Hey there, kiddo.
So you just had your first big panic attack since college. Obviously, I’m here to tell you that you make it through and you come out the other side stronger and wiser and all that inspirational stuff, but I’m not gonna sugar coat this: it’s about to get worse.
You shouldn’t be that surprised. You’ve had an inkling that this was coming for a while now, little panics like hiccups that keep you from being able to ride the metro, but you were hoping maybe you were wrong, like maybe if you just stayed vigilant, you’d be able to sidestep the crash.
For the next few weeks, it’ll feel like you’re drowning. You’re not but it’ll feel like that. Put your hand on your chest, right over your sternum. You see that? That’s your hand moving. I know you don’t think that you’re getting any air but I need you to focus on that hand moving. If your hand is moving, you’re still breathing, you’re still here.
Okay, so we’re into mid-October now. Your skin will feel itchy, like it doesn’t fit. Try not to fidget too much. Trim your nails. Look, I know you’re not hungry, but you’ve gotta eat.
The last time your anxiety was this bad–when you’d call your parents twice a day and beg to come home, when you lost ten pounds because you could barely leave your dorm room to go to class, let alone eat–you were in college. But you’re an adult now and adults take care of themselves so eat your vegetables.
The worst will be when you sit still. Don’t sit still. Walk to work in the morning, go to the gym at lunch. If you have time, go again after work. Walk home. Plan dinner parties, fill your hours obsessively with social activities. Stay up late, wake up early, pack the hours in between so full that, by the time you close your eyes, you fall immediately asleep.
It’s November. Start a bullet journal with a daily gratitude log. Write down things you’re grateful for. Find things to be grateful for. Make up things to be grateful for. Have a Friendsgiving, make a gratitude turkey, invite all your friends, buy 6 rotisserie chickens.
Treat your anxiety like hiccups, like if you can just find something big enough to jump out and scare you, you’ll be cured. Take a motorcycle class. Learn to rock climb. Take the metro. Force yourself to ride the whole way to your destination without getting off at stops in between just to catch your breath. Pretend that, if you can overcome these everyday fears, you can overcome anything, even anxiety, even the fear of being broken.
Start boxing. Join a real gym, the kind you’re scared to walk into, a ring and some bags in an old warehouse in a questionable part of town run by a guy named Dave who’ll teach you to dodge blows, keep your guard up, remember to breath. Over Christmas, you’ll hurt your shoulder so you’ve got to quit boxing. Start running. You’ll be better by May and start boxing again by August. You won’t be able to describe the feeling of being able to box again so don’t try.
You’re gonna lose weight. Between the vegetables and the boxing and the running and the worrying, you’ll lose twenty, maybe thirty pounds. People will want to know the numbers: sizes dropped, pounds lost, steps taken, calories counted. Don’t flinch when people ask you what your secret is (your secret is that you stopped eating and you went to the gym too much but that’s not quite the success story that they were hoping for).
Sometime around December, you’ll be fifty seconds into a two minute sprint in Judy’s Monday spin class when it hits you: you’ve survived.
Days when you fought tooth and nail not to drown in your own brain, you survived. Days when you felt like a failure because you couldn’t be happy, that you couldn’t fix your brain through sheer force of will, you survived. Days when you felt so numb you’d push yourself a little bit more–run two more miles, cycle for thirty more minutes, hit the bag even after you heard the bell–just to prove you could still feel things, you survived.
Days you felt better and thought you were fixed and days that you fell back into old habits, you survived. Days you realized that maybe you need help, maybe being stubborn isn’t enough, maybe taking medicine doesn’t mean that you’re broken, maybe being broken isn’t forever, you survived.
Because survival is survival, no matter how messy or imperfect. It’s taking the next breath and realizing that, against your brain’s better efforts, your lungs are moving, your eyes are still open, and you continue on. It doesn’t matter if you’re fixed for now or fixed for good, as long as you can survive today, then there’s a chance you’ll make it to tomorrow and the next twenty pounds.
In September, you’ll realize with a shock that it’s been one year. You still have bad days but you can also run three miles and you dropped three sizes and none of your bras from high school fit anymore. In August, you’ll finally launch Good Letters. You don’t know what that is yet because you won’t think of the name for it until May and the premise for it until June. You’ll wonder if you’re ready, if you’re going to fail. I don’t know those answers yet. It’s going to be scary but you’ve made it through worse.