Can you tell from the recent radio silence here that I may have suffered from a bit of a reading slump?
May have meaning 100%, absolutely, definitely.
I was in one of those moods that made it impossible to settle on a genre/author/subject/book length; one of those moods where my mind fluttered from thing to thing, worry to worry, upsetting news story to upsetting news story, chore to chore, sparkly idea to sparkly idea – all without really getting anywhere.
But respite from this brain fog came – not a moment too soon – in the form of a wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine hardback from Susanna Clarke (author of the equally wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).
‘I almost forgot to breathe. For a moment I had an inkling of what it might be like if instead of two people in the world there were thousands.’
Piranesi – our peculiar, fastidious, and naïve, but utterly charming, protagonist – inhabits a world of strange and deadly tides, avant-garde statues, warped time, confusing omens, complex corridor mazes, and mindboggling rooms. He lives alone in this bizarre world, with only weekly(ish) meetings from an elusive man known simply as “The Other” to keep him company. He is uneasily content with his fragmented universe – but everything Piranesi thinks he knows about life, everything he religiously catalogues in his journals, everything he thinks keeps him safe, is thrown into disarray by the arrival of “16”.
I thought it was a beautiful book. Every page was infused with a quiet melancholy and delicately twisted mystery that haunted me not only as I was reading it, but inbetween readings too. And emotions that follow you around and play on your mind between reads are always a good sign with a book.
If you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll love Piranesi. I think too, even though they’re very different, Piranesi would make a great gateway book for anyone who is intrigued by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell but is daunted by the prospect of committing to 1000 pages (god knows, I was).
And if you’re just a little ol’ book blogger in the middle of a two month long reading slump? Well, it’s the sort of book that’ll fix that too.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that 2020 has been all about revelling in the little wins. It’s been about celebrating the tiny nice things that have oiled the news-rusted cogs of each day. Sometimes, it’s simply been clinging on to delicate rays of light at the end of unexpected tunnels. And lockdown 2.0 in the middle of a rainy English autumn has only heightened that need (for me, at least) to find the good in the often bad and sometimes ugly.
This post is in honour of some of those random little things that have been my delicate rays of light.
In no particular order, they are…
watercolour clouds. Fluffy, wispy, and wavy; low, heavy, and menacing; in pretty purples, peachy oranges, pastel pinks, shining golds, glittering silvers, and grumpy greys. Clouds at this time of year certainly know how to keep us all guessing what their next moves will be. Which isn’t always ideal, but it is often nice to look at.
jumpers. I love summer, but being reunited with my jumper collection makes my heart ridiculously happy. I just love wrapping up in oversized knitwear, snug as a bug. If you need me anytime in the next six months, you’ll find me hiding in a cocoon of wool.
singing Fleetwood Mac around the house. My family and neighbours might not appreciate me doing this, but I appreciate me doing it so there. Songs to be particularly careful of when they start to play include: Isn’t It Midnight (my favourite), Gypsy, and – of course – Everywhere. Tbh though, no Fleetwood Mac song is safe from my vocal butchery.
bake off. Ah god, the Great British Bake Off brings so much joy to my 2020 wearied soul. It’s comfort TV at its absolute best. Although, did anyone else find watching all the bakers mess up the making of brownies during chocolate week worryingly distressing? FREEZER JUICE! *suppresses eye twitch* Freezer. Juice. I just can’t. *cries*
fresh sheets. Clean sheet day is my favourite day of the week. I love being snuggly, I love being squeaky clean – the match is made in heaven. Sweet dreams are made of this.
watching hair tutorials gone wrong on YouTube. I lay the blame for this obsession entirely at Brad Mondo’s door. It’s such a waste of time, but I can’t seem to stop and I kinda don’t want to stop. It is worryingly addictive witnessing people melt off their hair with bleach, and it somehow makes the worries of the world melt away too…
new music. Old favourites keep my soul cosy, but new finds keep my ears happy. I’m one of those annoying people who has no preferred genre, I just like what I like when I hear it and I don’t think internet algorithms and cookies know quite what to do with me. I’ve been on a new finds roll recently, and one of the tracks from this roll is Loom by Olafur Arnalds and Bonobo. I love it. And how b.e.a.utiful is this video?!
old photos. I love the nostalgia, I love the embarrassment, I love seeing how much clothes/hairstyles/make-up/tech has changed, I love the little stories behind each one… I can’t get enough. And they don’t even have to be my old photos. Vintage/antique photographs make me wonder about lives I’ll most likely never know anything about, and are great for inspiring story ideas.
chocolate. Chocolate makes pretty much every list post I write, which is probably a sign that I need some serious help… but I don’t actually want to recover from this addiction so there. *sticks out chocolate coated tongue*
putting on socks fresh from the radiator. I cannot recommend this enough. It is SUCH a toasty warm feeling and makes for VERY happy feet. If there’s only one thing that you take away from this list, let radiator socks be it.
reflections. One of the few good things about rain is that it makes great puddles, and great puddles make great reflections. And I love a great reflection. What can I say?
eBay. Lockdowns and the reduced opening hours of a lot of local charity shops have made second-hand shopping sprees rare for me this year, but eBay has been a great substitute fix. Which leads me onto…
dressing up. Lockdown boredom has resulted in me reaching to my wardrobe to brighten up quieter days on (a lot) more than one occasion. Sure, sometimes the visual results of my “pick the sparkliest, floweriest clothes I can find” attitude are questionable but it makes me happy so I’m not really fussed if I offensively clash a pattern or two.
wild time. Spending time in nature makes painful days bearable, and already good days even better. Most of my favourite memories from this year involve blue skies, trees, the sea, and/or flowers in some way. And although autumn and winter make outside time a little more tricky, it’s nothing a good piece of knitwear and a hot chocolate can’t fix.
boooooooks. I’m not even going to explain this one. My love will never die. ❤
So, those are a few of the very random things that have been seeing me through the harder moments of autumn 2020. How about you? I’d love to know what little things have been bringing you joy in all of this year’s strangeness…
My mum found this old photo of my brothers and I the other day and I can’t get it out of my head. It makes me smile. It makes me full of memories. It makes me miss dungarees, even though I’m not the one wearing them in the pic. It makes me embarrassed (I mean, who thought a pudding bowl hair cut on an already super round face was a good idea? How could you, Mum?!). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in the story to provoke such an anxious expression from me (clearly it was a nail-biter). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in real life that resulted in all the family (minus Dad) gathered around a book for a photo. It makes me grateful that I grew up with parents who took the time to read to, and make up stories on the spot for, me and my siblings. It makes me realise books have been my world, forever. And it makes me realise that I wouldn’t want it any other way, forever.
I always seem to go AWOL from blogging at this time of year, but this year I actually have good reasons for letting the digital tumbleweed take over. The last few weeks have been a blur of happenings, a lot of highs, a few lows, and a mish mash of wonderful adventures. I’ve had some much needed time off work to laze about under shiny autumn skies; I got a beautiful new sister-in-law on one of the sunniest, happiest, smiliest days ever; I finally got to catch up with one of my best friends on her new to me, but old to her, home turf in Plymouth; and I spent some nights in a field beside the sea with old friends reading, laughing, getting smoky clothes, getting cold, listening to waves, and watching shooting stars.
It’s been the best. But my blogging AWOL days are over for another year, I promise.
This little book was meant to be a kind of filler read, an inbetween, a papery breather before a deeper dive into the book sea – but it became so much more.
I know that I overuse this word when it comes to books, but this one deserves it…
It was b.e.a.utiful.
It’s 158 pages of gut-wrenching honesty that spans life and death and all the messiness between. It’s about so much more than the author’s journey to become a doctor (although that would be more than enough) – it’s about love, loss, learning, what it feels like to realise a dream, what it feels like to sleepwalk into a waking nightmare, unsustainable pressures, broken working environments, the NHS, burnout, and the process of building yourself back up again.
‘Breaking is accumulative. We collect small episodes of despair and unhappiness, our own Kodak moments, and we carry them with us until their weight becomes too much to bear and we fracture under the burden. Mending is the same. The more often we witness small moments of compassion, the more humanity we see; and the more likely we are to be able to mend ourselves and the quicker we are to heal.’
It’s filled with pain and exhaustion and despair, but it’s filled with happiness and hope and wonder too.
Normally, I’m a pretty picky reader. If a book hasn’t hooked me by about the fifty page mark (and that’s if I’m feeling really generous, yikes), it’ll be out on its ear and unlikely to be given a second chance to redeem itself.
Recently, though, something weird seems to have happened to me and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the development.
I’ve ploughed on through two books (who shall remain nameless) that I wasn’t partlicularly enjoying. I refused to give up on them until I made it to their very ends. I stubbornly kept turning their pages. I kept telling myself that things would get better and fall into place. I kept feeling FOMO (of what I don’t actually know) flood my veins each time I considered DNFing them.
One book felt worth the struggle, but only just. The other really, really didn’t.
And these reading experiences have left my reader’s heart and my bookish insticts confused and shaken. I’m not used to feeling unsure about whether to stick books out. Reading decisions are one of the only things in my life I don’t tend to overthink and it’s weirdly unsettling to have that confidence disrupted.
Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’ll shake up my entrenched reading habits and force me to grow and change in unexpected ways. Maybe it means I need to challenge myself.
Maybe it’s just overthinking.
I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
• How do you decide when to stop reading a book? • Have you ever regretted sticking with a book? • Have you ever been thankful you didn’t give up on one? • Do you find changes to your reading habits disruptive in unexpected ways? •
Who knew shopping for a new moisturiser could be so emotionally stressful?
There are so many dramatic, confidence-coroding words to wade through. Defying. Minimising. Reduce the signs of. Fight the signs of. Repair. Fix. SOS. Anti-wrinkle. Anti-ageing.
The lines of my body and the lines of yours are the storylines of our lives – and I’m so, so tired of being made to feel like I have to fight the signs that I’m actually a living, breathing human who’s lucky to be growing older, and maybe even growing wiser, every day. I’m tired of the impending sense of fleshy doom companies drip feed me from all angles. Tired of heart-deep skin worries. Tired of filters specifically designed to “beautify” and hide “flaws” and distort features; filters that mess with the insides as well as the outsides of our heads. I’m tired of airbrushing. And I’m tired of chasing unattainable, ever-changing perfection.
No cream, no balm, no serum, no filter can substitute for the storylines of a life well-lived.
These are some of my body’s lines…
Little cardboard cuts scratched across my fingers and forearms – the bane of supermarket workers the world over. Palm lines that hold my future and my past, or maybe they don’t, who knows? Teeny, tiny fingerprint lines, all mine. Spidery blue lines just below my skin – beating, flowing, rushing lifelines. Hairband lines – most days one found on my right wrist, some days one found right round my tresses, the ugly ghost of a ponytail. Centre parting line, something I have always, and will always, refuse to change no matter what hairdressers say. Anklet lines, my inner bohemian/hippie/magpie released. Bracelet lines painted against my pulse. Watch strap lines telling fleshy time. Tan lines, pale moon-white skin versus slightly less pale and freckle flecked skin. Sometimes, fake tan streaks. Occasionally, wonky eyeliner. Most days, lipstick smudges. Sock lines dug into my calves. Worry lines etched deep on my forehead, maybe even carved down into my skull, from years of not knowing how to let anxieties go. Smile lines that crinkle by my lips, always ready and waiting to make an appearance, from years of knowing the best family and friends. Teary mascara streaks across my face when it all gets too much. Bra strap lines that dent my shoulders and stretch across my back. Uncomfortable underwire lines that trace up to my armpits. White dashes on my fingernails and jagged, broken lines of varnish. Burn lines, guilt infused. Bleary red veins that creep and crawl in the whites of my eyes after too little sleep, bleary red pillowcase creases that thread across my cheek bones after too much. Stretch marks, silver tiger prints blooming on my thighs, my hips, my breasts. Bikini line, ahem. Crinkles above, below, behind my knees. Little lines on my ears from earphone wires. Face mask lines on my nose, something new to get used to. Mini crosshatched lines tattooed to my hands and knees from my yoga mat. Muscle lines – be careful, I’m stronger than I look. Big lines from chair edges pressed into the backs of my thighs. Lines of book page edges printed to the fleshy bit below my thumb. Necklines – higher, lower, what will people think, why do I even care? Jean seam lines, waistband lines, cuff lines.Careless ink lines slashed across my hands. The whisper of crow’s feet lines beside my eyes, memories of laughter.
These are a few of my reading highlights from the last few weeks…
between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a raw, heartfelt, and compelling letter by the author to his son on the subject of race in America. Not only does it lay bare the sustained experiences of racism most black Americans face in their lives, it also unpicks the idea of the American dream itself. It’s a beautifully written, brutally honest, and insightful book.
‘You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable… The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.’
rebeccaby Daphne du Maurier. I ordered a copy of Rebecca from the library just before lockdown, and finally got my hands on a copy earlier this month (yay for libraries re-opening!). I found it just as twisted and gothic and haunting and suspenseful as My Cousin Rachel – although I did find it infuriating to have such an aloof main character (she’s never even named) despite appreciating that this detachment was a deliberate (and, granted, effective) narrative tool. It’s a classic for a reason, so I won’t bore you with more of my analysis – basically, if you read it it’ll mess with your mind and keep you on your emotional toes.
‘He would never love me because of Rebecca. She was in the house still… she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall… and in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs.’
the salt path by Raynor Winn. Weirdly, I started The Salt Path last year but returned it to my TBR pile for another try when I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to. And I’m so glad I saved it for future reading, because when I picked it up again last month I clicked with it instantly. The book follows Raynor and her husband, Moth, on the physical and emotional ups and downs as they walk the South West Coast Path in England after they’re made homeless and as Moth struggles with the effects of a debilitating illness. It’s a raw account of hitting life’s rock bottom and rebuilding from what’s left. Be careful, though – it’ll make you want to go for a really, really, really long walk.
my sister, the serial killerby Oyinkan Braithwaite. Every now and again, I read a book that I just want to press into the hands of every passer-by I see and shout dramatically: “read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets!”. My Sister, the Serial Killer is one of those books. I’d seen it all over instagram and the book blogosphere for aaages, but was nervous a book about a serial killing sister would be too macabre for me. Turns out, I was totally wrong. I loved it. The story itself is simple but addictive, the characters are lovable if a bit morally adrift, and the tone is incredibly witty despite the dark subject matter. Read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets.
‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.’
• Have you read any of these? • What did you make of them? • What have you been reading recently? •
the bustle and butterflies and getting ready. the backpack and its almost broken zip. the going, going, gone out the door. the grey, grey roads. mirror, signal, manoeuvre. the parking up.
the walk, walk, walk.
the slooshy, silver sea and glassy sunlight. the tarmac to beach ombre. the flip-flops flipped off sandy toes. the picking a spot, backwards, forwards, back again. the nerves, nerves, nerves. the trying to forget my body. the quick strip down to my costume. the quick march to the water and the cool, cool, cool of it against feet, calves, knees, thighs, tummy, arms. the deep, deep breaths. the sinking slowly down to shoulders. the unsucking of feet from sand, flip-flapping them. the slip sliding forwards. the rippling waves slapping chin, cheeks, nose. the absurd thought of sharks. the imagining of pointy teeth, fins, death. the less absurd thought of jellyfish. the imagining of tentacles, poison, death. the closing of eyes and the don’t, don’t, don’t think thoughts. the stopping. the treading water. the goggling at blue skies all above. the resting. the bobbing. neck back, head up, hair wet, heart calming. the tippy toes peeping above the water. the tide tugging, pulling, teasing. the splash marks on sunglasses and the gulls crying. the paddle boarders. the serious swimmers, caps and suits and goggles. the runners on the shore. the cruise ships hanging on the horizon, sea cities turned to ghosts. the goosebumps flooding skin. the press of time, time, time. the strokes towards the beach. the soaked soles on shifting sands. the walking. the fear of falling over. the nerves, nerves, nerves again. the trying to forget my body again. the quick steps across the beach. the sand plastered to ankles. the relief of hiding in a gritty towel. the lying back. the gentle hush of waves. the tired lungs, tired arms, tired legs. the tingly skin. the icy breeze. the tangled hair, sticky and messy in a ponytail. the book, its pages snapping in the wind. the shimmering, sea-slicked shells. the wait, wait, wait to be mostly dry. the packing up. the double check. keys, phone. keys, phone. phone, keys. the drive home with a salty smile on my lips and a little weight lifted from my heart. the rest of the day sunny and sea drunk.
Last year, I wrote this piece about what living with generalised anxiety disorder felt/feels like, after I was diagnosed with it in the summer of 2018 – but in the end I was, hilariously, too anxious to actually publish it. *facepalm*
It’s been living in my saved drafts, taunting me, ever since.
I’m still anxious about publishing it, but I’ve reached a point where I’m as at peace with that discomfort as I’m ever going to get – and, seeing as this week marks two years since I ended up in floods of tears opposite my GP trying to explain the amount of chaos and confusion and fear my brain was drowning in, it feels like a good time to finally share it. It took an embarrassingly long time to write (and it’s probably going to take a long time to read as well, sorry). I kept having to take breaks away from it because the line between catharsis and relapse turns out to be quite a thin one. I’ve left it how I wrote it last year, so the timeline is all wrong and there’s one word near the end that made me cringe when I reread it (you’ll see why when you get there). Also, as of March this year, I’m back on the SSRIs and back in therapy (yaaaay) to try and address the body stuff I’m still struggling with, so my “therapy free life” comment at the start definitely no longer stands. Aaaaand lastly, I know some parts of this post might sound self-pitying or pity-seeking but that’s really not what I wanted to get out of writing it – I just want to share some of the experiences I’ve had. The more I read, the more I listen, the more people I meet, and the older I get, the more I realise that we’re all struggling with something, we’re all just winging it, and we’re all just trying our best with what we’ve got – and that growing sense of perspective has been invaluable. My only hope for this post is that by sharing these things I can help anyone who’s been through or going through similar experiences to feel a little bit less alone.
What Life With Generalised Anxiety Disorder Feels Like
Back in February, after five months of CBT, I was officially released back into the wilds of therapy free life.
I was treated for generalised anxiety disorder, which – at the time – felt like a rubbishly undramatic and pathetic name for what was happening inside my brain. But, to give the name its due, it means exactly what it says.
everything + anxiety = disordered thinking, disordered behaviours, and a disordered life.
This is what it feels like…
Your brain is wired all. the. time. but it’s not wired for useful things or happy things or things that will improve you and your loved one’s lives – it’s flaring like a nuclear reactor siren for all the things that could go wrong, all the things that have gone wrong, all your failings (recent and ancient), and all the world’s failings (recent and ancient). And that anxious inner monologue is like a dog that just won’t stop barking – painful and mind-numbing to listen to, incredibly annoying, and unbelievably distracting.
You can’t sleep because, although your body is dead to the world, your brain is busy convincing you that you might never wake up; that maybe the hob is still on; that maybe all the doors and windows are unlocked; that maybe you forgot to put your car’s handbrake on (not weird worries); that maybe you said something unforgivably nasty to someone during the day and just can’t remember saying it; that maybe you ran over a cyclist whilst driving home and just didn’t notice (getting weirder worries); that maybe your foot is itchy because you scratched it on a syringe and just didn’t realise and now you have HIV or hepatitis or both; that maybe you’re the ugliest human that has ever lived and should stop leaving the house in case you make people unwell with your disgusting face; that maybe you put bleach in your cup of tea earlier and just can’t remember doing it; that maybe you randomly wrote the c-word in the middle of an e-mail, maybe wrote a whole paragraph’s worth of them, and just didn’t realise (definitely weird worries); that maybe there’s a sinkhole under your house and you’re about to die; that maybe there’s a plane tumbling to earth above your house and you’re about to die; that maybe another world war will break out and you and all your family will die; that maybe you’ll start sleepwalking and accidentally kill your family (triggered by this story in the news – fully fledged weird worries); that maybe someone in your family will start sleepwalking and kill you; that maybe you’re not real and the world isn’t real and that there’s no point to anything.
You struggle to make decisions – big and small – because you’re sure whatever you decide will end in disaster – big and small and all shades of disaster grey. You can’t concentrate and sometimes struggle to even talk because your brain is too busy processing absurd scenarios that it thinks it might need to deal with to focus on the actual task in front of it or to focus on the sentence it was half-way through saying. You stop trying new things and stop practising old things because you’re afraid of failing and afraid of ruining things that you love with your rubbishness. You refuse to put your heart on the line – refuse to put it anywhere near the line, eventually stop noticing/believing other people might be close to the line – because you’re embarrassed by your mental messiness and convinced of your physical ugliness, and you’re sure if anyone gets too close they’ll just hate you like you hate yourself.
Your memory is shot to pieces. You nod along blindly as people reminisce about events you were physically there for but mentally absent from – absent from because you were too busy trying to locate all the emergency exits; too busy wondering if there were glass shards in your drink or in your dinner; too busy imagining all the fat in your body tearing through your clothes; too busy trying to figure out how hideously disgusting you looked from 360 different angles; too busy assessing people’s faces for signs that they were repulsed or sickened by your physical appearance; too busy scrutinising an awkward moment from three minutes/days/months/years before; too busy picturing your house burning down; too busy working out if the ache in your head was actually a headache or if it was a brain haemorrhage in headache disguise; too busy praying that the sirens in the distance weren’t the police coming to arrest you for a crime you couldn’t remember committing; too busy contemplating the likelihood of gunmen appearing, which direction they would most likely appear from, and the chances of everyone’s survival.
You become vulnerable to bad people doing bad things to you because you stop trusting yourself and stop knowing which instincts you should believe in, because you blame yourself for those bad things when* they do happen, because you feel so worthless you assume no-one could be bothered to do anything bad to you anyway, because your default reaction is to shut down and convince yourself that the bad thing can’t have been real, that maybe it was just an anxious thought slipping into your perception of real life and that what you really need to do is just get a fucking grip (THIS issue is the biggest fucking kicker, I swear).
*and, unfortunately, it’s most likely when and not if – bad people know who to pick on.
You startle constantly at the smallest things: a customer walking through the door, a friend’s hand on your shoulder, a cute little butterfly fluttering passed on its cute little way to do cute little butterfly things. You cry and you cry and you cry because you’re exhausted and don’t understand what’s happening to your brain, because you’re frustrated that you can’t just pull yourself together, and because you feel unbelievably pathetic. You hurt yourself because it puts some of the pain in your mind onto your flesh, and flesh can’t think and chitter-chatter and babble away like a mind can; and because you’ve reached a point where you really don’t care about mistreating your body anymore – burning, bleeding, and bruising feels like all it’s good for.
You’re so, so ashamed because you don’t know how one person can be filled with so much negativity and badness and horribleness, and you feel guilty because you don’t know how you’ve wasted so much life – life that could have gone to someone else, to someone who would have done something useful with it.
Round and round in circles you go – minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. Weeks, months, and years pass. The circles get smaller, but they, somehow, encompass more worries. They, somehow, spin faster. Your centre of balance tries to shift, tries to keep up, but the dizziness balloons and grows and morphs until you’re bursting at all the threadbare seams that are, somehow, still keeping you together; until you’re pitching left, right, forwards, and backwards on an ever shrinking life tightrope; until you’re actually not sure if just giving up and falling off that life tightrope is really such a bad idea anymore.
You realise you maybe, possibly, perhaps (desperately, desperately, desperately) need some help.
You wait months before actually phoning the doctors because you’ve invented a scenario in your head where the receptionist will tell you to stop wasting their time and strike you off the surgery’s list and then that’ll be the sign from the universe that you definitely have to die. They don’t strike you off the list when you eventually ring (funny that), but you do have to wait a month for an appointment. Then you finally, fina-fucking-ly, get to the appointment – the day before your 26th birthday – and break down the second you walk through your GP’s door. You cry, and blubber, and soak the whole lower half of your face in snot and tears (classy).
You’re lucky – so, so lucky – and have a doctor who listens through your incoherent sobbing; who politely ignores all the stuff dripping from your eyes and nose, and quietly hands you a box of tissues; who takes you and your misfiring brain seriously; and who – most importantly – comes up with a plan that gives you hope that things can change, a plan that doesn’t involve you dying.
Replace all those ‘you’s with ‘i’s and – tadah – there’s messy old me.
*also makes preparations to go and live in a cave to avoid facing family/friends/colleagues who didn’t already know this story*
There’s no start date for me plus GAD, no stressful epiphany, no big trauma, no pantomime villain. My therapist and I raked through a lot of things, and the words “perfect storm” are the only ones that fit – no matter how clichéd they are.
I love, love, love a cliché.
Lots of little things led me down the anxiety-brick road. I had all the life ingredients and all the personal traits to go right ahead and make myself a big old anxiety disorder cake. And I baked that cake to perfection.
What can I say? I’m a good baker. *flicks hair over shoulder sassily*
Generalised anxiety disorder is addictively habitual. It’s superstitious – ‘if I worry about it every second for twenty four hours then maybe the bad thing won’t happen because I’ll be ready? But maybe I’m making the badness gravitate towards me by thinking about it? Fuck, which one is it supposed to be?’ – and it’s so, so delusional. Painfully delusional. It’s a hall-of-mirrors lense that tricks you into thinking you’ll see the world more clearly – in beautiful, crisp focus – if only you just take a look through it. But once you’ve leaned in to see what’s behind the glass, once you’ve leaned in to take that sneaky peek, it shows you a kaleidoscope of horribleness instead – and you don’t know how to tear your eyes from it, don’t know how to unscramble the picture that’s being painted before you.
Being painted by you.
That lense is all you think you have. It’s all you think you can rely on.
With each day, week, and year that passed GAD became inseparable from my whole sense of the world. I decorated everything I loved, all the things I dreamed of, all the hopes I had for my life with its awfulness – some Armageddon tinsel here, a few epidemic* baubles there, plus a sprinkling of sudden death glitter on top.
*okay, so let’s not talk about this prophetic word choice. 2020 is turning out to be some epic exposure therapy. *laughs awkwardly, breaks down in tears*
Every day, my brain still tries to get out that sudden death glitter and make the world sheeny-shiny with horribleness. Every day, I have to remember to put the GAD goggles down and back away from the black hole of worry lurking in my heart.
I think I’m getting better at it.
Obviously, I worry that I’m not. It’s a hard habit to kick.
But mostly I’m finding it easier to dismiss the anxieties that before would have hijacked – hook, line, and sinker – my mind for hours and days and weeks. Mostly I’m able to get on with doing the things I need and want to do. Mostly.
And for now, mostly feels like winning.
For always, mostly is winning.
Some links, tips, and resources that might come in handy:
I was helped by Steps 2 Wellbeing (a NHS service based in Dorset and Southampton, UK).
The Samaritans – you don’t have to be feeling suicidal to call them (maybe this is stupid of me, but I didn’t know that before I went to my GP), they’re there to help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year if you’re feeling bad and need to talk to someone.
Mind have lots of useful information on their website.
Made of Millions have loads of great information, advice, and resources on their site too.
There are useful links for support on the Heads Together website. Heads Together is a charity founded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to tackle the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Arm yourself with knowledge. Whether it’s through books, tv documentaries, podcasts, or radio programmes – learn more. It’s comforting to know you’re not alone and gives a sense of perspective that is invaluable. I find authors like Bryony Gordon, Rose Cartwright, and Matt Haig helpful. You might not have the same symptoms or diagnoses as them or me but it’s remarkable how similar the patterns of mental illnesses are, and there’s no harm in learning more about other people’s experiences.
If you work for a larger company, they’re likely to have a helpline for their employees to ring (that should probably be anonymous, but double check if you’re unsure). Ditto unions.
And please, please, please contact your GP – don’t let make believe scary receptionists put you off.
If anyone has other charities/organisations/books/tips they can suggest, please do!