And I thought I could fill my life to over-flowing with to-do lists and events and occasions and parties without feeling the lack of sleep or head-space.
The community drinks, the party I hosted for 70, the day trip to London christmas shopping, the gig in St Asaph cathedral in North Wales. The presents to buy, the christmas cards to write (okay so that never actually happened), the pantos and Christmas concerts. Gifts for teachers’, nativity costumes, end of term party food and managing the small peoples’ emotions and expectations with all the events of the last few weeks of term. Life has been hectic and exhausting and crazy… and I LOVED it (Well, maybe except the costume making)
But, it was a lot. And i expected to be able to cope with it like a
normal perfect person.
To be chipper and well turned out. To be patient with my children. To enjoy all the
pressured special moments of this time of year.
And, I LOVE CHRISTMAS.
But by the end of two weeks non-stop, too little sleep and lists as long as my arm, I felt a bit battered.
No, lets be honest, I felt anxious.
There it is, that word… anxiety. My evil nemesis. Sounds so minor and innocuous. But if I don’t keep an eye on it and deal with it as soon as I notice what is happening, it can be ruling my life before I know it.
Ever since I was diagnosed, the most visceral and regular symptom of my depression has been anxiety. Learning how to deal with anxiety has been the hard work of my last four years.
There is a difference between anxiety and fear. Fear can be your body’s healthy response to circumstances; it is the physical and mental response to a given danger. You are crossing the road and a car speeds towards you – it is fear that sharpens your reflexes enabling you to make the snap decisions you need to make. How far is the pavement? Do I need to run? Thus saving your life.
Anxiety , however, works by stealth. It distracts and removes you from the present moment. It is ambiguous and amorphous. You can’t pin it down or describe it. Like a cloud, or a fog, nothing can be seen clearly through it and it obscures your view of what is really happening. It dulls all positive emotion and overwhelms you with negative thoughts. It is exhausting and all encompassing.
It isn’t logical. I can often find a root trigger for my anxious downward spiralling, but when I try to explain what has set me off, it seems ridiculous. When I was in a bad place I only had to hear a news report, or take a wrong turn in conversation, read a particular passage in a novel or watch a film and I would be set off. I was not robust. Matt would ask me to pinpoint what I was feeling worried about and I couldn’t articulate it, or if i could he wouldn’t see why it was consuming me. It wasn’t rational.
My anxiety is pretty much always health related. I think about illness, or hear about it and I think I am going to be ill, or the kids will. I think this will be humiliating.
Basic stuff really. Primitive even. Not enlightened or intellectual.
Anxiety is a very physical thing so it is probably no surprise that my fears were always very physical. Crude even.
Even now, when I would say I have a much better handle on my life – I can still look back after an anxious day or few days and think I should have seen it coming. But I don’t. Somewhere in my subconscious, I think I should be super-woman, and want to do all things for all people, no matter what the cost (mentally or physically).
But I am learning, and the anxiety created by the busyness of the past few weeks was (and is being) easily dealt with. It is no longer a terminal sentence.
I still haven’t managed to achieve super-human status. I will continue to stretch myself (as we all do from time to time), and have periods that are exhausting (like everyone), but it doesn’t need to derail me. There is hope.
I have begun to manage my anxiety and I would say, particularly since this summer, I have been on an increasingly stable foundation. I have taken time to try and be aware of potential triggers, I have built in a kind of buffer; I have created some capacity. I am no longer living right on the edge of coping.
This is the first of a few posts I am planning to write about anxiety. The fact that I am writing about it is a good sign. I have learnt a few things. I am in a far stronger position to cope with potential anxiety and I am no longer living frightened that I might come into contact with a trigger that could set me hurtling off on the roller coaster of panic. I am not ‘healed’. We live in a world where, for some of us, it has become imperative that we learn new techniques (which I intend to try and write about in the new year) and put them into practise, and that is not going to change.
I am better though. I am able to rest and know peace.
But, i am raising the red warning flag now, if busyness is the first step towards stress which is just a hop, skip and jump to anxiety, this is a time of year where, in amongst all the goodwill and peace, there is also quite a lot to do… it gets pretty busy!
If in doubt, Let yourself off the hook, and take the easy option (and yes, there is one… if in doubt ask someone else – Matt convinced me to get a take-away rather than cooking for friends tonight, AND convinced me that he was capable of doing the Christmas food shop for me – what a hero!…. the control freak in me sometimes needs reminding the world isn’t going to end if I don’t get through my to-do list!)
And enjoy rest. And know peace.
And, to end, something festive.
These lyrics hold so much truth and promise for me, I haven’t been able to get them out of my head all week:
‘A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices.’