“Don’t Wait Till You’re In Crisis.” Gay Man Overcomes Debilitating Anxiety By Prioritizing His Mental Health.

by Joe Ferreira

My name is Joe Ferreira and I’m from Folsom, California.

When I was in college, I did come out to my parents. But then after that, I lost all momentum. I never really came out to my younger brother. I never came out to my extended family at all. And also, I was in college in a small town. There wasn’t a lot of gay stuff in my life. I didn’t have any boyfriends. There was nothing – there was no queer life I was living.

Cut to moving to New York City. Suddenly you’re in the thick of it all. I am going on dates. I have boyfriends. I’m learning who I am and what I’m into. All of a sudden, this gay world just blossomed and I was living this huge gay life in New York, and it was a lot of fun.

But it also meant that all of a sudden, those phone calls home, people would ask, “Well, what are you doing tonight?” And I was kind of lying by omission a lot. It created this kind of really deep sense of shame and anxiety in me. I didn’t really know what to do about it. I didn’t take any action to try to solve it. And I certainly didn’t address it as a problem. Eventually, that anxiety started to show itself in strange ways.

The first thing to go was that I started having a really hard time sleeping. So, for me, what that meant was waking up really, really early in the morning. Like, far too early for it to make sense – like, 3:30am, 4am. I would sit there and I would just – my mind would just work and work and work. All of this gay guilt that I had never processed was just coursing through my thoughts. You know, and I was raised religious. I’m having conversations with God asking why am I this way. It should all be better, right? I’m here. I’m in the oasis. Why am I still dealing with this?

Shortly after this sort of sleeplessness, I started losing appetite. This one time, I had friends in from out of town. These were friends from home. I said to them, I was like, “Hey, why don’t we get Italian food? That’s a big part of being in new York. You guys will love it.” I took them down Ninth Avenue and we stopped at this Italian restaurant that was a favorite of mine at the time. I ordered a plate that I would ordinarily think that I would enjoy. I was sort of nervous – like every day, I was so nervous at this point, like it just – I had no appetite.

After a while, people were like, “Joe, why aren’t you eating?”

I said, “Oh, I think my stomach is kind of upset.”

And they were like, “Oh, okay.” I couldn’t really tell – maybe people were wondering if something bigger was happening.

This went on for a long time. I was sleeping and eating only enough to stay alive. And then one day, I had this kind of really scary thought where I was like, what if everything that is happening is irreversible? I was like, can I be trusted to be alone? Will I snap one day? All of a sudden, I was just checking in and checking in with myself to just make sure that I was holding it together.

Then one day, my boyfriend and I, we went to this party down in Chelsea. I was already a nervous wreck on the way there because I’m just like a walking panic attack at that point. We get to the building and we go up. It’s a really beautiful apartment. Nice party. It’s on a high floor, it has a wonderful view, and it has a deck.

I was like, I have to make it through this party because if I snap during this party, what I could do is run and jump off this deck. The moment I had that thought, I just had this visceral flush of fear and it was, I guess, too much for me and I ended up fainting in the center of the party and vomiting, too. Everything that had been keeping me so tense for months, I think it just snapped in that moment and I got light-headed and I went down hard.

On the way home, so my boyfriend’s talking to me – I had kind of said to him, “Oh you know, I’m not sleeping,” or “I’m having a hard time,” or whatever.

He was like, “Joe. What is going on?”

I had had one friend who had ever talked about going to therapy in front of me. So I called him.

I just said, “Hey. I think I need to see a counselor or talk something out because I’m having a really tough time and it’s been going on for too long and I’m not sure what the next step is.” He actually wasn’t seeing a therapist at this time, but he had a friend who was seeing a therapist that he had heard was helpful.

So I went in. I’m sure it’s a pretty standard office. She had a chair. I was seated on some sort of couch-ottoman thing. She was probably giving me just the simplest coping mechanisms, like ways to detach yourself from your thoughts and recognize that you were like going into a panic mode and to breath and to move through it.

Getting some things off my chest made all the difference. Having these little tools to stay calm made all the difference. Making a plan of how to address what was really bothering me – like, I did end up restarting conversations about my sexuality and my life with my family. I was talking about it a little bit more openly – making a point to talk about it a little more openly and not feel like I was hiding all of that.

I went to eight sessions for eight weeks with this therapist and at the end of the eight weeks, I was doing so much better that I was like, “I think I’m okay to just try this on my own again.”
And she was like, “Okay.” And I moved on and it’s been a lot better for me ever since.

It’s kind of funny. I turned this corner in thinking about mental crisis. You know, if you have some sort of physical ailment or physical crisis, you go to the doctor, you get it treated and when you’re fine again, you go on with your life. And I think that’s the approach I try and take now, where it’s like your thoughts, your – you know, you react to your situation and to your circumstance, and if things are really difficult, then you might have some mental health things to address and that’s totally fine. And I don’t think that message gets shared a lot with people.

When I look back, the thing I’m sad about is that I let it go on for so long. So I would’ve urged my younger self to try and take steps sooner and try and just start talking to people sooner. Don’t wait till you’re in crisis. If something is really troubling you, act fast.

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