The Perils of Extreme Anxiety, and Overcoming Them

Author: Danny Abriano, Real Life Stories

“Kill me.” Those are the words my grandfather whispered to me while he laid in his hospice bed late at night in August of 2008 with just the two of us in the room.

He was 95 years old and had been not only healthy but vibrant until just a few months earlier. But this moment was just days away from the end and he was ready for things to be over.

I felt the magnitude of his words at the time, but wasn’t hit by everything with full force until I watched him pass away a few days later, taking his final breath, surrounded by the rest of our family.

People are impacted differently by hearing something like my grandfather said and then witnessing his death. For me, it led to something that nearly crippled me. And while I’ve overcome it, it’ll still rear its head every now and then.

Anxiety. Not just run of the mill anxiety everyone deals with. I’m talking about debilitating panic attacks — ones that made me leave Mets games, not want to see my friends, be nervous about leaving the house for six hours, and eventually led me to take a leave of absence from my job.

It started right around the time my grandfather got sick, with a feeling of being unable to breathe — more specifically, being unable to get a deep breath. That spiraled into hyperventilating, dizziness, feeling like I was having a heart attack, like I was going to pass out. The attacks were acute and often, and I had no idea why they were happening.

I told those closest to me but tried to push through it. Bad idea.

There was a day at the mall where I couldn’t take being there any longer. My friend jokingly asked if I was going to die and I replied yes. I wasn’t joking.

There was a Mets game — a doubleheader specifically. I was having mild panic issues during the entire first game and made it to the start of the second (a Johan Santana start) before forcing my friend to leave early with me.

But the worst part of it was trying to work a few months after the symptoms first started. My commute at the time was about two hours each way, to a nonprofit in the Bronx.

Part of that ride to work — the train — became my personal hell, where anxiety attacks occurred basically every day. I would then emerge and try to do my job, which included managing a staff of four while recommending either incarceration or social services for people who had recently been arrested.

Again: bad idea.

By this point, I’d been on medication for the anxiety (one pill to take daily and others to take when I felt the most anxious), but kept on working before it took full effect. It was impossible to work while feeling this way, eventually leading me to take a six-week leave of absence.

During that time, I didn’t want to leave the house, since I didn’t feel like I could handle being in public. I didn’t want to see my friends and would barely answer their calls or texts.

Most people around me didn’t attempt to understand what I was going through, with some telling me to just “stop it.” That’s not how anxiety works. If you could stop the feeling of thinking you were about to die, you’d do it.

Fortunately, those who were closest to me at the time were there to support me. Had they not been, I seriously don’t think I ever would’ve emerged from the worst of it.

I foolishly tried to come off the medication in 2012 because I wanted to feel ‘normal’ again. Another bad idea that eventually led to a career change. If this situation ever happens to you, don’t try that.

But now, I work for SNY and the Fest For Beatles Fans. Translation: I haven’t missed a day of work due to an anxiety attack in four years.

While eight years have passed since it began and the panic attacks are few and far between these days, anxiety is something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.

If I stop taking the prescribed medication, the feeling of dread and debilitating anxiety will eventually come back. If I travel somewhere without Xanax and feel something coming on, I’m basically screwed.

If you feel like you’re having anything close to what I was having, tell someone. If friends family members tell you they’re having a panic attack, take it seriously instead of shrugging it off.

But severe anxiety is something that can be beaten. You need to address it, be honest with yourself and those closest to you, and realize that it’s a day-by-day thing. There’s brightness ahead no matter how dark it might seem at the time.


Seek help for anxiety at www.anxietydisordersfoundation.org.

The Dementor and The Boggart: How Harry Potter Helped Me Cope With My Depression and Anxiety

Author: Brett Pucino, Real Life Stories

There is a subsection of millennials, roughly those born between 1988 and 1992, who came of age with The Boy Who Lived. I was born in 1990, and I was eight years old when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I eventually consumed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the summer of my 17th birthday. J.K. Rowling’s magical world made me fall in love with reading at such a young age. Little did I know that when I was first introduced to Dementors and Boggarts as an adolescent, there were Dementors and Boggarts in my own life that I’d have to face in young adulthood.

The Dementor and The Boggart as Symbols for Depression and Anxiety
JKR has been open about her battles with depression in her life, and has even recently reached out to a fan on Twitter who is facing depression.

I used to think these were just creepy creatures growing up, but when I re-read the series for the umpteenth time as a new college graduate going through a bout of post-college depression, I realized that a Dementor is a harrowingly accurate representation of depression.

I’ve felt the metaphorical lights go dark in my head as the depression eradicated any positive memories. I’ve felt depression’s cold, rattling breath as it called up my worst thoughts from my mind’s annals. I’ve felt depression’s chilling fingers brush my skin as it sank to suck the last drips of hope out of my body. I can tell you first hand that being in the constant presence of Dementors is exactly what depression feels like.

Just as the Dementor represents depression, the Boggart represents our deepest fears. To me, the Boggart is an accurate representation of my struggle with anxiety. My bouts with depression have been situational. I’ve been lucky in that regard. It’s the anxiety that’s more prevalent.

In high school, my social anxiety crippled my social life. I was the quintessential quiet kid, but I had the loudest mind. I was terrified to verbalize my thoughts into words. Things were different, though, when I put pen to paper. At the time, I had little confidence in my writing ability, but my English teachers would always gush over my writing assignments. In my junior year I received the only 100 on a writing assignment that my teacher gave out that year. The assignment? Write an alternate ending to The Catcher and the Rye in the voice of Holden Caulfield. Looking back, the ease at which I was able to channel Holden’s angst was a warning sign.

The Patronus as a Symbol for How to Fight Depression
In the Harry Potter series, the only way to fend off a Dementor is by casting a Patronus. The Patronus is one of the most fascinating spells in the Potterverse. It is similar to the Native American concept of the spirit animal in that each person’s Patronus takes on an animal form based on the characteristics of the caster.

In order to cast the spell, one must channel his or her happiest memories when reciting the incantation (expecto patronum). If one isn’t 100% absorbed in these happy and positive thoughts, then the spell won’t work. I think this is the perfect analogy for fighting depression in the real world.

The Riddikulus Incantation as a Symbol for How to Fight Anxiety
The Boggart is another fascinating creature from the Potterverse. No one knows what a Boggart looks like in its true form, since it immediately takes on the shape of the deepest fears of the nearest person. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin teaches us that the way to get rid of the Boggart is to picture your deepest fear in a disarming, and often humorous, situation while reciting the incantation Riddikulus. 

I think that this symbol is a perfect representation of my anxiety in the real world. I worry obsessively about the future and also play the “what if?” game. So, if I were to come across a Boggart, it would be a version of myself that I call the “inner critic.” The “inner critic” is extremely critical of any aspirations I have for my future. He points out all of the things that could go wrong and frames them as if they are inevitable outcomes.

Thanks to JKR, I came up with a creative visualization exercise to help me deal with this anxiety successfully. I picture facing this Boggart version of myself and actual me shouting Riddikulus as I visualize Boggart-me losing his voice. Without his voice, his doubts can’t affect me.

I used a similar exercise to deal with my bouts with depression. I visualize myself facing a Dementor and in need of a Patronus. I absorb myself in happy memories and positive thoughts, and then my Patronus (a lion) appears to protect me.

You may feel silly doing these exercises at first, but they helped me and I think they can help you too. Plus, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, just because it’s happening in your head, that does not mean it isn’t real.


Seek help for depression and anxiety at adaa.org.