cannabis

Replacing Weed With Drugs (Part I)

The other day, somebody asked me: “What’s the longest period you’ve gone without smoking weed?”

I wasn’t sure. Not shockingly, my memory can be a bit….hazy these days. The past six years, I think two weeks may be the longest stretch I’ve gone without it. Certainly, I don’t recall a period significantly longer than that. The question sorta drove home the point that I have become entirely too dependent on the stuff.

So I’ve given it up entirely. The weed card is expired. The remaining stash being kept in trust by my best friends. All access denied. Last weekend was one of the first weekends I can remember that I didn’t smoke at all. This will be my second.

I had a realization too: My dependence on weed began when I stopped psychological medication for social anxiety.

I hate the stigma attached with meds. Meds are Big Pharma. Meds are a crutch. Seems like half the U.S. is on something…symptoms of a society that’s led itself astray. They’re unnatural. To be turned to as an absolute last resort.

Weed, on the other hand, is counterculture. It’s the hippies…and free love…and art…and expression. Weed is cool. Artists, musicians, the trend setters – they all blaze it up. Chronic, kush, purple haze….It’s SEXY.

John Mayer wonders: “who says I can’t get stoned? Turn off the lights and the telephone…” Nobody. The answer is – Nobody. Nobody says that. So you can sit home. Blaze it up. And there you’ll be.

For a long time now, I thought I was just another stoner – and not in any way unhappy or concerned about it. It was enhancing my life. Loosening my tight ass up a bit. Allowing me mental liberation like I’d never come close to experiencing prior.

But I’m not just a guy that likes weed. I’m not John Mayer. I’m not Snoop Dog…Or Lion…Or whatever. I’m a person with social anxiety.

NEXT UP: Replacing Weed With Drugs (Part II)

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Panic Attacks and Sleepless Nights (Part I)

One of the most trying periods of my life occurred during my second year of law school.  For an entire semester, I suffered mid-night panic attacks on a regular basis.  The experience was brutal.

My first year, I was placed in a “section” and attended all the same classes with all the same people.  But in the second year that structure was removed, and we were free to select courses and schedules on our own.  This meant that each course would now be with a more or less random group of other students.

Compounding my unfamiliarity with the people in my classes was the fact that I had spent a year in business school, so I knew none of the people who were now second year law students. The people I began studying with had moved on to their third year.

I was taking more units of courses than ever before, and I had scheduled all of my classes over a three-day period (the purpose of this was efficiency.  I wanted to commute to campus as few times a week as possible. While efficiency was the goal, I suppose that my initial plan backfired on account of the extended period of exhaustion I experienced the entirety of the semester).  Thus, I had more classes, on fewer days, and with complete strangers.

I recall all the other students looking at me quizzically each time I entered a class wondering, surely, “who the eff is this dude?!?” In turn, I was like, “I was here before any of you kids. A little respect is in order.” But they had no clue.

Regardless, I was completely uncomfortable.  The prior year of business school had been a cake-walk.  I smoked weed often (“often” being a euphemism for near-daily), and was carefree and happy.  I was dating a girl I loved, and life hadn’t been better.

The summer before returning to law school, her and I broke up. The timing was off. She was ready to set sail on a marital commitment, and I wasn’t sure I was yet equipped to hold down the fort for myself, individually, let alone the two of us and a future family-to-be.

Come to think of it, it was an inopportune time for the parting of ways for me personally. Inopportune doesn’t do the timing justice. It was somewhat of a perfect storm. I was trying to buckle down for what I knew would be a challenging return to law, the tide of anxiety steadily mounting as I again approached the start of classes. I was weaning myself, unsuccessfully, off of an affinity for weed which had now certainly become an outright addiction. And I was coping even more incompetently with the loss of a relationship that only later would I realize I would never truly get over. One of those.

As is the case when something happens to you, unexpectedly, which has never happened before, I was caught off guard the first time – an unsuspecting victim of a sucker-punch from a lunatic roaming the streets in the middle of the night.

Here’s how I recall it going down:

In my second week of classes, I went to sleep uneasy with the amount of material I would be covering in the next-day’s classes. I had an initial impression of the classes, and classmates, I’d be spending the next several months with. Now my anticipated anxieties had faces, and names, and context in the form of the classrooms and professors where they’d play out. This feeling alone wasn’t unusual and did not give me pause. But this time the severity of the anxiety reached new heights.

It was the shudder of my nerves that first awoke me, followed by the inconsolable escalation of mental processes, from a deep slumber to an immediate fight-or-flight response. Like the gasp of air upon sudden consciousness, arising from the throes of a nightmare. A sudden shift of the San Andreas faultline, except without the earthquake.

The clock said 2:15 A.M. I had been asleep just 3 and-a-half hours. But I was far from that state now. I was drenched in a cold sweat, my sheets soaked through. They were wet to the touch, and although it was not hot out, my body was seemingly on fire.

My thoughts raced through different material I had read earlier in the week, preparing for classes I had the next day, inundating me with anxieties and fears. Would I be called on in Ethics class? How much uncomfortability did the day hold in store? And then, to other subjects: Should I not have given up on my relationship?

It was a full-fledged assault: My own mind attacking itself under the cloak of night when the rest of my being was most vulnerable. With my body and soul seeking the silent refuge of sleep, my brain had arranged an ambush.

3:45 A.M.:      Coming to grips with this twist of events, I lay open-eyed staring at the ceiling, wide-awake and yearning not-to-be. At this point, I realized that for the first time I had experienced a phenomenon a psychologist had alluded to years prior when she prophesized, “one of the dangers of anxiety disorders is their evolution into panic attacks.”

Here I was, far from that point in time the words were first uttered, experiencing my first panic attack. As it came to pass, I would need to learn to get used to them.

Next Up: “Panic Attacks and Sleepless Nights (Part II: A Poem)”

A Sweet, Illusory Escape – Cannabis (Part I)

Escape is an elusive sanctuary.  I can see it in a dream.  A safe place.  One to unwind, anxiety-less.  A long trip to the bathroom, alone in the stall for just a brief period in the midst of an overly-chaotic day. The calm in the eye of the storm.  I do this at work a lot (keep that between us).

To people with anxiety – with anxious sweating – the oppressive thought is that these feelings recycle. I may end a day feeling great about myself, satisfied with the way I handled some tough situations, and actually entirely relaxed.  Sometimes I think that end-of-the-stressful-day-relaxation is my body essentially running out of anxiety.  One quick look at the tank: “Anxiety on empty!”  Fantastic.  What a wonderful reprieve.

But it’s temporal.  The thought that of the next day – waking up with a re-awakening of anxiety, with a whole new set of anxiety-provoking challenges to come, more streams of sweat to pour out – that can be exhausting and, frankly, depressing over time.  Often that’s where escape comes in.  Some manner or way to distract our anxiety-obsessed minds.  These can be healthy, or unhealthy, and it’s by no means black and white.  The same escape may be destructive to some, while productive to others.

Escape comes in many forms.  “Avoidance” would be the psychological parlance.

I’ve been MIA.  I apologize.  I started this blog, and then….I escaped.  And avoided.  My primary form of escape is, and has been for years, what is now one of the most lucrative industries in the U.S.  Some have called it the modern-day “gold rush.”  Only green, not gold.

Cannabis has reached its tipping point.  At the time of my writing this entry, 23 states have legalized it, for medicinal and/or recreational purposes.  My state led the charge, but has limited legalization to those with “medical” reasons.

That said, it’s easier to get a marijuana card in California than it is to get high at a Phish concert.  You go through about a 30 minute wait at a “Doctor’s” office, mention that you suffer from: (a) migraines (b) anxiety (c) stomach aches (d) insomnia (e) weed addiction!  That’s a joke. But anything really will fly.  You pay $30-$60 for an annual card, and you’re set.  Able to purchase the best, most potent weed on the planet anytime you see one of those neon green crosses impossible for any pothead to ignore.  A toddler could do it.

My experience with weed has been mixed, but ultimately negative. I joined the weed-game relatively late, I’d imagine.  I really took to it during graduate school, when I found myself in a pressure-packed environment, where performance was of-the-essence, and my anxiety was kicking.  At the end of rough period, a small doobie did the trick like nothing else.

At the time, I managed to separate my life – my personalities – in two.  I was a duality.  Together, focused, organized, albeit anxiety-ridden around peers throughout the school week.  I was thereby able to manage interpersonal relationships, coming off professionally and put-together, all the while with a undercurrent of anxiety boiling up inside.

The outlet was the weekend.  The time with friends, and with my girlfriend at the time.  And those times couldn’t happen without weed.  It was the distraction that set my mind-straight.  In my head, that was me.  That was the true me.  I was funny, and bold, and not preoccupied with things that might happen.  Worries about how I came off to others were disregarded, and I got the distinct impression that it was precisely those times that I came off best.  Maybe I did.

Over time, as with all relationships, cannabis and I had a rift.  The occasional weekend escape had become a regularity.  What had began as the exception, was now the rule.  Dependency was the result, and I found rebounding the next day increasingly difficult, causing fits of anxiety and bouts of panic.  Like an astronaut returning to gravity, coming back to my anxious reality each morning could leave me weak in the knees.

Often, I’d handle the adjustment with a morning joint to stunt the inner-chatter.  But, of course, that simply propagated the problem further.  Eventually, inevitably, you have to come out of that cloud.  And while in it, it was simply not very possible to handle all of the other things life demanded, and move my life forward productively.  The day became a wait for the smoke of the evening, and everything truly was a bit of a cloudy confusion.  If I couldn’t figure an alternative, I was basically resigning myself to being a burnout.

Next Time: Part II – The Turnaround