Happy Monday everyone! We are in the final week, the homestretch of Shattering Stigmas and the posts and the conversations just keep staying so consistently amazing, intense and poignant. I hope all of you are enjoy this as much as I am. Today I am so pleased to welcome my friend, Rey, onto the blog to talk about managing creativity and self-worth in the face of mental turmoil. This post is so elegant, honest and real. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, Rey. When Rey isn’t kindly writing posts for me, they write queer paranormal & urban fantasy, and are a part of The Work in Progress Podcast and Blare Her Name Podcast. You can also find Rey on Twitter.
CW: descriptions of a panic attack (2nd paragraph), discussion of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression, brief mention of blood
Last Sunday I woke up with a sickening feeling in my stomach. Heavy and oily, it left my body feeling clammy and uncomfortable from the moment I opened my eyes. Anxiety had already begun to take hold of me before I’d even woken up, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had spent the days prior in a haze of depression and exhaustion (not necessarily intertwined, but neither helping the other), and every attempt at restful sleep I mustered was thwarted. Sometimes my dreams were too intense, while some nights my body just didn’t think it could sleep, so it didn’t. I couldn’t tell you what caused the episode – one tiny happenstance after another, slowly piling up. It made it impossible to pinpoint any one event in particular. All little moments, things that in no way jeopardized my safety or health or well being. Nothing that would take shelter away from me, or food, or comfortability. Small things like, “did I send that email at work?” “Did I come off as too snappy in that tweet?” Or, my personal favorite thing to obsess over – “my boss didn’t put an exclamation point at the end of that email, so they might be mad…but she’s out of the office and I have no way to gauge anything so she must be upset with me, as there’s no other option for using neutral punctuation.” Neutral punctuation is a term that I’ve created for periods because my brain has decided that everything, even a lowly period versus an excitable exclamation point, could be a threat. If that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is. Thanks, anxiety brain.
I had the worst panic attack that I’ve had in months that day, late in the afternoon when the sun was high and the skies were blue and I had friends talking to me and absolutely nothing to cause the pounding, pounding, pounding in my chest and the dry mouth that made me feel like I would swallow my tongue if I wasn’t being careful. No amount of belly breathing or emergency meditations would help, not when the panic had triggered a wave of vertigo and standing up was hardly an option.
I sat on my bedroom floor and let my forehead rest on my mattress until the spinning slowly stopped, spinning I could still feel and see with closed eyes, until my heartbeat had gone back to a usual intensity. It isn’t the rapidness of my heartbeat that causes this issue for me. No, it’s the strength of the beat, so hard that I can feel it in my fingers and my toes and all of the blood rushes to my head. The speed doesn’t matter, it could be going ten miles a minute or be practically still in my chest, and still the strength of every beat will rock my body out of stability.
Stability is the hardest thing for me to grasp, while also being the one thing I need most desperately. Financially, mentally, work-wise. Stability is the core of everything that I crave, while also being the key vulnerability that my anxiety and depression feed on. I realized, two days after this panic attack, just how long it took for me to recover from episodes like that one, and how many days are lost to my mental illness. It was two days before I felt comfortable to put fingers to keyboard and write, two days before I could muster the energy to make and prep meals for the following days, two days before I could do what should have been considered daily chores. And as I went back and traced my line of productivity and preparation, I realized that the line didn’t start at my big panic attack. In fact, my panic attack might have been assuaged, or lessened, if I had had the ability to prepare earlier in the week for the possibility. If I had gotten around to meal prepping previously, if I had had more energy throughout the week to keep on top of my chores, if I had worked a little bit more on my story throughout the week. Except I hadn’t done any of that ahead of time because I had a cloud of depression hanging over me, sapping the energy out of my veins like a mosquito drinking blood. Mixed with random bouts of anxiety that never stayed at the same intensity, every hit knocked the wind out of me. Last year at this time, the wind was in my sails, new stories on the horizon, a new job and it felt like everything was coming up Rey. Then one domino was pushed, and the cycle began – it hasn’t ended, aside from a random week or two of calm. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s been one of the worst mental health years of my life, and without a doubt my least productive. I acknowledge that, and while I’m sad about it, I understand that there’s reasons why.
While stability is what I need and what I crave, understanding is what I have. Understanding is what gets me through the long nights of heavy depression, where I don’t have the power in my limbs to move but my brain tells me that I’m a disappointment for not working toward my goals. It’s understanding, not stability, that reminds me that the part of my brain that’s saying these things isn’t me, only partly so. It’s understanding that gives me the ability to look the disappointment in the eyes and tell myself that I’m doing the best I can with what I have, and that even though it may not be much right now, it will be so much more soon. Understanding reminds me that every day ends.
When our self worth is tied to our creativity, to our output or to being ever-present in a creative or social state, any moment we are hindered (by ourselves, by outside obstacles) can turn itself into a moment of absolute, utter disappointment. The most important thing that we can do is give ourselves a little room to breathe. I taught myself to afford the same understanding that I would give to a friend in my position to me. When my friends are in the midst of depressive episodes and panic attacks, I don’t tell them to suck it up and get the work done. I don’t force them to write or create through the flurry of anxiety. I do my best to take care of them and make sure they feel supported and loved through a difficult moment. I want to make the process easier on them. I want them to be able to feel confident in getting back on their feet again. Learning to do that for myself, and to take care of myself in whatever way I could without judging myself on days that I couldn’t, has made it so that I can bounce back faster than I did before. My recovery time is less because I’m doing more to take care of myself and giving myself room to understand the why’s, how’s, and what’s of it all. While I couldn’t stop the anxiety attack or the depression, I could make it easier for myself. I could bring myself to understand why it happened, and with that understanding craft myself a new way out.
Thank you so much for your lovely post, Rey!
Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!