this is going to be a long one, i am sorry for that
please congratulate me for using up all my emotional energy to type this out though
Hello — yes I know it has been a very long time since my last newsletter but as established by the last one I wrote, the fact that I was finally able to get one out into the public ether is an accomplishment in and of itself! Okay? Please don’t @ me. I’m doing my best here. Bit of a warning that this journal is more emotionally charged than my previous ones, and also contains descriptions of panic attacks and anxiety. If that’s not something you want to read about, I recommend just skipping to my quarantunes section. On with it, then!
A month and a half ago, I almost had a panic attack while on my lunch break. Having a panic attack while eating, especially while on a break, is one of the worst times to notice a rapid heartbeat, a bead of sweat that begin to form on your forehead, a tingling sensation in the back of your throat. Lunch breaks are designed to sprinkle a morsel of ease into a hectic work day, what with capitalists overlords ruling that we must strictly separate work from…non-work.
In the non-work period, we’re allowed to freely take our minds elsewhere, perhaps read a book or browse social media, where we might find out that mass layoffs are happening at major news outlets and journalists are bemoaning the current state of the media industry
and oh look, there’s an article in The New Yorker about middle-class workers who have been laid off and are struggling to receive unemployment benefits,
and going back to the layoffs, most of those losing their jobs are primarily women and women of color, and it feels like everything is so fucked
never mind all of the news articles being published every day and I still haven’t watched Avatar the Last Airbender which is on Netflix now so I truly have no excuse
Cue: Almost Panic Attack!
On top of the discontentment I feel about wanting to work in such an unforgiving media landscape, my mind is also wracked with guilt over my initial discontentment in the first place! I have an income, and while it is a small one I am currently in no danger of losing it at the moment, nor am I having trouble paying necessities like rent, groceries, and bills. Even if I did suddenly lose my job, I have family who provide some support and could even possibly welcome me back home if it’s a safe option. In this tumultuous moment, so many creatives have lost a vital source of their income and some may struggle for a long time to regain it — so it doesn’t feel right for me to be living in fear when I’m relatively comfortable for now.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for this logic to beat out the raging whirlwind of anxiety that exists in my brain.
I should note that I wrote these last couple of paragraphs right before our nation’s collective panic catapulted into a collective anger, an uprising that is still being led by Black activists to demand that White America reckon that it was built in an image of white supremacy, on the backs of the enslaved.
At first thought, it seems trite of me to bring up something that happened what seems like ages ago, in a time where as a white ally, I should be devoting energy towards Black liberation. But that implies there will be another time for me to write this, perhaps one that feels calmer, not fueled by constant unrest and justified rage. The truth is that life cannot be calm or viewed as “normal” until everyone is free, and that cannot happen if we stop fighting for justice.
And if there’s anything that my experience with panic and anxiety has taught me, it’s that anxiety attacks harder the more we try to run away form it.
The first time I remember having a panic attack was, ironically, during a lecture about panic attack symptoms in my AP Psychology class.
Okay, actually that isn’t true. I can remember one other specific time before that defining moment of my senior year of high school, which was when I vomited and blacked out during a showing of Super Size Me in 8th grade social studies. But who hasn’t? Honestly, what gave my secondary education the right to screen that disgusting movie over and over again, as if we children don’t understand that eating deep-fried potato fingers and unethically-sourced frozen meat patties every day of our lives might destroy our liver? It’s not like watching Morgan Spurlock vomit five different times during my teenage years has stopped me from going to McDonalds!
Anyways. Back to the second time I remember having a panic attack:
I’m still unsure as to what exactly triggered me in my AP Psych class. None of the information we were learning that day was new to me — I had even read the assigned chapter on anxiety disorders and their accompanying systems the year before. Yet as my teacher pointed out the ways that panic spreads over your body, from tingling limbs, to feeling shortness of breath and hyperventilation, I began to notice that my breathing was getting choppy. I tapped the corner of my desk, slowly at first, then rapidly, as I realized that
a) my breathing was getting worse,
b) I couldn’t disrupt the lecture and let anyone know that I was panicking,
c) and I’m probably going to die right here on top of my desk!
Throughout the rest of the lecture, I attempted to keep my cool while also definitely not keeping my cool, as I twitched my head, ferociously tapped my fingers, and occasionally took humongous gulps of air. Unsurprisingly, my teacher noticed all of this, given that she was teaching AP Psych. Near the end of class, as we broke up into a group activity, she discreetly handed me a post-it note.
Are you okay? Please see me after class.
(I’m paraphrasing what my teacher said in her note, because I don’t have it in my possession, and am almost positive I threw it away. I carried so much shame after that day and most likely viewed that note as a sign of weakness on my part. I wish I still had it.)
I lingered around the classroom after the bell rang, slowly moving towards my teacher’s desk with my head down. I can’t recall our conversation word for word. I remember feeling dejected and ashamed of myself for getting panicked over mere words. There was crying involved.
She asked me this had ever happened before, I was quick to point it hadn’t, completely missing the time when I threw up watching Supersize Me, or the time after that when I had to watch Supersize Me again Sophomore year and focus on doodling in my notebook due to the fear of throwing up again, or the times when my heart felt like bursting right before going to my high school football games with the marching band, or the nights where I would make myself wake up right before falling asleep because I was scared of dying, or every time I wore my so called “depression-outfit” (which consisted of a sweatshirt and jeans, because I hated wearing jeans) and felt like a black cloud was surrounding me for days — I didn’t mention any of that.
My teacher signed me up for an appointment with our high school counselor. I begrudgingly went to it and opened up about my trouble with sleeping. I must have thought that was the only thing that really needed to be addressed. The counselor gave me an exercise to do that could help me let go of thoughts at bedtime. I might have used it once in the months after our talk. She said she was always available if I wanted to book more appointments.
I didn’t go to another therapy appointment for a year and a half.
a brief n(s)on(g) sequitur
In recent years, studies have shown that music can be used as a coping mechanism for those who are sad or clinically depressed; one study in 2019 claimed that people with depression felt happier after listening to sad music.
I’m sure we all have that one song that is always on hand whenever a depressive episode hits, a song that will let our tears fall down unashamedly, because it understands that sadness is only a moment in time, a moment that eventually ends — whether it be abruptly or through a gradual fade out.
Over the years my go-to depression song has changed often, what with my expanding music taste in conjunction with a constant rollout of new music to be devoured every month. Recently though, I’ve turned to an old favorite of mine to help guide me through the chaos of quarantine:
You might wonder what the hell this song is that knocks you on your feet from the first few seconds and refuses to let you stand back up, let alone even sit up.
“Rolling Girl” is sung by the pop idol Hatsune Miku, who is actually part of a Japanese voice synthesizer software called Vocaloid and happens to have a public persona. This means that much of Hatsune Miku’s “discography” is comprised of fan creations: producers will create songs with her voice, illustrators will create music videos to go along with the song, and popular cover artists will create viral dances or song covers.
“Rolling Girl” is a frenetically paced as it describes a depressive, racing mind, and a girl who can’t stop engaging with it. Originally composed by legendary Vocaloid producer wowaka — who passed away a year ago — this music video is a derivative of the song, bringing together a host of covers from the popular Japanese video-sharing service, Niconico, to create what’s known as a Nico Nico Chorus. As a result, the music is heart-racing and chaotic. A piano break becomes a rhythmic, hypnotizing rap, a Japanese lyric switches to an English translation in the middle of the melody. When I discovered the video in 2011, I found it breathtaking.
There’s no glimmer of hope in the lyrics of “Rolling Girl” — the song ends with the words, “stop breathing, now.” Yet I would play the YouTube video constantly as a kid, finding comfort in the collage of voices sprinting side by side each other, a small seed of my mind noticing that my sad and anxious thoughts were not as lonely as I might’ve liked to think.
back to it
When I was 17, I was in a place where it was easier for me to assume that I was a broken human rather than admit I needed help and support from friends, family, and therapists. After being in therapy for years and taking anti-anxiety medication, I’ve been able to step back and examine moments like the one I described in my AP Psych class. I can definitively call it a panic attack now, and I believe that simple labeling of a moment in time is a sign of my personal growth.
Unfortunately, the pandemic and quarantine has brought my anxiety to higher levels, and it’s been tough dealing with the effects. Shortly after the “almost panic attack” that I described at the top of my journal, I experienced a violent instance of fear and hysteria, triggered by the stillness of the weekend and a lack of activity to keep my mind occupied. It was terrifying to suddenly find myself crouched down on my bedroom floor, dry heaving and hyperventilating as I was simultaneously experiencing emotions of anger, despair, and shame. Even worse, I felt embarrassment after it happened, and am even sensing that emotion now, as I type these words and share them with the few people who will come across this newsletter.
But while there is discomfort involved in sharing my difficulties with mental illness publicly, there is also a stronger desire to continue healing myself, and these words help with that. After I had my panic attack and realized the myriad of ways that quarantining was affecting my mental health, I began to take stock of healthier ways to engage with it. Practicing mindfulness and meditation helps, and I’ve recently been trying to remember the knowledge I took from my first therapy sessions a few years ago in college.
Last week, I almost had a panic attack while on my lunch break. When I noticed my light-headedness and felt my fingers and arms tingling as I was making food, I immediately sat down and closed my eyes. The panic was still there, but I knew it would pass eventually. I felt the weight of my body on the wooden chair I was on, the sounds of my boyfriend offering to help me make the lunch I had abandoned. I took a deep breath. I hope you’ll take one too, every once in a while.
I want to use this music section as a call to action to support Black musicians and buy their music! If you have the money to pay $10 a month for a service that pays out less than a penny per song to artists, then I’m sure you also have $5-7 to spend for an album on Bandcamp. Below, I’ll share some of my favorite music that I’ve bought over the past few days — please consider doing the same!
Thanks to the readers of this newsletter for helping me hold myself accountable, but more importantly, a big thank you to myself!
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