California Gave Me Anxiety and Depression

As I’m sitting in the airport awaiting to board my flight to embark on a European adventure, I stumble upon an Instagram post highlighting a quote from Lao Tzu – “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” I quickly share it to my story and write “I’m working on it…” It was coincidental because I then realize the tightness in my chest and the slight urge to cry. Why am I anxious right now? Yeah, I’m excited to be traveling to Europe, but I’m not feeling pumped; I am feeling down. My anxiety is consuming me because I’m focused on how much I’m going to miss my boyfriend James, my friends, and my life in San Diego for the next 10 days. In other words, I’m thinking about the negatives of my future and not the positives of my present. I let this sink in for a little and begin thinking about my experience with anxiety and depression.

In July 2018, after living in New York for the first 22 and a half years of my life, I decided to pack all of my belongings into my 1998 Toyota Rav 4, grab my sister, and drive 4 days to move to San Diego. Throughout my life I never struggled with anxiety or depression. I was always the positive, upbeat, and down for anything at any time type of person. You couldn’t stop me from going out or doing something during my free time. I was always confident in what I was doing and never really doubted myself. Even while settling into my new California life, I felt like I was on top of the world. However, I began to feel a 180° shift in how I felt in my soul.

Now, before I continue, I feel like I have to explain why I decided to pick up my life and move to the opposite side of the country. Throughout college, I planned on moving to Brooklyn and getting a 9-to-5 job in New York City. It was essentially down the block and something I knew; however, after visiting Colorado before my senior year, I started dabbling with the idea of leaving New York to experience something new. From there, I began realizing that the “New York State of Mind,” or attitude, didn’t really coincide with who I felt I was as a person. I began noticing the coldness of the people around me. Cashiers wouldn’t even look up to say, “Hi.” Drivers honked for no fucking reason. Everyone around me was so focused on themselves and couldn’t care less about how they treated each other. I didn’t want to live surrounded by this attitude anymore, therefore, I decided to give San Diego a shot. It was a risk that definitely paid off and I was quickly more than happy I moved to there to say the least.

I graduated from college shortly before moving, so I had to begin building my career the second I parked my car at my new home. I have a Marketing degree and had previously began building a personal freelance Social Media Marketing and Management company to sustain my life. Building this type of career is slow and somewhat lonely; I spent 6 hours per day working on my laptop at home by myself. At this point, I really only had a handful of friends, so I decided to try to get a job coaching gymnastics. I had 8.5 years of experience prior to moving and knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a job in that field. I was right and quickly hired to coach at SD United Training Center. I was so grateful how close I got to my coworkers and, before I knew it, obtained a solid group of friends. One of whom is a guy named James, who instantly changed my world and perspective on life.

I told myself when I moved I wasn’t going to get start dating anyone until I had more of a solid life for myself. But, as you all probably know, when you meet someone and feel a special connection with, you can’t really help it. We spent all of our free time together from basically the second we hung out outside of work. He quickly became my best friend and someone I could confide in. Everyone I knew previously was over 3,000 miles away, which only influenced me to get attached pretty quickly. Once our relationship transitioned from best friends to something a little more, I began to open up more about how I felt, not just who I am.

One night at the end of September, I was at work-related function with James and my new group of friends. As the night progressed, I began feeling this urge to leave. It was a foreign feeling to me and I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling. I usually enjoy being around groups of people, but this was one of the first times I felt the need to be alone (well, to be alone with James). I stuck it out, but on the car ride back to James’s place, I opened up about how I was feeling a tightness in my chest and tense throughout. The conversation played out a bit more as we analyzed what was going on and I vividly remember saying, “It feels like I have to cry but I don’t.” I basically jinxed myself and that’s when I entered a half-year stage of intense anxiety and depression.

For months, I broke down at least once a week. The littlest of things would trigger my anxiety and I would be flooded with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and discontent with myself. My confidence flew out the window and I constantly put myself down. I’m broken. Something’s wrong with me. I hate this feeling. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. Thoughts raced through my head and the more I tried to control it, the more often and intense my episodes became. This put me in a constant state of analysis of my emotions and trying to make sure I didn’t start crying spontaneously.

This put me in a constant battle with myself. I didn’t want to do anything but lay in bed – I was mentally and emotionally exhausted all the time. I became more introverted than extroverted. There’s nothing more draining than not feeling yourself, especially for months at a time.

Recently, I’ve come to the realization that my guarded approach to everything has prevented me from establishing deeper relationships with others. With friends, I have always felt like being the listener, not the talker. I was the go-to for anyone who needed practical advice. Opening up was never something I ever felt necessary. People look up to me for my positivity, and that’s what drove me in the past. I now can no longer live life that way. I want to develop intense connections with others; something I can’t do unless I let my guard down.

These feelings I believe began because my guard got stronger as my emotions for James grew. The closer I got to loving James, the further away I got from loving myself. As a result, I was so worried about him cheating on me or taking advantage of the trust I instilled with him that I closed myself off from everyone over the past months. Taking a step back from my relationship with James and looking at the big picture, I’ve concluded that I push people away when the relationship/friendship gets too close. I’m always on guard that someone is going to take advantage of my trust, therefore I haven’t really trusted anyone, not even myself. It is easier to take the high road than to take the risk and actually love someone (romantically or not). I have been preventing myself from loving with my whole heart my entire life and I didn’t even realize it.  As a result, it wasn’t until I figured this out that I started to feel like myself again, if not even better.

I didn’t write this to throw myself a pity party. I don’t have any intentions of gaining attention from talking about this, nor do I want that. The only attention I want from this post is that even the happiest people in this world are facing a battle you probably know nothing about. I know for myself, if I asked anyone if they thought I had struggled with anxiety or depression, they’d probably laugh in my face (besides James because he’s been helping me through it for half a year now). I also wrote this because I never really understood anxiety and depression until I struggled with it myself. It’s not something you can “turn off” and “calm down” from when you’re having trouble dealing with it. I believe everyone has anxiety, but there is definitely a tremendous amount of people who mask it and pretend like it’s not a problem when it actually is. I tried to cover it up and tell myself I was okay. Like I said, the more I tried to control it, the more anxious I became. With that being said, if you feel like you’re struggling to control your anxiety, stop. The second I stopped and faced it was when I was able to grow and deal with it.

I still have a long way to go, but I’ve already come so far. My anxiety attacks and crying episodes used to last an hour or 2, and then I would need about 24 hours to bounce back and feel “normal.” Now, when they come, they last maybe 15 minutes and I can bounce back and tackle the rest of my day after taking some time to relax once it’s over.

Lao Tzu once said that peace lies within the moment. I would have anxiety attacks as a result of worrying about potential, nonexistent problems in my future. This led to my depression as I tried to reflect on what has happened to me in the past to cause these intense emotions. Today, I’m able to be honest with myself, speak my mind freely, and be more in the moment, which ultimately has allowed me to be the best version of myself I’ve ever been. If you’re dealing with anything, take a moment to appreciate what you have right NOW and focus on that. It’s ridiculously hard, but with practice comes perfection. Never give up on yourself and learn to trust yourself. It’s not going to happen overnight. Be patient. Love yourself. Stay as positive as you can.

A Personal Letter To Danceworks as My Time As President Comes To An End

“Congratulations, Tom, you are now officially the President of Danceworks Productions.”

Around a year ago today, I was inducted as President of the most incredible club I’ve every known about. For those of you who don’t know what this club does, let me briefly explain. Danceworks Productions is the largest organization at Hofstra University with over 150 member. It is also a completely student run organization. We audition choreographers and select 11-13 dance pieces which will be in our production. A few days later, we hold dancer auditions where these choreographers show their dances and select their casts after a four-hour process. As the semester continues, each dance has an hour and a half rehearsal once a week leading up to the show.  As all of this work is being done, we participate in multiple social events to build a bond amongst the club and the Hofstra community, as well as a handful of philanthropy events where we raise money for various charities. We, as a club, do this every semester (so twice per academic year). There is no other club on Hofstra University’s campus that does all of this – it’s truly remarkable.

From Fall 2015-Spring 2017 I served as the Publicity and Promotions chair. I promoted the auditions and shows through various mediums, as well as designed all of the apparel for those two years. Following this role, I had the privilege and honor to be President of this incredible club. At the point in time I am writing this, I only have around 24 hours left as President of Hofstra University Danceworks Productions President. As I reminisce about my time at Hofstra, Danceworks has been the heart and soul of why I’ve loved my time at Hofstra University.

I’d like to take the time to write a letter to Danceworks – more specifically the members of this club who I’ve grown from because of their footprints left on my heart. If you were in Danceworks anywhere between 2015 to Spring 2018, this one is for you:

Dear Danceworks,

I’ve dedicated three years of my life to you. I’ve sacraficed a huge part of my free time, missing family events, and breaks within the academic schedule to fulfil my responsibilities to you. I’ve been on call 24 hours/7 days a week for years to jump on any situation I may have to mediate or rectify. Yes, most of the time I’ve had to do things at the most inconvenient times when I wanted to do almost anything else, but in the end, I loved every minute of it.

When I started at Hofstra University, I was a commuter. I absolutely hated it and my first semester I wanted to transfer. I looked into it and started talking to friends who attended other schools around the nation. I knew it was best to finish out the year so I sat on the option of leaving to pursue a different experience away from home. When my second semester started, I decided to audition for Danceworks Productions. At that point, I hadn’t really danced since I was 10 years old; I danced like the Tin Man does when Dorothy first meets him at that first audition. I didn’t get into the show that semester, but I wanted to take advantage of the other 66% you participate in. I hung out with you alone at the first social event and from there, everthing fell into place.

Within a month I was offered a room in an off campus house occupied by your members. I couldn’t believe it and I jumped on the opportunity. I continued to participate in anything I could and I even helped with selling tickets at the shows. I knew this club was something I wanted to be part of regardless of what I was doing. This mentality led me to run for Danceworks Productions executive board as Publicity and Promotions Chair. Long story short, I was elected and then re-elected the following year.

As I mentioned before, I hadn’t danced in a while. I wanted to grow as a dancer, as well as a leader of this club. I practiced and focused a majority of my time at Hofstra to getting better and eventually be casted into the shows. After another semester of not being casted, I had the privledge of being selected into the Spring 2016 and have been since. Once I was casted, I focused my attention on diversifying my abilities away from only doing hip-hop dances to eventually also dancing in contemporary and jazz pieces as well.

A few weeks before the elections for my senior year, I decided to push myself even further and run for President. What? I met you as a below average dancer and now I’m going for President of a dance club? This was no where near what I thought my time in Danceworks would lead to. I wanted to create a higher meaning of this club for myself so this was the perfect opportunity. I worked hard on my speech as I did everything involving you up to that point which resulted in my election as Danceworks Productions President.

My time at Hofstra has taught me five things about myself which I would have never learned if I didn’t audition for this club back in 2015. They are:

DANCE

Like I’ve discussed, I didn’t have a thorough background or training in dance. I took the time to listen to my peers in the club and, from that, I gained a better understanding on how to dance and how to look at dance from a technical standpoint. Your members are among the most talented dancers at Hofstra and this made it easy for me to see how to dance properly through observation and immitation. Thank you, Danceworks, for teaching me how to connect my mind and body, which I’ve applied to all aspects of my life.

PERSISTENCE

Many members don’t get casted into your shows, especially their first semester or two auditioning. This is inevitable and dance is competitive, therefore I had to learn how to take the rejection and grow from it. Many people have problems doing this but when you do, there are many more pros than cons. I learned how to take a “failure” and make it a positive. I didn’t get into the show my first two semesters, one of which I was on the executive board for. I could have dropped the club and sought a different avenue to get involved, but, let’s be honest, doing just that shows immaturity and lack of character. I used this rejection to become an even better dancer than I would have if I stopped trying to get into the Danceworks show. Thank you, Danceworks, for teaching me that failure is an opportunity to be better than if I was successful in the first place.

COMMUNICATION

Being on e-board means we are responsible for the operation of a club of over 150 of your members. Inevitably, I have had to communicate with almost each and every person in the club every year for three years. As President, this duty only increased and I had to mediate hundreds of conflicts and situations. This was extremely uncomfortable at times, especially because I’m friends with most of these people. But my time on e-board has taught me to have those difficult conversations and deal with circumstances I didn’t feel comfortable doing. As I dealt with these particular conflicts, I grew to understand I am capable of having these tricky interactions and have an effective outcome. Thank you, Danceworks, for teaching me how to handle conflicts in a mature and effective manner, especially when it involves friends.

 PRIDE

Imagine auditioning for something you worked really hard on for a year and you got shut down twice already. You’d feel pretty defeated. Now imagine you go into the following audition and get casted into, not only one, but two pieces! I didn’t know it then, but the rejection only allowed me to experience exuberance I would have never felt if I wasn’t shut down beforehand. Taking a step away from focusing on the dancing aspect of the club: the kid who had trouble getting into the shows a few times was elected President his senior year. I know back in 2015, no one ever expected that to happen. As I’m creeping on 24 hours left as President, I am the most proud of myself I’ve ever been. I don’t think I’ve ever been proud of myself until this past year as I’ve constantly reflected on my journey in the club. I believe I’m the only male President of Danceworks in history of the club and I think I’m one of a few, if the only, President of a dance club that didn’t have significant training throughout my life. I’m usually humble but I’m unique in this aspect and that’s an honor to say. Thank you, Danceworks, for teaching me to be proud of myself.

CONFIDENCE

Confidence. I’ve been in leadership positions throughout my middle school and high school careers. I have even taken leadership in elementary school when the teacher was obligated to handle a more crucial situation. I know I am a type A personality, but I’ve never been completely confident. Through all I’ve accomplished and grown as a dancer, friend and leader, I’ve been more aware of my confidence as a person. These past few years have put me in the best and worst positions of my life, but I’m still breathing and after careful reflection, I realized that my confidence has sky-rocketed. I’m taking this confidence and I’m in the process of creating my own business. Without this club, I would have never learned crucial life lessons of rejection, failure, success and discomfort. Thank you, Danceworks, for giving me the confidence to set up my life for success and prosperity.

These are only a few things I’ve learned from participating in Danceworks Productions and working my way to eventually become President. You have given me so many opportunities to grow into the man I am today and I’m beyond grateful for the things I’ve learned through meeting such incredible and talented people along the way. The members of this club have pushed me beyond what I thought I could achieve. This is something I will cherish forever and utilize as I take on the real-world post-graduation. I’ve watched this club become better and better each year and as I leave this organization in the hands of Morgan, I know you’re only going to get better. I cannot wait to see the club grow along with the members of this club. Thank you for everything you’ve given me, Danceworks, and continue to do so for as many people as possible.

With much love,

Tom Fraher

To the members of Danceworks who are graduating, coming back next semester or thinking of joining, you don’t know what you have until it’s (almost) gone. Be mindful of what Danceworks is giving you along the way and reflect on what you’ve taken away from this club. The more meaning you give the club, the further you will grow.

 

Rainbow Sprinkles

OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Honestly, I’m not diagnosed by a doctor, but I do show many signs of it and I feel like the best way to deal with it is to accept it.

Over the years, my OCD has gotten worse.  I’ve always liked things neat and organized.  With a cluttered thought process like mine, just the simple look of pens all facing the same way can ease my mind and make me not feel completely crazy for a second.

Once I started college, I began thinking for myself and being confident.  I continued to work for two years and finally got to where I wanted to be mentally.  Unfortunately, that work went to shit when I dated someone who used my kindness for personal gain.

Imagine you’re stacking quarters – one quarter per day.  For approximately 2 years/730 days/$182.50 in quarters, I stacked and stacked for him to come in and pull the bottom quarter out from day 1.  I spent the next four months gathering my quarters.

For those four months, I stopped doing everything that eased my OCD tendencies.  I kept my things together but I wasn’t itching to constantly make sure everything was in place.  I shut down as a person to build myself back up; I was holding the home button and power button on my life.  My life went black and then the brightness came back.  I realized that I wasn’t acting much on my anxious ticks of organizing my drawer or tearing my closet apart just to put it back in a more organized way.  Having this epiphany helped me get back on track.  I shortly bounced back from the collapse of my quarter tower.

So now imagine having a constant need to make things neat and organized.  I would describe my thoughts as a pile of rainbow sprinkles and I’m constantly sorting them by color.  I’m also going to throw in the fact that I’m blue-green/blue-red color blind.

It’s one of those piles that continues to get bigger.  Every fucking second it multiplies exponentially.  I can’t control it.  I’m always sorting through: am I making him happy enough?  Am I doing everything right?  Am I doing a good enough job as President of Danceworks?  I need to post about my workout today.  I hope I don’t fuck up.  How should I handle a communication issue?  I don’t wanna be overbearing.  Am I’m being too much?  Am I going to ruin something else again?  It’s just a constant domino of thoughts swirling around my head.  All day.  Everyday.

It wasn’t until recently when I felt like someone was beating me down that I realized that, besides my anxious ticks, I have to be around people to ease my mind.  Friends, acquaintances, strangers, whatever it may be.  The connections I make with people I know (or don’t know) make me feel full inside.  I’m glad I decided to run as President even though I was scared that I wasn’t ready for it.  I’m glad I have put myself in stressful situations with people I don’t know because now I know a handful of people that I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life.  I’m glad I care about everyone else around me just as much as I care about myself.  The people around me everyday get me through the jumble of rainbow sprinkles constantly being shuffled in my head.