It Gets Better

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Dear Beth,

It’s June 2014. You’re twenty years old, you’ve been struggling pretty quietly with anxiety and panic attacks for some months now, and you’ve just been through one of the worst nights of your life. You’ve just handed in your short fiction portfolio, and to celebrate the hand-in, you went out with your classmates and got drunk on cheap champagne. You walked home on your own (it wasn’t even that late, maybe midnight by the time you got in). You were weirdly inebriated and very tired. But you didn’t sleep that night.

Instead, you spent eight hours lying in your bed having panic attack after panic attack. Sobering up throughout the night didn’t help: it only made things much worse as you realised clearly that you wouldn’t be getting any sleep. All you could do was lie there until eventually, the world started getting lighter outside your blinds. The panic came and went in waves until, at half past eight you called your then-boyfriend and cried down the phone until he said he’d come over and sit with you.

Hi, it’s me. Or, rather, you – or who you’re going to be in June 2015. There’s a few things I want you to know.

First of all, I wish I could tell you that you’ll forget that night in time. That just the memory of it won’t cause you to struggle to sleep for many nights to come. But I don’t want to lie to you. It was a really shitty experience, and it’s gonna follow you around for a while. Sorry about that. But you’ll learn from it. One day you’ll figure out that if you can get through that, you can get through assignments and deadlines and stressful work days and a whole bunch of other shit life is going to throw at you. So don’t worry. Something good does come of this.

I also wish I could tell you that this night is what drives you to seek help. It’s not. It should have been, but it isn’t. It takes almost two more months for you to admit to yourself that this can’t go on. And then when you do get put on medication for your anxiety, it’s gonna involve a week of absolute hell before the anti-depressants start working for you. It’s going to be fucking rough. But it’s also going to be fucking worth it, and I know you’re strong enough to make it through.

How do I know that? Because I did. I made it through everything. You’re gonna be just fine, kid.

I know how you feel. Believe me, I remember it all too well. I know the feelings of isolation, the crippling fear, the constant breathlessness, how afraid you are just of feeling afraid, and on top of that, the performance you try to maintain to those around you to convince them that things aren’t as bad as they really are – that actually, things are all good. You’re good.

But I’ve got some really great news for you, Beth: one day you really are going to be good. Like, really really good. So take your meds and don’t give up on them, no matter how awful they make you feel at first. Because you will come right, and I promise you it’s going to be so amazing.

But once they start to work for you, don’t give up on your recovery either. Don’t give up on yourself. Because it’s not all done from there. When you start to come right in August, don’t be fooled into thinking this is as good as it gets. Because it’s good, yes. But it can be so much better.

One very important thing you’re going to realise is that you are worth it. You deserve to be healthy. That’s gonna be a gamechanger. Because that’s when you figure out that your recovery is the most important thing, and that it’s worth working towards, and that it is absolutely, 100% an attainable goal.

I know it doesn’t feel like that at all for you know. I know the self-loathing, the feeling that maybe the reason this is happening to you is because this is what you deserve. But that’s fucking bullshit. The reason this is happening to you is because you have a mental disorder. You’re ill. Luckily for you, anxiety is an illness that can be treated. With a good medication regime, regular exercise and proper self-care, you’re going to get there. And you’re going to go on to do so many things you can never imagine you’d ever be able to do. You’ll attend an awards ceremony and speak about your writing and anxiety in front of heaps of strangers. You’ll work all summer. You’ll travel to Gisborne and back on your own. You’ll drive over the Rimutakas. You’ll start a blog where you speak openly about your experiences with anxiety. You’ll organize your 21st pizza party. And you’ll travel to Melbourne on a week’s notice.

So work hard on your recovery, but be kind to yourself too. And I can promise you this: everything is going to get so much better.

Love from the person you’re going to be in just one short year.

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