A IS FOR…ANXIETY
The first in a series of short posts on mental health themes as I see them and have experienced them.
My experience of anxiety is that, at its lowest pitch, it’s a low and quite natural rumble. Like stress, you cannot remove it entirely from your life, so it’s a question of degree. For me, getting beyond this low rumble takes me into areas where I feel unsafe and I revisit a low, cold feeling known since early childhood: it’s best described as a feeling that I am about to annihilated.
What experience of life would have been like for me had I had often been terrified at an early age, I cannot say. I try, instead, to work with what I have, cure what I can – we are not there yet – and even to curate something of practical value, even beauty from what there is.
These are intended to be short posts, so you don’t need to know more about me. Anyway, you’ll be able to read about the details in articles I have coming up and to glimpse it, I think, through my next books. If you can find a copy of my first book, Killing Hapless Ally (currently between publishers; watch this space), you can see the back story and very curious it all is. For now, here is what I do – when I begin to feel wretched; when anxiety levels are troubling. Some may sound quite twee – stay with me, here. And I want these to be free and as easy to do as possible.See this image? I know that, time and again, I have felt isolated like this, knowing yet that I am not. Cold floor; care feet: foetal and retreating. Read on. x
- Exercise. However you do it: even if you still have some horrid anxiety after it, consider the period of exercise some time off. Walking is great. Oh you know all this! I walk, do pilates, have a roller, pilates ball and a few weights at home. The repetitions and breathing help me
- Essential oils. I always have a few splashes on a tissue up my sleeve. For me, lavender and bergamot; maybe a slash of frankincense. I think pleasure more broadly is brilliant. Focus on what your senses like to take you out of your head and into your body. That could be sex on the kitchen floor (God, I don’t know), or you might enjoy a soft blanket to cover your legs. It could be a really good cake. Or a sunset. Or music. A playlist is marvellous. Mine is full of the naffest things because they are cheering to me.
- Thinking/feeling. Sit with the feeling. I was seized with it, rigid, on the school run this morning. I sat with it, let it do its thing and, in a minute or so, the worst had gone. Here’s a really terrible tip: DON’T THINK ABOUT THE THING THAT WORRIES YOU. Hmm. Right. I don’t want you to think about custard creams at all. No. Stop, Not at all. Doesn’t work. Start a parallel train of thought instead; distraction. Your brain is sometimes a bit thick and will orient quite nicely to that: the other stuff can wander off. The custard creams can hang out in the biscuit tin where they’re supposed to be. Also, if someone is mean to you – maybe again and again – and you cannot entirely escape (adding that you MUST endeavour to escape from a situation which is genuinely threatening: and I promise I have), try to turn them into a comic character in your head. That’s what I do. Humour. Oh, and those whose influence has been or is still deleterious to my life now get turned into a character in a story or in one of my books. Usually as a mass of characters and their traits; never names. Please don’t tell anyone I told you that, okay? (And anyway, it’s crystal clear in my first book.)
- Let go of things. If you keep trying to change others’ behaviour, you will – I HAVE – make yourself ill. I have had and continue to have family members who are cruel to me and it hasn’t been possible to remove this. So I have to think about backing myself and being mindful of how I react. The very act of doing that makes me feel more in control and less battered, ergo less anxious. Rejected? Know that rejection is just as much about the rejector as it is about you. Know, also, that just because you feel or think something does not mean that something is true. It’s possible that you never ingested that properly: I know I hadn’t until my thirties!
- Talk to people. Friends; online. Laugh. But, more broadly, a huge thing for me is that I chat merrily to everyone and anyone. At the bus stop; at the supermarket till. And I will tell you a thing: you may blunt someone else’s loneliness, someone else’s anxiety and your world may expand. Insights happen because people are bloody marvellous. Don’t beat yourself up if you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than do this, though. Also, not everyone responds. Go with that.
- Animals. Your own; other people’s. Borrow a dog. I do.
- Being in nature. Unencumbered and really looking at things and appreciating them. That could be rain on a leaf. Very simple, but the ordinary miracle can do marvellous things, I have found.
- Likewise, reading the urban street. Really look; the details in the stone, the brick, stucco, font on a sign…you get the idea. Being observant is splendid.
- Self care more broadly. Again, this may sound twee, but making yourself a cup of tea in a favourite mug and serving only yourself for a while is A GOOD THING. When anxiety levels are high or when the black dog bites, that may be the time you don’t look after yourself – be aware that this is the very time you need to.
- Reading. I’ve written before about how I rebuilt my mind with books; in childhood and adolescence, I built a world of imaginary friends. We will explore that later. But the point is that reading is escape, beauty; new doors open – ideas you had never thought of. It is a powerful and lifegiving thing and, for me, integral to my mental health. My survival, in fact.
- I think that’s enough. Here, my careworn darling. Though there is so much more to say, this is for you. You are not alone xxxx