Updated: May 3, 2020
anxiety is the most common mental illness and affects 1 out of 5 people in the US alone. it's so common that we hardly think of it as a major factor that impacts our everyday lives unless it is clinically diagnosed. our society values "hard work ethic" and "pushing through tough times" even when our minds need a fucking break. mental health is just as important as physical health, but we don't prioritize it as such.
i never thought that i would be diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety. i grew up in a good home, with good parents, and a good head on my shoulders. but just because i had a good life doesn't mean i never dealt with traumatic experiences. my therapist explained that every time you experience something traumatic, your mind builds up defense mechanisms to protect you from dealing with those events in the future or to process those events after they've happened.
anxiety is a defense mechanism.
your body tenses up, your breath shortens, your mind starts thinking of a million "what if" scenarios and you build up this mental and physical defensive mode. everyone has a different fight or flight response to deal with these traumatic situations in the moment. my therapist pointed out that for me, i usually act out aggressively (fight). when i'm feeling intense angry or sad emotions i will lash out, scream, cry, etc. having an emotional release is the way that my body deals with these situations. for other people, their defense mechanism is completely disassociating (flight). it's important to be aware of your own fight or flight response.
over the course of my young adulthood, i built up a lot of anxiety from my past trauma and it sent my body into a constant anxious mode. i'd have extreme negative thoughts. i'd worry about things that i had no actual reason to be worrying about. it was my mind and body overprotecting me. it took a toll on my body. i developed chronic abdominal pain that i just learned to live with. so i found another way to cope– i began smoking pot to an excess. i remember when i started to smoke daily and the way it made me feel in my mind and body. i explained it as, "i can finally breathe." i could live in the moment without constantly thinking. it helped me block out the anxious thoughts that consumed my everyday life. it allowed me to relax. but soon it turned into something that i didn't necessarily want, but needed. i would smoke before every meal. i would smoke before i slept. i would smoke until i fell asleep with my piece in my hand. my partner was worried about me. when they asked me if i could go a night without smoking i pretty much laughed in their face. "it helps me." i said, "i need it." to keep up with my habit i worked long hours. i would babysit every weekend even when i was exhausted. a vicious cycle formed.
yes, marijuana helps people with anxiety and it has medicinal properties. my current GI specialist even prescribes some of her patients with medical marijuana because it can be extremely helpful. but like with any substance, over abusing it can also be harmful. instead of dealing with my anxiety, trauma, and chronic pain, i was putting a bandaid over it so i couldn't feel. the pain never went away, i just would block it out momentarily. if anything it made the problem worse. i wasn't able to listen to my body and i wasn't able to have full emotional responses in stressful times. for any situation that made me nervous i would smoke to make it all go away. i smoked at every family holiday. at every large gathering. i've always been incredibly anxious when it came to dealing with situations like that and the pot helped me relax. but i never realized that i might have an actual anxiety problem. i never wanted to accept that maybe there were underlying issues that i had to work through before i could develop a healthy relationship with substances.
then i was hospitalized beginning March 13th until March 18th. my doctors all told me that in order to have a clear idea of what was happening that i needed to completely stop smoking for at least several months. it felt like my life was over. who was i if i couldn't destress? how would i handle tough situations if i couldn't just completely block them out? my mental health was deteriorating and my physical body was in so much pain. i couldn't work. i wasn't in school anymore. i was quarantined. everything that i was and did was gone and i had no drugs to lean on to bandaid the pain. no cigarettes to smoke. no comfort other than myself. many nights i felt so alone. i was suicidal. my parents told me that i needed professional help.
it's been 50 days, 1 mo and 20 days since the hospital visit. i'm clean. i have a therapist. i've been meditating. i'm working through my emotions more than i ever have in three years. i feel so much better mentally. i battle anxious feelings on a daily basis. i feel my shoulders rising and my head muscles tensing up. but i take a deep breath and tell myself–
"im doing okay"
"there's nothing i can do"
"no need to stress about things you cannot control"
and it helps. i can't say the ride has been easy. there are moments where i cry for hours or just need to be around my parents. sometimes i want to just have a cig. sometimes i want to just smoke and stop thinking about painful thoughts. but this is the first time i've actually been able to work through those emotions. and i feel stronger because of it. instead of substances i have to implement good habits to deal with my mental and physical health issues and its been working. i try to eat healthier, get lots of sleep, socialize, and get some exercise.
anxiety is serious and there should be a greater focus on taking care of our mental health just as we would any physical health problem. i'm like the queen of invisible disabilities. chronic pain and mental health issues. but i'm not always as strong as i look. not everyone is. it's important to realize that everyone has their own set of shit happening on the inside. be patient. be kind. and even for those of you who feel like you're okay... if you're not know that that's fine too. i feel you. we all feel you.
take care of yourself