A year ago, I thought it would be a good thing to look at this time away from the rest of the world as an opportunity. To write another book, to exercise, to learn something new… And while we pretended that it was only going to be a few weeks… no, maybe a few more weeks, or maybe a couple of months and… oh, maybe longer… I think most of us, back a year ago, knew this was going to be a long haul kind of deal. But that was too terrifying to contemplate, so we kept telling ourselves it would be over soon, disregarding all the proof that it was going to take years to resolve.
And during that year, time was elastic; days were both far too long and way too short. How can it be March again already, I’m not done with first March. And I didn’t get anything done.
That bit is okay; even if you had nothing else going on, we all had that low-level anxiety that made us frustrated and tetchy and just exhausted all the time.
At 8 weeks and counting, you’d think we’d have the basics figured out. After all, for most of us, if we don’t have a dog, grocery shopping is the only reason to leave the house. And maybe because purchasing essentials is the only reason we’re leaving the house, interacting with others has become kind of terrifying.
Headlines such as “Why shopping for groceries is no longer fun” or “We’ll never shop for groceries the same way again” make it clear that a meandering stroll through the aisles is now a thing of the past. There is no lingering, no reading labels, no picking out the non-bruised apples. You need to get in there (after standing for 45 minutes in line), get your stuff, and get out as fast as possible.
First, let’s be clear — your inner voice is an asshole.
Regardless of the time of day it may come to you, that nagging little voice that tells you that you’re too much or not enough; too fat, too ugly, too loud, too bossy, not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough… that voice is intended to fuck with your head. It is never ever there to help you, even though it will pretend to be.
Often the inner voice will come to you sounding like the actual voice of someone who has or does criticize you. Those voices are particularly difficult to free yourself from because they’re based on a relationship, usually toxic, and which you often feel is unfair or imbalanced or in which you’re not taken seriously. The inner voice’s job is to make you feel like crap about yourself, to doubt yourself, to question yourself to the point of failure.
Again, never forget, your inner voice is an asshole.
To begin, an apology to anyone with an anxiety-related mental illness. I have no intention of implying that anyone with an anxiety disorder is “crazy” (which is considered an inappropriate usage) but really, crazy is the only reasonable term I can come up with to describe what I recently experienced. It was a really brief glimpse at what it might feel like to suffer from anxiety/panic attacks and to experience what people with mental illness must face when dealing with the medical system, but I don’t purport to speak for anybody else, to define anxiety-related mental illness, or to present myself as an expert in any way. Rather I want to share my experience of a very specific situation that was one of the most terrifying events of my life.
Early in February of 2015, I came down with a cold. It moved though fast and I was feeling remarkably better after only a few days. Then the second wave (or a second cold) hit. This time it was bad and I started taking a pile of cold medicines to try and make life a bit less miserable. Specifically I was taking one of those daytime/nighttime cold pills and making regular use (but still following the usage directions on the package) of a generic store-brand nasal decongestant spray.
I had started out with pills that included pseudoephedrine, and those worked reasonably okay. When they ran out I turned to another, similar product that replaced the pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine. For those not in the know, or who missed the early seasons of Breaking Bad, pseudoephedrine, despite its efficacy, is being phased out of cold medications because it is regularly used as an ingredient in the production of meth. (As a cold medicine it tends to make people fairly stoned, but it also works decently well at its intended purpose.) Phenylephrine, the drug now being used instead, does a pretty crap job of actually decongesting anything, which means that in all likelihood, more people will do what I did and will use decongestant spray on top of that.
The problem with those decongestant sprays is that you can only use them for 3 to 5 days or you risk a rebound effect (it takes more of the medication to work, and it doesn’t last as long); addiction to this product is pretty rampant. So after 5 days (specifically, February 15th) I stopped using the spray.