Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Between a rock and a morpheme

07:30:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , , , , , , , 1 comment
Anxiety seems to have been a companion throughout my life.  When stressful events occur, anxiety is usually lurking around the corner, waiting for the fireworks to calm down.  At that point, when the initial danger has passed, anxiety will step in and attempt to prevent me from leaving the home or communicating with someone who isn't my immediate family (or a pet) ever again. 

There are tried and tested methods of coping with anxiety.  Mindfulness is something which is helping me at the moment.  My brief instructions for mindfulness would be that whenever you notice anxiety creeping in, whether it be a panic attack or just those horrid negative, self-abasing thoughts, then turn your attention to your senses.  Eat or drink something and really concentrate on the taste.  Become aware of your body; touch something and notice its temperature, how it feels beneath your fingertips.  Close your eyes (assuming you're not driving) and listen to the noises which surround you.  You get the idea. 

Another method of coping with anxiety, for me, has been language.  When I was around five years old I first started suffering from asthma attacks.  The sensation of your chest closing up, of being unable to breathe, is particularly anxiety-ridden.  I had recently learned my alphabet and I would intuitively begin to recite the alphabet when I couldn't breathe.  Sometimes I would try to recite it backwards to make it even more challenging.  I didn't realise what I was doing but it was an effective method of distracting myself from the scary sensations and allowed my body to relax, which would have actually improved my breathing at the same time.

In my teens, I took to writing word lists.  These years are notably filled with worry and were no less so for me.  When there were too many thoughts in my head, I would take up a note book and pen and sit with a thesaurus, chasing words.  This involved browsing the pages until I found a word that sounded pretty.  Then I would write all the related words in a list.  When I came to the last word I would look that up in the thesaurus and write down all the words beneath that.  And so on.  I'd still recommend that as a way of changing your mood.  If you start at a word which has positive connotations and maintain that path, the words seem to wash through the mind as you write them, spreading a little positivity with every letter.

Later again, in my late twenties, I had a minor breakdown which resulted from a long period of stress and illness.  I was incredibly anxious.  At one point I could barely open my mouth in the mornings, my jaw had been so tightly clenched in the night.  I reached the point where just talking to anyone was too much.  At this point I used the double-whammy of self-medication: sudoku and Pratchett.  By applying myself to difficult sudoku puzzles or dipping into a well-loved Pratchett novel, I found I could shut out everything that was tiring my mind while allowing it to recover.  Pratchett's Discworld is a particularly harmless place to dwell.  The characters are warm and he writes with enormous humanity and humour.  I know I can return to that world, and escape the bite of reality, any time I want.  There's a real comfort in that.

Anxiety is, as I said, something that has always been with me.  But words have long been my other companion.  Between the two there is a balance and, despite the odd blip, I know the anxiety won't ever take me away.   Not for long.



Adele said...

The power of positive thinking was the zietgiest in the late 1970s. We are frail beings, full of self-doubt and irrational thoughts. When anxious I forget to sing, forget to listen to music, forget to eat... you know how it is. I never forget to read...escape my own fears. I have never tried Pratchet - perhaps I will now. Thanks Vicky - beautiful post.