If anyone in this cruel, cold world understands the temptation to drug and drink the bad feels away, it’s me. I spent (almost) the entire decade of my 20s self-medicating my depression and anxiety with absolutely anything I could get my hands on. Booze. Pills. Girls.
Maybe this is merely a luxurious thought that exists in my delusional brain to simply make me feel better about myself, but I believe that those of us who suffer from mental illness are the gifted ones. The great feelers of the world. And when our excessive emotional energy is channeled into creative things like self-expression and being of service to others; magic happens.
Every single film that’s moved you, every song that’s inspired you to take a giant risk in your bleak little life, was created by someone who was teeming with so many feelings they had no choice but to pour it into art.
However, the cliche is as dismal as it is true: Our greatest gifts are our greatest downfalls. The very thing that makes us amazing creatures is the same thing that sends us spiraling down the rabbit hole. And when we’re stuck in the rabbit hole, we can’t do anything. We’re paralyzed. The only thing we want to do is numb the terrifying feeling of being stuck. Stuck in a dark fucking rabbit hole.
We’re wildly sensitive creatures; so what might be a tiny blip in someone else’s life could register as deep-rooted trauma for us. We tend to inhabit the energy of all of those who surround us. Sometimes just sitting in a crowded subway car rubbing elbows with strangers can feel so horrendously intense, because we’re feeling the feelings of every single passenger trapped on the train with us.
It’s hard to be tapped into the haphazard energy of the crazy world all the time. It’s hard to have an overactive mind that never stops racing with disjointed thoughts. It’s hard to feel like a gaping open wound walking around a toxic planet earth, susceptible to disease and infection.
It’s perfectly normal to want to numb the intensity of our brains with the velvety cushion of alcohol. It’s a well-needed relief to gaze at life through the soft-focus lens of inebriation when everything in plain view has been so razor sharp, it cuts through your frail eyes.
But here’s the pesky thing about self-medicating. Self-medicating works, until it doesn’t work.
Pretty soon all that drinking and drugging is going to stop making you high and instead, you’ll just need it to exist. To feel semi-human. And from that point on it’s a downward spiral. Before we know it we’re trapped in the dead-end cycle of addiction and the longer you’re spinning inside the circle of drugs, the harder it is to pry your way out.
When I was abusing alcohol and drugs in order to self-medicate my depression, my life quickly became unmanageable. Alcohol is a depressant. Drugs swallow up the natural serotonin swishing through your brain ( the feel-good hormone that eases our anxiety and helps us sleep and eat). They stab a knife right through your physical health. They strip away the protective layer of flesh that protects you until you’re reduced to nothing but a lone raw nerve. It got to a point where I couldn’t tell what came first? The drugs or the depression? I couldn’t differentiate between what was a hangover/come-down and what was my actual mental illness.
Cutting out drugs entirely and cutting back on drinking changed my life. With a clear head, I was able to look at my life through a blazingly honest lens. I was able to point out what exactly what was making me feel so unhappy. And then, I was able to change those things. And that was the beginning of the healing process for me.
That’s not saying that I don’t suffer from anxiety and depression, still. Holy shit do I suffer. I’m anxious right now. The gynecologist just called me and left me the dreaded voicemail that my pap came back abnormal. I’m already convinced I have cervical cancer and my palms are sweating as I write this article. Do I want to pop a pretty blue chill pill into my mouth and chase it with a gallon of champagne? You better believe it, sister.
But I won’t. Because you know what that will do?
That will lead to me feel temporarily chilled out for two hours, if I’m lucky, and then the panic will creep back up into my bones. Which will inspire me to pop another pretty blue chill pill and chase it with seventeen gallons of champagne (because you always need more the second time around).
And the rest will fade to black.
And the next thing I know the sun will come creeping through the windows of my pre-war, NYC apartment, my heart pounding outside of my chest and it will feel as if someone has poured peroxide into my eyes. My throat will be as dry as the Sahara desert, and I’ll be in the throes of a full blast panic attack. I’ll feel wracked with fear about the abnormal pap and I’ll feel like the biggest loser on the planet for not attaining the wherewithal to call the doctor back. I’ll feel scummy for getting so wasted at my age and I’ll be too terrified to look at my phone and see who I drunk-dialed and what damage/drama I caused in my drunken stupor.
The band-aid of booze will cover up the grotesque-looking wound, yes, but what that wound actually needed was air. It needed a sober eye to look at it and treat it correctly.
So we’re not going to resort to band-aids today, baby.
You and I are going to get through our anxiety the healthy way. Without drugs. Without band-aids. Without booze. Without hurting ourselves.
Here’s what we are going to do, together, side by side, clutching each other through the healing process.
We are going to confront our responsibilities right away.
Pick up the phone right now. Call the clinic back and ask for the STI test results you’ve been avoiding. Check your bank account. Open up the fucking mail, girl. Listen to the ten thousand voicemails you have gobbling up the data on your phone.
I know it’s terrifying, trust me, I do. But all of this shit that we avoid because we’re too anxious to deal with the outcome, isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s heavy weights attached to our fragile limbs, dragging us down into the ground, everywhere we go. It makes walking and breathing hard and painful. Walking and breathing should not be hard or painful.
“But Zara, what if I have zero dollars in my bank account and I don’t want to see that now because I’m about to go on a date?” Do it anyway. If you go on the date and the lingering fear of your possibly overdrawn bank account is secretly haunting you, you’re going to radiate a very unattractive, anxiety-ridden energy. Even if you’re an excellent actress like me.
I promise you dealing with the results, no matter how awful they are, is so much better than living in fear of the results. Just the relief of confronting that which frightens you the most will make you feel an emotional fifteen pounds lighter.
We are going to go outside and look at trees.
I’m completely one to hole up in my apartment when I’m going through a terrible bout of depression. I’ll sit and soak in a proverbial pool angst. The walls shut in around me—and suddenly I’ve lost all rational perspective. The tiniest most menial problem will suddenly swell into a giant monster that threatens to kill me.
But, baby, no matter how badly I want to hide beneath your sweat-soaked sheets for the rest of eternity, I urge you to get outside! You don’t have to go alone! Imagine me standing at the foot of your bed.
Your trusty lesbian big sister is right here in the room with you. We’re going to go on a fall walk together, babe. I’m wearing dyke-chic black leather pants and a white tank top with no bra. I look very “90s lesbian” in my flat combat boots. I even have a flannel wrapped around my waist to express my solidarity with the lesbian community at large.
I grab your hand and together we march, as our gay ancestors did during the Stonewall riots, into the fresh Manhattan air. And just the simple beauty of nature calms us both down a bit. The big lush trees with their forest green leaves remind us that the world is so much bigger than both you and I combined. That there is an entire life that exists beyond the stifling four walls of the tiny apartments we spend our whole paychecks on. The sunshine that gently beats down on our ~exposed skin~ lets us know that universe is looking out for us and that even though it doesn’t feel like it, everything is going to be ok. We aren’t going to feel the way we feel today, forever.
We are going to be of service to someone else.
Nothing will get you out of your head and help to ease your panic attack, like helping someone out. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. You’re fragile right now, so it might not be the best time in the world to call up the offices of the biggest non-profit on the planet and spend hours filling out volunteer applications. Let’s engage in a simple act of kindness, sweet kitten.
For example, as soon as I’m done writing this article, I’m going to call up my friend Eduardo. He’s had a rough few weeks (that we won’t get into in this article, but let’s just say he’s a gay Latino man stuck in white, straight Alabama ’till Thursday).
I’m going to tell him how much I love him and express to him what a good friend he’s been to me over the past decade. I’m going to explain to him that I don’t think I would’ve gotten through the past five years without him by my side.
I’m going to ask him how he’s doing. He’s one of those rock-solid people that serve as a stabilizing force for his plethora of whacked-out friends, so people rarely stop and ask him what’s going on in his life.
So, I’m going to get out of my head and channel all of my energy into Eduardo. It will make him happy and it will make me happy to see him happy and it will momentarily quell the fear that I have ovarian cancer or that my migraine headaches are really a brain tumor or that all of my friends secretly hate me or that my writing sucks and I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and soon everyone is going to find out that I’m a giant fraud who has been faking it for the last ten years.
Being of service to others doesn’t have to be stressful or harrowing. It can be as simple as a phone call to lonely Aunt Sally. A 100-word email to a former boss who helped elevate your career. It can be as simple as sharing an article on the internet that moved you and tagging the writer who most likely feels like she’s screaming into an empty void (hint, hint). Or going to a friend’s art show and uploading the pictures of their creations on Instagram, even if they’re bad. Who cares if they’re bad? She made a huge effort and had the incredible courage to have her own art show and that’s worth an Instagram upload in my book.
Those of us anxiety sufferers can be on the wildly narcissistic side. We fear every mean glance tossed our direction is because the world hates us and we’re nothing but creeps. We think we’re pieces of shit, that oddly, the world also revolves around. Narcissistic people are rarely happy. It’s a lot to deal with when you think everything terrible that’s ever happened in the giant universe is YOUR FAULT because it’s ALL ABOUT YOU.
But directing our energy into other people is the very thing that sets us free. Every. Single. Time.
So anyway, babes. Hope this helps.
Oh and don’t forget to take a steaming hot shower and take your meds as prescribed. That helps too.