I knew something was wrong around the age of 18. I could no longer sleep properly. I had constant panic attacks that I could not explain, understand or control.
When my work as a golf course architect began to involve long distance driving and frequent flights, the panic attacks became more frequent and I could no longer sleep the night before I had to travel. What I didn’t know was my inability to get a night’s sleep was adding fuel to my anxiety.
In the morning, sleep deprived, I would get up, force myself out the door, full of anxiety and begin the drive to the airport or out to a golf course. Often, I would have to stop and get out of the car and walk on the side of the road because I was hyperventilating so hard my arms were numb, my chest hurt, and I could barely breathe. I kept this secret from everyone, but my wife knew something was wrong. I began to spiral, and we sought professional help.
It started with a visit to my family doctor. Through her I saw my first psychiatrist, who proved helpful with determining the trigger for the anxiety — a nasty car accident when I was young. His recommendation was to take anti-depressants, which was not the right answer for me. While it muted my anxiety, I also became distant. I decided that I preferred dealing with the anxiety. Even with anxiety, I could still get my work done. I continued to carry a heavy load at work, but I was also beginning to feel depressed that I could not solve this issue. I had to address this problem.
We asked the family doctor for other ideas and she pointed us in the direction of cognitive therapy. After some sessions with another psychiatrist, I gained the coping mechanisms to deal with a panic attack. Picture me in the car in the middle of a full panic attack, studiously filling out a page of questions from “Mind Over Mood.” The workbook asked questions designed to identify what was running through your mind, which then gave you the tools to begin to rationalize yourself down. This helped a lot and I was able to regain control more quickly. Over time, I knew the questions so well I could do this exercise in my head. Sleep remained an issue and I was often fatigued.
This was about when I began to share my personal issues with a few key people I worked with on construction sites. The most common answer I got was, “I never would have guessed you have anxiety.” I had developed a habit of walking everywhere on golf course construction sites. I found it allowed me to see things more clearly by going more slowly through the landscape, but it also helped me quell some anxious feelings that during a visit. When I explained my reasoning to some superintendents I knew well, I found myself with lots of unexpected support. Soon all visits began with “Let’s walk. Ian likes to walk.”
The cognitive therapy helped, but my wife kept pushing me to try new ideas. I had resigned myself to this being a part of my life. She persisted, though, and we tried eliminating caffeine (ugh), changing eating habits, aroma therapy (wtf), white noise at night, audio books and even yoga (zzzz). When I began my own business, we instituted some changes that brought positive results. Flying in the night before was better than flying out at 6 a.m. It cost me money for the hotel, but I felt better and that was worth the price. I made sure there were gaps in travel or a day of leisure added to a long multi-city trip. But the real breakthrough came with when my wife read an article about walking long distances to release endorphins.
I can’t explain why this works, but for me it really does. We determined that I require around a three-mile walk to release what’s inside I need. I also require a solid night’s sleep. This was a game-changer, because I noticed a dramatic decrease in daily anxiety and a massive drop in the frequency of my panic attacks. I didn’t have to go out every night, but I do walk before and during major trips. It most often involves an extra lap of the project I’m working on before I head to the hotel. Evening golf works too.
I’m grateful to those who have come out and talked openly about what they go through in the golf business. They are the strong ones. I decided to write this article to show support for them, but hopefully to encourage someone else to seek professional help and find their own support system.