Earlier, I told you that something big happened to me in my late 30s. Now you get the whole story. I was sitting at my computer in my office talking to a client on the phone. Out of nowhere I began to feel my heart beat faster and faster. My head began to get light and I felt dizzy. I didn’t know what to do so I said to my client, “I think there’s something wrong with me, I have to go”, and I hung up the phone.
For a minute I sat there not understanding what was happening. Being an Internet guy I immediately tried to search for symptoms on Google. Bad idea, I know. I should have instead gone directly to the hospital. I didn’t.
I was sweating and feeling ill and I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I could feel it pumping and pumping faster and faster and I thought I was going to fall down dead at any second. I thought I was having a heart attack! I imagined my wife finding me with my face planted on my keyboard and the letters QWERTY etched into my forehead. It’s kind of funny, admit it.
But I didn’t die. I somehow made it home through rush hour and went to bed.
The next day, at my wife’s request I went to the doctor to get things checked out. He put me on a treadmill to do the full stress test. Being really out of shape at the time I can remember hardly being able to do 5 minutes of running on the treadmill. How embarrassing. After the treadmill they make you drink some awful orange tasting liquid and stick you in a scanning machine so they can look at your heart for signs of stress to tell if you’ve had a heart attack or not.
The day after the stress test I met with my doctor. I sat down in his office and he said to me something that changed my life.
He said, “Jim, your problem isn’t here (pointing to my heart). Your problem is here (pointing to my head).”
It was confirmed. I had my first anxiety attack. All my medical tests came back just fine. There was nothing wrong with my heart, and besides being out of shape, I was about as fine as an out of shape person could be, physically that is.
I was relieved, yet worried. Why? Because I knew I didn’t want it to happen again. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack you know that the first one is always the worst because you don’t know it’s an anxiety attack. You think it’s a heart attack. But once you find out it’s all in your head, you begin to really get scared because you realize that it’s not so easy to learn how to control your brain. If it was a physical condition a doctor could conceivably give you medication to cure it, right? But your brain, how do you fix that?
Needless to say, I had to do some serious soul searching over the next few weeks. I knew I had to figure out what my brain was trying to tell me. Obviously I was not happy with my current situation with work, but I never really realized it. When I really thought about it, I was working way too hard and making too little money. As the sole breadwinner for my family, this obviously was weighing heavily on me.
I also realized that I had completely eliminated all the fun things from my life besides my family. I was spending way too much time trying to make money and please my clients and my young family, and no time at all trying to please myself.
Finally one day I figured it out. I realized that all that mattered was my family, my health, and my happiness. All the other bullshit was a waste of time to worry about. And that all the negativity that people bring, online or offline was nothing I wanted part of anymore.
It was a revelation. I had been freed! It was time to make some changes and reconnect with myself and the things that I liked to do… for me.
That day I went straight to the store and bought a new fishing rod and reel kit and new gear to replace my twenty-five year-old equipment.
Then I went fishing. Not every day. Not all day. I just went when I felt like it. When I could manage it. When I wanted to.
And I haven’t stopped since. Sometimes I’ll get up early and go fishing for a few hours before work. Sometimes I’ll go fishing around lunchtime. Sometimes I won’t even go in to work and spend the day fishing instead.
Why? Because that’s what I want to do, and need to do to keep from having more anxiety attacks. And it makes me happy.
In the past few years I’ve come to realize that some of the people you meet while fishing are also there because it makes them happy. These people come from all walks of life, some wealthy, some dirt poor, some old, some young, but all of them have a story to tell about their own path to happy.
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