Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Shannon Brugh, whose previous essay on the site did phenomenally!
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Well okay, maybe a little.
Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter.
I have gone through hell and back since I was born. I will save you the gory details and tell you that I am about to be 27 and have finally arrived at the most peaceful place, spiritually speaking, that I have ever been. But as I am finding peace in my work, family and friendships, a new career opportunity suddenly presented itself. I have been a bartender for the past eight years and, after graduating from college, am trying to move on to a more secure career that is conducive to raising a family. Two days ago I received an email for a lead on a job as a liquor rep in center city Philadelphia. I live about an hour from there currently but lived there for three years during my undergrad. I am perfect for this job. 100%. But one requirement is that I must submit to a drug test prior to being hired. I have suffered from severe anxiety, depression, OCD and PMDD for at least the past ten years and smoking pot has significantly relieved my symptoms. I am nervous that if I get a call for an interview in the next couple weeks, I would definitely not pass the test. What do I do?? I am a good hearted, intelligent and motivated young woman. I have spent time in Rwanda. I want to save the world. I know I would be an asset to any company in the world, but I smoke pot to relax. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.
thank you, J
Ps… That was a complete free flow of thought. I apologize if it was long-winded.
You have so much ahead of you. So much good to come. And it’s starting now. Your path is being placed before you. Opportunities are opening up, and you are ready to take them on. But there are things to do first. Bear with me.
First, congratulations on the job opportunity! I am delighted to hear you speaking with confidence and believing that you are, in fact, perfect for the job. Knowing that you have talent, have skills, have the potential required to take the next step in your life is huge. You seem to feel like you’re in a good place and it’s clear that you’re excited to move forward in your career. I’m here to support you and encourage you. I may not know you, but I’m rooting for you. I believe you can do this.
But now, to the tricky part. The things you must do first. J, I’m so sorry that life has been difficult for you up to this point. That is no small thing, and any difficult experience leaves its mark. Even if you feel you’re in a good place now, ten years of severe anxiety, depression, OCD and PMDD must have taken their toll. These are very real medical concerns and they need to be treated with care. You, my friend, must treat yourself with care. You deserve that.
You say that smoking pot has significantly helped ease your symptoms and, while that may be true, I have one question to ask (and you’re probably not going to like it): Does smoking pot help your symptoms, or does it simply mask them?
I ask not because I believe smoking pot is evil – I don’t. Marijuana can absolutely be used as a viable, helpful medication. I’ve seen it work in a number of different situations. But I’ve also seen it used to self-medicate, to shield, and the results were not good. Marijuana, like any medication, should be used under the care of a doctor. And, in the case of any mental illness, medication should be used in conjunction with therapy.
Here’s the thing that worries me, J. You didn’t mention therapy or medical treatment at all. Anxiety, depression, OCD, and PMDD are serious medical concerns that usually require medical treatment and almost always benefit from therapy. A life as difficult as the one you’ve mentioned deserves the time and space to sort itself out. You deserve the kind of guidance and clarity that comes with therapy. You deserve to work through your problems.
And believe me- it’s going to be work. Clarity rarely comes easily. But this is the kind of work that brings you relief. That brings you peace. And peace is what you need. Even if medical marijuana is a part of the solution, it’s never going to be all of the solution, and I’m afraid you can’t make this kind of decision on your own.
Consider this. What if you went for this job and they loved you- just as you anticipate- because you’re 100% perfect for the position. And then you took the drug test and, despite the fact that they loved you, despite the fact that you killed it during the interview, that all the stars aligned and everyone knew this was the perfect fit, they couldn’t give you the job because you didn’t pass the drug screening. How would you feel? The fact that you’ve written in about this at all tells me that you would be upset. You would feel a loss. And this is the kind of loss you can do something about.
So, the difficult part is that I have no easy solution. There is no magic wand for you, J. You’re going to have to do the work. You’re going to have to ask for help. And you’re going to have to accept that help. Please understand that this is good. We all need help, and as humbling as it can be to ask for it, there’s a freedom in that, too. You’ll find that you are loved. You’ll find that people care about your well-being. You’ll find that people want to help you. People want you to succeed. I want that for you, J. I want you to want that for yourself, too. You are worthwhile.
Ask yourself one question: Is pot more important than you?
The answer is no, J. You matter. Your health matters. Your ability to succeed matters. But you’re going to need a little help to achieve these things.
Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to make an appointment with a therapist.* Tell that therapist what you just told me. Tell that therapist why you smoke pot. What it does for you. What symptoms it helps to ease. And then tell that therapist about your life. All the gory details you haven’t told me about. Tell that therapist why you’re angry. Why you’re sad. Why you’re scared. What hurts. And tell that therapist about everything you’ve overcome. Why you feel like you’re in a good space. And tell that therapist why you want to succeed. To fight for yourself. To value yourself. To make room for the family you hope to have. Tell that therapist everything there is to tell, because you are important, J. You deserve all the best.
It’s possible that your therapist will decide that you will benefit from medication. It’s even possible that the medication suggested will be marijuana. But it’s also quite possible that the therapist will tell you that marijuana is not beneficial for you. That because marijuana is a depressant, it’s actually causing you harm. And I want you to listen. I want you to recognize the panic you’re probably going to feel, and then I want you to let it go. I want you to allow yourself to do the work, to go through the steps, and that will mean being vulnerable. Pot has been your security blanket for a long time, and it’s very possible that you’ll need to let that security blanket go. It will be scary. But it will be worth it.
Promise me that you will value yourself enough to take the risk. Promise me that you will do what is best for you and your health and your ambitions. Promise me that you will work through it all and fight for yourself, because you deserve that. You do.
It’s time to stop hiding, J. It’s time to believe in yourself. And trust me, I know how difficult that is. I know that blind faith can be downright painful. But even if you don’t believe you can do it, know that I believe. Know that I support you. Know that there are people around the world reading this and rooting for you. We want you to be happy, J. It’s time for a leap of faith – a leap into happiness. If you want to save the world, you’re going to have to save yourself first. And you can. You will.
* Try www.psychologytoday.com to find a therapist in your area.
Shannon Brugh is a writer, a mother, a teacher, a feminist and – if her friends are to be believed – a warm-hearted Wonder Woman. In addition to her contributions at The Manifest-Station, some of her work has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine and The Huffington Post, with mentions on Feministing and The Good Men Project. She is a regular contributor at Rattle and Pen and a staff writer at Luna Luna Magazine. She currently lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and two young sons where she is working on her first book. Find her blogging and on Facebook at Becoming Squishy, and awkwardly tweeting at @ShannonBrugh.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.
photo credit: katy tuttle photography
photo credit: katy tuttle photography