Nothing Bad Happened Except My Mind
There is a voice in my head that tells me I am constantly on the verge of a catastrophe. Mysteriously, over the last few weeks a new voice has emerged, and it's telling the first one to shut the fuck up.
Illustrations by Joel Benjamin
Someone asked me if it gets better and I said yes and they said how? and I got silent.
The truth is that mental illness (in my case: panic disorder with general anxiety and underlying depression) does get better. It gets better, then it gets worse, then better, then worse—at least in my experience.
You would think that having gone through enough of these cycles, I would persevere through a down phase with strong faith that things will get better again. But I still haven't totally learned to ride the waves. After all these years, I still get scared that there is no exit. I think, What if this one lasts forever? What if they never get my meds right again? What if this is the one that pushes me over the edge? People say, This too shall pass and I'm like, Yeah, OK.
That's the thing with a catastrophizing mind: it always uses a lot what-ifs and it uses them in a threatening voice. The what-ifs become definites. And they're bad.
One might also think, having gone through so many of these cycles, that I would know the good times don't last forever either. I would know that I am always susceptible to mental illness and that there is no one thing I can do to be rendered "OK" forever. But when I'm doing OK, I forget. I forget, in part, because I want to forget. I forget to the point that when the illness returns (as it always does) it can take me by surprise.
Right now I'm in a pretty OK place. This is the result of a new cognitive-behavioral therapist and a new combination of medications. But it's also a result of that mysterious thing—beyond our power—that can render us mentally sick or mentally well.
Mental wellness, for me, is alchemy. I can take good care of myself. I can feed or starve the illness with unhealthy or healthy behaviors. I can influence it. But ultimately, I am never totally in control.
There's also a new anti-anxiety technique that I made up for myself after changing medications a few months ago, and it seems to be working. I had just survived one of the most harrowing periods of anxiety and depression that I'd ever experienced, and was on the way up. Things were definitely starting to get better in my brain. But I was so afraid of returning to the state I had been in that I became hyperaware of every micro-shift inside me. This hyperawareness didn't allow me to get better. Any time I experienced a change in mood or a scary thought, it was met with an immediate, What if it's coming back?
One night, I began feeling dizzy and my vision blurred. This had nothing to do with anxiety or depression. I was simply exhausted from staring at a computer screen for twelve hours. But a voice inside, the catastrophizing voice, wanted to run with it. What if this is death? Who is to say it isn't the end? If it's not death, then what is this sinking feeling? What if I am entering the realm of amorphous dread again? Am I going to get out?
This was the beginning of a panic attack. Panic attacks can appear very quickly and are best friends with empty catastrophe. When they come on, I can't rationalize with the anxiety. I can't rationalize with the anxiety, because it's not rational. It's not just a thought. It's a visceral feeling.
But this time something different happened. Strangely, a totally new voice inside me started talking. It wasn't an intellectual voice, gently trying to talk sense to the nonsensical. This voice was pissed off. It was what one might call a 'hell no' voice--fed up with what the anxiety has done to me, how much of my life it has taken. It was livid with the catastrophizing voice. It was like, Nah bitch. You are fucking done.
The catastrophizing voice was shocked. It tried to fight back, to assert its primacy. But the 'hell no' voice wouldn't hear it.
The catastrophizing voice said, What if...
The hell no voice said, Sorry, bitch.
The catastrophizing voice said, But what if...
The hell no voice said, What if what? What if you're dying? Melting down? So die then. Melt down. I don't give a shit. But you are not allowed to worry about it. You're literally not allowed.
The catastrophizing voice made a last peep. But the hell no voice stayed on top. If you want to worry, it said, then you will have to do it on your own time. If you want to worry, you can do it one week from today. One week from today you can worry all you want. Of course you can't worry if you're dead, but I don't really care about that. For now you have to shut up.
I don't know how the hell no voice came up with the 'one week from now' thing. But the catastrophizing voice seemed to like it, because it shut up. Maybe it enjoyed being given an endpoint. It was like, OK, it's not that I can never obsess again. I just can't do it until this set time.
Also, I think the catastrophizing voice actually got off on being yelled at. Maybe it was tired of being on top? Worrying is exhausting. Perhaps it got turned on by the hell no voice and was like, Fuck it, I'm taking a vacation. I'm gonna go masturbate for a week. Then, when a week was up, the hell no voice pushed the worrying date back another week. Then another. So the catastrophizing voice extended its vacation.
Since then, the catastrophizing voice hasn't been seen or heard from. I want to believe it's gone for good. But past experience tells me it's only resting. No matter how hard I go in the therapy, how accurate my meds, how green my juice, how abdominal my breathing, this is no eternal okayness. It's definitely not dead.
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.
So Sad Today is a never-ending existential crisis played out in 140 characters or less. Its anonymous author has struggled with consciousness since long before the creation of the Twitter feed in 2012, and has finally decided the time has come to project her anxieties on a larger screen, in the form of a biweekly column on this website.