I feel weird starting a blog. Who really wants to hear what I have to say and why do I feel like I have to say it to the whole damn internet?
I guess there are a few reasons I want to do this (besides that social-media-specific rush you get from being affirmed by peers and strangers on the web):
- Big things are shifting in my life and documenting them seem like it’d help me be present in, and cope with, all the changes.
- Reading blogs about mental illness and magic have been an important part of coping and I feel like maybe I can offer something back through the same medium.
- I want to be vulnerable and honest about my process and I want to be able to connect to people through it. Writing late-night mid-panic entries in my journal is often relieving but also feels isolating.
So what’s going on?
I just dropped out of university, at least for the time being. I’ve had the privilege of attending a beautiful undergraduate university in the mountains along the west coast of British Columbia. What I didn’t expect was that despite the multitude of resources and supports, my university couldn’t support my mental health needs. This challenged me to really look at my anxiety, and to hold it, and to promise myself that I was going to stop pushing it down until it had nowhere to go but out (in big spectacular bursts of anguish).
I didn’t realize how unhealthy my coping skills were until the end of 2nd year. After a breakup, I was forced to look in the mirror and look to only myself for support and healing. Before that, for basically my entire life, I pushed myself hard enough to be distracted from my needs and focused what energy I had left on satisfying my loved ones’ needs instead. I over-committed myself to volunteering in my community, channeled my intense energy into sports, entered myself into the most demanding academic programs, and avoided being at home (where the mental illnesses of my family not only damaged me deeply but also might have forced me to look at my own). I raced through each day, holding my breath and working overtime to keep my head above water.
But about once a month, late at night, I would crash. Hard. In the morning, I’d reset myself and go at it all again. Same speed, same obsession, same commitments that kept me running away from myself.
So finally, the coping structure I had built around myself fell apart. (I say “around” because it was like a concrete shield that encapsulated me, keeping people out and keeping a wall between me and myself). It felt as though without it, I was plunged into a great blackness. I imagined it felt like astronauts must feel the first time they’re in space, alone in a vast blackness. Cue crisis.
I reached out to the official supports at my university and was told to try yoga.
I tried to attend classes but without my old coping shield, in an intimate class-setting I could feel all 19 pairs of eyes on me, could hear my heart beat loudly at 100bpm, and could taste the dread boiling up from my stomach. I dropped classes and went to therapy. (This was important STEP #1).
I confronted past trauma, started meditating and visualizing safe spaces inside myself, and organized my time so that there’s space for ME in it. I went on anti-anxiety medication for panic disorder, saw my therapist once a week and my psychiatrist once a month.
In the years that have followed, debris left over from my old shield still chafes sometimes. Suddenly I notice my heart rate and realize that I’ve committed to three-too-many important causes and haven’t taken a walk through the forest in weeks. But, the new coping mechanisms I’m building are strengthening every day. Instead of thick concrete reinforced with rebar, this time the shield is iridescent and permeable. There is no wall between me and myself, and I get to choose what and who comes through it.
I still crash in the blackness, but instead of scaring the shit out of me, I ask it to show me where the stars are. The lights help me pull the blackness out of me, until I can hold it all in my cupped hands. Sometimes it overflows and that’s okay. I can fill the spaces it once occupied with flowing gold energy, sparkling and bright. Now I know that the next time the blackness takes its hold, I have the gentle strength to replace it with light.
Now, I’m taking a step toward giving myself more room. I’m listening to my body and coexisting with my anxiety. For now, this can’t be done at university and I’m making changes to learn what actually works for me. It’s fucking hard.