Yesterday I received a card in the mail from a girl I met at a party two years ago. Her name is Robin and she has a sweet smile and arresting red hair. The party was called a “speakeasy” and everyone was invited to share some sort of performance. I read a poem I had written, a deeply personal poem about a mistake I had made, the punishment for which was my own broken heart. Robin approached me after I had read and said she appreciated the vulnerability of my words. I gave her the poem, my only draft. Having the poem near me was too painful, too raw a reminder of how much I’d fucked up. It felt strange to give such confessional words to a stranger, yet I knew it was the right thing to do. Robin sent the poem back to me in the card, and holding it in my hands for the first time in two years, I reflected on how much my life has shifted since I poured my sins onto the page.
I don’t think it was a result of just that one major mistake, but rather the accumulation of twenty-eight years of being on this earth, the collective existential drama of being a human being that contributed to the alarming anxiety I’ve been experiencing over the last few years. I didn’t even know to label it “anxiety” until I was in Bali this time last year and stumbled across an old issue of TIME that gave a breakdown of the symptoms, this after a sleepless night wracked with panic, asking over and over again: “How can I have these awful feelings here, in Bali, paradise on earth, and I’m a nervous wreck?!”
It felt like this: heart racing, couldn’t breathe, the cold hands of distress squeezing the air out of my lungs. Fear. Flight, fight, or both. My body tingling, like a thousand bats have been released in my blood. Now that it’s started, it ain’t gonna stop.
At one point I went to a psychiatrist. She prescribed me little white pills. These pills came with pages of warnings and disclaimers, the first being: “WARNING: ANTIDEPRESSANTS MAY INCREASE THE RISK of suicidal thoughts or actions. However, depression and other mental problems may also increase the risk of suicide.” What a joke. I don’t take the pills. They haunt me. I take the pills. I feel better, then worse, because the pills put a band-aid on the symptoms, but they don’t stop the thoughts that caused them in the first place. What’s going on in my mind, in my heart, that I feel anxious ALL THE FUCKING TIME? What have I repressed, ignored, that wants to be released so desperately it puts me in a permanent state of panic?
I cut back on coffee. I do more yoga. I consider the anxiety could be unreleased creative energy, I write/photograph/act/dance more. I didn’t feel this miserable even when my mom died. Is that the problem? Did I grieve incorrectly? Maybe I should have thrown plates at a wall instead of swallowing the sadness, but that was the only way I found to survive going back to college, to a life.
Is the anxiety just money stuff? If I didn’t get in my car without knowing how I’d find the gas money to get back home, maybe I’d be calmer. But then I worry having money will change me, that I’ll become another privileged, out-of-touch American asshole, and now there’s a whole new type of anxiety to indulge in, the “what if” kind.
I go to an eight week anxiety class. I get anxious about completing the coursework. I research native plant medicine, I want something so powerful my consciousness will rip open and I can peer into my own psyche, look this nervous wreck in the face and say “Get out of here, I’m busy shining.” I snuggle Chairman Meow, I look at nature, the two palm trees that guard my front yard, my silent sentries. I watch movies. Nothing helps, nothing helps. I realize the anxiety is usually triggered by having to make a decision, which means a trip to the grocery store can cause a full-fledged panic attack.
I dig deeper. Getting overwhelmed at making decisions means I don’t trust myself to make the right decision. Deeper still: I have no faith in myself. Maybe because of that monumental mistake I made two years ago, maybe because trying to be a writer in Los Angeles is in it’s essence a daily assault on your self-esteem.
Maybe it’s the weather changing, maybe it’s because I’m trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time, but in the last few weeks, the cloud has been lifting. I wish I could share what “fixed” me, but it feels too new, too precious, to the point that I hesitated even writing this blog post. But I’m telling you about my struggle with anxiety because I realize accepting and sharing who I am, as I am RIGHT NOW, not who I want to be SOMEDAY, is a first step toward having faith in myself. If I can be okay with who I am TODAY, the overthinking, oversleeping, overeating, behind-on-all-her-bills, beautiful mess that I am, then maybe I can build a solid enough foundation to work toward the me I want to be: a girl who’s as gentle with herself as she is toward friends, who writes because it brings her joy and serenity, who’s spends as much time pursuing self-mastery as she does boozing and joint smoking. And I want to write blog posts more often. Baby steps, baby steps.
In the card, Robin included this serendipitously relevant bit of wisdom from Emily Dickinson:
“We never know how high we are til we are called to rise–and if our lives are true to plan our statures touch the skies. The heroism we recite would be a daily thing, did not ourselves the cubit’s warp for fear to be a king.”
She also included a smaller card, which reads simply: You are pure sunshine.
Breathe in. Breathe out.