I started the new year off with a bang. Well, if by bang I meant a five hour anxiety attack. From 2 - 6:50 am on January 1st, 2019, I was awake, shaking, afraid that I was going to throw up. This is what my anxiety attacks typically look like, though I haven’t had one this severe in quite some time. (Important fact: I was (meant to be) sleeping on the couch at Eli’s family’s house. He was downstairs in his bed, with what felt like an ocean of space and silence between us.) In 16 years experiencing anxiety attacks, I have never had one last that long. My body usually exhausts itself, and runs out of shakes to shake eventually. Not this time.
Captain’s Log: From 2-3:30 I valiantly attempted to make sleep happen. At 3:30 I gave up, sat up, and tried to use my phone as a distraction. From 3:30-5 I texted Eli, desperate for help. He finally saw my messages around 5, sat with me and helped me for about an hour. He made me tea, gave me crackers that I couldn’t choke down, and nodded off intermittently, jerking himself awake only to see that I was still shaking. As the hours passed and I continued to shake with no end in sight, all I could think was “Will this ever end? Will I be shaking for the rest of my life? Will everyone wake up at 8 and I’ll just be here, shaking, never having gone to sleep? Is it physically possible to panic for more than five hours? Maybe if I make it to five I’ll just stop after that. Yeah. Let’s just make it to five.” I eventually fell asleep around 7, just about five hours after it began, having consumed a whole cup of tea and a single cashew.
On New Year’s Eve, I realized what my word for the coming year was meant to be. Presence. It came to me while meditating, though I initially thought my word was harvest. It makes sense. Harvests are slow. Bountiful, but slow. You have to wait for things to be exactly ripe, or you’ll have waited entire seasons for slightly underripe zucchini. But ultimately, I think the word is presence, and the theme is harvest. As I shook that night, I reminded myself of that word. Presence. Presence with the anxiety. Ultimately I believe the anxiety attack was extended by the fact that I wouldn’t let it go. “Why the fuck is this happening? I drank green tea all night, no way my blood sugar dropped that hard from one single sip of champagne at midnight. And if it did, my body is fucking stupid. Also, cool way to start the new year off. Awesome. 2019 is already ruined.” The next day, I narrowly avoided falling into another anxiety trap: the shame and blame game. No, I wasn’t going to spend the day feeling like shit for having felt like shit the night before. What a fucking waste of time. So even though I wanted to, even though I apologized to Eli for “doing that,” I really didn’t dwell. I moved on. (Psst. This is progress!)
Two days before the end of 2018, Eli and I had the most depressed day we’ve had in months. I don’t want to get into the how or why of it, because I don’t entirely know myself. The point is, I was depressed. I didn’t want to do anything. I was propelled out of bed and into my day by sheer anxiety alone. But when Eli came over around 11 or 12, I was back in bed. We were absolutely slumped. We laid there, not talking, crying into each other’s shirts, for over an hour. I’m not trying to paint a pretty portrait of this. I hid in the bathroom. I acted like an asshole. He tried more than I did to infuse the dark situation with love and heal it. I did not. Eventually though, he held me. We both cried, stared at the ceiling, and watched the grey day turn to early evening. Then I looked at him and said, “Can this be okay? Because I don’t even have the energy to tell you ‘it will pass’ or whatever, because if I tell you that then I’ll have to tell myself that, and I’m just not ready to move out of this yet, as shitty as that sounds. I can’t. I just gotta be here.” He wholeheartedly agreed. So for the rest of the day, through a surprise party and making dinner and watching TV, we just were. We cried at random moments, felt completely exhausted, and neither of us tried to fix it. It eventually fixed itself exactly as I predicted it would. It passed. That experience was my first with presence presenting itself as the medicine of the moment.
I know presence will be tested for me this year. It already has been. But I think it will also become a practice that will help me through everything that comes up this year. It already is. My grandmother is dying. She is dying and there is no way around it. She’s not going to recover from this. It’s pretty much over, we just don’t know when. I don’t know if that’s an okay thing to say, but it’s the truth. That isn’t to say that I’m not torn up about it. It’s awful to see my dad so anxious and sad. It breaks my heart to think about how unmoored my grandfather will be when she goes, and how in denial he is now. I don’t want her to go. But reminding myself of this word is helping. Whenever I find myself drifting to the future with worry or doubt, I call myself back with “stay here.” Because those thoughts are in the future, and I’m here. Here, we don’t know what’s going to happen or when. And that’s fine.
I know that my relative ease and calm with this transition is due to one simple fact. I’ve been through it before. Just because I’m staying present doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. I’m afraid. Not of losing her, because I know that’s inevitable and there’s no point fearing that. I’m afraid, as any selfish human being would be, of what will happen to me after. The last time a grandparent of mine died, I slipped into the darkest, scariest moment of depression I’ve ever been in. It may have been worse than after my car accident. It was tumultuous. There was an upheaval. I know that similar circumstances do not cause depression. I know that I am in a completely different place than I was then. I’m doing so much better now! But dear God, the fear. It lurks in the back of my mind as a possibility, one that I know is deeply unlikely. For now, I’ve shoved it in a box and stuffed it away in the darkest corner of my mind. I just hope it gathers enough dust that I one day forget it’s there.
This may come as a shock, but I think I’m a little tired of being so vulnerable. Right now, all I want is to hibernate. I want to hide away in my little apartment, read and paint and watch movies, and I don’t want to tell anyone about any of it. I’m proud of myself. I’m doing well. At the same time there’s a part of me that wants to keep that a secret. Maybe I’m afraid of sharing the joy, for fear that it is 1) disengenuous and I’m really not as happy as I think I am, or 2) if I talk about it, the happiness will vanish.
The truth is, I’m trying to make it through this, and I’m doing okay. I’m eating well and exercising and reading and trying to be good to myself. I’m feeling my feelings, staying present, doing what feels right rather than crossing things off a to-do list that I made based on a person I am not. I am going so slowly. I’m like a car on a snowy road, braking intermittently rather than speeding along and skidding on the ice. I mean, I’m basically stopped on the highway, but I hope that means I’m not going to fly off the road into a ditch. That’s all I really can hope as I decide to move this slowly. That it’s the right choice, and I’m not just stalling.
Even writing this blog post feels like a win. I used to think like this a lot. Write like this a lot. Daydream on the page, come to exciting conclusions within my own mind. Over the past few years, I don’t feel like that has happened as much. As I’ve slipped in and out of depressive and anxious spirals, many of my daily thoughts have been exclusively about making it through. There hasn’t been as much theorizing about the nature of my own being. It feels good to be back here again, with the presence of mind to see each moment for what it is. Not something happening to me, not a reason for anxiety, but a world that I am existing with and within. Thanks for reading.