Things Will Change... They Have To.
I remember crying on the phone to my mom after I finished my first week of college classes. I couldn’t even find a good private space to bawl my eyes out, so I was hiding on a bench behind a building just hoping that no one would see me.
I remember the feeling that I would get when I walked into the giant lecture hall of 300+ students, sheer terror.
I had panic attack after panic attack that seemed to be debilitating. Nausea was basically the only sensation my body was experiencing anymore.
“I can’t be stuck in those giant hot rooms with all those people. I don’t know how I am going to get through this. I constantly feel like I am dying.” I sobbed to my mom, who lovingly tried to comfort me in the best way that she could from many miles away.
Once I had gotten out my frustration and fear, I let out a long sigh, and said that I would try to do one more week. Then, if everything was still as bad as it was, I could come home.
My mom agreed in the way that she always does with me, and the rest of the semester flew by.
When things feel totally awful, I like to give myself the five minute rule, something that has worked for me for years.
Basically, the idea is that even though something might feel sucky, just stick with it for five minutes, or one hour, or one more day, whichever time increment makes the most sense.
Once that time is up, then you give yourself permission to leave or stop or change what you are doing.
It works like this,
Say there’s a big birthday party for an old friend that I was invited to, but I don’t really know anyone going, and I am scared it will be weird. I tell myself that I just need to go for five minutes, then I can leave, saying I don’t feel well or something came up.
10 times out of 10, I end up being absolutely FINE, and 9 times out of 10 I actually enjoy myself and I am glad that I went.
I was TERRIFIED to come to college. I was super excited, but also could not quell the tightness in my chest that constantly reminded me that everything was changing. The night before I moved in, I sat on my floor staring at my empty suitcase, not ready to pack up and go.
It felt like too much of a commitment. There were so many what if’s. What if everyone hates me? What if I fail my classes? What if my roommate is secretly a psycho and tries to kill me? (update: she is not psycho, she’s awesome). So instead of addressing the title wave of anxious thoughts, my parents asked me if I could just pack my things that night, and I didn’t even have to go tomorrow if I didn’t want to.
I agreed to just pack my things.
The following morning, I was hoping that I felt better, but really I just still felt like I was trapped in a surreal fog that felt heavy and thick. I wanted to go but I was scared.
I agreed to just get in the car and drive there. My mom told me I didn't need to stay the night, just drive there and see.
I got in the car.
This went on, with each little milestone marking a bit of progress, one step closer to where I ultimately wanted to be. I made it through each day one tiny step at a time reminding myself that I only need to stay for five minutes, and soon enough weeks had gone by.
The crippling panic of the first few weeks subsided and I found myself comfortable enough in the lecture halls to raise my hand and answer questions. Five minutes turned into five hours, five weeks, five months.
I am glad that I packed my things that night.
Lately the panic monster has been sitting on my shoulders again, plaguing my thoughts, making my stomach hurt, and just giving me general tension. After a massive panic attack last week, I found myself on the phone with my dad, in a conversation very similar to the one I had had in the first week of school.
“I can’t do this. I can’t make it go away. I am so stressed out. I am so nauseous. I want to come home.” I gasped. With all the empathy in the world, my dad listened to me, consoled me, and reminded me that this was temporary.
One of the best pieces of insight that I have gained is that nothing is ever permanent. Just like times of pure joy fade away, so will times of stress, panic, or sadness. Bad days do not mean bad lives. It is literally impossible to get stuck in a single emotion forever. Because of that, the painful moments are slightly easier to bear.
I remember talking to one of my dietitians last year about coping skills and learning how to deal with difficult emotions and I likened it to checking the weather in the morning. While it is impossible to stop the rain, sleet, snow, or hail, you can put your boots on, and grab your umbrella, and leave a little extra time to get to work when you know that things are going to be rough. Instead of getting caught in a storm in your nice shoes, you can take some measures to prevent a wet, sad, disaster.
For me, my mental rain gear is leaning on loved ones for support, going to more therapy sessions, sleeping a little more, taking slow walks, taking time to read, write, and reflect. I can’t stop the storms. But I can get a really damn good umbrella that doesn’t turn inside out when it gets windy.
I think the spring is a nice fresh reminder that everything is in motion, and that times of happiness and excitement come and go just like times of loneliness and apprehension. Something I am practicing right now is my ability to try for 5 more minutes, endure any pain or hurt, and know that things will change. They have to.