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Energy Healers and Chanting Won't Cure My Disability Anxiety

As it turns out, I have a whole buffet of internal pain from living with cerebral palsy, and I'm going to figure out what to do with it.

Ryan O'Connell

Ryan O'Connell

Illustration by Petra Eriksson

When I first decided to keep a daily diary for VICE of all the micro trolls I experience as a disabled person, I felt empowered.

I'M GOING TO BLOW THE LID OFF MY OWN DISABILITY AND DO SOME DEEP SOUL-SEARCHING! NO MORE REPRESSING THINGS. LET'S OPEN THIS CAN OF WORMS, BABY! I thought.

Be careful what you blog for, because two columns later, that can burst WIDE open.

On July 4, I had a panic attack (my brain's version of fireworks?) and felt crazy for weeks. It was like a switch had gone off in my brain. My anxiety went from low grade to a ten in a split second.

This wasn't some White Girl "Mercury is in FUCKING Retrograde OMG" anxiety—it was waking up every day and immediately feeling paranoid that I was never going to feel the same, that I was going nuts, that I would lose my job, my friends, my boyfriend, everything. It was a state of total, panic-y, catastrophic thinking that plagued me every second of every day, despite not being rooted in reality.

I lost ten pounds in two weeks (chic), had zero sex drive (not chic), and couldn't sleep. All the markers of being a functional person were deleted from my life in an instant.

Panic attacks can be random and triggered by nothing, but I don't think that was the case with mine. I mean, I'm no Nancy Drew, but I think digging up all these disability demons sparked some serious pain.

But instead of actually sitting in that pain and getting to know it over drinks, I immediately went into Virgo "fix it" mode by trying a myriad of New Age-y self-help techniques.

I call this period of my diary "Self-Helpless."


7-9-17

Pitched a loosely autobiographical show to a few networks today, even though my face was numb from anxiety and I was feeling like a total Gay, Interrupted.

At one point in the pitch, I said, "And, you know, this is the first time you'll see a gay disabled character on TV, so…"

The exec stopped me. "Um, I don't think so," he said. "Haven't you seen The Ringer?"

My back immediately tensed up. I exchanged a look with Lara, my writing partner and best friend, that said, "OH MY GOD. Is there a gay disabled show in development we didn't know about? We've been scooped!"

"What's The Ringer again?" I asked.

"It was a movie starring Johnny Knoxville…"

OK. Stop right there, hon. According to IMDB, The Ringer is a "comedy is about two guys who decide to rig the Special Olympics to pay off a debt by having one of them, Steve (Knoxville), pose as a contestant in the games. Mentally-challenged hijinks and hilarity surely follow."

So. To reiterate: Johnny Knoxville imitates a mentally challenged person, mentally challenged hijinks ensue, and this was the exec's example of disability representation in Hollywood.

Holy Gimp, you can't script this shit! (But... you can write about it in your VICE column.)

I left the pitch feeling demoralized and depressed. Lara suggested I chant with her to feel better.

So I do. I start chanting in her car on Olympic fucking Boulevard next to Penguin's Frozen Yogurt, and I immediately start crying while we do "Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo." First time in four years! It felt amazing.

I've been chanting every morning since. I love it. I feel like I've found the cure.


Watch: Inside the world of medically assisted sex


7-12-17

JK. No cure.

I went to my first Buddhist meeting (basically a bunch of Buddhists in the same district/neighborhood who gather to sit in someone's apartment and chant) and had an anxiety attack. I'm probably the first person to ever have an anxiety attack at a Buddhist meeting.

Here's the thing: LA tends to breed a certain genre of delusion-oid, aspiring wacktresses and wacktors who are desperate for success. The meeting had a lot of those. Everyone there seemed to be chanting for a featured extra role on Smallville, even though Smallville was canceled seven years ago. Sitting next to them, reaching for shreds of inner peace, made me feel even more insane and alone. Hence, anxiety attack.

I'm not chanting for my career, babe. I'm chanting for my life!


7-25-17

Went to see an energy healer yesterday in Palms, a neighborhood that borders on No and Fuck No. Her apartment was wall-to-wall stained carpet, and she had cats running around. One of them even laid on me! I was deeply unsoothed but managed to pull myself together.

One exercise she told me about: if you start to feel a wave of anxiety, focus on something you like around you. It can be as simple as a nice color.

"Here," she said. "Try it with this room. What do you see that you like?"

This room was what would happen if Silence of the Lambs had sex with a litter of feral kittens. It bordered on nightmarish. There was nothing appealing. I told her that I liked her lampshade, and she smiled.

"Good!"

Then I got on her table, and she started working on me. It basically involved her just poking at me, but it felt nice? Maybe?

She also kept calling me Ron. I didn't bother to correct her.


It's been a month and a half since the panic attack, and I'm feeling a lot better. I don't think it has much to do with the chanting or energy healing or acupuncture or Reiki I've been doing. I think it has to do with the fact that my hiatus ended, and I went back to work writing for a TV show. As it turns out, spending the day in bed googling shamans does NOT help one's anxiety. For me, the best salve has just been moving forward, going about my life and routine, and realizing that everything is going to be OK.

Still, what keeping this diary has taught me is that there's a whole buffet of pain living inside me that I haven't even sampled. It's shocking. How could I be suffering this much without knowing it?

In a way, it does make sense. My whole life I've been going, going, going. My response to having cerebral palsy and getting hit by a car at the age of 20 has always been to power through. Don't sit in the pain. Move forward. What trauma?! As a result, I stuffed it all down.

But it's confusing because going, going, going has actually helped me achieve a lot of incredible things. And what exactly does it mean to sift through one's pain? Do I just lay in my bedroom and put on a Feist song and think about what a bummer CP is?

What's the "right way" to get better? How do I learn to really love and embrace my disability (and, by extension, myself?)

I don't have the answers yet. But I do have this column. And I'm determined to find out.

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