How Weed Played a Role in My Battle With Anxiety
If you’ve ever had anxiety
You know it’s no joke. Let me tell you the story of how I kicked my anxiety in the ass.
Let me begin this article with little disclaimer: I am completely aware that the use of cannabis isn’t for everyone, and I am also aware that there are some compounds within cannabis (THC) that studies have shown to cause anxiety. This article is not to promote the use of weed nor is it to claim that it is the end-all cure for anxiety or panic attacks. This is simply my own story and what works for me.
It’s heart-wrenching to recount my first real panic attack. My heart was racing, my forehead beading with sweat, my hands were clammy, and I was having difficulty breathing. There was a tightness in my chest that felt as though it was going to collapse inward. Pins and needles seared through my extremities and the array of physical symptoms only exacerbated the pounding of my heart. This was the closest I’d ever come to truly believing my heart was going to explode. Or just stop beating altogether. I could hear my own heart thumping in my head and the more I wanted it to stop, the more it raced and the louder it became.
It was a vicious cycle, and I was spiraling downward into a hell of my own making.
The worst part, though, even worse than the physical, was what was going on in my mind. It was a feeling I can only describe as a glimpse of purgatory on earth — the utter depletion of serotonin from my brain. Mentally, I was stuck, and I was convinced that that day was the day I would die. That’s what happens when you have panic attacks.
Everything feels like a literal nightmare that you can’t wake up from. You feel trapped, removed from society and from life, and the absurdity of it all is something you can’t recover from. At least for a time.
It was a Saturday in 2015 when this all happened. A hungover Saturday that began like any other — where the TV is on but no one is really watching and rather, everyone is eating, napping, or looking at meme accounts and watching animal videos on their phones. We sprawled out on the couches, ordered delivery food, and devoured it all while managing to hardly move a muscle in the process (you know how that goes). A movie was playing, and after stirring from another nap, I began to feel really uneasy. The scene that was playing in the movie at the time was one of war, and the loud shouting, gunshot sounds, and graphic visuals were just the thing to trigger my unease. Mind you, most days I am a person who loves action (and even horror) movies. But apparently, this was not one of those days. So it was at that moment on that fateful Saturday that I was thrust into my battle with anxiety and panic attacks.
When my boyfriend at the time realized something was wrong with me, he took me into the bathroom and asked me what was wrong. He held me, rubbed my back, and tried to give me a pep talk. When that didn’t work, he took me for a long walk around the neighborhood. He thought that surely the fresh air would do the trick. It didn’t. We walked for over an hour. Maybe a bit of nostalgia from some McDonald’s fries would cheer me up? I could hardly even stomach any. When the anxiety refused to subside, we decided to head back to his place. Maybe the comfort of his room would be the answer? It wasn’t. We went outside again and went for another walk around the park by his place. It had been hours now. Sitting at the park and people-watching seemed like it could be just the thing I needed — but it was the opposite. Watching the world go by and seeing other people merrily go on about their days, completely unaware of how much I was suffering inside only made me feel more isolated in the depths of my misery. The anxiety persisted, and then night fell. It worsened in the darkness.
What have I done to myself, I thought, have I completely fucked up the chemical balances in my brain? Have I tripped a wire in my brain and caused it to malfunction? Thoughts of this type raced around my mind and a deep, dark depression settled in. I had let myself down by going too crazy the night before. I blamed and shamed myself in pure agony. I did this to myself, and now I’ve let my entire family down. I had such a bright future ahead of me. They’re going to be so disappointed in me, I thought to myself.
Eventually, all the stress to my body and mind depleted me entirely, and I fell asleep. The next morning, I felt better. Thank God. It felt promising, and I carried on about my day convinced that the anxiety had completely passed, and I was back to normal. And for a while, I was. It wasn’t until later that afternoon when I jumped in the car with my sister and her boyfriend and we headed to our dad’s place, when the anxiety started to settle in again. That same nightmarish feeling. The one I couldn’t wake up from. I was back there. In that darkness. In that purgatory. In that horrifying absurdity.
This time, I thought for sure that the chemical imbalance in my brain was permanent, and I was going to be stuck like that for the rest of my life.
I’ve officially gone crazy, I thought, the normal life I once knew is no longer, and I’m locked in a prison inside my own mind. And then in the backseat of the car, I cried to myself, terrified at the thought of the rest of my days to come. This was seemingly the end of my sanity as I knew it.
Needless to say, I survived the horror, but it left a permanent scar. Sure, those thoughts might not have been rational thoughts, being that our brains recover from things far worse than 2-day hangovers all the time (it sounds really funny when I say it like that). But that was my reality at the time. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic. This was literally what was happening in my brain and to my brain. Panic attacks are a real thing. So is anxiety. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
I never had an attack quite that severe ever again, but I did have a lot of smaller ones (some also severe, but just not quite to that extent). After that incident I grew wary of everything I did. There was a point where I had anxiety every day, and at that time, I was drinking coffee daily and running on minimal sleep. Once I learned that lack of sleep and caffeine were triggers, I quit coffee cold turkey and began forcing myself to get more sleep, even though all my life I had always been completely functional on less. While this certainly helped, I still often had a hard time unwinding and getting myself to sleep.
This is when I turned to Mary Jane and she came to save the day.
I began using marijuana medicinally, solely at night, to help myself relax, unwind, and get to sleep after a long day. For me, it works like a dream. Not only does it get me to sleep, but it keeps me asleep. That’s another one of my issues — more acute than my difficulty falling asleep is my difficulty staying asleep. But cannabis really does the trick for me. I don’t use it at all during the day, nor do I use it every night. I don’t even use it every other night. I just use it when I’d like to spend some time unwinding or when I’ve been working until really late and I know my mind is too stimulated to get right to sleep.
Thankfully, so many companies have cannabis down to a science now, and the chemical compositions are exacted and explicitly displayed on the packaging. I always choose strains or pens that are much higher in CBD ratio (the compound in weed that possesses medicinal properties and doesn’t actually get you high) than THC ratio (the compound that also medicinal benefits but can get you high, which can lead to some side effects for certain people) — so it’s much more about the relaxation and overall wellness than the high. Mom, I hope you’re reading this so you understand.
Today, thanks to a number of things (cannabis 100% included), I can proudly say I haven’t had that crippling anxiety in over a year (maybe even almost 2 years), and when I do feel it coming on, I’m in a much better place mentally to ward it off so it doesn’t consume me. It no longer controls me.
I can also proudly say that I never had to be reliant on manmade drugs to overcome it. Those drugs can be really helpful during onset panic attacks, but if I can do without them, I will. They’re a very last resort for me.
One of the biggest things I’m thankful for is just that I’ve been able to come out on the other side. I’ve been able to learn and show myself that I never had to be stuck in that dark place, and getting myself out of it was just a matter of making better life choices. The most significant lifestyle changes that I can credit for helping me rid of my anxiety:
More sleep (thank you cannabis, I love you).
Actually taking the time to unwind at night and taking breaks from my computer screen (studies have shown that excessive screen time and sitting for too long can be linked to anxiety).
Far less or zero indulgence / recreational use of any other intoxicating substances (including alcohol).
No more coffee (I still drink teas but they’re not nearly as caffeinated, and I often opt for herbal teas).
For anyone who might be struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, I am here to tell you that this is not how it ends. There is beaming light at the end of the tunnel if you just choose to open your eyes and see. You are not alone. Your friend with anxiety is not alone. We are all here to help one another get through it, and I can promise you, there is an end to the nightmare. You aren’t stuck in that dark place. There is another side. Better days will come, and they can come as soon as today. Get to know yourself, get to know your triggers, and get to know what remedies work for you. Find your support system and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not a burden. Just ask. And then ask yourself what choices you can make to take your steps towards healing. Embark on that journey towards health and healing, and make no excuses.