My name is Bill Marr, I’m 47 years old, I live in Folsom California with my wife Kristina and my 3 children, Spencer, Cooper and Lily.
I am speaking to you today, hoping that once I’m done telling my story you won’t ever view mental illness the same way. Most of you have probably heard of things like Depression, Anxiety, and maybe even Panic Attacks but unless you live with it or know someone who lives with it, it’s hard to really appreciate the challenges it brings.
Before I was diagnosed with anxiety, I had 2 career paths that I took. First, I worked in law enforcement in the bay area for 6 years and then eventually left to work for Bank of America for 10 years in construction lending. I grew up in the bay area and eventually moved my family to Folsom in August 2004.
My wife and I lived in a nice home, in a nice neighborhood and we’re raising our 2 young sons at the time. I was earning more money then I ever thought possible and driving my dream car, a brand-new convertible Porsche. My life wasn’t always good though, my mother spent half her adult life in prison and my biological father was left when I was 2. At age 15, I was living homeless and sleeping at the park or anywhere else I could find shelter. So, to be in this position of having my own family and breaking the cycle of dysfunction was amazing.
Then, out of nowhere in July of 2008, I started having panic attacks that were so bad; I was visiting the hospital every day for 2 weeks thinking I was having a heart attack. After reading way too much on the Internet, I found the Anxiety Treatment Center of Sacramento and sought help from Dr. Robin Zasio who runs the center. Within minutes of our first meeting, she said you have symptoms of OCD and Agoraphobia. Basically, my biggest fear was having a heart attack and not being close enough to a hospital and dying. Everything that used to be so simple and easy became a life or death struggle.
Getting a haircut was almost impossible because I knew once the haircut started I was trapped for at least 20 minutes and I couldn’t just get up and leave without looking like an idiot. Driving from my house in Folsom to Roseville was also very difficult, because in my mind there was too much distance between the hospital in Folsom and the one in Roseville. Several times while driving to Roseville, I would end up at the fire station at Folsom Auburn Road and Eureka Road. I was having a panic attack but I always believed it was a heart attack. Before I went anywhere, I would get on the Internet and look to see where all the hospitals and urgent care centers or medical help was. This way if I had a heart attack, I would know where the closest help was in realtion to my drive to and from my final destination.
Just so you know, there is no common sense to be had when you deal with mental illness or these irrational type thoughts. No matter how strong minded you are it can be impossible at times to try and manage it.
Dr. Zasio recommended I spend 6 hours a day for 6 weeks provoking my anxiety on purpose, so I could learn to sit with my anxiety and have it go away without me panicking and fleeing to the hospital. I also decided to start taking medication and between the 2 therapies I saw HUGE improvements in a matter of weeks.
My LIGHTBULB moment came when I was getting a haircut of all things. The first 20 minutes of my haircut on a scale of 1 to 10 for anxiety, I was at a 12. I was absolutely convinced I was going to die that day. However, I did what Dr. Zasio said to do, which was not leave under any circumstance and if I pass out or something happens then someone better call 911. Finally, after 20 minutes the worst anxiety of my life was INSTANTLY replaced with total calm. The anxiety disappeared like a ghost. I felt so amazing that my fear went away, I literally felt like I could lift the building off the foundation.
Without of course knowing this at the time, all of my struggles in life up to that point had ultimately prepared me for the fight of my life. My wife is and continues to be completely supportive throughout my anxiety challenges.
At the worst point, I was on disability for 2 years, I was in counseling twice a week and couldn’t ever take a vacation because of my fears.
Thankfully I never really cared much about what people thought of me. However, it’s absolutely humiliating to walk around thinking that you have this disease that people might not understand and might misjudge you or the behavior you display because of it. I believe the number one reason people with mental illness become isolated is because of the stigma and stereotype that it brings with it. The last thing you want to do at a party or barbeque is start explaining your disease. That said, I never shied away from talking about it because I figured the more people I talk to about my disease, the more people will understand and be less judgmental towards people they encounter in the future.
Today, I take 2 medications for my anxiety, I exercise regularly and I avoid sugar, gluten and alcohol. I’ve found these types of foods and substances to provoke my anxiety. I still make little adjustments to trips, business meetings and vacations. I own a group health insurance business and things are going extremely well. I still have moments where I doubt the feelings or symptoms I’m having in my body, but I refuse to let my disease dictate my future.
I’m not embarrassed or ashamed in any way to have an anxiety disorder or to admit I take medication for it. These are the cards I was dealt and I’m going to make the most of the hand I’ve been given.
Please understand that Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and effects people from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. If someone is brave enough to share their struggle, please find a way to respond with love and kindness.
Be curious, not judgmental.