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Point of View: My secret anguish: A door to hope

Jan. 27, 2010

By Justin Baer

My heart begins to race 1 million miles per minute. The world is spinning around me. My palms are seeping with perspiration. I subconsciously quit breathing. Worrisome thoughts invade my mind and progressively worsen.

This is my secret.

Only my family and closest of friends know. None of my classmates, co-workers or peers understand what I encounter and what I am forced to triumph on a daily basis -- until now.

I have general anxiety disorder.

As a prideful male, writing this revelation comes as a humbling task. Especially because of the negative connotation attached with my condition. Yet for some inexplicable reason, I felt compelled to share my story. I'm not aspiring to receive pity. My ultimate goal is for someone who also suffers from anxiety to cross paths with this column and to garner relief that they are not alone.

Sources indicate nearly 4 percent of Americans suffer from anxiety, and while that seems like a minuscule number, it translates to approximately 500 students at Baylor enduring the same disease I am. However, none of us 500 could point out someone suffering from the same symptoms we are, because we are too embarrassed to admit our flaws. So instead, we hide behind a front pretending everything is all right, when in reality, sometimes it is all wrong.

With more emphasis being put on excelling in athletics, earning academic scholarships, getting a promotion at work and the recent economy (just to name a few), the number of people dealing with anxiety disorders is on a meteoric rise.

So are these people, including myself, just mental wimps? Not quite. While life experiences are factors for those dealing with anxiety disorders, anxiety patients aren't simply the ones who can't handle the tough times.

Researchers have discovered genetics play a high-contributing role in anxiety disorder patients. Meanwhile, neurotransmitter imbalances, often found in those suffering from the disorder, further create an involuntary sense of anxiety.

So what does this mean? For me, it meant years of turmoil, anguish and hell. Only in the past year, have I been able to live an enjoyable life, yet even today, I am sometimes hindered by my anxiety disorder.

I first started having flare-ups in high school. Following a torn labrum from pitching, I realized my baseball career was in jeopardy. The more and more I saw my lifelong passion slip out of reach, the more my anxieties accumulated. I questioned what to do with my life from that point forward. I had initial symptoms of nervousness, but those symptoms quickly magnified. Walking down the hall at school soon became a daily grind, as I constantly felt like I was going to pass out. I worried about what would happen if I would pass out in front of all my peers. These panic attacks were destroying my life.

I fretted so much that I soon began to fear the fear of panic attacks.

When I started college, I made outlandish excuses to avoid going to large gatherings, participating in sports and attending classes. When I did leave the chambers of my room, it would be a daunting battle to motivate myself to keep going. As a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sports guru, I am supposed to be macho. Instead, this disease crushed me to the lowest of valleys.

I searched for solutions in all the wrong places -- alcohol, medicine and therapy. But while those provided temporary bouts of relief, the vicious cycle of anxiety always made its unwanted return.

Then my heart finally turned to God. I had done everything in my power to conquer this problem but to no avail.

The moment I gave my heart to God, He took over my mind. No longer did I fear passing out nor feel like I was going to. No longer was my mind consumed with worrisome thoughts. Together, God and I suppressed the fear.

I still have speed bumps throughout my life, but the pain and suffering I endure today is a mere fraction of what I have lived though. I give credit to Him.

I am walking to my dreaded Strategic Management class, and I am blind-sided by a panic attack. I close my eyes, pray to God. This time, I won't be inhibited from being the man I want to be.

Justin Baer is a Midlothian senior majoring in marketing and business journalism. He is the sports editor for the Baylor Lariat.