By Matt Townsend
My male role models have been my father and father-in-law, as well as my friends and coworkers. However, despite these good role models, I could never find a mold which fit me. On the outside, I appear to have it all together. I am an all-American father and husband, who is the provider and protector of his family. However, on the inside, it is a completely different story. On the inside, this cool confident 40+-year-old man feels like a scared little boy.
Throughout my life, I have become good at “fake it until you make it.” I allow the fear and uncertainty to pass through my body, while running on auto-pilot and being the man I think I should be.
My anxiety issues began when I was 12 years old. While I worried about the ordinary things, such as school and girls, I also obsessively worried about dying, losing my mind, and other people’s health. When I entered my teens, I was busy with high school life; sports and parties filled my days, creating a distraction from my obsessive thinking and worry. Though the fear would creep up occasionally, it certainly wasn’t taking hold as it did when I was a small child. However, that all changed after I graduated and attended my first year of college.
While in college, I experienced my first panic attack, followed by debilitating obsessive thoughts of being sick, dying, and losing my mind. I received treatment in 1992 from my family doctor and was referred to counseling services. Thereafter, the intense feelings waxed and waned throughout my life, taking different forms as I aged. The feelings would disappear for years, then return for months at a time, taking over my everyday life, before subsiding into the dark again. During these periods of “illness,” I would feel anxious, depressed, experience intrusive thoughts, and live in a constant state of fear.
When I became a father in 2003, my focus was solely on my family. Being a young father and husband was rewarding and fulfilling. It felt like this was who I was meant to be. I thought I may have found the secret to controlling the monster inside of my head that loved to attack me. However, it reared its ugly head once again 4 years after the birth of my child. I experienced intrusive thoughts about hurting others or myself and feared losing my mind. The intense anxiety over these thoughts lead me to again seek treatment; this was when I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
I always understood OCD as it is often portrayed in films; I thought it was about hand washing, counting, and neatness. I had no idea that it could manifest itself in such a diabolic way. As the “man of the house,” who is supposed to emanate confidence and strength, OCD is a monster that is tough to fight. Men are taught to be strong and to overcome fear; this is especially the case for fathers who are setting the example for their children.
Throughout my life, I’ve had my share of breakdowns where the obsessive intrusive thoughts and anxiety have gotten the better of me, however, for the most part, I have done a pretty decent job keeping this boat afloat. While I would never want to revisit those first years of anxiety and OCD, I use those experiences to remind myself that I can get through any challenging experience. Medication has been both a curse and blessing; it helps with the rough spots, but of course it can have side effects. While medication is not a cure, it is part of the fight.
I will never quit the fight against OCD no matter how hard it becomes. Each day, I take on the world while fighting my own obsessive thoughts and feelings of uncertainty and fear. I’m anxious and sometimes I suffer. But I’m still here and that’s good enough.
Matt Townsend is a father, husband, and life-long anxiety and OCD sufferer.