May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I want to use this as an excuse to talk about mental health care and the use of cannabis and CBD as medicine. After the last year (plus), it’s hard to be in a totally healthy space. Although vaccines are on the rise, it still feels like a struggle to get back to some sense of everyday normalcy. And honestly, at this point, what does that even mean?
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Walking the halls of elementary school, I can vividly recall the feeling nagging at me, pulling, calling for me to flee, telling me that I was in danger. I never knew what it was and it was exhausting to try to cope with. When I was 19 years old, I had a major episode that sent me to the ER. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me. My heart pounding and struggling to breath, I waited for the doctor to tell me I was on the verge of death. When the doctor arrived, he told me that I was having a panic attack and he gave me meds, a referral for a therapist, and sent me on my way. This was the beginning of a long journey to figure out how to live my life with anxiety disorder.
Over the years, I have learned how to cope and live with everyday anxiety. I was actually managing pretty well, until the pandemic came. This last year has reopened the wound that I struggled to close for many years, and with it came something new and unfamiliar. Depression. This was something I had never had to contend with. I had zero coping skills. Unable to go outside of my house for help, I enlisted the help of my therapist and doctors via Zoom. It was weird, but it helped me to work through this isolated, fearful time.
I built a support system around me that helped me to wade through the muck. At first, I was drowning, but with the help of this support system, I was able to get my head above water and finally, to swim. I still work at this every day, but it changes.
I also discovered that cannabis and CBD helped me...a lot. Not only did it help to calm my constant anxiety, it helped my brain to focus on healing and allowed me to learn more coping strategies. And because of this, I was able to get out of bed, be more present for my son, and start to re-engage with the strange world around me. Not only did I begin to heal, I started my own business - something I had wanted to do for so long. The fulfillment and happiness that helping others gives me is invaluable and a vital part of my recovery and long-term outlook.
It stuns and saddens me that there is still a negative stigma attached to mental health care. If I didn’t have the doctors, medications, and support that I have called upon throughout my life, I have no idea where I would be now. Unfortunately, cannabis bears a negative stigma, as well. Ever since Reefer Madness made its way into the collective consciousness of American society, cannabis and the people who use it have been unfairly judged. These are the things that have allowed me to be a better parent, spouse, and a more functional member of society. It’s disappointing that both have not always been recognized as essential for people struggling with their mental health. Luckily, it seems like we are entering a new golden age of cannabis. I only hope the same may be true for mental health care.
It has always made me feel better to talk about my anxiety. Getting it out in the open lessens the power it has held over me. For many years, I didn’t have a name for this thing that I felt breathing down my neck, waiting to catch me the moment I let my guard down. Giving it a name, saying it, and talking about it has helped me to push back; to put some space between me and it. By speaking up, I have been lucky enough to be able to work more openly on myself, and to help others and become a part of their support systems.
So, let’s talk about it. By sharing your stories and experiences, you may be able to relate to and relieve others going through something similar. By talking to family and friends, you can build your support system or one for someone who doesn’t know how to build their own. And by speaking up about mental health care and cannabis as medicine, you can be an active part of breaking down the negative stigmas held by both and helping to get people the help that they need and deserve.
This month, the National Alliance on Mental Health is highlighting the “You Are Not Alone” message. For resources and helpful information, click here.