Living with anxiety pt. 2

After my junior year of college at DePaul University in Chicago, I was given an amazing opportunity by my parents, Barbara and Nick Andreadis. They gave me a trip to Europe and a Eurail pass to go for 5 weeks on my own. My friend Brian Fichtner was studying in York, England and was able to meet me in London a couple days after I landed at Gatwick airport. I had been feeling great and was ready to go on a life-changing adventure.

Considering that I'd had my first panic attack on an airplane 4 years before and was now boarding an 8 hour flight alone, I was damn proud of myself. I really don't recall the flight at all, but I do remember taking the commuter train from the airport into London proper and staring out the window at the charming houses and landscape of English suburbia. The first night I got there I saw in the paper that the Beastie Boys were performing at Brixton Academy. I knew about Brixton Academy from reading music magazines and also knew that Beastie Boys would be previewing new music from their forthcoming Hello Nasty album. So, I got on the "tube" and nearly rode until the end of the line, because I was so jet-lagged I fell asleep. Thankfully I got out at the right stop and went in search of a scalped ticket. I found somebody, told him how much I had, and he sold me a ticket. It was a crazy, fun way to start the trip and I could go on and on about the summer and all the amazing things I saw and did.

But I'm including this trip as an example of where I was at mentally, having been in recovery from the anxiety and panic attacks that had been plaguing me in high school. Not that I didn't face adversity on a daily basis during my trip, but I was able to handle the ups and downs without losing it. I had some truly transcendent experiences (not drug related) during the trip; I lost time staring out into the setting sun on a rock off the beach in Riomaggiore, Italy. Brian and I danced all night at Moog in Barcelona, until they closed the bar at 6am, riding a wave of music as it rose and set for hours.

After I graduated college I moved into a loft space at 23rd and Michigan Ave. called The Truckstop. There was a recording studio there, as well as an office space for Truckstop Records, a pool table, and a few rehearsal spaces/rooms for "living." My friend Griffin and I took control of the space and over time the few folks that affiliated themselves with Truckstop moved out. It was renamed Shape Shoppe, courtesy of David McDonnell, aka The Diminisher. I cleaned out a ton of leftover detritus from across the years, enough to fill our dumpsters a few times over. And within that new cleared area, my friend Brian Harlow taught me how to build a room. We put the wood frame up, cut the drywall, hung it, and painted it. That became my bedroom from summer 2001 - fall 2004.

A lot of crazy stuff was seen, heard, and done in that place. Shortly after September 11, 2001 we had a party of ours raided by cops who created a police wall around the DJ like we were creating an indoor riot. Normally we could make all the noise we wanted at any hour of the day without a complaint. There was hardly anyone in the surrounding area to bother. There was a Burger King within walking distance, the McCormick Place to the east of us and the projects to the west. I taught myself how to play drums there, met Abraham from Baby Teeth there, had a million laughs, and met the most creative and interesting people from around the US and beyond.

It was also where, at age 25, I tumbled into another terrible stretch of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. As fun as it was to live in the Shape Shoppe, it was also isolating. Sometimes at night there was no one to talk to and nowhere to go outside. I had every piece of glass on my Toyota Camry smashed during that time. Yes, the windshield and rear window too (from a flying 2x4 that came out of nowhere during a windstorm). It was more dangerous than I would admit: there was no fire escape on our side of the building and only one exit from the space. Had there been a kitchen fire, the only way out was...through the kitchen. Also, the freight elevator we used to get up and down in the building had malfunctioning safety doors. The open elevator shaft lurked menacingly in the hallway at all hours of the day. When the kids died in that Ghost Ship fire in California in 2016, it broke my heart because my friends and I lived that same naive, careless way.

One morning in early 2003, I woke up with a powerful feeling of hunger and weakness. I drank some water and ate something, but I felt no better. I felt like I was on the verge of collapse. I panicked. I couldn't eat enough to make that hungry and weak feeling go away. I was shaking and light headed. This went on for days, weeks. At home, in public, in social situations. I was scared to be at work where I wouldn't be able to lie down or get food. I started eating 4 to 5 meals a day. I was making a water mix with lemon, sugar, and cayenne pepper on Griffin's recommendation that it helps when fasting. Something was happening and I was really, really scared.

I went to the doctor to get a checkup and my blood tested. I was sure I had mono or had become anemic or something. My physical health, not just mental, was definitely compromised. But the results according to the doctor showed normal. I asked him if not eating meat other than fish for the last 5-6 months could have caused it. He thought no, even though I'd had a steady diet of meat since I was a kid. I immediately started pounding chicken breasts and steamed broccoli like a pro wrestler in training.

I lost control of my emotions. I was a roller coaster, crying frequently for no reason. I called my parents and my mother agreed to come stay with me for a bit while we figured it out. I couldn't have her stay at my bohemian flop house, so we got a room for maybe 5 nights.

I found a psychologist through my health plan. I told her what was happening and about my history. Early on, possibly the first session, she recommended I meet with a psychiatrist who could prescribe an anti-anxiety/antidepressant medication. My first thought was NO. If you know me, I'm a stubborn, I-will-do-this-on-my-own person. I pride myself on not needing help. Obviously, "needing help" was standing in front of me and screaming in my face.

Once I got over my pride and submitted to the idea of medication, I made it clear I didn't want anything in the benzodiazepine family of drugs. The psychiatrist recommended Effexor XR which is an SSRI. It's similar to Prozac, Paxil, etc. I started on a baby dose and stayed there for 15 years.

Gradually, through therapy and medication I began to feel better SLOWLY. If only there was a switch to turn it off. We are like onions, with layers to peel away. How did I get here? What turn did I miss? For a repressed and sensitive introvert with anxiety disorder, the only way out is in, and burying what you're feeling can manifest itself in fucked up ways. I saw my psychologist for about a year on a weekly basis. She was enormously helpful and kind. The medication did help quell the anxiety and get me through. It was clear though, that what I thought I had "beaten" was here to stay, and a adjusting to a new normal was to be my true challenge.


On the roof of the Shape Shoppe, 2000

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