I have had six cups of tea so far today. Lately this has not been unusual for me. My favourite places to get a cup of tea in Wellington are Enigma and Pandoro, because they give you lots of milk, so I can get three or four cups out of one pot. I like to be on my own when I have my tea. I like to drink it while I’m working on some study or reading a book (it’s my little ritual, keeps me calm and focussed).
This week I’ve been trying harder to take care of myself. The tea is part of it, I think. It’s always calmed me. But I’m also trying to drink less alcohol and eat better food and exercise until my muscles shake and my face is slick with sweat, because I think that if I am kinder to myself I will also become kinder to other people and the world will feel like an easier place.
It’s been a year almost exactly since I had my first full-blown panic attack, at 1am on the 6th of May, 2014. I was with the guy I was dating at the time, in his flat. It was a damp flat, the kind of place where the cold eats its way into you, until you feel it in your goddamn bones and you want to disappear into the moldy carpet. I was staying over for his birthday and I was very glad that it was technically not his birthday anymore when I began to panic.
It’s been raining lightly but steadily all day. I remember the weather on that day two years ago being exactly the same. I drank two glasses of wine before I went to his because I was feeling anxious, and when I walked up the hill my hair stuck to the sides of my face and I was buzzed, I felt like I was floating half a centimetre off the ground.
Walking back home the next morning, I felt like a different person. I felt like there was a bubble around me, like a barrier between me and everyone else that hadn’t been there before. I also felt like the bubble was a part of me, and if anyone accidentally popped it by getting too close to the problem, I would also break.
There’s no bubble anymore. I’ve come to trust my body and my mind again, and it’s been a long time since my anxiety has been that intense and all-consuming. Calm is something I know how to create for myself, and I have lots of ways I know how to find it. I used to cling to people like they were pieces of shipwreck; now I tread the water.
In moments like this, I look back at nineteen-year-old Beth and she seems so small. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I didn’t think, at nineteen, that by twenty-one I’d be much different. I am astounded by just how much I have grown.
I am being braver and saying the things I feel, even when they are hard (because pain teaches us things and strengthens our bones; sometimes sadness is beautiful). I am thinking in ways that are brand-new to me; I am opening myself up more to the world. I am getting itchy feet but the moment never feels right for leaving this country and going to see more of this strange planet. I have to remind myself that twenty-one is still young, and there is still plenty of time.