My reason

I’m a Buddhist. It’s something that has always been a part of me, but I never really realized how much of an impact it has had on my decisions and my beliefs growing up. The traditions I followed were taught to me as I grew up but I never thought about the reasons behind them nor questioned any of the beliefs. Honestly, until I decided to join this study abroad program, I didn’t even realize what kind of Buddhist I was (Pure Land if we’re going to put labels on things).

And its super interesting to study your own religion. I won’t say its good or bad because I honestly don’t think its either. It’s interesting because you’re viewing it as an outsider, understanding why others may question your beliefs the same way you question theirs. You see why it may be appealing to someone or maybe not so much.

But the effect it’s had on me? I think its mainly led me to consider how Buddhism has affected my life. And I think it’s saved me in so many ways. Looking at the big picture, it has the appeal of so many other religions, the existing belief that there is something bigger out there looking over us, giving a rhyme and reason to the world. There was a justification for everything that happened to me, good and bad.

Growing up I had a whole host of health problems that still plague me today, particularly my eczema. Just imagine having mosquito bites all over your body, trying your hardest not to scratch, and hating yourself for not being able to control any of it. The worst for me has always been my fear of going to sleep, knowing that I might scratch in the middle of night and wake up with bloody open sores. Then there was the depression and the anxiety that doesn’t really fall far behind this kind of physical and mental anguish.

But I don’t doubt. I have good days and bad days still, but I believe there is a reason for everything that happens in my life. I don’t doubt that growing up with these problems have made me a stronger person today. I don’t doubt that I’m extremely lucky for growing up in a family and environment that could give me the best care I needed.

I do know that Amituofo has been there for me every time. When I was hospitalized for my skin infections as a child, when I’ve had my worst migraines or panic attacks and I was fairly certain I was going to die, when I spent those days in bed crying and ready to give up, and whenever my anxiety creeps up on me at night and I lie there for hours on end wondering if I’ll ever fall asleep.

Life is hard sometimes, but I think it’s always a little bit easier if there’s a reason.

Surprises

I’ve been off antidepressants for nearly a month now. And its been kind of a wild ride. I first went on about a year ago after my anxiety debilitated me to the point that I constantly thought I was having a heart attack and I couldn’t sleep every night for fear that I was going to die in my sleep. Despite a chest x-ray and an EKG, I visited the doctor’s office or the health center at least once a week with a different ailment in my head. I finally succumbed to medication, and it really made a difference.

Of course there were the side effects. I was numb, emotionless, I couldn’t concentrate. When I wasn’t in class or even if I was, I was asleep. But I stopped constantly believing I was on the edge of death, and honestly, it was worth it. My anxiety vanished.

The only problem was that I simply didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about my grades which I had previously lived for, I didn’t care about what I did with my body. And I became really impulsive. This continued until I nearly failed all of my midterms, and I saw that something had to change. At this point, I lowered my dosage slightly and more or less coasted to where I am now, not in a particularly successful way, but at least I made it.

I finally decided I needed to stop. I was sick of wasting my life sleeping all the time and honestly, I hated being dependent on medication and I was willing to do whatever it took to stop. I was worried that I would spiral into a depression, that my anxiety would again debilitate me, but I wanted to have control again.

So here’s what happened: I spent a few weeks more depressed than I have ever been. I considered cutting again and I spent more time crying than not. My anxiety came back too, slowly but surely, and I had one of my worst panic attacks ever. But I started caring again. I found myself truly smiling and being genuinely happy for the first time in months. My foggy thoughts disappeared and I was able to think clearly and logically. And lately, I’ve found myself experiencing really deep emotions, the gut wrenching tearing up in a good way kind. And caring. Really and truly caring. My anxiety continues and every day I still have moments when I’m certain that I’m about to have a heart attack or my eardrum’s about to burst (which is a whole nother issue), but its no longer constant, and I’ve been able to talk myself through the situation.

It’s taken a really long time to get here, but I’m finally starting to feel like me again. Not just a shell walking through life, but a person that really and truly cares. I’ll always be a work in progress and I know that with all that’s going on in my life I may still face some very large obstacles in my near future. But here, right now, in this moment, I’m satisfied. And that’s what matters.

This is my experience and it is in no way universal, but have hope. Sometimes, its all you can count on.

Coping With Change (A very ranty rant)

I moved back home from college on Sunday with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be back on campus until 2015. Packing everything up, it struck me that half of my college experience was over and I remembered everything that had happened in the two short years that I had been there. I had built up quite a collection of memories, both good and bad, but I had also grown very accustomed to my life on campus. I was safe there. The end of the semester gave me the realization that time was still moving forward and that was something that I had been avoiding for so long.

Part of it was also the dread of going home. I love my family and spending time with them, but being at home also carries an overwhelming set of memories, something that I didn’t realize until I spent a significant amount of time away. The past few days have been really hard for me. My grandmother’s health had deteriorated pretty rapidly and on Friday she is returning to the hospital to have another procedure done. It brought back memories of when she was first diagnosed with cancer last spring and I had to start on antidepressants because my anxiety began to be debilitating. Just about two weeks ago, I finally came off medication. I couldn’t really take the side effects anymore and I hated the idea of being dependent on drugs.

Yesterday, I had a pretty bad panic attack. I’ve never actually had a panic attack that bad while I was sober, but I was just really overwhelmed. I had been avoiding a lot of things while I was at school, but at home, everything came rushing back. I also don’t really have anyone to turn to when I’m at home, and I hate burdening my family with the idea that I’m not okay right now when they have so much to deal with on their own. Ironically, I get the idea that me staying strong at home is part of what is keeping everyone together. I keep thinking that if only I were still at school, everything would be okay, but I know that that’s really not true. I’m also burdened by the guilt that I’m so much more stressed out being at home and around my parents and I know that that’s not what home is supposed to be and that’s certainly not what they want for me.

I honestly just wish that time would stay still for just a sec. I just need a moment. One moment.

For now, I’m just trying to hold myself together. I’m practicing piano a lot because that seems to be the only time my mind stops designing horrible scenarios for myself and deciding I’m constantly on the verge of a panic attack. I’m also spending a lot of time in bed because it feels safe there. I feel guilty about wasting precious time, but I’m also trying to remind myself that it’s important that I take as much time doing what I need to do to make sure I’m okay.

Anxiety

A cloud of darkness and fear
fog up a life that could have been
leaving you a shell of yourself
always wondering when the next wave of panic will strike.

Thoughts race and your body shakes
and you hate your mind
for not knowing when to stop.

When fear strikes
your chest is tight
your lungs are on fire
your heart is ready to explode
your head is spinning
your world has gone black.

All that is left is fear.

Fear of the death that seems so near.

When it ends, you are left only with hate
for the mind and the body
that you cannot control
looking for something or someone to blame
but finding nothing except yourself.

And still you search
for that light at the end of the tunnel.

I promise it is there.