A Conversation for Mental Health Week
I talked about Mental Health Week in my previous post. Writing it got me thinking about my experiences. I hope that by sharing them, I can provide you with some valuable takeaways. The biggest goal of this article is to encourage some thinking outside of the box. Cannabis is a big shiny distraction, but the topic of mental health requires a much more in-depth conversation. This is my attempt to use my experiences to reduce the stigma around cannabis. The focus of this article is on your choices and actions (with and without weed). If you are experiencing extreme distress or anything in this article makes you feel worse, you can find help at Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to get the help you need.
My History and Mental Health
I’ve grown a ton in ten years. For a conservative religious individual who became a liberal atheist (although all those terms require some clarification, nows not the time). My family hates weed and always has. I struggled with all sorts of adverse downstream effects from this fact.
I’ve suffered from anxiety long before I smoked weed. My first panic attacks (as I now know them to be) were when I was like 13 or something. I developed chronic pain problems in high school, starting with back pain and then headaches. Combined with stress, I completed the triad with depression. Mainly expressed through a few stunts of anhedonia, the lack of positive feelings. More flat than extremely low.
I suffered for a lot of years. Through behavioral changes, I’ve somewhat overcome these three conditions. I still experience all three, but at a small fraction of where they used to be. I know cannabis has had benefits and drawbacks over the years. But three variables have been constant this whole time. Myself, smoking weed, and drinking. There is lots to say around the drinking, but it’s not really important here. Overall, I’ve been resilient and remained functional throughout all these years.
The rest is all over the place, with highs and lows in stress, sleep, lifestyle, and all sorts of other things. Time in school while working. Then working while in school. Then entrepreneurship and no school. With some long travel breaks interspersed, the only complete and sustained breaks from weed. I should note I didn’t smoke weed for the first time until after high school, but I started drinking earlier (along with tobacco).
I should also note I’ve lived a simple working-class life. Plus all the benefits of the Canadian system, including good public school, good health care, safe and opportunity-filled life. So let’s not forget that incredibly significant fact. I thank this system for providing fertile soil for me to grow. It allowed me to make mistakes without dire consequences. The same could be said for having a loving family to support me. I’m grateful for all of these things. I do not underestimate their impact on my progress in life so far.
Why I don’t like to blame weed
I’ve had issues in my life I’ve had to work through. Cannabis has seemingly amplified the symptoms I already had. Luckily it did not seem to add any new issues (although that can happen, and proper social and medical supports should then come into play). I’ve had some awful trips on edibles, and overall gut-related anxiety and discomfort while high (not CHS: link). Eventually, I realized how screwed my gut was and made dietary changes to gain back my health. I still have a way to go, but my symptoms are far better than they used to be.
At any point in my life, I could have been told (and was told several times) that cannabis was to blame for my problems. I’ve heard people tell others to stop smoking weed for reasons that mirrored my own experiences. I’m not saying stopping won’t help. Cannabis is not a silver bullet or cure. Nor is stopping marijuana a simple remedy to all your problems. Again, it goes back to what you do when you’re high. If you can’t stop eating junk food and you’re trying to diet. Stopping weed may help, but it’s still you, your environment, and your emotions that will now influence whether you stick to your diet.
First, expect to go through withdrawal. And depending on your situation, withdrawal may be incredibly unhelpful to keep you on track. Second, it stresses your body to add another dramatic change to whatever the issue is that is going on.
I used to feel alone in understanding the benefits of weed on my chronic pain situation. Not that THC directly lowers pain dramatically, but the overall behavioral changes associated with being high, like resting more. My parents couldn’t even begin to hear an explanation for my’ drug habit’ based on my invisible chronic pain (with so much mental health overlap). Are you starting to see my anti-stigma cannabis crusade?
Not too long ago, my parents watched a doctor explain how people with chronic pain benefit from cannabis, on the 5’o-clock news. The same news channel they’ve watched my whole life. The sense of relief and vindication was palpable. I hope other cannabis patients get to experience similar moments of vindication in their lives. Whether that happens or not, your life and what you do with it is up to you.
It’s Up to You
So it’s up to you. Are you going to make the changes necessary to improve your life? Will you stay determined and driven through hardship and sickness. Will you overcome your ‘X’ that just won’t go away. A quick caveat. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned around pain, depression, anxiety is this. Those are human things that will occur at some level throughout my existence. Resisting this fact can itself be part of the problem. Instead of fighting the experience, ask yourself, what can you do about it?
Feeling sad? Go for a walk (I’m talking sad, not depress here). If you can muster up action in the face of suffering, you may just get rewarded. How about a joint walk? I’m not saying don’t be sad, just be sad and go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. And you can’t wait for a problem to go away to start working on the solutions. You may still be sad tomorrow, but at least you got some exercise.
Feeling anxious, imagine that it’s pre-game anxiety. Like that feeling before public speaking or writing a test. What is the game? Figure this out and figure out how you can play the best game possible for you. And how you can be better at the game tomorrow. You’ll still be anxious tomorrow, but you’ll be better prepared for it each day.
Are you worried about something? Start with getting the facts. Scared about COVID-19? Then get informed. Learn everything you can about what bothers you. Like talking to the monster under your bed, you may realize they are actually kinda nice. Or maybe not as bad as you thought. Perhaps it’s a roommate you can learn to live with. And if you have to kill them, at least you know what you’re up against.
Have you got pain problems? I understand how much that sucks. The question is, what is that pain preventing you from doing what you want to do? You may have you change your expectation (a paralyzed person won’t compete in the Olympics) to something attainable in your situation (winning in the Paralympics, the add to the example above). What is it that you liked about that activity? Find a replacement that gets the same result without the same requirements.
Whether you change your expectation or not, what can you do right now that will help you achieve it (whether now or later in down the road)? You can’t train for that game while recovering from an injury, but you can do stretching to encourage the recovery). Figure out what you can do today, and do that. I’m not saying the pain will be gone tomorrow, it probably won’t. But at least you won’t be suffering idly, you’re doing something. And you got something done yesterday, whatever it may be.
Broad Generalizations – Further Questions
These are obviously broad generalizations, and I have no insight into your precise situation. Always consult a medical professional before making significant changes in your life. Talk to them about cannabis while you’re there. More doctors should know they need to get informed about cannabis. People experiencing any extreme distress should seek appropriate assistance. What I’m talking about is general day-to-day stuff. So whatever your specifics are that came to mind as you read this, here’s the next significant questions:
- How does cannabis impact the situation?
- Does it help or hinder?
- How can it be adjusted to help or hinder?
- What do you do while high?
- What would you like to be doing?
Mindfulness and More
Mindfulness is great. I’m a big fan. But it has a much better impact if it’s combined with positive experiences to be mindful of. You can still have negative ones, and maybe mindfulness isn’t always best at those times. Like any skill, it’s about when and how you use it. Just like cannabis as well. Focus on being mindful of the positive aspects of your environment. Work on changing your life to have more positive things to be mindful of. All of this takes time and won’t happen overnight. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
I wrote this entire article while baked on an hour-and-half walk. I edited and posted it while sober and fresh. Some activities are good while high. Some are just better done sober. It does also depend on your tolerance, as I can do things while baked that others are amazed is even possible. I’m not saying anyone can do it, I’m saying intentional effort produces results that don’t match the many stoner stereotypes. You may need to avoid weed during the days or parts of the day required to get your shit some. That’s called being an adult. As adults, we all got problems. I hope that whatever is bothering you, some valuable information was gleaned by reading this post.
Feeling like you need help?
I know these topics can be tough to discuss. I hope you know there are resources out there to help you. Find help at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Feel free to contact me if you have some everyday concerns that involve weed that you’d like to discuss!