s not. Every time I felt the D.A.R.E process wouldn’t work for me I was implored not to give up. Every time I felt I had learned all this book had to offer I’d find more.
Without trying to sugar coat it Barry teaches to approach anxiety head on. There is no around only though. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Anxiety doesn’t control you; you control it.
A cool story I would like to share is about the D.A.R.E workbook my wife also bought me. I started it with her before I stared reading the book. I was still skeptical at this point. At first, I felt silly drawing a picture of my cartoon anxiety and giving it a name.
My wife gently nudged me to continue on, so I did. Then we got to the section where you list your biggest fears, so I did that too. I won’t go into too much detail but mine I’m sure like yours are terrifying. One being afraid I might not make it and give up… If you know what I mean.
Every one of them I listed was bleak and depressing. Absolutely dreadful. Then I turned the page and was told to add “so what” and “whatever” to my deepest fears. Suggesting I can even turn them into joking responses…
Are you kidding me?
How do I joke or make light of any of these fears?
I told my wife no way I could and that we should just skip that part.
Instead she urged me not to skip it and to apply my creative sense of humor. She actually came up with the first one for me. For my fear of losing control she said “Whatever, control is your middle name.”
She reminded me I’ve meticulously been in control of everything about me my entire life. From the way I cut and style my own hair. To the cloths and jewelry, I decide to wear. To how I write and construct my music.
To how working for someone wasn’t making enough money so I started my own business. Controlling myself is something I excel at. I can’t control other people or events, but I can always control my response to them. We ended up coming up with cleaver witty responses to every fear and shared one of the most pure and amazing moments in my entire life.
Reading D.A.R.E taught me a whole new approach for anxiety.
Hiding from the world wasn’t going to miraculously make it heal over time. I know I’ll never be anxiety free. That’s a fact for all life on earth. I started re engaging in life no matter how uncomfortable I felt. I renewed my gym membership.
I started writing and performing again.
I got back to hangout with family and friends. Everyday I find more and more of the old me. Setbacks and all I keep trudging through. Am I perfect? No, never will be. Am I where I want to be yet? Not quite but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The closer I get the brighter and more vibrant it gets. I know for a fact that on the other side of this is a better, more loving, appreciative, mindful me. This has taught me things you can’t learn from books or TV. This is a defining moment for any and everyone who experiences it.
How it defines us? Well…we decide. Keep daring out there ya’ll.
I want to give a huge thank you to Barry and his wonderful team. I am forever grateful.
Listen to Nicholas’ song!