Stronger, better, happier…Me.

Wide angle bottom-up view of the Initiation Well in Sintra, Portugal
ID 115125398 © Saaaaa | Dreamstime.com 

Hello dear friend, 

As promised at the end of yesterday’s post, today I’ll be discussing how things got better for me – how I went from panic attacks daily to happier than I’ve been in over a decade.  

If you want to listen to Champion (Remix)It Gets Better, and Happy while reading this one, they are the songs I think about when looking back at last year. 

Okay, so, where were we? Oh yes – the new normal – aka this sucks but it is going to be okay somehow. I refuse to believe otherwise. As July 2018 drew to a close, I came across fanart on Tumblr about a character named “Zen” and mentions of a mystery storyline. I thought it might be a new anime and figured it might be something Susie and I could watch together. As I chased down more information, I learned that the character was actually from an app called Mystic MessengerIn looking at it, I had to laugh at myself a bit, because was I really going to download a dating game? Well, I didn’t have anything else to do and I wasn’t able to really interact with many people at the time, so why not – I figured it would be amusing at the very least.  

Within 24 hours of beginning to play, I was hooked. The game plays out in real time, with a set timeline of 11 days. The basic plot is that you download an app and find yourself conned in to going to a random apartment to leave the owner a message that someone found their phone. Once you arrive at the apartment, the app has some code run across the screen before you find yourself in a chatroom with several people including an actor, college student, a wealthy business man and his assistant, and a hacker…a chatroom you shouldn’t have been able to enter. After a bit of discussion, you are convinced (blackmailed) to join the RFA (Rika’s Fundraising Association) and to help plan the first fundraising party the group has held since the founder passed away a few years prior. Chats open at various time intervals, depending on what route you end up on, and if you miss a chat or phone call, you have to spend hourglasses to get the chat back – or risk getting a “bad ending”. For the first time in quite a while, I was really interested in something. I had something that served as a good distraction. I found myself smiling and looking forward to the next interaction. Susie started to notice a difference in me almost immediately and by the time I reached the chat where (SPOILER) it is revealed there is a bomb in the apartment, I couldn’t stop talking about this game. Susie ended up downloading it as well. After finishing the first round of 11 days, I immediately started another play through – and it was around this time that we learned that some of the voice artists and representatives from the game creator, Cheritz, would be at Otakon in mid-August. They would be holding a panel and the voice actors would be providing autographs…and I really, REALLY wanted to go to the panel. Susie and I debated it for several days, because realistically – I could barely leave the house, did I really think I could handle attending a con? The more I played and the more I thought about it, the more determined I became to at least try to attend. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try – so we got the tickets and came up with a game plan for limiting my potential for a panic attack. 

Can you understand how HUGE of a step this was for me? To willingly place myself in a situation that was likely to trigger at least one panic attack? For the sake of thanking the creators of a game? But, my friend, that game was really the start of finding myself again – and I knew it. I could feel it and sense it and see the relief and return of hope in Susie’s expression whenever she looked at me. For the first time in months, after repeating positive affirmations over and over again without fully believing them, I really and truly believed things would get better. Not because I kept saying they had to, not just because nothing can stay that bad for long, but because I could FEEL that things were getting better. So we went to the con. We attended the panel. I took a Xanax while waiting in line for the panel because the crowd got to me a bit, but otherwise…I was fine. I got a little anxious waiting in lines to buy merchandise, but – and here’s another big step in terms of improvement – I had so much fun. So. Much. Fun!  And I smiled more than I had smiled in months – real smiles, smiles that didn’t feel like a mask. And I laughed, freely and often. And I actually spoke to other people in line!! I mean, they weren’t long conversations, but I still spoke to strangers! Susie and I only attended on Friday and Saturday, but my gosh, I was so proud of myself. So happy. And so hopeful that things were actually improving!  

(Also, I would like to pause here for a moment to say a heartfelt thank you to Cheritz for making a game that helped with rebuilding my self-esteem and with reminding me to take care of myself. All those reminders to eat and stay hydrated and practice self-care – they really do help. Thank you!).

Around the same time as the con, I found that some choreography videos (which turned out to be k-pop, but I didn’t know that at the time) were showing up in the Explore tab of my Instagram – probably because I was following so many Mystic Messenger accounts, yeah? I really enjoyed the choreography, but wasn’t super interested until I saw a clip of this super confident guy performing in a language I didn’t know and with this lovely stuttered verse that was just so pleasant to listen to – not quite an ASMR experience, but gosh darn close. The same clip kept showing up, but no one was saying who he was or what the song was called. Each time I saw it, I was struck by how confident the guy was and kept thinking – wow, I wish I had that level of confidence. The Thursday following Otakon, the same clip showed up for the third time – but this time it included the name of the song. I went to YouTube and typed in “Ddaeng” – and fell down the rabbit hole that is discovering BTS. From “Ddaeng”, I went to “DNA” and “Fake Love” and then decided to scroll all the way back through their playlist of music and make my way back to the beginning. I was hooked – the colors, the sound, the dancing – it was amazing to me. I started looking up the lyric translations to some of the songs and just…within two days, I told Susie I was buying a bunch of CDs on iTunes. I came to her, really, truly, fully excited – and acting like my real self – for the first time in years and begged her to watch the music videos with me, to listen to the music, to let me help her understand how awesome these songs are – and that, my friend, that is another main turning point in my journey.  

Seeing these young men share music about learning to love one’s self, about how it is okay to not have a dream – keep moving forward anyway, about their own battles with mental health…and seeing how sincere and humble they are, and just seeing the wonderfully odd, absolutely unique and special, familial love sort of relationship between the band and their fans – it blew my mind. I found myself seeking out new content and Susie and I started to spam each other through Instagram’s chat feature every day, sharing clips we found funny or clips of BTS performing or practicing their dances and…well, I found myself looking forward to each morning. I was excited to see what Susie had found to share…and I was excited to see her reaction to what I found. I started gushing about Mystic Messenger and BTS to my friends – and although the game and the music weren’t their cup of tea, my friends were, and remain, so, so supportive of my new interests. By the time BTS spoke before the U.N. in September, I had gained the confidence to return to working in office twice a week. I was able to go to the grocery store with Susie. I was able to go to Target after work one day. I hadn’t had a panic attack since discovering BTS – can you believe it? I was floored…and so, so grateful. From August to mid-October, I had no panic attacks and no suicidal thoughts. I was doing so, so much better and both Susie and I were thinking – I’m going to be okay. I’m going to win this battle with my mental health and really get back to being the me I was before December 2012. 

 

I would like to say it was entirely smooth sailing from then on, but there were a few more bumps in the journey to today. As with my previous discussion of my own journey out of the Chamber of the Ordeal, as you can see in the photo above, while the exit was in sight, there was still a bit further to go. Overall, though, things have been steadily improving since last July. I’ll cover the continued recovery journey in tomorrow’s post.  

Until next time, and with love always, 

Katie 

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