Very, very early this morning, I gained a new role model in my life.
Growing up, I guess I never really had one. My family was messed up enough that I eventually concluded that the best things I could learn from them were their mistakes. Right now, most of my major inspirations are directly related to my career path of choice. This newest addition to my role model ensemble is also good at what he does. But the reason I look up to him is a lot deeper than that.
His name is Dan Ryckert. Like almost all of my role models, I’ve never met him in person. I’ve only been aware of his existence for about half a year. He’s a fairly new member of the editorial staff of giantbomb.com, a gaming website with an emphasis on personalities, and anyone familiar with the site can tell you that Dan is a Personality with a capital P. He’s loud, energetic and downright cartoonishly patriotic. The more you hear his anecdotes about stupid things that have happened in his life, himself usually being the direct cause, the more you accumulate a sense of wonder that such a man can actually exist. Nevertheless, the fact is that he exists and that he loves life.
“I thought I was dying”
There’s one more thing you should know about Dan, and it’s the reason I now look up to him. Dan has severe anxiety issues. I was aware of this before, but it was brought sharply into focus when I listened to a newly released podcast. Co-hosted by Dan Ryckert and Danny O’Dwyer, this premium-member-exclusive life advice podcast is called Danswers.
Stop. Take a brief pause in your reading, now, to applaud that title.
OK, now let’s continue.
Downloading this podcast for my midnight run, I expected it to be purely comedic, in the vein of My Brother My Brother And Me. I was not expecting a sincere, heartwarming look into both hosts’ lives, but that’s what I got. Before too long, as I lay recovering from my excursion into the freezing cold, Dan began to talk about his history with anxiety.
He suffered his first panic attack on the New Years Day, 2003, while watching Gangs of New York in the cinema. He recounts a “wave of dread” washing over him: “I felt light headed, and I was just scared ****less. I didn’t want to miss the end of the movie, but I had to … I went and just sat in the bathroom at the movie theatre … I thought I was dying.” This really touched a raw nerve with me. While I’ve never experienced an attack myself, people very close to me have. Often. It’s not fun, and i deeply respect anyone that copes with it in their day-to-day lives.
All In The Attitude
Living with autism may be different in the way of symptoms and challenges, but there’s a lot in Dan’s attitude towards his anxiety that truly inspires me. He’s a man that has successfully done what I am currently in the process of doing. Simply put, he’s used his condition to his advantage: “I’ve somehow wrangled [my anxiety] into this thing that is driving force for me to get things done, and to attack things that scare me. Like, the more something scares me, the more I want to do it”. His past actions strongly back up his words; he’s terrified of heights, yet has jumped out of a plane seven times.
Dan says that if you go down the road of letting your condition affect you, “your world starts getting smaller and smaller and smaller”. He adds, “As I started learning more about anxiety thought the years, I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction”. Again, hearing this really struck me. Personally, after a long time of being a victim of my own way of thinking, I’ve been spending the past few years trying to act outside of my comfort zone. It’s done wonders. I used to be terrified of dealing with strangers. Then I volunteered to talk to strangers for two years. Do I still feel that sense of dread? Yes. The difference is that now, it doesn’t stop me. I used to barely leave the house without good reason. Now I give myself reasons. I’ve tried to tackle my problems head on and become a benefit to society. It’s not easy, but every step is incredibly satisfying.
Dan encapsulates that experience like this: “I’m gonna do this scary thing, and it’s gonna suck for a little bit, but then I’m going to feel like a million ****ing dollars”. Reflecting on what it is about his anxiety that drives him to achieve, he says, “The idea of, my entire life, being afraid of everything and . . . not accomplishing the things I wanted to accomplish, to me, was way sadder.”
The Vida Loca
There’s no doubt that, as silly as he may seem on the surface, Dan Ryckert has accomplished a lot of his ambitions. At 30, he’s done things that many don’t accomplish in their lifetimes. He has his (and my) dream job. He’s cameoed in two computer games – L.A. Noire and Infamous: Second Son. He’s met, and hung out with, several personal heroes of his own. He’s a published author of two books – reportedly very silly, but I’ve yet to read them myself. But, more importantly than any of this, he’s an incredibly happy human being. Maybe crazy, but indisputably happy. How else would he be able to write a tweet like this?
It may be a small miracle that Dan Ryckert is still breathing, judging by his anecdotes, but it’s no wonder that he’s successful. His brand of success is one that I’m happy to aspire to. He’s got a third book well on the way to publishing, titled Anxiety as an Ally. I think it’s well worth reading what else he has to say on the matter.