Sometimes I think I’m in control of my life. I look at my impressive selection of Tupperware. I regularly buy courgettes. I think about insurance from time to time. And often I feel in control of my life when I’m driving, even if it’s just to the local swimming pool. I feel content, have a purpose. To be honest, I probably enjoy any mode of transport that isn’t the tube, but cars are the best. I can play music out loud, fill the passenger seat with snacks, feel the sun on my right arm and hope I get a lopsided tan.
It must be something to do with the fact I’ve made life decisions that mean I lack stability and a sense of direction in a general way. Sometimes, genuinely, I feel like I’m more likely to win an international snooker championship than ever actually write for a living. Sometimes I’m okay with that. Sometimes I feel happy in the decision I’ve made to chase a seemingly impossible dream and never pay off my student loan. And then other times, I pretend I’m fine and then I have a breakdown at a roundabout for no apparent reason, in the vehicle that’s supposed to represent me at my most sane (a Daihatsu Charade), and realise it’s all got a bit too much.
Recently I lost the plot at a roundabout and realised I’m not superwoman. And I learned that the biggest risk behind being in denial is finding yourself crying in a farm shop car park on the phone to your dad on a Saturday morning. I should have realised, by the level of anxiety the thought of filling my car up at the petrol station on the motorway was causing me, that I wasn’t in a good frame of mind. I should have known, from the fact I woke up, wondered why Ed hadn’t texted me from Scotland to say good night, assumed he’d died and started planning his funeral, that perhaps I wasn’t in the most balanced of moods. Nevertheless, I persisted, and it didn’t go so well.
Of course I’m no longer at the roundabout now, because I drove home, made a cup of tea and called it a day, but I am at a roundabout, permanently it feels, going round in circles, and I don’t know which way to go. I’ve talked before about coming out the other side of a battle with anxiety, dosed up on therapy and ready to rock the universe. And to a degree this is true – most of the time I’m much better than I was before. But right now, it’s not as good as it could be. Part of me wonders if it’s ironic, a twist of fate at work, because in a moment of ambition I signed up for a half marathon to fundraise for Mind UK, and since deciding to try and run 21 kilometres through the city of London in the name of the country’s biggest mental health charity my anxiety has gone through the roof.
One of the most frustrating triggers is a sense of restlessness, boredom or loneliness. It makes me feel like a failure, it makes me panic, it makes me cry. It’s why I don’t spend much time alone in my house. I see plays. I do classes. I run around the park. I see friends. I fill my time with work. But this is complicated because another trigger is exhaustion, doing too much and high levels of stress, and so I often find myself trying to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little. I suppose this is the reason why I seem to have developed a perpetual fear of making decisions and a rather debilitating sense of potential regret or guilt. I’m constantly over-thinking what I should and shouldn’t do, with my day, with my job, with my life.
I’ve become slightly allergic to people asking me ‘How I am’ and ‘How things are going.’ Something bottles up inside me. Genuinely, I have no words, and this is a scary thing for someone who enjoys words. Succulent. Discombobulated. Refrigerator. I feel like I have nothing to say – or that if I did start to actually try and describe how I feel it would be extremely inappropriate in the theatre green room, or during a smear test. But that’s why I have a blog – to open a lid on things unspoken. The other day on Twitter I saw the description for the 19th century equivalent of “meh”; “flobly-mobly,” which means somewhere between well and not-well, and in need of sunshine.
I am extremely flobly-mobly right now.
I really hoped that I could start referring to ‘my anxiety’ as just ‘anxiety’ – something separate from myself, like ‘crunchy nut cornflakes’ and ‘nuclear war’ but I can’t, because it’s a part of me, like my ability to play on words, and my hair. And just like my hair, sometimes my brain behaves, and sometimes it gets a bit frazzled. My anxiety means I spend a lot of time thinking about cancer. It means stomach butterflies. IBS. Chewing the inside of my mouth every day. Not picking up the phone to unknown numbers. Thinking about getting home before I’ve even gone out. Fearing decision making. Intrusive thoughts. Thinking about cancer some more. Restless nights. Palpitations. Distraction. Procrastination. Dread.
My anxiety makes me a caring person. Empathetic. Forward-thinking. Organised. A good party planner (even if once everyone arrives and has a great time I go upstairs to bed). Without anxiety I doubt I’d have acquired my sense of humour. My cynicism. To be honest, I doubt I’d have such good Tupperware, because I’d probably just chill out about routine and money and just buy lunch out more often. My anxiety makes me hungry – for success, for fulfilment, for crème eggs when I’m feeling really low. My anxiety makes me me – a Wednesday’s child, a good friend, a funny person, a writer.
It’s 6.50am. I set my alarm to go on a morning run.* I’m trying to break through this distaste I have for running first thing in the morning. I once had a terrible experience involving a Park run and hay fever and it put me off. But most half marathons seem to be at the crack of dawn, so I need to somehow get through it. I’m in bed, having a cup of tea, waking up, writing, and then I’ll leave the house. It’s sunny outside. This week, I’m doing me. I’m doing the things that make me happy, and giving myself a pat on the back for just getting through it. Often I fall into the trap of thinking anxiety is a weakness, a failure, a system breakdown of sorts. What I forget when I’m panicking, and remember when I’m calm, is that it makes you strong. It’s not easy getting up and going to work on an average day, let alone when your brain has spent all night telling you you probably have HIV. Sometimes it’s really hard just to get on the damn train.
I am lucky. I live in a world where we are beginning to talk about mental health openly. The sun is shining outside. I have a support system. Freak shakes exist. This is a reminder to myself that I need to get back to operating on a scale of gratefulness, love and joy, and not a scale of fear, pressure and guilt. I’m running this damn half marathon whether I like it or not, and I’m running it for brains, and health, and honesty. So you can expect some more from me on this topic. I’ve shut it off for a while, because sometimes it’s quite nice to think you’re chill all the time and crack on like a normal person. But the door’s wide open again. Because I’m hardly normal. I have two pet sharks. And normal is boring.
*I wrote this blog post yesterday and forgot to post it. I’m not going on a run this morning. I have an 8.30am hospital appointment for a colposcopy. The third year in a row that my smear test has come back abnormal (told you I wasn’t normal.) Don’t want to sound like a preacher’s daughter, but go get your vaginas looked at, mates. It’s not the most fun I have on an annual basis but I’d rather this than, you know, my vagina falling out or something. Book. Your. Smears.