It’s not going to stop ’til you wise up.

Long-time readers may know that I’ve struggled with health problems in the last couple of years, mostly related to a self-destructive uterus. It’s mostly controlled now, and I’m no longer debilitated by pain or anemia.

But three separate times in the last two years, before my condition was effectively treated, I’ve had to take opiates for the pain.

I was recently looking at some photographs taken of me from one of those times, and I was struck by how different I looked. I looked…this may come as s surprise, but I think I looked beautiful. Relaxed. Happy. I was smiling the way a  young child smiles, unselfconsciously.

And I knew, instantly, that it was the drugs.

Because the codeine didn’t just kill the pain and make me sleepy, constipated, and a little loopy. It took away the stress that is normally thrumming through my body like a high-tension wire. It didn’t so much dull things as wrap me in the emotional equivalent of a down comforter. I felt good on codeine, not just because it offered a release from the kill-me-now-no-really levels of pain, but because it was like being an entirely new person.

In some ways, that person was better. She smiled and laughed more, and more deeply. She gave fewer fucks. She worried less. She didn’t constantly find her hands balled in subconscious little fists, or her jaw clenched. She slept like a goddamn dream.

How did it get this bad? My mother has required intense anxiety medication since before I was born. Who knows whether I inherited this, was taught to feel this way, or chose it; it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the sudden horror I felt when I realized that I was looking at a photograph of myself on opiates and wishing I could be that way again. I wonder if I’d even notice how I feel half the time without the contrast?

Whether anxiety is something we do to ourselves or happens to us, the most frightening thing for me is how I came to acclimate. I never realized just how much tension was in my body– for years— until it went away for a couple of blissful weeks.

This is not a story about addiction. I don’t take medication that’s not prescribed, and I’ve never considered whether I could possibly get a prescription that I didn’t need. I’ve disposed of plenty of pain pills when I no longer needed them. I’m not worried that I’ll abuse opiates to deal with my anxiety.

So why mention it at all? Because the contrast makes me realize just how poorly I treat myself. How much stress I normalize. How little I prioritize self care. How my needs are the first thing I cut when  time or the budget is tight: the fun, the dates, the spa, the gym, the fitness class, the massage, the reading and yoga and eating well and the new bra or pants that fit.

And, I beat myself up. I’m on my own case, all the time. I never give myself the benefit of the doubt, I rarely celebrate my successes as much as I dwell on my failures, and I am constantly comparing myself to others and finding myself lacking.

Taking a pill is far easier than being kind to myself.

I recently saw the movie Magnolia for the first time. You know the whiz kid who plays the trivia game show? He broke my fucking heart. When he approached his dad at the end, in his pajamas, and said, “You have to be nicer to me,” I punched the air.

Because there’s a brave, beautiful little girl inside of me, and she’s saying, “You have to be nicer to me.” She’s four years old, and she’s wearing a blue snowsuit, playing in the igloo her daddy made, which is the last place she felt safe. She’d like to come out, because she knows it’s so incredibly beautiful outside. She just needs to know that it’s going to be okay.

15 thoughts on “It’s not going to stop ’til you wise up.

  1. Wow, yes, self-care is really something that needs to be discussed a lot more in general, but particularly in academia. Thanks for writing this piece.

  2. Oh, Acclimatrix, me too, me too. I feel like therapy is making but the smallest chips in the problem for me. I’m glad that the prescription provided insight. I’m still not sure I know what it means to live without that kind of deep, pervasive anxiety.

    • I’m finding therapy helps, too, but it’s a long slog. I’m trying some morning journaling, mindfulness meditation, exercise, less caffeine…all the lifestyle changes I can think of to be kinder to myself but also more aware of what I’m feeling.

  3. This is what a successful psychopharmaceutical intervention can do for a person who desperately, biochemically needs it. It’s that sigh of relief that says “Aaah. Is this what it feels like to be at ease?” A lovely blog post. Thanks.

    • I’ve never tried an Rx for my anxiety. I know they work for a lot of people, and I totally support that, but I’m working through my own stigmas about them (as applied to me) because of my experience with my mom. She was kind of like a zombie through our childhood, because she was on really strong anti-anxiety meds.

  4. I know it’s not exactly the point of your post, but what I find especially interesting here is how the pain meds had this strong anti-anxiety effect. What an interesting connection. There was a study a few years ago about the anti-anxiety effects of Tylenol, for example.

  5. Thank you for writing this. There I was stumbling around the internet hoping for evidence that I wasn’t totally alone (I’m an outwardly highly successful, inwardly highly falling apart postdoc with a story not so different from yours…) and I found it right here. Wish we could talk 🙂

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