Justin Rathbone has been working through his anxiety and depression since he was 16 and found a way to manage the symptoms with medication until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020.

“It put salt in the wound and made it much more difficult to deal with,” said Rathbone, cloud engineer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. “I felt trapped. I couldn’t change things, and so over time, anxiety formed how I was viewing the world.”

Rathbone described his anxiety as a metronome ticking in his head. Every day it ticked faster and faster until he reached a breaking point in April of 2022.

“In the span of like 10 days, my relationship ended unexpectedly,” he said. “A couple of days after that, my dad had a stroke, and a couple of days after that, there was another kind of significant life event that happened.”

His anxiety always told him something terrible was going to happen, and it did. Three times.

“I had this existential crisis where I was like, ‘I’m watching my life go by here,’” said Rathbone. “I’m miserable. These horrible things just happened, and something has to change. Not something small, like a lot has to change.”

He began with a life audit and looked at every area in his life that he wanted to improve, then created a path that gave him the structure he needed.

“For so long, I didn’t even have a reason to get dressed in the morning,” said Rathbone. “So, I had to create new goals for myself to get me up and going.”

The first step was facing one of his biggest triggers: crowds and loud noises.

“I went to New York City intentionally by myself to just throw myself in the deep end,” said Rathbone. “It was something that always sounded fun, but my anxiety stopped me.”

Another step was physical activity in the form of jiu-jitsu, a type of Japanese martial art.

“Jiu-jitsu was something that helped me build up my mental fortitude and discipline,” said Rathbone. “It helped me learn how to fight for myself in a way and made it easier to stand up for myself vocally and express my needs and my wants in life.”

Rathbone also read multiple self-help books, knowing he had to apply the material every day and not give up on himself.

“Self-improvement, especially with your mental health, it’s not linear at all,” he said. “It’s very much all over the place. Some days were not easy or where I felt like I was back at square one, but I just kept trusting that if I keep doing what I’m doing, then things will improve. And they did.”

He wishes he could tell his past self to trust the process and encourages others who struggle with their mental health to do the same.

“A bad week, a bad season, even several bad years doesn’t mean a bad life,” said Rathbone. “We all start at different places in life. We all go through different hardships and struggles, but at the end of the day, you can control your attitude toward the things that happen to you.”

To read more stories like this one, visit Health and Wellness.

*Wise & Well is a monthly wellness series highlighting BCBSNE employees and their dedication to health and wellness.