I never thought I was an anxious person. A few years ago when I experienced anxiety and depression together I thought my world was falling apart. The sick feeling, the inability to be still or settled, sleeplessness and constant horrible feeling felt like the worst thing ever. And I remember saying that I’d never know what anxiety was before. Now, of course there is a difference between anxiety in its extreme form which is an illness and day-to-day anxiety which many of us experience. But I realise that I never recognised that day-to-day feeling as anxiety because I never let it permeate through long enough for it to reach my consciousness. Instead I would find ways to numb it, usually with sweet stuff. Other addictive behaviours like shopping or creating some drama also figured fairly high on my ‘coping mechanisms’, I use the phrase lightly.
Over the last few months I have been on a new learning curve. As part of a support group for compulsive eating I been ‘abstinent’ from sugar and other trigger foods for several months. That has taken care of the physical craving for all that stuff. But the hardest part, as everyone knows, is the mental obsession and the feelings that drive us to want to make ourselves feel better in the first place. Not so easy! And one of the first things that came up for me was, you got it, anxiety. At first I have to say I wasn’t too good at recognising it. Sometimes I must have it pointed out to me by my nearest and oh so dearest, “You are anxious” she’ll say, “about x or y”. My usual first response is to deny this vigorously. I didn’t get where I am today by admitting to having uncomfortable feelings! But I am trying to listen and not always be right ( That’s a Tough One). And 9 times out of 10 it’s true. ( It may be 10/10 but I have to have room for growth here). And then I am confronted with realising I have a Feeling That I Don’t Know What To Do With. My previous ‘coping mechanism’ hs been consigned to the bin ( food) and I am working on the shopping/drama/distraction ones one day at a time ( Sweet Jesus).
Last night for instance. I was giving a talk at the support group. This was the first time at that group that I had given a talk. I wanted to ‘get it right’. I re-wrote what I was going to say 3 times, I changed it again when I got to the meeting. I was pretty anxious. And this is even with a) planning b) praying c) knowing I was with friends. And I realised that the only thing to do was to say, ‘Yes, I am anxious!”. It didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do,
it was Just A Feeling. It wasn’t going to kill me. And the fear was what? That I wouldn’t get it right? That I’d make a mistake or make a fool of myself or not be helpful to someone else? Well phooey. Isn’t it wonderful how ego gets in the way of just being present and doing the job in front of you?!
So this morning I am sitting here knowing I did my best and that was good enough. That is pretty damn good for me to say. And today I am just going to be grateful to that anxiety when it comes along because it lets me know that all I can do is my best. And that the feeling will pass and today is always a new day.
It feels almost like summer, a day for throwing open the windows and revelling in the sun on your skin. I wore pale blue cotton trousers and a summer top and sat drinking a skinny cappuccino and reading my book feeling like a pampered princess. Bare feet and arms and the sun on my skin is enough to raise my happiness levels from 0 to 10 in the space of opening my eyes. Hearing the birds singing outside the window and the light filtering through the blinds as I wake is good for my soul.
Throwing off the blanket of winter and feeling myself begin to emerge from a long phase of being cocooned has been happening over the last months. Healing from any injury or illness is a slow process. As I am shedding some layers of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually it seems they are all tied together. No big revelation there, but the process is something to be treasured as well as the outcome. For after all, we are all in the process of becoming. The thing is, how to learn to just stay in the process whatever and wherever it takes me? That being in the moment thing.
The curse of depression is a dreadful sense of isolation and disconnection which comes with it. Some days it seems like a deep dark place that you just want to hide in for ever. Add to that any addiction and the sense of isolation and despair increases. Being grateful is a simple skill in theory and one to practice for the sense of hope it can give.
Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life problem at once.
It is a grey old day today. Fog and mist all day and that autumnal dampness that gets under your skin. I took the dog for a walk wearing my winter coat, only its second outing this season. funny to think that this time last year the UK was in the middle of ‘The Big Freeze’ and we were slipping and sliding our way around whilst snow and hoar frosts made the landscape into Narnia under the Snow Queen.
As I get older I appreciate the seasons more. I don’t dread winter any more for its dark nights and mornings. I like the festivals that the seasons bring for the celebrations of light. I like putting on my winter coat and feeling ready for any weather. Watching the leaves dropping from the trees reminds me that December is almost here with family Christmas and celebrations. And then the year turns and we wait for the light to egin to return.
Today I was looking through photos from October when the Missus and I had an escape to Rhodes. Winter is a good time to get out those photos and finally do something with them. I have a project in mind with old family photos to make a scrapbbok for future generations. So many old photos. And then all the images stored on computer, ones I keep meaning to make into albums or frame and put on the walls. So many winter evenings and weekends that could occupy.
This afternoon I am cooking a shepherds pie for dinner with the family. Pottering in the kitchen and creating comfort food, looking forward to seeing everyone together at the table. looking at pohotos, reading my book, catching up on emails. I am very grateful.
Looking up at the Segrada Familia, Barcelona
The Vatican, Rome
Is there something about churches that makes me want to look up? The decoration of each tiny part reflecting the worship of hundreds of hands and hearts. A special sort of stillness, the sense of decades of prayerful meditation. I like the simple in everyday spirituality. The branches of a tree reaching into a winter’s sky , the touch of a hand, the beauty of the earth. Sometimes the words of the Psalm, “Mine eyes look up to the hills, from whence cometh my help” resonate. I don’t know that I fully understand their meaning but sometimes words convey a hidden depth that comforts without it being necessary to take them apart.
Today I am looking up and seeing grey skies, but inside it is warm with the scent of homemade rhubarb crumble baking in the oven. The sound of music coming from upstairs. Papers on the kitchen table I have sorted for tomorrow. A mug of tea. Blessings in the ordinary.
Sunday, Sunday a day for taking it slow.I met with the funeral director this morning. Such a lovely man. Its been a family firm since 1832 and we used them for my Dad 5 years ago. He remembered all the details and it was so easy to arrange for Mum because she wanted just the same. We will have a service in the church. The one we saw every week as we took her out and where the bells were ringing the night she died. You can see the steeple from the front door. She will have a beautiful wicker basket with flowers woven round the handles. Afterwards she will be buried next to my Dad in a Woodland cemetery.
This afternoon we went to visit dad and to let him know it wont be long until she is there beside him. His tree has grown strong and tall, an oak. And the wildflower seeds we scattered have taken root and spread. The number of trees has grown over the last few years so there is now a little thicket of them set amongst the rolling countryside. It is on a small rise so you can look down onto farmland and watch the cows in the field next door. It is a peaceful place with birdsong. The dog likes to walk there and sniff about. It is nice to know where she will be.
After we went to visit the pub we will go to after the service. It sits on the canal with narrowboats pulled up alnogside and baskets of flowers spilling over. The Trent and Mersey canal was opened in 1777 and The Star Inn was open at least a century before that. We walked up the canal towpath to the bridge admiring the boats and sat at a table under a big red umbrella to have a drink and watch the world go by. We admired the dog in a life jacket on top of a boat running up and down the roof. The Missus has her heart set on a narrowboat whereas I have yearnings for a motor home. Watching the boats today and the peaceful pace, I might be persuaded, but don’t tell her. Sunday was a day for Mum. We would take her out for lunch and often for a drive. Today it felt like she was with us. We talked about her all afternoon. I havent cried yet. It still doesn’t really seem real. I expect I will. Tonight we are all going out for an Indian meal. me and the Missus, all the boys and girlfriends. It is the first time we have all been together at once since Friday. It will be good to all be together and be family. I think I am going to take a picture of Mum with me and we can have her on the table and drink a toast to her.
Apple Blossom this spring in our garden
Feeling low today. It was a real effort to a) get out of bed and b) get dressed, breakfast, get to work. Mainly I think I am feeling sadness and grief. Anticipatory grief I suppose as well as sadness at the change in the last week with Mum. I think it sort of hit me in a different way that she may not be here much longer. It’s a weird time. There is the knowing that there is nothing specific to be done. I see here every day and we are organising a family rota so someone else pops in too most days. But some days it is hard to get my head where it should be for work and other things. I can concentrate on what I need to do and then my mind drifts off. I check my phone constantly. I have it on silent or vibrate but then worry I have missed a call even though I know they can ring me on the office phone in an emergency. At night I have started having anxiety dreams. Last night I was in a car which was sliding backwards down a hill on thick ice. I had the hand-brake on but couldn’t stop it from slowly rolling away.
I thought about not going in to work today but made myself dress and put some make-up on. My make-up is a good indication of my mood, although only I can interpret it! When I’m low sometimes making myself get my moisturiser on a bit of mascara and some lip gloss is a good sign of ‘putting my face on’ to meet the day. Lip gloss is a big signal. Today I re-applied it several times! Of course I may also wear it to weddings and happy events so don’t take my word for this, I can be contrary too. So I got through today. Working with families sometimes makes me realise how lucky I am, today was one of those days. Also today a colleague went off on maternity leave. She is having her first baby and has been glowing with excitement and anticipation throughout the pregnancy. Today in her bright pink top she looked like a luminous space hopper. I gave her a bunch of freesia just because they smelt so sweet.
Tonight Mum was asleep or dozing when I visited. I read the paper and made small talk and she knew I was there and occasionally responded. She is very tired but seemed quite peaceful today. We are waiting for a special nursing bed so she can be moved more easily and be propped up more so she can have a different view. I will try to speak to the District Nurse tomorrow. They have to put in a request to the PCT ( Primary Care Trust) and a ‘Urgent” request went in last week. Urgent seems to have more than one meaning. She is wearing one of her new nighties that we bought last weekend and looking pretty and well cared for.You hera such awful stores of old people in care homes wearing other people’s clothes and not having their hair brushed. I am so glad Mum always looks nice and the staff take such a pride in their work. I am so glad we live nearby and can keep an eye too on what is happening.
Today is a day when it was so good to get home. We chatted over the day and have eaten our dinner of nut cutlets, salad and wholemeal pittas. I am feeling hibernating tendencies. I want to go to bed and hide under the covers where I can feel safe. I want to be a child again snuggled up with no serious things to think about and to pretend this sadness has gone away. I’m glad I can have a hug, a cup of tea and maybe sleep it all away for a moment. Denial is a wonderful thing. And real life will be here again tomorrow.