Brains are such a funny thing. They are so powerful, protective of us, and strange. All around us, there is reality happening. There is one, real, reality happening all the time that we get to pick and choose from. We get a small corner to enjoy, explore, and make our own. We get to take the reality we see and enjoy it from our own perspective. It’s so flexible and subjective. All around us, there are thousands of different versions of reality happening for each person. That’s why we see things so differently. It’s so cool to hear about other people’s realities because we’re on the same stream yet their path is so different. For most people, their reality is colorful, clear, and enjoyable. For others, there’s a strange disturbance that comes once in a while that doesn’t make sense. Our minds are enjoying ourselves, then some neurons start to fire too much, others don’t fire at all, and others get lost. Suddenly, our mind is trying to keep it together and forgets to keep reality the clear, colorful, enjoyable thing that it was.
Picture this with me. You’re having coffee with your best friend in your bedroom. The wallpaper is your favorite color, there are posters of things you enjoy like a beautiful celebrity, a band, or nature, and furniture full of your belongings. Your closet is cracked open because you didn’t want to turn around to close it fully when you had left that morning for wherever you needed to be. Your blankets are soft, comfortable, and wrap you up perfectly. Your best friend is sitting next to you wearing their favorite outfit, laughing with you, and sharing their reality that they designed. You’re having a great time in a safe space.
Then the corner of this reality starts to curl up. It’s so subtle you almost miss it. It curls a little bit more. Your brain does your best to paste it back down but the neurons have run wild and your brain has to kick into high gear to protect you. It hangs onto your beautiful reality for as long as it can until the corner curls too much and suddenly a monster is sweeping its version of reality for you. As the picture is painted, everything it touches starts to change. From the corner where it first curled up, it hits your desk and the wood becomes rotted, your closet door opened more and there’s a hand of a monster trying to break it down as it hangs by the hinge, the wallpaper peels as the sweep continues, and your room becomes black and white. Your best friend is suddenly a monster who wants to hurt you, spouting lies and insults at you. Your blankets become cold as ice and trap you instead of comfort you like it used to. The floor which you’ve laid down on, jumped on, walked on so comfortably became quicksand. The paintings and posters on your wall are suddenly lists of everything that is wrong with today, tomorrow, and you. All around you, the walls are crumbling and you watch as a tornado circles your reality and begins to lift it off the ground. It’s impossible to feel safe in that reality.
Only it’s not reality. Anxiety is the monster that pulled the curtain and destroyed your reality and pulled you into its delusion made specially for you. My delusion of anxiety looks like me panicking, needing someone to hug me but also stay away from me because you look like you’re gonna hurt me, speaking a thousand words in less than a minute about everything and nothing, I need you to be here but I need to be alone. The world is ugly around me and looks like it’s coming to get me and I was too late to stop it. My delusion of anxiety sounds like everyone around me trying to hurt me, adding to my pain. Music is suddenly an echo in my mind bouncing around too quickly. My heartbeat becomes the drum guiding my shallow breaths. My delusion smells like sweat as my body loses control of itself, trying to keep me alive and breathing. I get worked up and over heat my body that’s already in full speed. My delusion tastes like nothing. My mouth is as dry as a desert and my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth and my lips are crusting closed. My delusion feels like a giant stone dropped into my stomach. My throat closes and breathing becomes difficult so my lungs become filled with fear instead of air. My hands are as cold as ice because my heart is the only thing that needs blood right now. It feels like someone kicked me so hard in the stomach it popped in me and I can’t move. My limbs are filled with sand and I’m drowning in an invisible something. Liquid? Air? Fear? I’m scared of the monsters around me trying to steal my reality from me.
Eventually, your friend has their hand on your shoulder and pull you back into truth. They let you step into theirs until you find your own again. The room is colorful once more
, and the monsters are gone. You sweep the room again just to make sure. Everything is back to normal. You were stuck for what felt like hours when in the stream of reality happening all around us, only ten minutes had passed.
Anxiety is a terrifying monster lurking in my mind. I am filled with gratitude for the people who help me get out of the delusion and back into reality. What I feel, hear, see, smell, everything during that delusion isn’t real. I know that. Anxiety feels so real in the moment. I swear the wallpaper was peeling and something was in the closet. I swear I heard this or felt that. Yes, it was real in the moment. But the moment passed. The delusion disappears and you’re back to reality.
I am learning how to drop the delusion after I experience it. I give myself grace during the anxiety attacks. I close my eyes, breathe, and remember what my reality looked like. My brain starts to sort the neurons out and my heart begins to beat slower. When the stone in my stomach has disappeared, I open my eyes back up and look around. Everything is as it should be. When I give myself grace and let people hold me, the monsters get afraid and have to leave because there’s no room for destruction. When I let grace and love in, there’s no room for fear. This is so much easier said than done, believe me, but it’s something worth learning.
I look back on the last seven months of my life and I see that my whole life crumpled. I lost everything and then some. Yet in the midst of it all, right now, I am the most grateful I have ever been. I have a group of friends who protect and love me, counselors who guide me, classes to teach me, meetings to keep me sane, and a relationship with God and myself that is saving me from the monster inside me. It’s hard to be sad and a victim when gratitude is in your heart. Even as I’m crying over a broken heart, pain in my body, or something not working out, I can still list things I’m grateful of and feel the serenity in my heart that makes no sense. I am lucky to be able to feel all of these things. I have no alcohol to drown them out. For years, I drowned myself in alcohol so I didn’t have to feel pain. I wanted to avoid that emptiness and loneliness we all have inside of us. We’re so afraid to be hit by the sadness for a moment that we miss out on joy. We’re just content with what we have and there’s no enjoyment. I’m tired of living that way. I can tell you honestly, that since I have quit drinking and quit trying to fill that void with anything but love, God, and serenity, I have experienced the most profound joy. I wouldn’t take back a moment of pain I had to walk through because I wouldn’t have been able to feel the joy and gratitude I have. Pain shapes your reality into a certain way. It hits you like a truck and the best advice I have is to stand there and let it. It passes right through you and when it’s gone, you see joy right behind it, ready to embrace you and reshape your reality into something even more beautiful. We just have to let it. My reality today is much more colorful than it used to be. It’s happier, the music is better, and I’m okay. I’m learning to love myself, love you, and love reality.
So, the next time someone asks how I am, I can honestly say I’m good. Maybe great. I’m more than satisfied with my life because I allow myself to feel the pain that comes with it. When I ask you how you are, I hope I hear the same thing back because it feels so much better sharing this reality with you than walking it alone.