Category Archives: depression and anxiety

Anxiety attack like jumping out of plane without parachute

By Jack Smith

I felt it coming like a freight train barreling down on me and  I was hopelessly strapped to the tracks.

My mouth dried out within seconds. My pulse quickened.  My hands started to tremble. Even my legs shook as though it were the dead of winter and I were standing naked in the snow.

My wife realized what was happening, so she looked me in the eye and said go where you need to go. I scanned the area looking for an escape, which I usually plan out in advance for times like these.

Anxiety attacks can feel like freefalling. Hard to stop once they start.

Anxiety attacks can feel like free falling. Hard to stop once they start.

You would have thought I were in a war and the enemy was after me.

I was really just attending a football game with 80-something thousands of my closest friends, as the t-shirt goes, when I had an anxiety attack.

I did what my wife and my instincts told me to do when it got out of hand. I got as far away from that huge mass of people as I could.

The best way I can describe a panic attack is that it feels like jumping out of an airplane…and then realizing you aren’t wearing a parachute. I feel fine one minute. Then all of a sudden I’m in free fall, the ground getting bigger and bigger by the second.

When panic attacks hit, I’m suddenly overcome with angst. It leaves me with  two choices: fight or flight. Sometimes I stay and fight. Other times I get the hell out of there to gather myself.

When it happened yesterday, I walked away from the crowd to the safety of open space and a lonely bench. I tried a mindfulness exercise that I learned in treatment. It worked more or less.

I closed my eyes for a moment, took some deep breaths and focused on my senses. I listened to the roll of drums from the band playing in the distance. I felt the weight and the coolness of the wrought iron bench on my thighs and back. I drank in the smell of meat sizzling on the grill.  I inhaled deep breaths through my nose and exhaled them through my mouth.

I soon felt sane again, relaxed enough to enjoy the game and the time with my family.

I’m not sure if what I experienced Saturday afternoon was a full-blown panic attack or just social anxiety I sometimes get when I’m surrounded by too many people.

I once coped with these episodes by working or drinking. Neither was an option on Saturday, so I had to fight through it.

My guess is a lot of you reading this blog have had similar meltdowns. I’ve been having them for years.

I remember another time maybe 10 years ago when I bailed on a newspaper banquet before it even started. It was one of those times when I had quit drinking cold turkey with no support group. I didn’t know how to handle being sober and being one of only a handful of people not drinking.

I was holding a glass of water when my usual hand tremor turned into the full-blown shakes. It was like Ted Striker’s “drinking problem.” I couldn’t raise the glass to my mouth without spilling water everywhere. So I just got the hell out of there.

I jumped in my car and drove over two hours to my home without telling anyone I was leaving, including the hotel. I avoided phone calls from my mother because I was too embarrassed to admit the truth.

I have it easy compared to others. Some have unrelenting anxiety so severe it makes daily living a nightmare. God bless them.

Instead of asking why in the hell a grown man can’t just suck it up and deal with it, my wife is usually patient and compassionate.

I’m harder on myself than she or anyone else is. I  get mad at myself and wonder why I can’t just be normal.

I don’t have many answers, except that I was born with an anxious disposition. That’s what one one anxiety specialist told me anyway. He said I’ve developed some maladaptive coping mechanisms over 40 years-plus years, and I won’t be able to fix them overnight.

I’m sure going to try, though. Life isn’t supposed to be lived this way. 



The right words offer hope in battle with depression

By Jack Smith

Bridgette never has a bad day. Her sweet and soothing voice is well known to customers at the Chick-fil-A drive thru in my hometown.  Bridgette always makes me feel better—even when I feel guilty for ordering yet another chocolate milkshake.

Her secret? Bridgette adjusts her emotional level based on her customers’ first words into the drive thru microphone. If they sound grumpy, she dials down the sunshine. If they sound perky, she matches their emotions.


It works. I’ve never once had a bad experience in the Chick-fil-A drive thru thanks to Bridgette’s sweet voice.

I think we can all take a cue from Chick-fil-A when it comes to saying the right thing in the right way to those suffering from depression and other mental illness.

Words can help or they can hurt. They can heal or they can harm..

I’ve found almost all people have good intentions, but I’ve also had some tell me they didn’t know what to say to me or someone else struggling with mental illness. Maybe this list will help.

5 good things to say to those with mental illness Continue reading

On drinking and depression

So this is the blog that might scare away men I’m hoping to help. Not a popular subject. Depression and alcohol.

The bottom line? A lot of one can lead to a lot of the other. Depression can make you want to drink more. And drinking more can lead to more severe depression.

It’s not cool to lecture others or say “here’s what you need to do.” Therapists and AA folks call that cross-talk. You’re supposed to say “I can relate to that because….”

So here’s how I’ll start. I can relate to the intractable problem of alcohol and depression. I drank enough beer in college to float a barge. I drank enough beer after college to drown a dragon. Only the alcohol never killed the dragon. It only made him angrier.

I kept on drinking, and drank even more when the first real tests of my life came. The loss of a loved one. The stress of owning a business. The stress of parenthood and trying to be a good husband, good career guy and good father at the same time.

The worse it got, the more I drank. The more pain I suffered, the more I tried to dull it with alcohol. I was quite clearly self-medicating, only this medicine has horrendous side effects. Hangovers. Even more anxiety. The inability to concentrate. The obsession over when the next drink can be consumed.

I once quit cold turkey once with no professional help but lapsed back into the same old patterns nearly a year later. Then my depression got worse than ever, and the abuse of alcohol became as bad as it had been in college.

Even though this is an anonymous blog, allow me a little room for rationalization here. I was never a Bloody Mary in the morning or bottle in the desk guy. But I was a prolific binge drinker. After Katy Perry-like Friday nights, I’d be hung over until Wednesday. And then I’d start again on Thursday with heavy drinking.

And it never, ever made me feel better. Only worse. My first therapist equated it to pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s simple, really. Alcohol is a depressant. Depressed people, umm, I should say people like me that I can relate to, probably don’t need more depressants.

If you want to read a great blog about depression and alcohol, which is the chicken and which is the egg, check this one out. If you want to read some scholarly articles about alcohol and depression, click on this link.

Praise God, alcohol abuse is not a problem for me right now. Not today at least. We’ll see about tomorrow.