When I think about weed, I can’t help but think about those nights. The times where I am high and my body feels heavy and numb, while my mind moves at a million miles per minute. I feel trapped in my own body, yet my thoughts seem to expand farther than the edges of the earth, hyperaware of everything around me. Time moves so slowly, yet it feels like time’s running out. I’m stuck inside my head; my mind is constantly racing with thoughts, doubts, and critiques about myself and my life. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop them. I’m frozen in a state of angst where all of my deepest demons come out like Pandora’s Box.
I don’t know why I didn’t stop smoking. Maybe I was in denial that this habit was causing me harm. Or maybe I was hoping to find a way back to those times when I really did enjoy smoking, times that I barely remember but longed for greatly. Or I was too stubborn to quit; maybe I foolishly thought that someday I could eventually achieve the calming high that many around me were able to achieve. Maybe if I “just smoked through the anxiety” or “tried harder to get into a better mindset beforehand” or just stopped being “paranoid,” I’d be fine.
It was here, during my second week at Tulane, that I reached my breaking point. Going into the school year, I was a little nervous about the beginning of college but, for the most part, I was so happy and excited. So of course, what better way to celebrate this new chapter than with weed? I thought, “I’m in a great place in my life, so there’s nothing to worry about.” And with that in mind, I got high.
That night was one of the worst nights of my life. What started as me energetically conversing with new people turned into me bursting into tears or laughter when seeing old classmates from high school. What started as me being overly observant of my surroundings turned into a self-described puzzle. I entered a place of fear that began escalating inside of me, and I felt like I was entering a terrifying nightmare that I couldn’t escape. My high was like an avalanche coming down off a mountain and I was just at the bottom watching it crash down in slow motion, engulfing me. I was in such a state of panic that those around me at the time called TEMS and I was rushed to the Tulane hospital. That same night, I was taken to a rehabilitation center where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I stayed there for a week before returning back to campus.
I know that this is scary. It was the most terrifying experience of my life, and the weeks that followed once I returned to school were turbulent. I still wasn’t sure what had happened and I was definitely skeptical of my diagnosis. I knew that it wasn’t correct deep down. But I made the decision to smoke one more time a few weeks later. This is when I found clarity.
As soon as I smoked, the same fears I felt the last time came rushing back to me. But this time, I was able to control those fears and recognize them. At this moment, I realized that the anxiety I was feeling was a direct response to marijuana, not a flaw of character or reflection of my personality. More importantly, I realized that the night of my hospitalization was not a manic episode, but rather a severe panic attack. I decided then and there that I was done with weed. The desire was gone and it wasn’t worth it. The anxiety I had put up with and tried to fight for so long had to come to an end.
Before this revelation, I believed that weed had to be a calming substance and therefore, I ignored the blatant signs that my reaction to it was not healthy. I didn’t see my panic attacks as valid; I saw them as failures of myself. I’ve noticed that there’s a subtle stigma that weed should relax you, and if you aren’t “chill” when you’re high, there’s something wrong with you. The expectation that everyone’s reaction to weed should be a happy, carefree experience can lead to self-doubt and embarrassment. I’ve felt this stigma a lot when I’ve smoked with other people and I let it get to me. I pushed myself to accept a substance that was jeopardizing my mental wellbeing.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure this out. I wish the process of understanding my body’s reaction to weed didn’t have to be this painful. But I find comfort in the fact that I know I’m not alone. There’s this common belief in society that marijuana is a drug for everyone. Weed has the reputation of being a safe drug, one that calms and relieves stress, a meditative substance. And although this is true for many people, it doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people find themselves with a lack of motivation when they smoke. For others, their attention decreases and they have difficulty maintaining focus. And for some, it can desensitize emotions, numbing one’s mood and overall experience, especially with heavy use.
Granted, at times, I do feel isolated by my decision and wish I didn’t have to completely do away with weed. But at the same time, I know that I had to do this to take care of myself. Since my revelation and decision to stop smoking weed, a lot has changed for me. Overall, I feel more in control of my life. I have a new sense of security, a greater ability to trust my instincts, and a heightened focus on my intentions. I have come to accept that fact that although marijuana adds positivity to many people’s lives, that is not my experience. And it may never be, and that’s ok.
COVER PHOTO: Carolyn Ellis