Reducing Mental Health Stigma Through Personal Stories | Psyched for Mental Health S1 Ep 6
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Reducing Mental Health Stigma Through Personal Stories | Psyched for Mental Health S1 Ep 6

Welcome to Psyched for Mental Health, the official mental health podcast of WebShrink. This past winter I was listening to our creative producer’s podcast called Noncasting. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him discussing his own experiences with anxiety, and more specifically anxiety medications on a recent episode, Zero Salvation Stories Begin in Miami Beach. This is the first episode of the Psyched series where we’re going to share personal stories of individuals who have struggled with–or maybe are currently struggling with–different kinds of mental health issues. We talk about how it’s affected their lives, how they’ve coped, whether they’ve received treatment, and what their journey has been like. I sit down with Nate Tower from Nonsensible to learn what his experience with anxiety has been like.

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Episode Transcript:

The following is not intended to provide direct medical, psychiatric, or substance use treatment advice and is not a substitute for evaluation and treatment by a healthcare professional.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Hello, I’m Dr. Ed Bilotti and this is Psyched for Mental Health. Empowering you with trustworthy information about modern psychiatry. This podcast is a companion to webshrink.com, the platform for seekers and providers of mental healthcare. On webshrink.com, we try to bring you current news and information about important topics in mental health.

But we also try to bring in personal stories. Personal stories of individuals who have struggled with or may be struggling with different kinds of mental health issues, how it’s affected their lives, how they’ve coped, whether they’ve received treatment, and what their journey has been like. This is the first episode of our podcast series where we’re going to do just that.

I was listening to the podcast of our creative producer, Nate Tower, who’s the owner and operator of Non Sensible Productions, whose name you’ve probably heard at the tail end of our podcast episodes. I was listening to his podcast called Non Casting. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him release an episode where he discussed his own experiences with anxiety and anxiety medications.

So I thought, well, we’re missing what’s right in front of us here. Why don’t we talk to Nate about his own personal experiences as part of Psyched for Mental Health.

So I’m very pleased to be in Studio today with Nate Tower. Welcome, Nate.

Nate Tower:

Thank you very much. This is great.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

So I’m a psychiatrist. I’m not your psychiatrist. I only know you in the context of our relationship with, uh, producing a podcast together. But if it’s okay with you, I’m going to kind of interview you like I’m wearing my psychiatrist hat today.

Nate Tower:

Absolutely. That sounds good.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

I’m interested in hearing more about your experience with anxiety. I found your episode on this topic to be very interesting in the, in the vivid and unconventional ways that you described your decision making and your experiences with symptoms and treatment and medication. And I really want to know more about what anxiety has been like for you. How long have you been struggling with this? When did it start?

Nate Tower:

Yeah. I think hindsight is 2020. So a lot of what’s informed my decision making and my thinking has kind of been this journey of learning about, um, why I may have experienced certain anxieties or depression along the way from childhood to early adulthood, to having a career to, uh, raising a family.

And I, I get to benefit from, I think all the experiences leading up to having a little bit more knowledge in the tank when it comes to knowing what works for me and what doesn’t. And at this stage, I’m, I’m 39 years old, I feel like I have a pretty good arsenal and kind of a toolkit of what has worked and what doesn’t work, but right out the gate I did not have that.

I think that’s something that’s really important. There is no overnight solution. It takes a while to kind of understand how you can alleviate some of the symptoms and some of the just daily disruptors when you’re experiencing anxiety or depression. So going back, there were indications in my childhood of being an anxious kid.

Uh, it’s hard to sort of discuss that now, you know, with the backdrop of kids these days and how prevalent anxiety is, just how often you hear that, oh, all the kids are so anxious these days. My daughter, who’s six and a half, my son who’s three, uh, they’re gonna live a very different childhood than I had.

There’s a lot more information out there. There’s a lot more information for parents. Um, but you know, growing up and, and just kind of going day by day and not having as much information, I definitely had anxiety way back. Almost as far back as I can remember. I had no idea that’s what it was then. So it, it came out in a lot of different ways, uh, agitation. I think a lot of times what kind of seemed as ADHD. Although I was never diagnosed with ADHD, I was tested for it, but, um, attention span and just like a, you know, as I mentioned in the podcast, which I, I think is the best way I can articulate it.

Imagine driving and really paying attention. To your instruments and your, your speedometer and everything and sort of forgetting to watch the road.

And that’s, that’s sort of the experience that as I’ve gotten older, I can best describe it. Cause I think a lot of, like my high school experience was, I just wasn’t kind of, I, I, I often forgot to press record and kind of be present in what was around me. I was really, really focused on what was inside me and what was going on.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

It’s a brilliant metaphor of the dashboard instruments because you know, I tell patients quite often if you feel like you are losing your memory or you’re forgetful or you have attention deficit issues, much of it can be explained by anxiety because when you’re feeling that anxious, you’re so preoccupied with your internal state that it’s hard to focus on what’s happening around you or where you left your keys or you know, what someone just said.

Nate Tower:

Or algebra in high school.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Exactly. Yeah. So you’re 39, you have two young children, you are married.

Nate Tower:

Yep.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

And you’re running a small business that you founded.

Nate Tower:

Correct.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

What is the anxiety like? Is it persistent today or is it, I mean, you’re describing, you know, your experience as a kid, which is not unusual for children, especially like you said, back in those times there was less awareness and a tendency to just sort of, you know, uh, this is your personality.

We’re now aware that sometimes those things cross a line into what can be considered pathology if it’s interfering with normal function.

Nate Tower:

Yeah.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

So how does your anxiety manifest now? Is it kind of always there or? At some low level or does it come in episodes? Is it in certain environments or situations? Do you have panic attacks?

Nate Tower:

Yeah, so all of the above, but at different stages and in those different stages I learned more about each of those symptoms. So, you know, in my young career, in my twenties, I moved to New York City and, and that was incredibly overwhelming for me. Uh, it was just a total shock to my system.

Uh, and throughout my career there was a lot of those types of experiences where I was just very, very heightened, very sensitive. And I would start to experience panic attacks, uh, especially when faced with presenting or some type of spotlight situation. And I guess even going further back, you know, that that started in college.

It was just, around the time that I started to become more acutely aware of what they were. At first there were feelings and things that were happening, and you kind of put that like, something is wrong with me. This doesn’t appear to be happening to everyone else. Um, and then you get the labels. And then the labels were a, a big turning point for me where you, you know, you start doing your own research.

I was, I was doing cognitive and talk therapy through much of this. I, I’ve never been, opposed to therapy. And I think that’s been a large part of my upbringing and just kind of a, a positive discussion around talking. And also I found, you know, as, as I grew up, that talking was a good release for me anyhow.

I could. Unload a bit. So that’s always been a plus. But I experienced most of these things as I kind of grew in like the workplace. Um, and just doing a lot of internal battling, a lot of kind of damaging negative talk, uh, because I was experiencing these experiencing these things as you start to.

Figure out things like panic attacks, as simple as like, I don’t want to have them anymore. You’re presented with the medications that are available and then you’re presented with, uh, or I was fortunately, you know, the cognitive side, how exercise can support these things. How, you know, healthy eating, how meditation, um, but you know, when I lived in New York, I was doing none of those things.

Um, but that really was the kind of start of my more adult battle on like, well, how do we get these things to stop? And that was maybe the wrong goal at the time, but I definitely think at, at that stage, it was like, I want these things to stop. I just kinda wanted to be quote unquote normal, which was not correct.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Well, of course. And the, the feelings are unpleasant and you want to be able to function in a, in an environment and feel like you’re able to be successful and you’re able to be productive. Um, so you, you, you went to New York City. Where, where did you come from? Where were you born and raised?

Nate Tower:

Yeah. I was born and raised in Kennebunk, just south of Portland here. In a pretty, you know, rural slash suburban setting. A lot of independence as a kid. So a lot of really positive things in my childhood. Um, but some, some trauma along the way. And, um, grew up in Kennebunk, you know, went to college on the North shore of Boston, a pretty decent college experience. I, I probably would have, you know, done it differently.

But, and then I actually had the opportunity after college to move to New Zealand for a year. That was a really incredible experience. But at that time and in my life with anxiety and depression, um, that was really hard. It traveling like that, I saw a lot of people around me. Your typical kind of hostle goers and, uh, broke travelers and it was a very free spirited group.

Looking back, I wish so badly. I could have been that, but you know, a lot of what I’ve learned explains why I couldn’t, that experience was incredibly positive for many reasons, but I did have this kind of obsession of like, you know, I should be getting back and, and really starting this thing, uh, you know, this, this life.

And instead now I’m like, you idiot. Like you had a free year to kind of roam New Zealand, which I did, but now I really know. That was a lot of my own anxiety. Trying to take the reins.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Yeah. It sounds like there are a lot of things that you’ve experienced that you, you feel like now in looking back, that you feel like you didn’t fully experience because of the anxiety, and you almost want to go back and have a chance to do them over again if you could.

Nate Tower:

Yeah, and I, I think that informs or tries to inform a lot of how I live life now. I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve done a lot of listening. As a podcast producer, I spend a lot of time, my wife hates that. I walk around the house often with one ear bud in cuz I’m always kind of consuming. Um, and I’ve really had to find the balance, I think through my thirties with hat I kind of call the, the self-centered section and the self-help books also, just the things that very fundamentally work and those ingredients are very personal.

So what I tried to do in this episode was, was say kind of out loud that like, hey, for me, an SSRI is one of those ingredients. Over the years, I think, you know, hiding my anxiety was a large part of my existence with it. Like, don’t let anybody become aware because it was like a weakness in my mind.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

And that itself takes up a great deal of mental energy to constantly be trying to keep that under wraps, right?

Nate Tower:

Physical and mental. Uh, you know, it can be just a, an exhausting life to, uh, try to like, you know, I said before, appear as quote unquote normal, which is a very, it makes sense why you look at it that way, right? It, it’s, if you’re surviving and you’re in that kind of fight or flight mode, that’s where your energy goes. That’s where your, your attention goes.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

And it’s something that’s wired into us biologically. I think it’s a natural response. But as humans in our modern society, it doesn’t always serve us well.

Nate Tower:

That I think, kind of empowered my take it or leave it mentality, which is I had to say to myself first and again, I don’t, you can’t do this out the gate because I needed to kind of get to this place. But where I got to eventually with it was like this, this is me. You have no idea what anyone carries around, so you can’t really judge that.

So I got to the point where it was kind. I know what actually works and there’s some type of, you know, it’s a, it’s an analogy, but it’s also the reality too, like a, a pill to swallow it. It’s sort of acceptance of being like, you know, this is what I got in a lot of ways I’m incredibly healthy. Um, and this is a place where, you know, I need to do some work.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

You’ve had a kind of a mixed love-hate relationship with the medication. Yeah. You mentioned SSRIs, which just for the listeners, um, most people are familiar with serotonin, selective serotonin, re-uptake inhibitors. Including medications like fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, escitalopram ,very widely prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. But you’ve been on and off. Yeah. And it sounds like you know that, you know, it helps. But there is a part of you that wants to what, not need it or tell, tell me more about what that’s like.

Nate Tower:

Not need. It goes back to the very core sort of weakness piece, um, which I think is hard to shed a hundred percent. Throughout the medication journey, you know, a lot of times people say, well, like, think of someone with diabetes who needs insulin, or, or think of someone with a thyroid condition who needs, you know, medication and so it is. Uh, that’s a really easy analogy to understand and it does make sense.

I don’t think I’ll ever 100% be able to not be slightly, it’s not disappointment, it’s just like, come on. Like I want to be able to kind of get on with it, uh, without needing a supplement in that way. However, to that I do really think that this is a very, uh, different world and knowing. As much as I, I kind of know about myself in terms of mental health at this stage. It makes total sense.

What an SSRI does for me is it sort of just brings me down to even, and in the podcast episode, um, which is entitled Zero Salvation Stories Start in Miami Beach. The whole, the whole thing was a love that title. Yeah. The whole thing was, you know, Maine winters are long. Last year, um, my wife and I were, uh, really finding that it was important to do a, as many things as we did together and as a family it was also important for our relationship to continue as adults, to explore things individually and to have that time and it makes coming back to each other so much better.

And so I was just like, I need to get warm. Tickets to Miami are really cheap. I’ve been down there a number of times. It’s, it’s easy, it’s accessible, it’s hilarious. Uh, so I figured I would, you know, pack a few books, pack my running shoes, um, and just go down for kind of a low key. You know, I think I did five, four, or five nights down there.

And going into it, I also was sort of meditating on the idea that like I’d done over 200 days without Lexapro. So you can see how kind of tuned into being off of it. I, I was, there was always kind of a meter and thinking. I’m gauging right now. See where I’m at. Can I, can I continue on without this? How do I feel about that? So I had time to myself, which, you know, with two little kids, and as busy as we are, it’s not often the case. Uh, I took those days. Uh, I went to see some live music. I, I did a lot of walking around. I swam in the ocean and it wasn’t really hard to come to the decision, which was, like, I just find that my life is more balanced when I have this in my system, and that was the first time I think as an adult I was like, okay, that’s, that’s fine with me.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

There are so many different ways to look at it, and I agree with you. I think the sort of overused explanation of, well, you know, look, a person with high blood pressure has to take medication every day to control that. A person with diabetes, et cetera. I think it’s an oversimplification and I think it, it kind of dismisses the fact.

That there, there’s a different kind of meaning when it comes to mental health and it’s so connected to societally as well. Societally, it’s so connected to stigma. It’s so connected to how we think about ourselves and how we think about others. And it’s connected to our personalities. And what does it mean about me if I have to take a pill for, um, a mental health condition?

I think the acceptance of mental health treatment has come a long way in our society, but I still think those roots of stigma and doubt and questioning mistrust of psychiatry and psychiatric medications. Uh, going back to the d you know, the, uh, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, uh, era, I think, uh, still persists. But as a man do you think that the idea of, you know, boys and men are taught not just by their, their own family of origin, but also by the society at large, that vulnerability, sensitivity, expressing one’s feelings, these are not traits that are associated with manliness. Do you think that plays in?

Nate Tower:

That was definitely something, and especially in, in therapy, that, that certainly came up. For me personally, that has not really been a part of it. I was brought up in a household where all the responsibilities were kind of shared, and there wasn’t really that like head kind of manly figure. My stepdad will probably be bummed out about that, but yeah, so I, I acknowledge that, but in my situation, Not, not as much.

I can understand why that would come into play. I really feel like there’s like this pre pandemic and post pandemic, and it’s like this big, kind of the, the Berlin wall, if you will, between the two eras. As, as much as, uh, gen Z I think gets a, a bad rap. They’re doing a really great job bringing down that stigma.

And that could be because all of them are anxious and depressed. Uh, but I, but I also think there’s a general openness to discussing an acceptance around mental health issues and, and the fact that, um, you know, they should not necessarily be something that you have to hide under the bed. Uh, they can be discussed openly with friends and family and.

One positive of the pandemic, I think, was that a lot of people during that time took a hard look at what they were doing either professionally or, or personally. There was a lot of time, introspective time to kind of just gauge. And I feel like, and maybe cuz I’m slightly tuned into it, and I, I do read a a lot in this space, but I feel like after the pandemic there has been more of an openness to just discussing mental health without the judgment. And I think honestly, that’s a, that’s a youth-led agenda, if you will.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

I agree. And I think it’s a real positive, uh, you know, things are moving in the right direction. You’re lucky that. The gender issue didn’t come in, uh, to play because that is a source of a lot of, uh, difficulty for a lot of adult men is, you know, uh, if I feel, if I feel deeply, if I’m sensitive, if I, uh, even ask for help and admit vulnerability, then I’m less of a man.

Uh, and that’s obviously, uh, an irrational, uh, falsehood that, you know, was the way that a lot of men kind of handled things in prior generations.

Nate Tower:

So I think you have to remember, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom playing guitar to punk rock albums and, uh, worshiping Nirvana. And, uh, so I wasn’t exactly like the, the quarterback of the football team.

Like I wasn’t from the, the onset. Very, like, intrigued by that macho attitude or, so I tend to clinging to kind of punk rock ethos over, uh, male dominance. And maybe that’s, but that’s my experience.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Well, if the medication helps and you feel better, you feel more, uh, level, more balanced on it, do you think you’ll stop it?

Nate Tower:

Yeah, that’s the cycle, right? And I think I said like, you know, a roadside carnival, it, it just kind of comes back because you, and it’s interesting, I do have friends, now privy to this and this conversation, this, this episode actually brought up some really cool conversations, uh, where that’s a lot of people’s experiences.

It’s this cycle. You, you get back on it, you start to feel even, and then you, you kind of, your memory fades a little bit about how uneven you, you once felt. And so it’s this kind of, well, now I got this. I don’t think I really even need the medication anymore, and I’ve definitely learned that lesson. Uh, my partner, my wife Nova, has uh, been right there with me and she’s understands it well.

And you know, we’ve almost kind of like viewed some of these cycles together and discussed them openly. And it, I think it’s just individually, everyone has to kind of figure that out, um, because it is very easy to say, all right, I’ve sort of made it, you kind of make it to the light at the end of the tunnel and then you go off and you can do that intelligently by weaning off with a doctor, or you can, you know, do it moronically and just stop, which is actually pretty dangerous.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Um, yes, definitely not recommended.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. And, uh, I’ve found that I can operate pretty well without the medication, but it’s, it’s, it’s at a place that I have to work so hard to keep that level of pretty well. That it, it keeps me from enjoying very simple things. It kind of kicks off again, this obsessive cycle of like checking in to see how my anxiety is where I’m at.

Uh, and I’m just not putting, I’m not directing my energy in the right place. I, I find that I’m directing it inward a lot more than I would like to live my life. When I’m medicated, I’m able to kind of just quiet that. Not needing to check in constantly every 30 seconds to see how I’m feeling. And I, I just find that my attention and my awareness and my kind of intentional, your ability to be present and in the moment and experience life and it’s heightened.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Yeah. What about side effects?

Nate Tower:

Yeah, so I played the game of finding which one works for me. You kind of, you try one, you may experience side effects, or you may get lucky, but probably you’re gonna experience something. I went through I think five different ones. I started with Zoloft and that was not for me.

There was a host of side effects. Okay. For me, this one, Lexapro, uh, there are minimal side effects. So specifically if I don’t take it with food, my stomach is incredibly nauseous. I got really lucky with sexual side effects. It doesn’t affect me, but I have had, um, ones that have. Yep. Uh, which, you know, there, there’s the piece as a male I think is, is important.

You know, that that did scare me off as a male. Uh, libido and also, you know, just especially in your twenties, to have that operation down is, is not quite, without a doubt looking for.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

And it’s a, yeah, it’s a problem for, for men and women, but yeah, sure. I, you know, and, and I think, I think for men, uh, if, if there is anything that affects, um, You know, erectile function, for example, if that is the case, it, it does generally freak men out and you know, they’ll go running for the hills and never come back and try another.

Nate Tower:

But yeah, the side effects game is a real one. I actually, you know, transparently don’t have a psychiatrist now, although I’m, I’m sitting one with for, for free, you know, I don’t even know your hourly rate. But, um, and I work with my general practitioner who’s, you know, like we have a pretty good game plan in place.

We’re, uh, but I still have a, you know, a, a counselor. I guess what I’m getting at is like, it’s definitely not a magic pill. Uh, and it does not solve all your problems by any means. It’s a, it’s a tool in your toolbox.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

There’s a saying that goes, you, you need three things. You need the pills, you need the skills, and you need the will.

So the pill just doesn’t fix everything by itself. What it can do though is certainly facilitate the ability to do more useful and productive work in therapy and ultimately, it is not out of the question. That one could reach a point where tapering off the medication makes sense because you’ve developed the skills and as we go through life, we change our situations, change, circumstances change, stressors change.

We change biologically, we change psychologically and our ways of coping and dealing with stress can change. And so I never tell a patient that you need to be on this medication for the rest of your life. Cuz I don’t know that I don’t have a crystal ball. Right.

Has there ever been a time when you found yourself wanting to, uh, self-medicate with, uh, things like alcohol or drugs?

Nate Tower:

Yeah, absolutely. Um, and on the other side of the fence, which is I think a kind of revolution in psychedelics and, and understanding the benefits and that, and I, you know, there’s just a wide spectrum of areas you can explore.

So, uh, I have a great deal of alcoholism in my family. Uh, I’ve been keenly aware, uh, since I was a young, young kid. I think the power of alcohol, uh, and, and you know, both sides, how it can be really fun, but how it can be incredibly disruptive. I experience both of those things first hand.

So, so yeah, I mean, there have been times where I’ve stopped myself and, and, you know, had to say like, I’m, I’m consuming way too, too much alcohol. And for me it’s definitely, alcohol is the, the easy go-to. I, I have a lot of friends in the cannabis space, uh, experience with cannabis. Cannabis, hilariously is an accellerant for me in terms of anxiety.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

No, I hear this quite a bit.

Nate Tower:

It’s never been, um, it’s never ever been the thing to, you know, chill me out. It’s actually amongst my high school friends circle, you know, they always would make me sit in the seat. I could never sit in the front cuz I would always think we were gonna get in a car crash. You know, it’s not part of my toolbox.

Um, but alcohol, it works. And it’s accessible, I guess. Um, definitely something on my radar. We’re seeing like, um, a wave. You know, with, um, sober October and dry January and, and though in our culture alcohol is so front and center, I think there is some commentary around like, wait a minute, this is, this is a little insane.

It’s, it’s one of the more powerful drugs. It’s the most accessible drug. It does the most damage and, you know, time and time again, these new studies are coming out that say, actually, you know what? We shouldn’t be consuming any of this. It’s a poison to humans. And we say, oh great. Okay, we’ll have a sauvingon blanc, please.

And, and you know, so it’s a little bit of cultural cognitive dissonance, but I, I think it, for me, I have to be really aware of it, um, because I do have it genetically kind of built in. Just be mindful that it’s definitely not a solution and it can be very dangerous.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

How’s your sleep? Has this anxiety affected your ability to sleep well?

Nate Tower:

Um, the, the greatest drug that I use is probably exercise. Exercise is just such a great sleep aid, and it’s a really basic one. You’re just tired. It turns out I will fall asleep really easy, but I will wake up a number of times at night when I’m very anxious. So, in terms of like hitting that deep rem, I don’t get to that cycle because of the disruptions.

Um, but you know, again, learning over time, which is sort of why in later in life I became a runner. If I’m able to naturally get out and exert some of that energy, uh, it is super helpful in my sleeping.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Have you found that the running itself helps with the anxiety? It like an immediate kind of thing where you get this kind of runner’s side that that gives you relief from the anxiety, but it’s also indoors even in between runs.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. Running is horrible until the first mile is over and then you think, oh, okay. That’s right. I remember why I do this. Yeah. Running is a, it’s a really interesting tool. It’s a, it’s an, it’s a really interesting thing altogether. Uh, probably one of the greatest books I’ve ever read is, um, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

So I, I think that high in some ways is a bit of a myth, but there is like this meditative element. When you get into a consistent rhythm with running, I say consistent because if you aren’t a runner and you head out this afternoon to go for a run, it will absolutely not be in a meditative experience or enjoyable.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

I know it sure wouldn’t be for me, but.

Nate Tower:

But if it’s something that is useful to you and it, and you can find that it works with consistency, uh, you know, you just get better. It’s like anything, each time, it, it’s not easy on the body. And I have a really interesting relationship with running too, because it’s, it’s, um, it is one of those things that absolutely, I find that it helps my anxiety.

It’s a place where I can burn off energy. It’s an incredible time to kind of, think, and it’s a break from all of the things, uh, that are placed right in front of you, parenthood, career, life, weather, whatever it is.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Sure. So, speaking of the body, do you have any physical symptoms associated with anxiety? Do you ever get gastrointestinal upset or, um, nausea or dizziness or sweating? Chest pains?

Nate Tower:

Yep. Uh, when, uh, When I would experience panic attacks, it would start in my fingertips. I would get very tingly. I would kind of feel it in my neck. My heart rate would obviously be the first thing to kind of let me know that something was going on. Heart palpitations is most, I think, significant in my experience.

Uh, I call it space head, just general, sort of like, non presence. Um, so that’s, you know, where you’re kind of rolling through the grocery store and you, you kind of forget what you’re doing or why you’re there or, mm-hmm. Uh, not disassociation, but just like you’re just, your feet are just not necessarily planted on the earth.

You’re just a little bit above it. Stomach stuff, not just kind of loss of appetite and, you know, some irritable bowel stuff when I’m like really in it.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Yeah. When if, if you had, not that you would do this, but if I said to you, what could you do right now that you know for sure would cause you to have a panic attack?

Nate Tower:

So, In my life, it’s always been anticipation that’s worse than the actual thing. Mm-hmm. So there’s been a lot of times speaking engagements where leading right up to it, it’s like the world is, is crashing and that’s that tingliness, that’s that disassociation, that’s my heart is slamming through my throat.

But then it’s like once I get into that. I’m like, oh, that’s right. I remember how to speak. I don’t remember how to speak.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Yeah. Anticipation of, uh, of what being in front of people and what being judged or evaluated. What will they think of how I look or how I sound, or do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? Is that, is that what kinds of-

Nate Tower:

Absolutely. I would say a fair percentage of my life. There’s been a kind of obsessive concern about, uh, how it come across to people. Mm-hmm. Uh, so, you know, speaking engagement, that’s, you’re naked on stage. You’re, you’re fair, you’re fair game to be judged in every single way. Funny enough, you’re probably doing more judging than anyone else in the.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. We’re much harder on ourselves than than others are on us, um, most of the time, without a doubt. So I heard you mention trauma. Is it something you’re comfortable talking about? Was there any history of abuse or what type of trauma are we talking about?

Nate Tower:

You know, there’s certain. Some emotional scar tissue. Uh, and, and again, in hindsight, a lot of, a lot more emotional abuse, um, than I could, uh, articulate then, or even kind of knew what was going on.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

But it sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on. On what’s, what it’s been for you and what it’s meant to you. You’ve taken a lot of steps to increase your self-awareness and do what is needed to help yourself. And you’re, you know, few steps ahead of many who, who just suffer in silence with this or avoid getting help and never sort of break that barrier.

You mentioned the, I, I liked how you described it, the, the self-help section in the bookstore, the self-centered section, the self-centered section. Do you have a favorite self-help book that you’ve, that kind of stands out for you as having been particularly useful?

Nate Tower:

The Highly Sensitive Person was a book was really helpful to me. Um, I think much of my kind of academic experience, especially early in life, was, it was really hard for me. Um, and it, it didn’t need to be, but we know a lot more now. And that book, every page, I felt like, I was like, oh my God. This this like could be about me. Um, uh, the Naked Mind is an incredible book, uh, about alcohol, uh, which I highly recommend. Another book which I mentioned earlier, it’s maybe specific to runners, but is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and that’s a Murakami book. Um, another great more recent book, which I really recommend to anyone in a relationship, but also anyone you know, with deep friendships or with family, is, uh, Getting to Zero, uh, which is Jason Gaddis.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

It strikes me that a young person who’s been struggling with anxiety since an early age and through high school, um, and college, that you didn’t hold yourself back, that you kind of pushed through, and you, you went to New Zealand and you went to New York City and you took that job. Was that a conscious decision to kind of counter your anxiety and challenge yourself to do those things, or, yes, was it not that? Am I overthinking it?

Nate Tower:

No, I don’t think so. There’s layers though. One layer is that mask that you kind of put on to push through and say like, I’m, you know, I, I’m not gonna accept. That this holds me back. And the second layer is acceptance in being like, well, this is sort of my experience, so like I’m either gonna decide not to do something or I’m gonna just do it anyhow.

And both of those things were true, so for a long time. I really wore that mask. I think I can often come across as one thing to a lot of people and then when they get to know me, they’re like, I kind of had you pegged wrong. Mm-hmm.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

So who you are at your core is what? More of a maverick or, uh,-

Nate Tower:

More of a creator. A creator, I like to be at the helm. And the question of, well, can you be at the helm or do you need to follow someone has always been in the mix and eventually decided to kind of say like, well, let’s, let’s try to grab the wheel and see how it goes. Yeah.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

So you’re a, an individualist.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. Yeah. And, and I, you know, I, so the arts, music, they were my loves all through my life, and I denied a lot of those. Uh, from an extracurricular perspective, from, you know, a schooling perspective, because I thought I had to kind of be this thing. I thought that would be, you know, I, I, I should get a job in an office. I should do these things. That’s like a picture of success and fit the mold and. And that was the mask.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

What’d you major in in college?

Nate Tower:

Uh, communications. So not, not too far off from where I landed. Right, right. Um, and actually I went to college and I played lacrosse for the first two years. Uh, and I remember the practice where I was like, I, I’m not doing this anymore. And it was for a lot of different reasons.

I’m still in touch with a lot of those teammates. The team part came really easy to me, but it was only then when I stopped that sort of, chapter that like schooling in my junior and senior year of college and kind of the communications departments and some really amazing professors. This, this one professor in particular, Todd Wemer, who I just, I, I hadn’t had that type of academic inspiration or the academic freedom to sort of, Oh, no, not everyone does this the same way.

And that being like, okay. Uh, and that’s when writing was introduced to me as, as something that was a helpful, but  I could, I could succeed in writing. So that mask started to lift a bit.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Are there any sort of pivotal experiences or stories about your journey with mental health that you want to share, that are important to talk about?

Nate Tower:

Uh, it’s all kind of pivotal because it’s all really just been a journey and, um, you know, I’m, I’m not sitting here like waving back at the parade. It’s really still. A journey and will, will always be for me. Last year was when I really, really accepted that and kind of just meditated on that as like in Miami.

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Uh, I’m not going to, I’m not gonna like shed this from my being. Um, so I have to really to be a good father, to be a good partner, uh, to be, you know what I consider successful? I have to, I have to learn how to work with it and just be smarter about that because it’s, it’s easy to try to take shortcuts.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Shortcuts. Like what?

Nate Tower:

Well, I think, you know, I think alcohol, I think relying, uh, on a medication as being the, the solution, not doing things because you know, your anxiety is sort of taken over the response. Uh, so shortcuts in the way that don’t allow you to be your whole self.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

You mean, uh, when you, with reference to what you just said about medication, you mean that it’s not the sole solution that is part of a, it’s part of a solution. It’s one tool.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. It’s just, it’s one aspect.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

And that anxiety doesn’t define you, right? You’re not a diagnosis, you’re a, a husband, you’re a father, you’re a businessman, you’re a creative. You’re a musician, you’re a podcast producer. You’re so many things to so many people. The fact that you’re trying to manage anxiety while you’re being all of those things, um, doesn’t make you any less normal, quote unquote.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. If I was to leave anyone with a takeaway, you know, if I was to tell someone who is really like, And really struggling with it, and possibly to the point where like it feels a little bit hopeless, which at some stages it does, is to just say like, it, it, it doesn’t define you.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

It’s the interesting thing about labels because, and in, in many ways, Getting a diagnosis and having something to call this thing that you’ve been, you know, fighting with for potentially years.

Um, just knowing that it is something, and it is, you know, it now, it has a name that can be very assuring for some people and actually help them to feel better, but absolutely right. In other ways it can, it can be. And it’s, it, it can be a false concept, you know? Um, the DSM is an attempt to try to categorize and describe mental health symptoms and, and to organize them in such a way that, uh, you know, we have, um, a systematic way of, uh, describing and, and a, a assigning diagnoses. But most mental health disorders unlike something like, um, as concrete as a, um, a fracture. You know, you, you fall, slip, and fall and maybe break a, um, your wrist.

You take an x-ray, you can see the fracture. It’s there, there’s no question about it. It’s much more binary, much more concrete in that kind of situation. In mental health, uh, disorders, though, most things run along a spectrum, a continuum from yes, perfectly normal. You know, a small amount of anxiety in appropriate settings that can actually be helpful, that can actually motivate you to, uh, get something done or keep you out of danger.

Um, uh, but then at the opposite end of the spectrum, anxiety that’s so severe that it interferes with your ability to function, um, in, in, in, in life. And most, uh, mental health disorders are like that. The labels can be a kind of false concept as well, you know? Um, but they, they’re mostly helpful, except when we give them too much, we, we overvalue them, give them too much importance.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. And frankly, I think I was giving them a lot of power. Mm-hmm. You know, inward to, to kind of judge myself. Um, and I didn’t want them because I was a, I was letting them define me.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

So when we’re trained as psychiatrists and you, um, you’re evaluated by a board, you immediately fail if you leave out one important question from your interview.

So I’m gonna ask you, has there ever been a time when you’ve thought about not wanting to go on living or wanting to end your own?

Nate Tower:

So the, the short answer is, is no. It’s that because oddly, I’ve experienced a lot of suicide in my kind of ecosystem, uh, from a young age. You know, it, this is sort of embarrassing, but it’s true.

At eight years old, um, Kurt Cobain’s suicide was like a, a really, really significant, uh, factor sure. In my life. Um, and I remember with my mom, Just talking a lot about that act. We actually went to like, uh, grief groups cuz it was like really traumatic.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Mm-hmm. Um, that impacted a lot of people.

Nate Tower:

Yeah. And then suicide has always kind of come up in my life and um, fortunately I would say, you know, I think.

I think everyone thinks through at some point, like the, the, the inner workings of that and how wild of a concept that is. But it’s never come up as a option for me, a viable option. It hasn’t felt, um, like a route that I would ever take. Uh, that’s not to say that I, I can’t understand how someone could get there, and I think it’s something that’s really, really kind of outta hand at the moment.

I think a lot of it speaks to just culturally how we’re pacing and, and how things are changing so quickly, uh, that it’s, it’s hard for people to cope. I can certainly understand how you hit a certain point of being so overwhelmed, uh, that that feeling of hopelessness can be really, really strong.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Sure. Well, I’m glad it’s not gotten there for you. Do you have any words of advice for any young people who might be struggling?

Nate Tower:

Uh, I sort of think the state should be issuing everyone a therapist when they’re born, uh, because it or federally because, uh, for me, talk therapy and cognitive behavioral, you know, therapy has been such a positive experience.

Um, the thing is that like it’s true things are just moving so, so. And changing at the moment that, uh, some of these ideas, you know, and, and these feelings and these things we’re going through culturally should be discussed more openly and, and. So I think talking is positive.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Well, I’m really grateful for the fact that you were willing to talk so openly and share your experiences with me and with our listeners today.

And so thank you so much. And, and, uh, whatever this journey has been like for you and whatever ups and downs you’ve been through, I’m glad it led you to the place where you’re at today and that, um, we’re able to produce psyched for mental health.

Nate Tower:

I’ve been looking forward to this conversation, so this was great.

Dr. Ed Bilotti:

Thank you.

Thank you for listening. This podcast is a companion to webshrink.com. Visit webshrink.com where you’ll find original, trustworthy, and authoritative content. To help you find the answers you need about mental health and addiction, mental health professionals and facilities, list yourself in WebShrink’s provider directory.

Go to webshrink.com and click list your practice.

 

The Psyched for Mental Health Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Ed Bilotti, co-production and sound editing by Nathan Tower and Aaron Devro at Nonsensical Productions in Portland, Maine.

References

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