my defining moment
Scared and Pissed Off
An anxiety disorder destroyed my youth…until I seized control
When I was about 15, I
started having anxiety
attacks. I didn’t know
what the hell they were.
The worst part? They
had no triggers. Totally random. A wave of
panic would wash over me, and my heart
would pound so fast that I couldn’t tell one
beat from another. Sometimes I would
hyperventilate so hard that my limbs would
go numb and I’d pass out. Sometimes the
attacks were so over whelming that the
thought of dying was comforting. That’s not
a punch line. It’s the truth.
Imagine your whole world getting
smaller as the problem takes on a more
agoraphobic expression. You stop going
more than 10 miles away from your
supposed “safe zone.” And your safe zone
isn’t safe at all; you’ve just figured out how
to tolerate the anxiety there. It wasn’t,
“Hey, I’m afraid of getting on a plane
or a freeway or an elevator.” I had a fear
of everything. I had a fear of myself. The
out of USC after just
When I got home,
I’d had enough. That
everything. I had to
and start talking to
a psychiatrist and
about something I’d
never even talked
about with my parents
or closest friends.
They helped me
understand it all. If
the anxiety surfaces,
you have to stand your
ground and let it come.
It’s very Joseph Campbell in that regard.
You have to go back to the bat cave, face the
bats, and let them wash over you so you can
become a bat. Anxiety can’t hurt you. Your
heart won’t explode. You will continue to
GET A GRIP
Film director McG
coaches Christian Bale
on the set of the new
“If the anxiety surfaces, you have to
stand your ground and let it come.”
trauma, the embarrassment, the shame:
Add it all up and it’s just a f--king horrible
experience that I couldn’t talk about with
anyone. I felt like less of a man.
Flash for ward to age 18. I’m driving
from Newport Beach, California, to the
University of Southern California for my
first day as a freshman. It was terrifying,
but I wouldn’t give in to thinking, I can’t go
to USC. I made the drive, barely holding on,
fighting off the anxiety. I stayed the night,
but the next day was too overwhelming.
The anticipatory anxiety got me, just
dreading what might come. Believe me,
I’m not a timid guy. I had a lot of fight
and fire to overcome this on my own. My
macho position: I didn’t want to believe
this is who I was. And yet I had to drop
breathe. It will ebb and flow. It will subside.
It took a long time to feel progress, but
I improved. I got on airplanes. I started
my own record label, signed a band that
I grew up with, and made their videos.
Then I met Drew Barrymore and made
Charlie’s Angels. Then came The O.C.,
which was an autobiographical tale of an
outsider looking in. And now I’ve directed
It hasn’t been perfect. Another major
moment came several years ago, when I
was set to direct the reboot of Superman. It
would shoot in Australia, however, and at
that time I simply couldn’t get on a plane.
I had to give it up. That pissed me off and
made me redouble my efforts. Since then
I’ve been around the world several times.
My goal is to shoot film on every continent,
and I’m getting there. Right now I feel like
I’ve got the disorder in a headlock.
To keep that upper hand, I wake up
every morning and work out for an hour,
but I use 30 minutes of cardio for pure
meditation. I breathe, feel my heartbeat,
get in tune with my body, and focus on
everything I’ve learned. I’d never be so
bold as to say, “I’ll never suffer from that
again—it’s over.” I have to be diligent even
though I’m doing well. It’s alive in me.
It’s who I am.
Take your pick from the ways this
expresses itself: alcoholism, overeating,
drug abuse, even fear of public speaking.
Everyone has to deal with his ball and
chain. Are you going to let it take you to
the bottom, or are you going to figure out
a way to carry on with it? Or will you cut
yourself free of it? It requires fight and
focus, but that’s what defines us as men.
Throw down, find the courage to face
what’s going on, and move forward to
eradicate it. That’s real growth. That’s
As told to Mike Zimmerman. McG, 40, directed
Terminator Salvation , in theaters this month.