Anxiety is exhausting.

I’ve had this post as a draft for months. Held back hitting publish because even I think I’m ridiculous, and dramatic.

One of the things that has been said to me many times is “but your life is lovely, you’ve got nothing to worry about!” and I know. I know things are lovely. I know there’s nothing real to worry about.

But try telling that to the seventy three personalities living inside my mind, who all have an opinion, and all think they need to be heard.

The thing with anxiety is that it isn’t logical. Or useful. Or in any way something you can just opt out of having. Anxiety isn’t something I have because it fills the time. It isn’t just that I worry a bit, and should calm down. It’s nothing to do with how well my life is going (and if anything, things being nice in my life is far more frightening than things falling apart, because there’s more to lose from here and I’m BOUND to cock it all up!)

Anxiety just IS. It has a life apart from mine, it is a monster that lives in my body, that whispers in my mind, telling me all the ways the people I love are either in danger or don’t want me around. It tells me that there is danger everywhere, meaning I am always flooded with adrenaline. It makes my heart race, my hands sweat, my chest tighten and my body throw food back out violently when even the smallest thing happens.

My logical mind knows that there’s nothing terrifying happening. My logical mind knows that going to a networking event for work is not only not in the least bit frightening, it’s actually really good fun, and I like the people I see there. But my body is still unsure, and so I have to throw up before I go into the room – and because I’ve lived with this kind of anxiety for so many years, that is just something I factor into my timekeeping, and I tend to arrive first to any business meeting (even friendly coffee meetings with people I adore, actually!) because I’ll probably go and be sick in the bathroom and get a drink before anyone else arrives.

This has the added bonus of making me look like someone who is efficient and good at timekeeping – never a bad reputation to build as a freelancer!

The worst thing about anxiety is that it gets in the way of doing things – and often, I’m anxious because I need to do things – but then so frozen by the anxiety that I can’t do things, and then I’m even more anxious, because I’ve not done the things that needed to be done, and then it builds and builds.

I am then so anxious that I can’t sleep, instead lying awake thinking about a thousand scenarios that aren’t even going to happen, but which I can’t stop picturing – and then I’m exhausted, and that makes me even more anxious.

All through this process, there’s a very sensible voice inside my head (which, incidentally and not at all incidentally, sounds exactly like my Grandmother) saying “but what’s the worst that can actually happen?” and “But you know this is nonsense, and you’re spiralling” and – peak Nanny voice – “stop catastrophising, Child!”

Unfortunately, that one voice has very little chance of being heard and agreed with, because drowning it our are all the others, telling me what a failure I am, that I’m cocking everything up, that I’m crap at all the things I want to do anyway, that I’m going to fail so there’s no point in even trying, that I’m unlovable, unlikeable and unworthy, that I’m just a blob of negative energy making life harder for the people around me, that I’m just a selfish little vampire who doesn’t deserve to be happy, that nobody wants to be around me, including myself, and that I should just leave already and let them get on with life without me spoiling things.

And to each and every one of those voices I have a small voice of my own saying “this is just the anxiety speaking” and a Nanny voice who says “don’t be ridiculous” to each of those statements – but there are more of them than there are of us, and it is EXHAUSTING having to give myself that pep talk every moment of every day.

Every decision is a battle, every step is a war, every time I leave the house I have to bully myself into it, every time I see someone roll their eyes because I am being ridiculous and I KNOW I AM BEING RIDICULOUS but I can’t help it, I feel just that little bit more broken and things get just that little bit more difficult, and I can’t follow a conversation because I’m distracted by twenty others that are happening in my head all at once.

One is about that time I dropped ten pounds when I was 14 and a boy shouted “stupid skinhead bitch” after me as he scooped it up, laughing, and I told my Mum I’d spent it because I was too ashamed to say I was too frightened to ask for it back, but I couldn’t tell her what I’d spent it on, so got grounded.

One is the things I wish I’d said in defence of myself, at a time when I was afraid and instead I said nothing at all.

One is a conversation I think is coming, which I dread, for which I have no indication or evidence, because it’s a scenario that will never come about, with a person I’ve not had contact with for over a decade, but who still has a loud enough voice in my mind to matter.

One is the list of things I should have done, and haven’t, which repeats on a loop, berating me for failing, even though many of the things on the list are things I couldn’t do or which aren’t my responsibility anyway.

Another is the voice who laughs at me when I want to call my friends, because I don’t have friends, these people tolerate me, but don’t want to carry the burden of my angst.

All of these, and more from my youth, my imagined future, and the mess I think I’m making of right now, are always happening. Add to them that every time I drop my babies at school I spend the day imagining the flames that burn it to the ground with them inside, and I’m not there to save them. Or someone walks in, pretends to know them, and steals them before I go to wait in the playground to pick them up at half past three. And every time I get in the car, I feel the crunch of metal against metal as I crash and die. I hear the words of the doctors telling my partner that I didn’t make it. I see the children growing up without me, because I took my eyes off the road just for a second and a second was all it took. When I walk down any pavement I see myself trip, and fall into the path of a lorry, which hasn’t got time to brake, instead crushing me beneath its wheels. I cook knowing that I will somehow set the house on fire. I wash dishes knowing that I will fumble a knife and slash my wrist, bleeding out before help can come. Each time I go up or down the stairs, I know I’ll slip and fall and break my neck, because Laura Ashley tripped at home on just three steps, and died.

I check my children each night before I go to bed, to be sure that they are sleeping and breathing, and through the night I often check again, just to be sure.

I lock the front door and check it again, and just once more, to be sure I didn’t make a mistake.

I answer each call knowing that the phone is ringing with the news that someone I love has died. I answer the doorbell knowing it is the police telling me I’ve broken a law and am being taken away.

I concentrate on what is being said to me by anyone having a conversation, but have to concentrate harder and harder to follow it because I’m distracted by the voices telling me this person wishes they were talking to anyone but me.

I work, knowing that I’m terrible at what I do, and will doubtlessly lose every client after this job, because they think the same.

I jump inside at every sound, knowing it is some approaching danger. My heart is pounding, my vision is blurred, my hands clammy, my hearing alert but also muffled, and I remind myself to breathe because I’m dizzy with the fear of it all, when there is nothing here to fear.

I am suffocating, in this wonderful life, happy with my family and friends, building a successful world, and terrified, every moment of every day, of my own happiness.

That is anxiety. Not a little worry. Not a choice. Not silly. Exhausting. Always. Relentlessly.

 

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You thought your smear test was bad?

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Being the feminist, strong-independent-woman type of lady that I am (because, obviously) I’ve been paying attention to the loud and proud ‘smear for smear’ campaign running riot on social media.

Being who I am I also, of course, couldn’t just post a quick boomerang of me smudging my lipstick all over my cheeks (in part because I’m an enormous lipcote fan and my bright red lip isn’t budging, babe) and have turned instead to writing – that being the way I peel open my skin and show you all my insides.

Now; to protect the innocent (and I mean you, not the characters involved) I will be naming no names in the following stories. The first tale is one my Grandmother – the incomparable Nanny B – told me when I was invited to my first smear test and called her to panic on the phone about the process.

Nanny B is a famous face in many of my stories; she was a powerful phenomenon – and her friends were cut from the same cloth.

Now; picture this. You are going for your own smear. It’s awkward. Nobody likes it. Not one of us want to be there, showing our muff to a stranger. Nobody wants to have their private places cranked open and discussed, and poked around. We KNOW we don’t like it. We know, ladies. But seriously – it could be so much worse…

FON (Friend Of Nanny) got The Letter. You know the one. THAT one. “Come and let a nice friendly young thing crank open your hoo-hoo and scrape things out of it. Wear fresh pants.”

And, because she was a responsible-lady-of-a-certain-age, she booked the appointment and went.

When she arrived at the surgery she had a call of nature and – as is so often the case (and, knowing what we do about NHS budgets, we can’t get mad) there was no toilet roll – so (again, being a responsible-lady-of-a-certain-age) she dug around in her handbag for a tissue to take care of business.

Mission accomplished, with an only-slightly-used kleenex from the depths of her handbag, she tootled back to the waiting room and listened for her name being called. When the call came, she was politely asked if she would mind (there being some history that made her interesting) if some student nurses were to witness proceedings, and she said she was absolutely fine with that.

Minutes later, she was lying on her back under a tissue-thin blanket, knickers removed and legs akimbo (we’ve all been there) and the doctor swept into the room with a gaggle of terribly young things (as FON called them) and someone off to the side ran the metal crank (I know, speculum, but crank is funnier) under a hot tap so she wasn’t uncomfortable (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!) and he asked a few questions, discussed the procedure, then lifted the tissue-thin-blanket.

There was a brief pause, a cough and a cleared throat, then things proceeded as expected – nice doctor talked the terribly young things through what he was doing, FON endured with as little discomfort as these things allow, and all in all it was rather brief and uneventful.

Until.

UNTIL.

As he folded the tissue-thin-blanket back over FON’s knees the nice Doctor met the eye of the supervising nurse, and, clearing his throat again, said “could you…” and, giant plastic tweasers in hand, supervising nurse stepped forward and dipped below the tissue-thin-blanket.

FON was a little confused, and felt a gentle tugging down below, then supervising nurse, pink in the face, appeared and thrust her giant tweasers at FON, saying quietly “will you be wanting this?”

Attached to the tweasers?

A second class stamp.

Clearly, the rummage through the handbag for a kleenex when the NHS failed to provide loo roll had some side effects!

 

Panic, in the most logical of ways.

Today was a rather mundane way, in that delicious “everything is ok” kind of way.

I woke just before the alarm, and enjoyed the few minutes of space to think over my plans for the day.

I fed the kids breakfast, got them into the right pieces of School uniform, drank a coffee I forgot to add sugar to and didn’t really enjoy, and dropped them at school.

I ran some errands, picked up a few Christmas gifts, some fancy toilet roll I’ve fallen in love with from M&S because it smells of cinnamon (not even just in my mind, where scents often get muddled with the way things look, but for real) and then answered some work emails and calls and did some writing.

I wrapped the presents, put away the giant Christmas tesco delivery, collected the boys, fed them, had an evening of games and silliness (I am the reigning household twister champion!) and then had dinner with my late-home-very-important boyfriend before tucking the kids into bed, and knitting quietly on the sofa in front of the tv.

It was a lovely, ordinary, mundane Monday. It was blissful.

But from the instant I woke, I have been battling panic. Proper, heart pounding, joints weak, muscles burning, chest tightening “I can’t breathe and think I’m going to faint” panic.

Logically, I know that this is because the injections I was given to help with my endometriosis are wearing off (praise all that is good in the world for that, they have been hell, absolute hell, and if anyone ever offers them to you do NOT try them, I will elaborate in more detail in another post, just don’t do it!)

I know that as a result, my hormones are frantically rushing around my body trying to make sense of a nonsensical situation. They have been stopped, started, rebooted, frozen and juggled for months.

So logically, I know that’s what this is. I know that I am ok. That my life is ok. That my babies are ok.

As I am telling myself that I’m ok I walk up and down the stairs three times, counting the steps, so that I can keep my bearings in a fire.

I am using sat nav to navigate short journeys I know by heart, because I need to see the journey passing so I don’t faint.

I am counting the tiles in the kitchen. I am counting the light bulbs in the house. I am counting junctions, the number of ticks my indicators are allowed, the swipes of the windscreen wipers, the blinks in an advert break, the syllables in a chapter.

I am counting anything that distracts me from counting the beats of my heart that I can feel in my throat, because as soon as I start counting them, I remember they are counting down, and could stop at any moment, and I wouldn’t be here.

I am counting because once I am thinking about that countdown it scares me so much I wonder if it might be easier to fast forward, and take the pressure off.

I’m aware that these thoughts come from those hormones, dashing around in places they aren’t needed, and that the medicine is meant to help but hasn’t, and that there will be an alternative which doesn’t do this to my body, and that this will pass.

I have had a lovely, ordinary, beautifully mundane day made of all the simple things which make life so lovely.

And for every single second of it, I have battled my own body, battled panic and terror, and battled the urge to lie down and close my eyes and wish it all away.

Because that feeling isn’t me, it isn’t my life, and it isn’t allowed to win.

It’s a funny old day

It really is a funny old day. It’s a Tuesday – I usually spend a large proportion of a Tuesday napping, since I started a course of hormone treatments that have given me “the menopause” at (just) 34. 

It’s a day I left a bag of medication I keep quiet in another home too far away to pop and pick them up, because I am in a strange halfway state between house moves across many, many miles. 

It’s a day that Facebook memories is reminding me of jobs I had to leave, jobs I adored and which would have taken me to fantastic places, and of people I had to leave behind with them.

It’s a day that I cried in Boots and some lovely people chatted to me about cooking birthday cakes for small dogs as they popped pills into a bottle so I wasn’t overly upset by the blister packs not being symmetrical. 

It’s a day that people I adore are hurting over losses I can’t even comprehend, and all I have is platitudes. 

A day in which a friend I want to wrap my arms around is too far away and all I can give her is black comedy in a message to put a smile on her face when she’s struggling too. 

A day when my eldest child – the one with aspergers who, according to all definition, is supposed to struggle to factor in the feelings and needs of others – asked his Cubs cooking group to leave the Kiwi fruit out of the kebabs they made so he could share his with me, because I’m allergic but he thought I’d like to share. 

It’s a day when I am in the first place I’ve  ever lived that has felt like a true, safe, wonderful home – but it has become a suffocating box, and all I want is to move into my new home in my new location to embrace my new life.

A day when I’ve worked on a business plan, written content for clients, acted like a competent and successful business woman, and worn a fluffy poncho and comfy pants to do it. 

Another day when my kids made me laugh until I cried, and I’ve cried until I laugh at myself. 

It’s a funny old day. 

And now I think I’ll end it with some sleep. 

Grief is weird

Grief.

It’s not just a weird experience, it’s a weird word. Grief. It rhymes with ‘brief’, but it isn’t. It can follow ‘good’ but it isn’t that either. It is too many things, and – for the terribly British among us – more than a little uncomfortable to feel in a way that people can see.

I lost someone very important. It brought closer the losses of other very important people, and kicked the foundations out of my world a little. Grandparents who were so important, who took us in when we were young, who homed me when I was lost, who guided me and raised me and taught me and loved me. Who held me, and who offered the same to so many other people.

And my grief feels…raw. Lonely. Vast.

I haven’t just lost a Grandfather – I’ve lost a parent, a role model, a guiding star and a friend. I’ve lost a possibility of redemption, for the many times I should have called and didn’t, the visits I should have made and never made time for. I’ve lost the chance to fix all the ways I should have been better to him, and let him down.

I’ve lost hearing more stories of his time in the forces, his many and varied business investments, and the way he once helped an Escort to reclaim the cost of her stockings on a tax return as a business expense.

I distanced myself from him at a time I should have been by his side, giving support in the way he’d given so very much to me, because I was afraid.

I lost my Grampa, and feel anew the loss of two magnificent Grandmothers, and fear for what losses may come.

I lost someone who was so much more to the world than he was to just me – he was more than Grampa, he was adventures, tall tales, grand gestures, sound advice, hilarious anecdotes, witty responses and culinary genius (aside from the boil in the bag rice phase we should probably gloss over).

He spent the last days of his life eating only sweets and dessert – because, as he said, “I’m dying anyway, what the fuck does it matter?”

He loved beauty and grace, he married the most powerful feminist I’ve ever met in person, he fathered four children and they had dozens more. He headed an empire, and guided us all. He was hilarious, serious, incredibly bright and totally oblivious.

He was my Grampa. And he was a whole lot more.

And now I am supposed to say goodbye – and I don’t know how.

So instead, I am telling my very young children stories of him so they remember they knew him too, I am re-framing a beloved photograph, I am speaking more with my family, and I am eating a slice of battenberg because it was one of his favourites.

Elixir

via Daily Prompt: Elixir

So this is a first – I logged in to write a blog post about Iceland, and all the amazing food we had out there, and saw this ‘Daily Prompt’ title and thought I’d give it a go…

Initially I thought I could link it to that aforementioned Iceland food post – but that would be cheating!

Instead I’m going to write about the green smoothies I’m starting my day with and my addiction to caffeine!

I have – at various points in my life – been told to avoid caffeine. I’ve had caffeine poisoning, from guzzling far too many strong coffees, and had a few periods where my M.E. was terrible and my migraines were unbearable, and the caffeine made it all worse – I wasn’t allergic, but certainly had an intolerance to the magical beans. I’ve since pushed through the pain…

In my caffeine-free days I also had to avoid chocolate – which is NOT FUN – and I did search out caffeine-free chocolate. In one health food shop I found some and was over the moon, until I ate it; it looked like chocolate, it smelled like chocolate, and it tasted like absolutely nothing. Like the inside of my own mouth, with lumps. It was like eating a chocolate scented candle.

In my 30s now, one thing everyone who knows me knows is that I love coffee. Properly LOVE coffee. I’m a revolting snob, I won’t drink instant, and I start my day with two (or seven) strong coffees made with my magical aeropress. Pretty much every day I am tagged on Facebook with some coffee meme or funny story – and my friends have all started getting ‘proper coffee’ at home so I don’t pull awful faces when I visit!

But when I get palpitations, my anxiety ramps up and my sweat smells distinctly of coffee, even I have to admit there’s a problem brewing (see what I did there…) and make some changes.

The change I’ve made began – as with so many of my recent positive changes – in Iceland. As well as some amazing food – which I promise I will blog about next – one thing I really enjoyed was the ‘energy boost’ green smoothie at Blue Lagoon.

We got our hands on the recipe for their smoothie, and made some of our own at home. It’s now the start to my day every morning, sometimes followed by a coffee, sometimes not (and just the one if I do, not bottomless cups) and I’m becoming That Person who raves about her green smoothies making life magically better.

But in my case, I often suffer with low iron, dancing on the edge of anaemia pretty much permanently – so the iron boost I get from this is going to have a positive impact. The bananas I have in mine are full of potassium and goodness, and I’m sure there are health benefits in ginger and apples that I can’t be bothered to google – and it gives me a pack of vitamins, minerals, flavour and energy first thing, and it’s reduced the amount of caffeine I’ve been increasingly dependent on, which can only be a good thing. I’m not going to cut caffeine out of my life, I’ve had to do that before and MAN is it dull, but I’ve cut down – and I’m drinking more herbal teas in the afternoons and evenings.

Spring is a time that a lot of us get more energy and drive, and feel more ready to make positive health changes – I started my diet just after Christmas and have been doing ok, but trips away and indulgent weekends mean I’ve only really lost a few pounds – then been putting the same few back on and off every month. So I’m going to take that more seriously, and this green energy boost to start my day is just part of it. This elixir (see, I’m tying it all back to the prompt!) is part of a bigger picture in which I’m also outside a lot more, going to bed earlier, and have gone back to the gym – where I was pleased with how much I could do as much as I was frustrated with how much I couldn’t compared to last summer.

The Blue Lagoon recipe uses orange juice as a base, and mango in the mix – I changed mine to use water as a base (because the kids had guzzled all my orange juice the first day and I realised it tastes just as good this way!) and I throw in two apples, two bananas, a good chunk of ginger root and a few handfuls of spinach. There’s very little measuring (by which I mean none) and I just poke it around the blender until it’s all smooth (which with my crap kitchen appliances takes ages) and then I feel all smug and healthy and superhuman, even if I am drinking it through a novelty straw.

I live in a body that sometimes feels like it hates me – with constant pain, bloating, and bone-deep fatigue that stops me from functioning at the level I want to. I can’t cure my endometriosis, or my M.E. or even determine if they are separate issues or just different manifestations of the same problem – but I can stop damaging myself more by using caffeine as a prop and actually start to take care of myself, with diet, fitness and being outdoors. I KNOW all these things work, and I know that I feel less unwell when I’m doing them properly – but I also know that when I’m unwell and I’m struggling, I just can’t take care of myself, and I have to ride through the gloom before I start to perk up again, and only when I’m already perking up can I begin to take the steps I need to.

I want to be as comfortable as I can be in this sack of skin and bones that rebels.

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I’ve never been a together girl

When I think of the women I admire, and aspire to be, I think of women who fill a room with their presence, who laugh loud, speak up and engage people. 

Women want to be their friend, men want to…well, be their friend, because why the hell wouldn’t they?! 

These women – the ‘together women’ as I call them – have their shit together. They are smart, talented, witty and confident. They don’t fall when they stumble, they keep going on their way. They brush off adversity, and they power through from dreams to doing, to find success and achievement and reach their goals. They don’t think “I wish” and sit back down, they get up and go. 

I have these women in my life. I love them with a fierce flame, and feel grateful to have their influence in my life. 

I was raised around these women – the strong, successful women who influence the world around them; who change lives, with passion and fight, or with a kind of inner peace that spreads by osmosis. Women who make the people close to them want to be the best version of themselves. 

I am friends with these women; I draw them around me like a safety blanket of power and good. Of strength and kindness. Gentle but immense. 

I also know that the ‘together’ that I see, admire and aspire to isn’t the version of themselves that they see. 

Where I see a confident woman who strides into a room, fills it with warmth and draws everyone to her, I also know that before the door opened she was taking deep breaths and clenching her hands together, psyching herself up first. 

Where I see a smart, witty, brilliant woman heading a growing business empire and attracting all the right attention for the success she so very much deserves, I also see someone who has questioned her decisions over and over and worried she’d fall – but who loved what she was doing enough to never give up. 

And the older I get, the more I realise that for every moment in which the together girl truly has all her shit together, there are many more moments in which she’s trying to, failing to and salvaging the pieces that survived the last drop from the mountain top. For every perfectly groomed moment played out to the crowd, there’s the sweaty palmed anxiety behind the scenes. 

I’ve also realised that for every moment I am panicking that someone might see through my facade to the angsty, madly paddling wannabe I see in the mirror, there’s someone who sees me stride into a room with my bright lipstick, big smiles and a firm handshake – and buys into it. 

For all the times I’ve looked at those other women and dreamed of one day being who they are, perhaps I’ve missed that I already am – and that these snatched moments of appearing to be a together girl is all we get? 

If we can walk the walk and talk the talk, and we can make that room full of people think we have our shit together, are we already there? 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel far more like a true together girl when the lipstick goes on. 


Here I am last week; last week I bought a car. The salesman had a weak handshake and told me I’d been a pleasure to do business with, and admitted he finds confident women a little intimidating. 

I threw up before I went, and had been awake most of the night with stomach cramps and anxiety. He had absolutely no idea that I’d cried for an hour before I did my make up – purely because I had never bought a car from a dealership before! 

I knew my anxiety was ridiculous – but buying this car shows how far my life has come in the past two years, from a position where I was feeling completely lost, in a financial hole and believed I had no way out, to sitting down and making a plan, and sticking to it for two years, building up a business from nothing, clearing debts and improving my credit, all very boring and grown up things, and achieving it. 

So many times I have doubted myself, my abilities to do any of this, whether I’d ever make anything of myself. 

And here I am. My business is going great, I support myself and my children and have a comfortable life, we have a nice home, we do fun things, they get new clothes when they need them – I’m not wealthy of course and the clothes are generally from Tesco, but still! 

And I can see all of that and take pride in it – but I still have moments when I feel like the broken shell who was lost all that time ago, and have to remind myself that she’s gone. 

I am the lipstick wearing, room filling smile with a firm handshake. I am a together girl. I am that woman. 

When I need to be.