Welcome back, me.
For the past number of years this website has been defunct, lost in the ether, and discarded. The bones, and original idea remained, yet I kept this part of me hidden from the world, unpublished and unfindable.
I stopped feeling a though I had anything to say. That my energies were better spent elsewhere. Work, travel, adventure, or just distracting myself from myself. I've come to realize recently that I am my biggest investment. I am the place where my energies should be spent and focused.
Coming back to myself has been an interesting journey. In these last few years I've stuck strong on my recovery path and bettered myself, but what does this look like on a larger scale? One of the things I used to deem integral and important was writing, a hobby I've also given up on. The other was time for myself. Self-reflection breeds awareness. How not to get lost in the mundane ...
This was my haven. This still is my little corner of the internet that is mine, emblazoned with my name, my words, my thoughts and my beliefs. This place that was hidden away for so long is still an extension of me.
I'm looking forward to exercising myself again, my brain and my heart. I've adopted a slogan, borrowed, handed to me in the midst of 'all of the shitstorm' of pre-sobriety, and one I've slowly grown into - "Don't Panic." A slogan I heard over and over as a text message ringtone, a message I painted on the back of three of the cars I have owned, so I can look in my back mirror on adventures and remind myself, don't panic. A slogan that I'm slated to get tattooed upon my body in a few weeks, on the off-chance that I forget. A slogan that's been important to add to this site, and to this stage of growth.
Welcome back, me.
I got asked this question today. More specifically, I got asked if I thought that anxiety could be defeated, could be overcome. It got me thinking.
I've always had a theory that when I hit 30 that my anxiety will simply be gone. I'm still holding out hope, but in the meantime, I've no interest in holding my breath. I know I have to spend every day working on my anxiety.
Once upon a time, my anxiety progressed to agoraphobia. In 2014 I couldn't leave my house, even to do something as simple as go shop for groceries. Thankfully, Thrifty's delivered to my doorstep, from two blocks away. I couldn't leave my house without being physically ill. Including my scheduled therapy appointments. I missed my first few therapy appointments, and when I finally forced myself to endure the physical wreck anxiety and panic attacks were causing, it was an ordeal to sit through my first session. This however was where I learned the self-love technique that has rescued me even now, two and a half years later. I still use this whenever I need to. The next time I went to therapy, it was still bad, but it was a little better. It was becoming safer and safer.
Sometimes the unknown is fucking terrifying. In this case, it was for me.
Anxiety is a chemical reaction your body sends to an unknown threat. It's a fight or flight instinct. It's your conscious mind trying to convince your subconscious mind that something is okay, and safe, while your subconscious is provoking the symptoms of panic and anxiety - shaking, sweating, heart palpitations, uneven or difficult breathing, choking sensation, nausea, stomach churning, brain fog and disorientation, racing and rapid thoughts. All of these things are telling you to leave the situation you're in, and you're choosing to either fight, or fly. Don't fly. And don't fight.
Accept it. Allow yourself to feel anxious. Half of the battle of anxiety is pretending it doesn't exist. Wishing so hard before an event that you won't have a panic attack, and then causing one, worrying about whether or not it will happen. Take a few minutes, take an hour, to lie back, to focus on even breathing, and accept it.
Don't let it ruin your experience. The biggest battle with anxiety is reprogramming your perspective and having experiences that don't revolve around anxiety. For instance, when I drive the Malahat, it triggers anxiety in me for some reason. I used to refuse to drive it, because every time I did, I would have a panic attack - I expected this, and I brought it on. It wasn't until this past summer that I drove the Malahat without having a panic attack and I thought, "Wow, I can do this!" The next time I drove it, I had a panic attack. Whoops. Instead of getting angry with myself or upset, I thought to myself, "Hey, remember that one time you didn't have a panic attack? That can happen again." I drive over that stupid mountain countless times a month now. 9/10 times I'm fine, the tenth time, I'll tend to have a panic attack. But I won't let that ruin the experience for me. The other times, I'm fine. And no matter what my subconscious is trying to tell me, I am always, always safe.
I really don't think the focus should be on overcoming or curing anxiety - but learning to cope with it in healthy ways. I think a huge part of it is to be pushing yourself. Start accomplishing small tasks that once triggered anxiety - grocery shopping, driving a long road, going to a show, going to a festival, anything. Tackle the small things, and get them under your belt, then start tackling more and more. Expect that anxiety will make an appearance - it always tends to. Sometimes though, it doesn't.
I almost cancelled a trip to Vancouver with friends a few years ago, because I was feeling anxious at the ferry terminal. I walked back shaking to my car, and told my friend he could have my keys for the weekend and take my car, I would bus back. He rolled his eyes at me, but agreed, until we realized I'd booked the hotel room in my name. I had to go. It was out of my control. So I sat in the passenger seat, and prepared for the panic as we drove onto the boat. I hate, hate, hate boats. The ferry started moving. I was expecting a full-blown panic attack to hit, and it didn't. After about fifteen minutes of rocking in the ocean, I realized it just wasn't going to happen. I got out of the car laughing, grateful, and was fine the entire trip. I don't know why the anxiety didn't come, but it didn't. And it doesn't have to every time. Just like driving over the Malahat, I now have safe experiences about the ferries, and Vancouver trips in general.
Anxiety is situational, and each and every person's experience with anxiety is different - to what triggers it, to the extent, to how they cope and manage. Different things make different people anxious and to different degrees. Everybody has it to some extent. It's all in how we manage it.
I'm fucking grateful for my anxiety. I get to learn the difference between a real and perceived threat. I get to learn healthy coping mechanisms. I got the chance and realization to quit drinking at a young age, and drugs even earlier. I get the daily strength fighting that voice every day that says, "You can drink this away." I've met some very cool people who are as open and honest as myself about mental illness, and become allies in this mutual understanding. I've grown spiritually as a result of it and am more aware and in touch with my body, mind, and emotions than most, because I have to be. And I have the opportunity to promote strength and growth in others, because despite still having it I am able to conquer it daily, be it going to a music festival, or grocery shopping, and show others that you can recover. Whether it be ultimate, or in a constant state, life is still goddamn beautiful.
If we focus on managing our anxiety, the looming prospect of being responsible for curing it entirely is lifted from our weighted shoulders. We're anxious. We don't need any more fucking pressures, thanks. I get asked, "Oh, so is your anxiety gone?" No. No it isn't. But I'm learning to cope with it, and I'm learning to manage it on my own, for myself.
Who knows? Maybe someday it will be gone. I don't have the energy to dream up 'someday's' all the time. Dreaming of a possible or impossible future will emotionally and mentally exhaust me. I'm holding out hope, but I'm not holding my breath - I'm living for today, and today I'm regulating my breath to stay present, aware, and within the moment. If I do these things today, then all I can do is ultimately hope that I am creating an anxiety-free future for myself.
Sometimes, anxiety feels like climbing a mountain. Getting out of bed is taking that first step. Tying your shoes. Remembering your waterbottle, your self-care. Telling yourself every step of the way that you can do this. Maybe I'm always going to be climbing this mountain. But after years of going at this unprepared, barefoot, I've now got a really good pair of shoes. A waterbottle. Confidence. Self-love. I'm looking forward to climbing this mountain.
Life gets stressful. We all get stressed out from time to time and it takes its effect on our bodies, minds, and souls. Unfortunately we tend to try to push past these stresses, or shrug them off, not allowing them to fully exist. Until - boom!
You crack and crash, like I did yesterday. I was on my way up island, I was stuck in traffic in an overheating car for an hour in the blazing heat, my phone was going off, and I just thought to myself, "Fuck this," and I cut across traffic and turned around and went home.
I locked myself in my room and sent a message to my roommates in our house group chat basically saying, "Hey, I love you guys, but I really really need to be alone right now and just not think. Have a good weekend," then I uninstalled Facebook messenger from my phone and had a nap. I spent all of yesterday and last night in my room reading, and it felt fucking amazing.
I take these 'me' days every so often, I try for once a month or once every two months. Where I literally do shut out the world and focus on myself and allow myself to breathe and truly feel my stresses without any distractions. When I first realized I needed a day like this, I was working as a content co-ordinator for a magazine and the deadline stresses were wearing me down to the point where I caught a nasty head cold. My mental health declined to the point of my physical health declining as well. It was an eye-opening experience and a reminder that I need to take time for myself.
Initially I felt guilt. I started calling them Selfish Days, and it was an unhealthy label, because instead of relaxing I would feel as though I was procrastinating or avoiding. That's simply not the case. I handle my responsibilities, and then shut everything off and walk away. The guilt accompanied these first few Days, before I snapped out of that mindset. If you feel like you're being selfish, you are defeating the purpose of these Me Days. You are taking the time to rest, relax, and to truly recharge.
In fact, my Me Day has extended to today as well. I'm at home all alone, my roommates are out for the weekend. I'm strangely not lonely. I'm cleaning, I'm organizing, I'm cranking the music as loud as I want to (sorry guys), I'm playing guitar in every room of the house, I'm cooking, I'm reading. I am truly enjoying being on my own, with my thoughts. I've gotta say, uninstalling Facebook Messenger from my phone has been an incredibly liberating experience to boot.
By spending time with myself, by myself, my attitude has completely changed. The stresses are washing away, slowly but surely. Before this weekend I couldn't remember the last time I took a day to myself like this.
Life gets hectic and it gets fast-paced and suddenly there aren't enough hours in a day to accomplish everything that you want to do. Balancing friends, work, relationships, that's hard enough - and the ultimate sacrifice is the time that you need to be spending with yourself, for yourself. So fuck it. Take a Me Day.
Stay in bed. Have a bath. Read a book. Sleep. Dance around your kitchen. Go for a drive. Write it out. Play your guitar, sing, and sing loud. Eat that fast food meal, that comfort food - eat ice cream. Wear your pajamas all day. Turn off your phone. Write a letter. Go to the beach. Do anything that your heart and body is desiring on your Me Day (within reason) and really make that day about yourself. Don't let yourself feel guilty for needing to take time to yourself - feel proud that you recognize it, and hopefully before you end up stuck on the side of a highway in a car ready to break down ...
And if you do, turn the fuck around and go home and focus on you. You deserve it.
Last year I was regularly seeing an incredible therapist who helped me so much to pull back from my depression, and anxiety. One of our last visits we struck up a conversation about whether or not I would change anything in my life. I looked to him and said, "I bet if I wrote a letter to my five-year-old self, I would tell her not to do all of the things I did."
He smiled and he laughed at me and suggested that I exercise that - to go and write a letter to my little self. So the next week I took off to my favorite beach with a journal and pen and began writing. I wrote and wrote, three full pages of advice to my younger self. I'd like to share exactly what I wrote.
Dude, I miss you. The good news is you're still here. I never lose your sense of adventure.
You're pretty scared, hey? Well the world is scary but Mom does a good job of protecting you, little me. She sure loves you.
You're going to put a lot of effort into things you can't change. You're sure going to feel a lot. People like that about you. You're going to try on a thousand personalities but around 22 you'll give up and start growing into the person that you are - me! I promise you will be cool. Wear whatever you want, please. Don't ever second-guess something as trivial as an outfit for fear of looking stupid - you won't.
You and Dad won't start getting along until you're older, but I promise, someday you'll be friends. Grin and bear it. He's actually kind of cool once you grow up.
You will learn so much about people. Not everybody stays. And the harder you try, the quicker they'll leave. Accept loss with humility. Worst-case, forgive but don't forget. You'll have a heart of steel for quite some time after you first get your heart broken. Buckle up kid, it's an important lesson to go through and I promise you'll come out of it wiser and grateful.
Drugs will not fill that void within you but you'll try for a long time. They will open your mind to a world that is ugly, unkind, and will stunt your emotional growth. You will grow up terrified of them but one day change your mind. I won't tell you not to do them, because everything that you do turns you into me. The good news is that you quit right before your 18th birthday. It won't be until after that that you realize just how strong your willpower is. Celebrate it and share it with others.
Same goes for booze. You love to tell your story to others and inspire people to be better. Something good will come of it. You will always be good with silver linings. You're going to think you're ugly until you're about 14. You will grow up and become beautiful. Be gentle with the emotions of others.
You'll care a lot and wear hurt that does not belong to you. You'll do this to distract yourself from your own pain, though you are extremely sensitive to the emotions of those around you. Give yourself time to feel.
Your life won't be easy but it will be yours. You will always write, or create. You are an artist. Always read. Start now. You already like to. Stick with school and accept all of the free knowledge you can. You will always be smart, but you have to work for it. People will try to dumb you down to your level, don't ever let them.
Cherish the people in your life. Honor the friendships that will last a lifetime, a few months, or just the here and now. Spend time with your Granny. She's a beautiful soul and won't be around for forever. Learn to embrace your family, they do love you too.
Breathe. Love yourself. Celebrate. Stay ambitious. Be aware.
I promise you will always be.
As soon as I put down my pen I stared out at the ocean, my eyes full of tears. I wasn't sad, I was crying out of pure happiness. All of my life I had thought to myself that if I could do it all over again, I would have done things differently - and writing out this letter to myself made me realize that everything that I have ever been through has made me into the person that I am today. I was so touched to come to this realization.
Sometimes we have to go through the storm to come out even stronger on the other side of it. Sometimes life is hard, on its own, or we make it hard ourselves without really realizing it. The most important part of everything I've been through is that I have learned to share my story with others. That's my silver lining. That's my rainbow. I'm done with the storms, and I am blessed to have struggled so severely in my teenage and adolescent years, because I've got the rest of my life ahead of me.
I routinely read this letter and smile to myself and send my younger self the love that she needed then, and needs now. This exercise was also an incredible lesson in remembering to love yourself, forgive yourself for your mistakes, and to show yourself compassion. Self-love makes your world go 'round.