AN ANGEL ON EARTH:
In October, I lost my grandma. She had parkinson's and dementia and had slowly been deteriorating for the last five to seven years. When she passed, I was mostly relieved because she had been struggling for so long. Being trapped in your body with no control of your limbs and most of your mind gone is no way to live. She had a lot of anxiety that was likely from confusion, she would look you so hard in the eyes and all you could see was fear, but she couldn't express what was wrong. Once we started to go through photos for the memorial, I got to see the woman that I had forgotten. The grandma who I loved so dearly was not the same person I had been visiting for the last few years. My memories of her had been covered up by the illness and it took some for me to process and uncover the old memories in place of the really sad sick ones.
Then, exactly a week after my grandma passed, I started to get these really intense pains. I was at a friends house enjoying cocktails and snacks when I thought I was getting a stomachache. I couldn't keep still, I couldn't go to the bathroom, I couldn't make myself throw up and finally I just asked a friend to take me home. The pain kept getting worse and eventually I realized that this was not a stomachache and something was wrong with me.
I ended up in the ER and had the most traumatic experience of my life. The only way I could describe the pain was that it seemed like what labor pains would feel like, but I wasn't pregnant. They wouldn't give me any pain meds until they got an IV in and it took three nurses and seven attempts to get the needle into my arm. I was sobbing, begging them to stop and let me go home because the constant poking was giving me major anxiety and my entire back was killing me. They eventually got the needle in, gave me pain meds and I was able to relax a bit. I still ended up sitting in a cold, dark room for six hours while they slowly did a few tests. They eventually came to the determination that I had a gallbladder attack due to gallstones. I lost a lot of weight in the last year due to a weight loss surgery and apparently a side effect of rapid weight loss is gallstones, so no one (on my medical team) was surprised.
I still believe that my weight loss surgery was the best decision I made for myself, but as a healthy young person, I wasn't expecting a major medical side effect to happen to me and the reality of the situation definitely got to me. I'm getting my gallbladder out at the beginning of 2020 and I'm pretty stressed out about it. I don't want to get another IV in. I've expressed to my surgeon that I need to get anti-anxiety medicine and the best nurse in the building before we attempt to poke me, but I can't help but still be scared. I also have to really change a diet that already had to get changed because of my surgery. It will stabilize in the future, but I could be dealing with stomach/digestion issues for a few months.
Then, a little under a month later, my ex and I broke up. I actually wrote to you a few weeks before all of the drama above, because I was trying to figure out if he was being a fuckboy or an inexperienced cutie. I still think that he is inexperienced, I don't think he was doing anything intentionally and I don't think he wanted to hurt me, but he did hurt me a lot. He was constantly flaking on plans, pushing plans back a few hours and communicating his ETA poorly. He would get anxiety at times and go dark for a day, then come back the next morning full of apologies and an explanation. I thought that the best approach was to make things easier on him, but that ended up with me doing all of the work and him feeling bad about it. I have a career, I work at a company that pays me well and I could see myself working there for the rest of my life. He works retail and has no idea what he wants to do with his life. This didn't bother me, we're young. But he told me that he felt so far behind me in his life and didn't know if he could ever catch up with me.
We had to break up, I was started to have so much anxiety about him bailing on me and not spending time with me. But it sucks, it sucks that this had to happen when I'm already dealing with so much. I genuinely believe in a different time in our lives, we could have been something very real and very serious. I see so much potential in him, whether that be in a career, or just as a good person and a good man. I think he's super hard on himself and he needs to find a way to be better for himself. I told him that I wasn't going to reach out to him, I wanted him to have time to think about things and work his stuff out. If he wants to talk to me he's going to have to reach out. Establishing no contact right off the jump was the best thing for me, I'm a person of my word and saying that I would not contact him made it so much easier for me to stick to that. We've been broken up for about three weeks and I haven't heard anything yet, I wasn't expecting to. He said he would reach out to check in with me after my surgery, so we'll see if that happens. I feel so lonely and empty without that love and affection in my life, he was giving me something that I needed so badly and it's really tough that it's missing.
There is also a little work drama but it's not anything worth typing out. There is a lot of petty behavior which many different parties whom I trust to be objective have told me is not my fault, but it adds so much stress onto me that things are starting to seem unbearable. I'm doing everything I can to stay in a positive head space but there is a point where a person starts to feel like they are drowning with no chance of catching their breath.
I go to Barre 3 three to four days a week, I read as much as I can, hang out with my friends and family almost every free evening and I have a therapist I see regularly! I haven't entered the normal depression bubble that I would have last year but man, when does it end?
Your question has (obviously) nothing to do with the Northern Lights and there is no bad Northern Lights metaphor coming up. I just like the Northern Lights and was thinking about them.
Hello you brilliant gem of a human!!! You have been dealt— 🌷THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN🌷— a very shit hand (or two or twelve) this past year. I know you’ve heard plenty of times how none of this is your fault—that you did not cause any of these things to happen—but I just wanted to reiterate that you did everything “right” and got fucked. Of fucking course you’re exhausted by all of this!!!!!
Sometimes you do your very very very best and still shit that is out-of-your-control is comes in like a wrecking ball. You probably feel like you can’t let up for a moment, otherwise you’ll be even less on track with dealing with the shitstorm that is Life. (That belief may or may not be true, but the feeling of not being able to let your guard down is real as hell). Your vigilance must be EXHAUSTING.
When I read your letter, I was struck by the fact that while a lot happened to you in this last year, you seemed to describe some experiences almost clinically, as if your past few months were a grocery list you’d memorized. As if it didn’t carry much emotional weight. I wonder if you’ve gotten so fucking overloaded that you aren’t able to deal with anything.
Take some of this stuff and untangle it. Not everything can be untangled. The grief of missing your grandmother might be mixed with the grief of missing your ex. The feeling of being lonely or fearing death might connect across events. But it is perfectly acceptable to take your feelings one hour (or less) at a time. To stop yourself when you feel overwhelmed and say, “Today I’m sad about grandma. I’m not going to address Ex. I can pick that up again later. Today my grief is about grandma.” And then sit with that grief, examine that grief, cry, rage, yell, draw, dance, sing, take a shower, take a nap, masturbate, make a macaroni necklace about that grief. I don’t care! Just try to actually let yourself feel it. All of these events happened in such short succession that you never got any space to process them. MAKE SPACE. On the ride into work check in with yourself. Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself or ask yourself questions. “Self, are you anxious about the surgery or are you actually anxious about the job environment right now?” You might not know! That’s fair!!!! Try to be really really REALLY REALLY patient with yourself as you untangle all of these threads. The feelings might be the same across issues— fear and grief, it seems— but right now all you’ve got is this nebulous “I’M DOING POORLY FOR A BUNCH OF REASONS” chyron scrolling across the bottom of your life and you have no room to actually deal with any one thing. Don’t be afraid to make a detailed list in your notes app about all the shit that you’re worried about simply so you don’t have to hold it in your brain.
This is a necessary part of #1, but also separate. Let yourself put shit down. Give yourself permission—even if it doesn’t work right away!—to not worry about something until later. Telling yourself simply not to worry about something is not very effective, I’ve found (Like you, I have anxiety). However, if I tell myself I’m allowed to worry later, it’s usually a little easier to let go. You can say to yourself, “Self, I’m very grateful that you’re anxious about this surgery because I know you’re trying to show me that you care about your health. I love that for you, Self, but until Wednesday at 5pm, we are not going to worry about it. I have shit to do. On Wednesday at 5pm, we can pick this back up. Until then, it is simply not my problem. Thank you, Self. I’m off to take a bath now.”
Life often doesn’t let up. I’m not going to feed you bullshit about how, “Life doesn’t get easier, you get stronger.” A lot of weeks and months you just fucking slog through life and survive it because you have no other choice. You get up and go to barre class because what the fuck else are you going to do? There is no guarantee of payoff. There is no discernible light at the end of the tunnel. Hell, there’s not even a discernible reason you’re in a damn tunnel. I don’t want to lie to you or sugarcoat shit and say that everything you do now will pay off in dividends in exactly six months, three weeks time.
Here’s what I believe (and I’m probably wrong). I believe that doing The Right Thing in your life—breaking up with people who aren’t right for you, getting scary surgeries, working on your grief, going to therapy, maintaining friendships, working hard for a job you like—has value in and of itself as those actions define your character. There is a high likelihood that not all of your hard work pays off. That random Total Bullshit moments start comin’ and they don’t stop coming’. But I believe there is still value in getting to look back on your life saying, “I honestly did my best. I was good to myself. I was dealt a shit hand a few times but I showed up.”
That pessimistic shit said, I think life will let up for you some time soon. I have a metric assload of hope that pieces of your life will get easier. Some other shit may get harder— shit you and your anxiety cannot predict. But I think if you keep going there will be small cracks that let the light in, and then bigger cracks and then more and more and more light in your life. I really do.
In the meantime, try to find the smallest joys you can and just like them. You don’t have to become A Happy and Fulfilled and Not Exhausted Person. Just fine one or two SMALL things each day that you enjoyed. I’m talking, “The first sip of coffee was so nice,” or “I saw a hummingbird. Damn that bitch was fast.” That’s it. It doesn’t need to—and shouldn’t— make you happy for hours or even minutes on end, these are just little reminders that while you’re in a shitstorm, there are minor minor minor moments of respite.
Give yourself breaks. Give yourself treats. Give yourself encouragement. Treat making it through the day like an accomplishment (because it is!!!!). Don’t be afraid to be a massive corny clown. Sometimes I literally tuck myself into bed and say (OUT LOUD), “Well done, Soph. You made it through the day. Nice job. See you tomorrow.” It’s ok to combat this shit with being ridiculous.
Please remember: You’ve got this. I’m sorry you’ve had to be this strong for this long. It’s utter bullshit. Don’t be afraid to put something heavy down whenever you can. (EASIER SAID THAN DONE; I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW!!!!!). If you need to pick it back up, it will be there.
You’ve got this. You’ve had this. Keep reaching out to friends. Keep talking to your therapist. Keep complaining to loved ones about how much it sucks. It does indeed suck. And you’re going through it. ❤️
❤️❤️❤️NOTE: because so many sweetie pies have been asking questions, it can take up to a month or two to answer them. I’M SORRY. I try to answer “urgent” / timely letters ASAP and more general questions later. IF I HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO YOURS, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESEND!!❤️❤️❤️
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.