I’ll tell the very short story of my life, or rather how it seemed to me or to any outsider until about three years ago. And then I’ll tell how this seemingly wonderful life turned into a nightmare, how I got from success to complete breakdown, in a way, that I had no clue about what is going on with me and inside me. All this within just a little more than a year.
I grew up in the countryside, in a village with a few thousand inhabitants, in a normal, average family, with four grandparents, two parents, and a younger brother. No divorce, no serious illness, no family tragedy, no alcoholism or other addiction, no history of mental problems, no financial problems, but no luxury either. A totally normal family. I went to kindergarten and elementary school in the village. Then to high school to the next town. Then I moved to the city to attend university. I always did pretty good at school, I was mostly interested in everything, but I was better at sciences, like math and physics, so I moved into this direction, and I became a computer-programmer-mathematician, kind of half engineer, half scientist. During university I earned a scholarship and spent half a year abroad. After university I started to work, and my career was rising very quickly. I started as a programmer, then I designed computer programs, then I became a project-manager very early on. I was in charge with very serious and big projects, in my late twenties already. I was successful financially as well. Sport was a part of my life since my childhood, and it still is. My private life was and is okay, I am heterosexual, with several shorter and a few longer relationships behind me. I live a social life, I have a lot of pals, and a few real close friends. I maintan a normal relationship with my parents, although not very deep. In short, everything is the way it is supposed to be. Normal family, normal adolescence, and the beginning of a normal and successful “adult” life.
The first curve
In the meantime, I had a little problem though: at the age of 25 I had a heart surgery (ablation), because of my inborn heart arrythmias, that started to cause me symptoms more and more often. These symptoms were very hard and scary for me, until I could reach a doctor, who took my problems seriously, and dispatched me to some other doctor, who later operated me. I was dreadful, that my heart is going to stop one day, and I am going to die. Before the surgery, I had some kind of panic attacks because of the constant terror I felt. But the surgery solved my problems, and then everything went back to normal, and my fairy tale went on.
Then came some more serious problems. I was 28, when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and the doctor declared right away not to expect anything good, because he has practically no chance of survival. Six months before the diagnosis I accepted a new assignment and new role at work: I became responsible to fix and reorganize our morally and spiritually broken team of 40 people, after so many problems and conflits, and after several key people had left us. I jumped into the work with huge enthusiasm, and I was able to change and fix several things in the next few months, until – at about the same time when my father got sick – I faced serious obstacles and walls. I tried to change things, that was beyond me, for I needed support of others as well, especially my superiors, but they were not as determined as I was. This knocked me out a bit. Beside these leadership duties, I continued to manage my own regular projects at work parallel. This meant extra workload, but I felt like it is okay and I will be able to handle everything. And of course I didn’t take my father’s disease and its impact on my family and on me seriously at all. However, it really had an impact: constant stress, going from one doctor to the other, one bad news after the other, travelling home to my parents every week, research, meetings, regular serious decisions with only few weeks of peaceful intervals occasionally.
After my father’s diagnosis I got another huge package, in the form of a new very heavyweight project, with impossible requirements and deadlines, lasting several months. Of course I accepted it, just like I had always done. By this time I had problems with sleeping, I was constantly tired and totally exhausted, but I ignored every warning signal. Then one summer weekend I was at a friend’s wedding ceremony in some village. In the afternoon’s heat and in the crowd of strangers I suddenly got this indisposition in the form of nausea and dizzyness, and the room started to turn around me and I panicked. I felt like I am going to faint if I stay there another minute. I stood up just in time and left the place before I would have collapsed. I went back to my friend’s house where we were sleeping. Later that day I had two more of these “attacks”. I was totally exhausted, and felt that I had way too much of everything.
First I suspected some kind of physical problems, but after measuring my blood sugar level and my blood pressure at home – and it was all perfectly normal – I had to admit that I it must be some kind of emotional or mental problem. But I had no idea what happened to me and why. After that I rested for a few days, but it didn’t help much. These frightening symptoms and panic attacks recurred more often, and I couldn’t figure out the cause, but I was more and more worried and dreadful about them. A few months later I had to make a presentation on a conference with my company, about one of my projects. These duties never caused me any problems before, but this time I had such a dizzyness and sweating and fear, that in the last moment I excused myself out of the whole situation and left the whole scene, got into my car, and didn’t stop until I got home. Then I didn’t leave my bed for two days.
Meanwhile my father’s condition became worse and worse, the family was running out of hope, and I was running out of energy, while my despair grew. My frequent panic attacks caused me more and more horrible experiences, and I didn’t see any way out of it. The death of my father gave us a little relief after more than a year of fight and struggle, and I hoped, that everything is going to get back to normal, and my problems are going to slowly be solved, my panic attacks go away, and I will live happily everafter. Others and the world expected the same from me, but the worst part was just beggining: I focused all my energy on myself, I started to give up my responsibilities, I worked less, I rested more, but my tolerance level went even lower and lower. I couldn’t bare even the smallest responsibilites. I barely visited my office, because the atmosphere was unberable for me. I couldn’t sit through a meeting, I couldn’t see a customer, and people in general. I rather stayed home to work. But then working at home too became too stressful. And then going on vacation with my friends was also too much, a constant terror for me. And then I had enough of everything. I quit my job and got rid of all my responsibilities to do something about myself.
The total breakdown
I saved some money and decided that I will start an own venture, but first I wanted to rest and fix myself somehow. So finally I had nothing to do, just like I wanted for long months or rather years, but I didn’t feel any bit better. Quite the opposite, I had enough of people, and I didn’t want to see anyone at all. The only one I could tolerate around me was my girlfriend. I didn’t even want to leave the flat. And then one night, when I was browsing the net searching things about my problems, I found a new expression: social phobia (or social anxiety). As if a lightning had struck me, everything became clear: my strange feelings and sensations, the feelings of constant terror, the panic attacks, the common thing about them was this: people and social interactions. This was a shocking discovery for me, and it totally freaked me out. I didn’t know anything about the why, but I realized that I am terribly afraid of people.
The next morning I felt like I am not able to go out to the street any more… I was unable to get down for a walk, because I was terrified that someone wants to talk to me or ask me anything. A eating or shopping somewhere was completely out of the question. I think this was the very deepest point of it all. The total breakdown and the deepest pit of hell… I had no clue why this is happening to me and I had no clue if there is a way out of it at all.
What comes next
In my next writings I want to tell – based on my diary – the detailed stories chronolgically about how I reached this total breakdown, what did I experience there, how I moved on from that, and what did I learn and experience along the way. I will hopefully reach my current present – which is slightly better, but still very difficult most of the time. From then on I will continue writing “real time”, about my yet-unknown future. I hope you’ll join me.