Out in the Open

'I was so destroyed inside. I couldn't even fake it': From breakdown to breakthrough

Joey Laguio got really good at harnessing his dread by pushing himself to be the perfect student. It worked really well for a while until he had a breakdown. He was jobless, bed-ridden and felt he’d lost everything. It was then that he realized he had to find another way to deal with his anxiety and dread.

Joey Laguio harnessed his dread by being the perfect student until one day that didn't work anymore

Joey Laguio's dread led him to isolate himself in his bedroom, then singing helped him face his anxieties. (Submitted by Joey Laguio)

Joey Laguio says facing dread isn't just about how you harness it but about asking yourself why you're dealing with it that way.

Laguio was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in his mid-twenties, but that gnawing feeling that something bad is going to happen, it started way before that.

He remembers feeling dread as a child every morning at the prospect of going to school. He was scared of not performing well, of being embarrassed, of being laughed at. He'd wake up with a stomach ache and want to throw up.

"I would put my left hand under warm water every morning because I felt so stressed out and the warm water would make me feel calmer."

'Spinning my wheels'

"To avoid that feeling of dread and worry, I would sort of keep spinning my wheels. So as long as I was keeping moving, doing something, I didn't have to deal with these more long term issues," Laguio told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

He tried to harness his dread by being the perfect student and the best at everything.

I was so destroyed inside, like I couldn't even fake it anymore.- Joey  Laguio

"I'm scared of connecting with people. I'm scared of being a failure. So, I'm going to try super, super hard to do everything I can to make it look like, or seem like, I'm accomplished and that I can do things, and that I'm capable," he said.

But Laguio knew something was wrong, especially after his High School school graduation, when he says he felt empty, even though he won various awards and was valedictorian. 

Fake it 'til you can't make it

Laguio's strategy worked really well for a long time, until third year university, when he was at a co-op placement. 

​"I just remember sitting at my desk every day, trying to learn all these new things, and my brain just said no. It refused to work. I couldn't focus."

Laguio also couldn't sleep. He'd wake up several times a night to try to study and learn what he couldn't during the day. Eventually, he had to leave his co-op placement. 

"I was so destroyed inside, like I couldn't even fake it anymore."

He started to lose hope that things would ever get better.

"Nothing was happening in my life anymore because I was just at home. I was just laying in bed and looking at the roof and I was like, 'My life sucks. This isn't great. Am I ever going to get a job again? I feel like I'm going to be homeless.'"

Singing for joy

Laguio decided to see if he could do something that would bring some joy back into his life. So, he started an a cappella group with a few friends, just for fun. Music and singing were two things he always loved. 

"I just remember in those moments I forgot that I was feeling so down and I forgot that there were so many failures in my life."

Laguio's a cappella group ended up growing and performing internationally. Thanks to music and to therapy, Laguio  doesn't just do things so people can think he's capable or smart or perfect. 

"It's like the voice quieted a little bit. It's still there. It's there, and it's manageable and that's sort of where I am at now."

He says the difference between how he deals with his dread now, versus when he was a child, comes down to why he's doing it that way.

"When I was trying to harness my dread, I was harnessing it to avoid more dread and more anxiety. But now I'm harnessing it because I enjoy things.

"I'm not trying to avoid the dread. That's not the way I think about my actions anymore. I think about what do I enjoy. It's not about what am I trying to avoid. And that I think is the biggest difference."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Sense of Dread".