The End. That’s what it feels like.
What do I say to the humans who ask “How have you been lately?”
I feel the fighting, clawing urge to explain in-depth and yet I have lacked the words, still so caught in emotion, to adequately express myself.
It’s been 15 days since I awoke, as if from a fog, and realized that my hellhole of Anxiety was NOT ME. That it has been caused, exacerbated, fueled, for the last two years, by the hormones in my IUD. I now know I am among the 5% of women who experience extreme mood alterations with hormonal contraceptives.
It’s been 6 days since I had the IUD taken out. Before I can begin to describe my current state, I need you to know where things were before. Please assume I am being the least dramatic possible — that this. is. not. hyperbole.
Two years ago, fresh out of college, I was a buoyant, resilient, consistently optimistic person. To those around me, I was sunny, flirtatious, goofy as hell, and comfortable in most social situations. I made friends easily, dated frequently and felt sure of myself most of the time. I had room for a lot of people in my heart and welcomed more in all the time.
I was also a perfect sample of the manic-pixie-dream-girl. Full of untethered creativity, haphazard with scheduling and often forgetful. But happy. I was happy.
I lost that person.
I got an IUD in June of 2014, and in the 26 months I’ve had this in my body, I have come to be a wholly unrecognizable person to myself. The Anxiety first hit about a month after the insertion, when I attended a weekend dance event with my partner at the time and everything felt alien. I couldn’t find my groove, couldn’t relax into my body, couldn’t touch that sweet nectar of a dance high I had known for so many years. Thus began my slow retreat away from humans away from the community I loved, which would only intensify.
Two years ago I stopped singing.
Two years ago I stopped enjoying being alone. Ever.
Two years ago I started having regular panic attacks.
Two years ago I stopped regularly social dancing.
Two years ago my joy started slipping away and I thought maybe it would never come back.
If you’ve only met me in the last two years, you have met a shell of me. A whisper of my former self.
If you’ve known me longer, you may have seen the creeping changes and not known what it was. Maybe just becoming and adult? Mellowing out? The weight of responsibility?
Let me tell you, it’s because I’ve been in my own personal hell. Outwardly, still full of love, inwardly, exhausted beyond belief, just by having to tolerate my own neuroses every day.
Anxiety for me, meant an open drain on my self-confidence. It meant weekly panic attacks that would leave me a crumpled mess on the floor. It meant craving contact with those I love but feeling unsatisfied often, when I got it, because the Anxiety would gnaw at my comfort in social situations. It meant leaving dances early, crying in my car. It meant fights getting bigger than they needed to. It meant shrinking my world down to a few people who I knew were safest and most forgiving.
I must reiterate: ANXIETY. IS. HELL.
Six days on the other side and I have woken up feeling peaceful every day — an experience that nearly brings me to tears. I keep thinking “I should be having an Anxiety response to this” but it isn’t there… a hundred times a day.
I feel shell-shocked — as if the world is brighter, smells more strongly, and this spectrum of positive emotions is suddenly available to me that was not before. It’s rather overwhelming sometimes for my nervous system, so used to the calculated world I had built for myself. There’s joy and wariness and ease and awkwardness all at once. I feel like a child learning to run for the first time. All exhilaration and stumbling and scraped knees and freedom. Freedom.
You ask “How have you been lately?” and the honest answer is “I have no idea”. Things are so vastly different from day today. Have you ever spent two years thinking you were one person only to realize that person was a drug-induced illusion? Yeah. That’s how I’m doing.
Feels like something that belongs in a sci-fi novel, not reality…
So here I am. Introducing myself to myself. Full of a deep well of empathy for mental illness I never would have had, had it not happened to me. I’ll probably never be that manic-pixie-dream-girl again, as Anxiety has taught me to be methodical, consistent, reliant on careful scheduling. Those things never worked perfectly, even as I trained myself, because Anxiety often got in the way but they were some of the best tools I had.
I’ve learned to listen to my internal boundaries, to ask for what I need. It used to be that I could blaze right past the need for food or quiet or sleep. Anxiety took that away but in return, left me the little gift of paying attention.
Anxiety, I need to thank you. Whilst you made my life regularly miserable, you taught me to stop apologizing. You taught me to be explicit with partners about expectations. You taught me how to empathize with others I could only show pity to beforehand. You taught me to listen.
In the darkest corners of these two years I have learned to sit with the foulest emotions within myself. I know my avoidance patterns now. I know my anger. I know my fear. Does that make me some paragon of zen emotional response? Hell no. It means I have leaned into these emotions. I know how strong they can truly be within me and where their structural weaknesses are.
If you see me again soon, it may feel like I am re-introducing myself to you. I am. I certainly hope this new version of myself can be friends with you and it may be a dynamic that shifts from what you’ve known.
Please be patient.
Life is full of vulnerability and forgotten joy and new beginnings and grieving. While I rejoice, I also mourn these two years deeply. I mourn the love I could not give or receive and the myriad of ways I had to say “no” when I wanted desperately to say “yes”.
I cannot “make up” for that time. When I’m most lucid, I don’t want to. I want to be <here>. Age 25. Living in Seattle. Making art. Close to finding a job. Moving in with my partner. Somehow still surrounded by people I love.