Overcoming Anxiety: How Golf Gets Me From One Day to the Next
Readers of this site and listeners to our podcast know that we can get pretty "unfiltered" with our topics, guests, and subject matter. Overcoming anxiety is a subject I've touched on in the past, but I've never shared the full breadth and scope of how the disorder affects me and how golf continues to help me cope with my overactive brain. Let's change that today.
My name is Adam, and I have a mental illness.
Wow, reading those words on my computer screen is kind of intimidating. A few thoughts immediately come to mind:
"Do people actually care about my issues?"
"Are people going to think less of me?"
"What if the wrong people read this, share it, and other people stop coming to the website?"
In other words, classic "what-if?" questions float up into my brain in typical Adam Brain fashion. My mind and body go into fight-or-flight mode and I immediately start thinking of ways to delete this post as fast as possible.
But then a second thought whispers quietly in the background: "Why not let people know your story?"
Maybe that voice has a point.
Anxiety affects all of us
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly "40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population" suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders "cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion total mental health bill," according to a study commissioned by Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
To put that into perspective, that's a little more than half of what is spent in the entire golf industry ($76 billion) every year.
Approximately 25 million people play golf every year; almost half the number of people who struggle with an anxiety disorder.
It's fair to say that statistically speaking, there is a very good chance one (or more) of your golf partners falls into both buckets. We've read about it in golf news and can probably think of multiple examples from our own social circles.
Anxiety is real, and it can be debilitating.
My story (in a nutshell)
I was always a nervous kid growing up.
My mother would call me a "worry wort" whenever I would spend most of my day fretting over an exam I had to take in school, the amount of homework I had to finish, or something I had been grounded for weeks prior.
I vividly remember laying in bed every night sweating and shaking from fear and worry about what might happen to me the next day, week, or month. Being raised Catholic, I recall feeling an intense need to say my prayers in the exact right order without missing a single word out of fear that if I messed up, something bad would happen.
Any stumble meant I'd have to start my prayers over again, sometimes leading to a "prayer session" that lasted an hour or more.
Whenever I got in trouble -- as kids are wont to do -- I'd react as if my world was ending. I was conditioned to think that any misstep or mistake should be responded to with guilt, shame, regret and punishment. At times my environment reinforced these thought patterns, but most of the time it was just how my brain decided to react.
Throughout my teen and early adult years I rebelled against myself, often turning to alcohol to deaden the over-activity I had going on between my ears. By age 19, bars, parties and drunken social circles become a place of comfort... and, well, you know how that story typically goes.
Serious thoughts of suicide.
But thankfully, nothing that killed me or someone else.
By the time I graduated college I knew that I needed help. So I got it.
Therapy, Golf and Life
One of the biggest stigmas surrounding mental health is the concept of "being in therapy."
I sometimes jokingly say that I'm officially on my way to becoming famous because I regularly see a therapist. After all, anyone who's anyone has their shrink on speed-dial. Psychologists and psychiatrists are the perfect accessory!
But taking the step to talk to a mental health professional is what probably prevented me from hurting myself or someone else. And, through good fortune of speaking to a therapist who loved golf, I was able to find solace in an activity that already impacted my life so deeply.
I remember the conversation to this day:
"So, Adam, you like to play golf?"
"Maybe you should... you know... play golf more?"
"[Intense shrieks of happiness]"
Sure, you've probably heard people say "golf is my form of therapy." For me that is quite literally the case.
Golf allows me to practice mindfulness and living in the present moment.
Golf challenges me to deal with mistakes as they happen and move on to the next shot.
Golf provides me a chance to do something athletic, outdoors, and with friends instead of sitting at home, by myself, being lazy and ruminating on my thoughts.
But most importantly, golf gives me a chance to look forward to something every day when I wake up. No matter what, it will be there.
Anxiety disorders never go away. It's something I'm going to have the rest of my life, and that's perfectly fine.
One of the best things anyone who lives with a mental illness can do is exactly that: live with it.
Acceptance is a wonderful thing. It allows you the freedom of no longer spending days "working on your disorder." Instead, you can simply acknowledge something exists and move on.
In my case, this means taking the opportunity to do something I enjoy more than anything else: play golf.
I encourage any of my readers to share their story as well. You are among friends in that regard, and learning from one another is another great way to help each other out.
In the meantime, visit MakeItOk.org to learn more about mental health issues and what you can do to help.