(A short essay about the art of worrying as a millennial)
I’ll be honest. I have been avoiding putting on my writing cap for a while now; hoping that if I just don’t worry about it, then no harm will come to me.
Alas, this was not the case, and as a result I suffered in my own head to the point it hurt. What could I write about that would be something readers would enjoy? What if I was not up to the task? Did I need to pull back on other responsibilities, or face those worries head on? The latter I avoided. And in the end, I got not far at all.
In the end I came up with an idea at 2am which, as we all know, is when all the finest ideas come into our sleep deprived minds. Why not write about the art of worrying? I seem to be rather good at this after all. And throughout many years I have dealt, and not dealt, with worrying in a way that is unique to me, like all individuals in this world.
I am privileged that I have had many years of fantastic therapy. Some therapy in forms not so common in medical literature, such as taking long walks with headphones, or talking for hours about nonsense with people who I trust. I have met with a variety of different psychologists on more of the traditional spectrum. They are all with their own particular theories and practices; but the ones who I connect with most, are those who “get it”. These are the people who interact genuinely with me, as if I were not a just a “client” needing to be corrected or fobbed off. And it was those who have had similar experiences as myself, and are not afraid to share the wisdom of their own lives honestly. These are the people who have made the biggest impact in helping me through difficult times. Conversely I have met people who are those with lived experience who have been to many of the same places I have, such as my peer support networks. These are networks that I value deeply. I hope the feeling is mutual. In short it’s where we, as those with lived experience of mental distress, can all offer support when we are able, and we can all do our best to help in ways with what we have. We also have a mutual, sometimes unspoken, understanding when not talking is okay too.
I have a number of great friends, I am thankful for them. I would often catch up with these fellow “mad-folk” for coffee, and we could de-brief of what was going on in our lives, without judgement or being told “just don’t worry about it?” I learnt the art of listening too, something I had to really work on. That of course is not to say people who do not have lived experience are not essential, far from it! In fact, a different perspective and a kind ear is always welcome in my book.
I must be honest with you all and say that lately I have been pulling back, pulling back from friends, from going outside, from social events. I go to ones that I should go to, and I make an effort to do my best. I can still get up and go to work, dragging myself out of bed. A girl has got to eat after all.
But sometimes my best; is just me trying to smile. Maybe I might make an effort to talk more than usual, to fake a laugh. I might to try to focus extra hard, and not lose my train of thought. Only to be extra clumsy instead, knocking into things, and letting my vision go blurry. My best is trying to keep up, and my best can be my worst self hidden craft-fully over years of practicing my “Anna is fine” face. Stress is what the doctors call it, and they say I best avoid it. I think we are all supposed to….?
Because sometimes it’s all too much of an effort to keep up with my best and worst self all at once. So I present to the world an image of myself that I think people want to see. This does not always work. And those who know me best can pick it up in an instant. I am not as good of a liar as I make out, and thankfully they remind me to slow down and take a breath, and time. Although I do have nights where I sit and cry about the horrors of the world, things I cannot control. Why are Syrian children being killed? Why is there Animal abuse? Why is it that the word “crisis” we hear on the news is so god damn incessant!
Maybe I also cry as a form realising pain too. Or I cry because I am more affected by matters closer to home. For example, it is easy to feel upset at the current state of the mental health system, and it’s failing of those who experience distress. Because I was/am one of those who felt it let me and others down. I feel a lot of pain, though it is not visible to most people. I feel it nonetheless. To wallow in self-pity does not help, but that doesn’t mean we are all exempt from it.
It all feels like I cannot win.
The other day I sat in the supermarket carpark, hand on my steering wheel, shaking to the core. “Ah-huh! This is the response to a panic attack” I thought; which lucky for me, I got it! I had an enchanting panic attack, (insert sarcasm here). To best illustrate panic, is to describe a wave about to crash; a natural response yes? But when you experience a panic attack; it is an un-natural event of the mundane event. No threat is present. But, like a surge, coming up and plummeting down, drowning in my own salty sweat. I don’t fight, or flight, I freeze. I sit in the car, and let that beast eat me alive. Heart racing, short breaths, shaking, and a feeling I can only describe as a snake coiling its body around me. Yet to the simple onlooker in the supermarket parking lot, I must just look like a woman waiting to go and buy bread, or listening to the radio. Why worry? It is just a supermarket? Jeez, what’s up with her?
I met with a woman a week ago, who told me to face my anxiety, to hit it hard and not to avoid it. By doing this I could re-train myself to have good experiences, and to replace the bad ones, thus avoiding panic attacks in the future. She had a good point. I like to think my brain is this plastic putty jelly looking thing. A cute thing, that is less scary than I make it out to be. It can be moulded still, and fixed, and recover from harm. I like to think of my brain like this because I think without the ability for it to change; I would struggle to see hope. Maybe I can go to the supermarket and hope no one will laugh at me. Or judge me for taking too long checking the ingredients on the sauces.
And it is hope that is fundamental for all who suffer to feel better. That word “suffer” is one which I don’t like, but for this particular instance I think it is important. I have suffered, but I hope, maybe know even, that I will come out the other side. Just like others have done, are doing, and can.
So that’s the stuff about me, what about the research side? The bit where you said this would be an essay with information and stuff like that? Well, as I have been preoccupied with work, and taking time to feel a bit better I turned on the ole laptop and watched a great deal of TED Talks. I also listened to “The School of Life”, which is a psycho-therapy based educational animated series, all about how to navigate through life. I watched a great one on “inner voices” and confronting them. If you are into that sort of thing I recommend it highly. I also recommend a hot beverage while watching. I choose Earl Grey tea with Soy milk because I am a bit odd.
Back to TED Talks though, and my original train of thought. Summer Beretsky did a fantastic talk on her experience of Panic Attacks while working in a call centre. She quotes Daniel H. Pink, and his book Drive, which states that in order to create new things, motivate, learn and better ourselves in the world we need “mastery, autonomy and purpose”. She applied this to the concept of her own experiences working in a high stress, challenging workplace with no support.
Berkley also talks about the concept of environment, adaptation, and migration, things she had read about in reference to Catcher and the Rye. She was getting more and more panic attacks, at meetings, before talking in front of her peers, and in everyday life. Her thought at first, as a motivated and educated woman, was to accept that her environment couldn’t change, so she had to adapt. But this did not work, and in the end she migrated. She stopped working. And by “giving up” she had a “break down” according to professionals/society. But she saw it as a “break -through”; because for Berkeley, a leave of absence was the beginning to a journey of wellness.
This really struck a chord with me. I really loved her explanation. Mainly because so often in life we are put under immense pressure to “do it all”. And feel like we shouldn’t be able to take time. Some of us are not as fortunate and can’t take time off work like Berkley did. It is not always an option, with bills to pay, mouths to feed and the like. But for me, I am lucky to take time for myself too. I knew I needed to change my environment, to push myself to do everyday tasks that frighten me, whilst looking after myself and practising self-care. So I have being doing just that. Working at my job, trying to sleep, eat well, exercise, and get back into a rhythm
I practice not being too guilty if I am feeling low, or worried, or anxious. To know that my good friends and family “get it”, and things will get better, and the feelings of distress pass in time. I will practice being my best friend, as my supportive little sister puts it. Maybe the art of worrying will always be a constant in my life, and I will always need to be a friend to my beast too, but maybe this is okay.
After all, we all need friends in this world.