When I think of anxiety, I think of cold, icy veins. That’s when I’m really anxious – it’s immobilising, paralysing, petrifying. I also think of the symptoms on the questionnaires you do for the doctor – dry mouth, racing heart, breathlessness. Unlike the icy veins, I experience none of those. And because the icy veins tended to only happen when I was very very hung over, and thus I’ve been able to avoid them by avoiding hangovers I’ve always thought, oh I’m not a particularly anxious person. But I’m getting to know my emotions more, which is hard, and I guess the reason why I’ve kept them buried for so long. I am learning that actually, I am quite anxious indeed.
However, anxiety, for me, shows up in other ways: down google rabbit-holes when Louis-James has the slightest thing wrong or frantically throwing things out due to feeling like there is just too much stuff everywhere. I think of my pregnancy, and see so clearly now that the 4 trips to the hospital for reduced movements had nothing to do with reduced movements and everything to do with a high level of anxiety. Of course, no one asked me about my mental health state (which should be a mandatory part of prenatal care) or if they did, they probably asked me about those things above – the dry mouth, changed heart rate and breathlessness (which, come to think of it, are pretty standard pregnancy symptoms anyway). No one asked me – do you worry there is something wrong with your baby? No one asked me when I went to the dermatologist for a full skin cancer check at 28 weeks if my moles had really changed or if I was completely freaking out about having melanoma because I was anxious. Sometimes I think these generic questions have a lot to answer for – when you put them in real life context it’s much easier to realise that, actually, yes I am feeling very anxious.
When I’m feeling anxious, like I am this morning, I feel out of control. I feel disorganised. I feel like there is so much to do and I have no idea where to start. I feel disconnected from my body – I’m not able to tell as easily when I’m hungry or full, what I really want to eat. I don’t drink any water for hours and then suddenly I need to skull a litre. When I sit down to meditate and connect to each body part, I can’t really feel them. It’s like I have no legs or arms or belly or head. It’s very strange and usually, inspires yet even more anxiety. My mind jumps all over the place with plans and ideas – I get an idea of something I want to do, or study, or a project I want to start. Then suddenly an other idea jumps in and bumps it out of the way. Then I get confused and caught up in trying to figure out what it is I want to do and I feel very lost. I find it hard to concentrate. I find it hard to focus. I tell myself ‘I just need to meditate’. Then in meditation I say, ‘actually I need to go for a run…No, I need a vigorous bush walk, or maybe I need to be by the beach’.
Today I meditated and I just sat with it. I sat with not being able to feel my body very well. I sat with the racing thoughts. I sat with the urge to plan my life away. I listened to a sound healing and I sat there through it all. It wasn’t pleasant. But I did it. I wish I could tell you I feel calmer, that the meditation got rid of the anxiety. It didn’t. It never really does. But it does show me that I can sit with it, get to know it, lean in. I don’t have to do anything to get rid of it. I can just let it be and continue on.
And I think maybe that’s the key to it all. Anxiety is so uncomfortable, it’s unbearable at times. And its key message is this: there is something really wrong. When there’s something wrong we feel like we need to run, fight it or we become paralysed – we freeze. And these are pretty difficult actions to have to constantly deal with and can get in the way of life very easily. I wouldn’t have been induced if I realised I was anxious and there was nothing wrong with my baby. And that would have changed a lot, I believe, but that’s a story for another day. After he was born the community health nurse came and did a questionnaire. I actually rated high on anxiety at that point. I knew I was anxious. I worried about him constantly. But I think that’s pretty normal. I think it’s probably biological too – they’re so fragile and small they need someone who is obsessive about their life, because without it they’d die.
A quick search of the most googled terms to do with ‘anxiety’ shows that most people are looking for a cure, for a way to deal with it, to get rid of it. I don’t blame them – anxiety is so uncomfortable, perhaps the most uncomfortable emotion of them all. For years I did things to get rid of it too – drank too much, smoked, took drugs, took pharmaceuticals, exercised, dieted, scrolled on social media, watched TV.. basically I tried everything and anything and truthfully, a lot of it worked. Well, it allowed me to avoid the intense emotions anyway. In fact, avoidance was one of my key coping mechanisms – I’d avoid new things, I’d avoid doing things that I knew would make me anxious, I avoided social things with lots of people or those that were too far from home. I think I was so good at avoiding and tapping out, that I was able to pretend I wasn’t anxious at all. But now that I look back I see that avoiding life is no way to live. I felt like shit from all the things I did to run away from feeling anxious. I lived in a very small bubble. And the more I think about it, the more I see that for me, finding a cure or a way to fix it is unrealistic, and actually misses the point entirely. I think I have to face it head on.
So lately I’ve been thinking what if I just let the anxiety be there but just learn not to listen to it? Rather than doing all these things to get rid of it perhaps I just need to learn to ignore it, to let its voice become a sound in the distance and stop listening to what it has to say. And not an ‘ignore it’ in the sense I have been doing all my life – pretending it’s not there. That hasn’t worked – but just acknowledge it, sit with it, and then say ‘okay anxiety, looks like you’re here for the moment, you can come with me for the day if you must, but I’m just not going to listen to what you have to say’. Might be harder than it sounds but I think I’ll give it a go.