I need to sit and reflect and be grateful for where I am at this point in my life more often; doing so changes everything.
When I was experiencing the worst anxiety of my life in January of 2016, there was an entire week where I couldn’t sleep more than an hour a night, and the only food I could swallow was bananas and oatmeal. I weighed 108 pounds – less than I weighed in middle school.
That winter, I was in a state where it seemed like no amount of meditation, magnesium supplements, self-help books, or mindfulness mantras helped me at all. During that week, I could barely listen to music or find enjoyment in much of anything, and to make matters worse, I was snowed in with my parents and now ex-husband.
Because I could barely sleep, I struggled to make rational thoughts happen. The line between my waking life and the little sleep I got was blurred, and I felt like I was barely in tune with reality. After I developed a phobia of brain aneurysms out of nowhere, I started thinking I was going to lose my shit, until I read one of the most instrumental sentences I’ve ever heard when it comes to pulling myself out:
“If you think you’re going crazy, you’re probably not.”
At the time, this seemed contradictory, but then I realized why it made so much sense – if you’re in a place where you can recognize that holy shit, something is wrong with me, and I’m not myself for some reason, you’re in a better place than you think.
But, as I quickly learned – I couldn’t just stop at recognizing something was wrong.
I’m a sensitive person, and I indulged in certain substances for a good five years of my life more than I should have. Although I never got addicted to anything in particular, I did become dependent on using outside sources to turn my brain off whenever I had thoughts that were inconvenient or uncomfortable.
Whenever my head started to clear up enough to think “uh, what the hell are you doing? You used to travel the world, make new friends all the time, laugh, and engage with new people, and now you’re engaged to a man who barely knows you and treats you poorly,” I’d get high or drunk, play Skyrim for ten hours straight, and shrug it off.
I stopped drawing, I stopped seeing my friends, I gave up on traveling and studying Russian, and I didn’t see any of my favorite bands play. When my relationship was at its shittiest, my former partner and I would occasionally drop acid together and pretend like we could rebuild a weak foundation on how weird Futurama episodes look when you’re tripping balls.
Side note: I do think that research into the usefulness of certain (usually recreational) drugs in helping mental and physical illnesses is a great idea. But for me, personally, I got too high too often for too long, and it fucked with my mental health, because I overindulged for all the wrong reasons. So that’s on me and not on weed or small doses of LSD or whatever~
I realized that my anxiety wasn’t me going crazy, it was my own brain telling me that the way I was living my life wasn’t healthy or sustainable long term.
So, for thirty days that winter, I cut out everything – alcohol, caffeine, all drugs (which ended up being permanent), gluten, dairy. Maybe some of that was excessive, but I knew there was something within myself that I needed to confront in the most sober, clean state I could imagine.
The first two weeks were miserable. The insomnia continued, and I couldn’t smoke a bowl and drink red wine until I fell asleep like I’d been doing, so I was left to lie in bed and think about everything. It was like I’d been procrastinating facing all of the faults in my life for years, and now they were breathing down my neck, forcing me to acknowledge them and change my life for the better.
But then, toward the end of that winter, a clear picture started to emerge, and it took me all of three more months to rekindle all of my closest friendships, leave my unhappy marriage, confront my PTSD and drive my car in the city, and move to a new place I’d fallen in love with years before. It really, really sucked, until it didn’t, and I can’t stress how rewarding it is to feel like myself after what felt like years of being in someone else’s life.
I hope that none of this sounded sanctimonious and like the path I took is the right path for everyone else. I’m honestly annoyed that I had to de-fog my brain so much that I couldn’t even drink coffee for a month, but it was so worth it.
There’s no such thing as being completely free of anxiety because it’s part of being a human, and humans are weird, but after that shitstorm of a winter, I know how to use my anxiety as a barometer for the changes I need to make in my life, and I see it as a gift, rather than a curse. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m grateful for the worst winter of my life, because it’s the only thing that could have forged a version of myself that I’m okay with – and even love sometimes.