Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Letter to My Future Anxious Self

Today, I came down with a painful infection–something that is fairly frequent for me, but that I never get used to. The pain was enough to rock me back on my heels and put a stop to a month free of panic attacks. I got through it, but I wanted to write a letter to my anxious self because I can.

Dear Shelly,

Today I had a panic attack. It was a real rocker. You know the type. I sweated, felt like I would puke, worried I would kill myself, worried I would hurt someone else, worried about work, worried it would never end–all in the span of 20 minutes. It wasn't fun. It sucked. I know it sucks. I know it's hard, but I want you to know you do not understand anything right now. Your thoughts are lies anxiety tells you. Even when there is some truth, it is always a catastrophic version of what might be. Sure, the shit might hit the fan, but you cannot predict the future.

I know you're hurting right now. You might feel like you're not good enough. If you're in pain from another infection, you might think that will never end. You have a lot of fears. I'm sorry you have to go through that. It makes me sad to think of you going through this anxiety, whether it's for a few minutes or a few months. I love you, though. We've done all of this before. I know all the thoughts you have, and I love you! You should know that.

I also want to address some of the things you might be thinking. I know you overthink shit big time. I'm not sure addressing your fears will help, but we try everything else, why not this?

1. The moment you need your meds to get calm, you are going to start thinking you're an addict. It's what you do. Even if you think "I haven't had them in forever. I don't crave them." you will follow it up with "Yeah, but this could be the time." Listen honey, this is the thought you have every time. Remember when you couldn't sleep with your medication near you? You have anxiety about medicine, kid. So what if this is the time? Are you struggling with anxiety right now? Take care of yourself with the tools you have. Let me take care of what's left of you when you're done. I can handle it. I swear. I'm waaay stronger than you think I am.

2. You're going to think the anxiety is going to hit its stride and never go away or stick around long enough to fuck up your work. The first is impossible. The second is rare, but it could happen. So what? The reputation you think you need you're imagining. Even if all of your clients cut you off because you were out of work for a month, you would bounce back up, but I'm not here to reassure you. I'm here to tell it like it is. This shit will happen to you. You are sick. You're also fine.

3. You're going to worry about committing suicide because you have intrusive thoughts about it. I'm not going to bother telling you they are just intrusive thoughts. I know what it feels like. You wouldn't listen to me anyway. I will say this, though. I really want a chance to come back to my life. I would appreciate it if you would take care of us and just endure this until you get back to me, okay? If you have to cling to a book for a month drinking Ensure and playing video games with Adrian, do it please. I need you. No pressure, though, eh?

4. You're going to worry about puking. I'm baffled that we're so scared of being sick, but it happens. So what if you puke? So what if you puke up your meds? Make sure they're whole when they come out so you know which ones you can take again, which brings me to . . .

5. You're going to worry that your meds will stop working. I know why you worry about this. Sometimes, our meds are not as effective as they can be. It's because sometimes we have really prominent symptoms. Here's the thing, a pain pill may not completely knock out UTI pain. An Ativan may not knock a panic attack on its ass (though one just did). They will help make your anxiety manageable enough that you can knock back an Ensure, read a book and walk until you find me again. It might take time, Shell, but you will find me. I promise. It's okay to cry and be sad that I'm gone right now.

6. Do what you would have done anyway. If you sit still and cater to the horrible sensations of your anxiety, it is all you will feel. You might as well feel like shit and do something at the same time. You might enjoy the walk less or zone out during family time, but at least you won't just be sitting there feeling like shit, right? Live your life. When it's going rough, it's going to suck whether you lay around like an invalid or get up and risk puking in the grocery store, which still has yet to happen. I can just imagine us if it ever does. "OMG, I was right!" Ugh. Whatever.

My point is, get through it. Do what you have to do. I promise you that I, your calm self, will be happily waiting for you on the other side. I always am. Even if it's just for a minute that slowly grows over time to be hours, I am always waiting for anxious me to get to the other side of anxiety. This is not reassurance. This is just a fact. I can't wait to see you again. It feels so good to be alive. I can't wait to tell you that.

Love, Shelly