This last week, life happened, that pesky real life stuff that gets in the way of things you really want to be doing. The other issue is that I haven’t wanted to be introspective this week. The intrusion of my past has made me emotionally tired, I have wanted to move away from looking at anything requiring emotional engagement. On the physical level, I have a cold, which while being very normal is what I would call drag, it slows life down and makes it more difficult. Add in pain and physiotherapy work and I feel that the last seven days have had a cumulative impact.
Which is why I don’t write Monday Night Reflections in advance and schedule them, writing this on Tuesday would have resulted in a very different outlook. Life didn’t happen till Wednesday, my pain had been much lower, and my cold, if it had arrived had not announced itself. Tuesday morning, I felt emotionally calmer and settled after the reflection and the time I had spent around it. I was upbeat because I felt physically and emotionally peaceful, it was a very temporary situation. Pain wise I had noticed a relaxation over the previous few days and the accompanying symptoms had been much lower. I was really feeling much more like a healthy me than I had in months. By Tuesday afternoon this physical wellness had become me in a ball in bed, full of morphine and hallucinations with the symptoms back at full power. Those few days were kind of nice.
Which puts me, with my keyboard having struggled creatively to do, full of cold and feeling rather sorry for myself. Mostly I want to curl up in bed and sleep till I am better. Truth is, I could, I really could, it would not make much difference, I wouldn’t really be letting anyone down either. Most people would jump at the opportunity because they have the pressure, I used to have the pressure, where I would work long after it was advisable to the detriment of my physical, let alone mental well being. Like many I worked broken because I had no choice, no work, no money, that is the reality for millions that I shared for all my working life from the age of 13, and still do. I don’t work it has an impact, not so bad that we lose our house and starve, but you can tell the difference, its very tight on one wage and what I can cobble together when I am sick.
That is not my reflection. I have a friend, recent friend, still getting to know her, but she let me into her world and her struggles with anxiety and we were able to share and help each other. It is hard not to feel close to someone with so much shared experience and struggle. She is striking out, starting her own business and really pushing her boundaries, which is amazing and awesome. I have admiration and am supporting her a million percent because it is courageous to come from where she feels inside and get outside the house, so this is real achievement. There is a however, the however, is that I cannot share her triumphalism. Like me she has a lifelong battle with anxiety and self esteem, a less than stellar past and a storehouse of unhelpful negative experiences which can be used to beat her down, with the liberal addition of abusive relationships and life failures. I am envious because when things are good I cannot proclaim a victory. I am jealous because when I win over anxiety and am getting life done I never feel like the battle is over. I am always keenly aware of that inner dialogue and battle, the thoughts and emotions that are behind the scenes. The battle will never be over, and I feel like any proclamation of victory is both premature and provocation, like I am asking for an onslaught.
Thing is talking to her, privately, I feel that she too is premature, she still has the battles, right now she is winning and that is awesome, but the truth is the battles continue at various intensities. From the outside it may be inspiration to see anxiety, depression or mental health issues defeated, apparently lying dead on the floor bloodied, beaten and ultimately slain. This victorious cry is something that I long for, but is this reality or is it a fantasy? Is this vision of victory simply a collective delusion to which we have all consented to make ourselves feel like the there is a real light at the end of the tunnel, when in reality the battle is lifelong and to the death. Battles may come and go but the war is forever?
My experience is one of management. Anxiety and depression are managed not beaten. My experience of them will intensify and wane depending life and other things I may or may not control, so what I need is structures in place to help me deal with anxiety and depression as constructively as possible. I accept that there may be times that getting out of bed and eating a meal is the absolute most I can achieve that day. What I have sought to build are ways of making sure that on that day I do get out of bed, I do get dressed and I do eat a meal; in other words each day I give one hundred percent of whatever I have to give. Some days that one hundred percent could be outstanding, other days it will be less than impressive. I have had to learn to accept the massive difference between my very worse symptomatic days and the days where I can look like an extrovert genius who never needs sleep. Riding the waves of productivity and silence without blame or judgement is incredibly difficult. I have high expectations of myself and I have a good store of experiences that tell me that I am capable of achieving a lot at a high standard. The key is not to let success become a stick with which I beat myself down when times are hard.
I am not saying it is easy, in fact at the very height of success it can be struggling. For example, I was in the airport, waiting for the plane to fly to compete in my first ever European Championship, this was the opportunity. My ex had been a situation where this had been beyond a dream, my hobby would never be priority enough for me to spend money to go on a “holiday” on my won while the family did without. I did my hobby for fun, yet within a year of the split, here I was qualified by right and waiting for a plane to my first international competition part of GB team. My now wife was working and I had travelled to the air port on my own. Sat there you would think I was full of thoughts about the competition, riding the crest of a wave. In fact, I was broken, and sitting there having gone through passport control wondering what you had to do to leave. I wanted to go home and curl up and wished the world would leave me alone. I was scared, alone with no one to talk to. To this day I have no idea how I managed to stay in the departure lounge. I could be telling this story to make you feel better, the truth is. The whole way there I was telling myself to just go, just do it, it doesn’t matter. I told myself that last didn’t matter in my first competition, and that I had earned the experience, that it was a holiday to reward the work I had done. It didn’t help because I had struggled in the preparation. I had actually worked too hard. I had gone to train with a former world champion and world record holder; a coach of standing and significant cost was helping me for a couple of hours. It was just about affordable and to me and investment which such a big event coming up. By the end of 2 hours he stepped in and helped me get ready for free because I was so beat up. I had decided that my only chance of success was to outwork the competition, I believed I had no talent, but I did have hard work. I had completely overlooked any requirement to work hard and intelligently. Four weeks later I am in an airport, flying on my own to meet the team, staying in a different hotel because I could only confirm my place due to money at the last minute. I felt like disaster was a matter of time.
The best I could do on the way out was keep a Starbucks down, and not break down crying uncontrollably. I felt locked into a train wreck about to happen. This is my reality, this is my anxiety, and at the time I was not suffering particularly on a day to day basis. But this exceptional event had given anxiety the opening it needed to come on full. I cried the night before, I held back tears on the way to the airport, and I a was biting back the whole journey. On arrival I took a wrong turn in the hire car and was sobbing in a layby for an hour. Unable to even get my thoughts far enough to call my fiancée, when I did manage it, of course she was amazing and already she walked me through my steps to calm down and my solution.
Three days after nearly walking out the airport and sobbing uncontrollably at some toilet stop in the middle of nowhere I was flying home a European Champion. To tell the story as if the trip was a triumph over anxiety and fear feels like a betrayal, a lie I cannot tell to people, who like me, struggle daily. The reality, I believe is more liberating, more empowering, it may be a cheesy book title, but the battle is about feeling scared and like disaster is imminent and doing despite the fact you want to run. Management is about the disaster and realising it changes you if you let it, and only if you let it. This was once an incredibly hard truth to hold on to. I was not loved whether or not I succeeded or failed, in fact, love was portioned out in direct proportion to my success of failure, from a kind word to physical intimacy, it was always earned. Being loved just because I was me was something that other people talked about, it was not something I experienced, it was something I did, I knew that much. In this context failure was a big deal, and so fear was as more about a consequence than it was about something I imagined would happen, consequences were a danger, and they happened when you failed. The problem with anxiety is, it never takes account of context. In this case the situation could never have happened, I was always a hobbyist, I could never compete, never dream of it, too difficult, to much pressure, and it was unfair to ask my family to make that sort of sacrifice. I was a father and husband first and I had to honour those responsibilities. I took happiness in having a hobby, although I kept my pursuit solitary, or online where any interaction could be checked and verified. It was never worth talking to a person, although it happened and people tried to make friends with me, I knew the consequences, the consequences did happen. I knew it would happen but I was longing some sort of contact so I made sure I never said anything but how great she was and how wonderful life was. I since found out no one believed a word.
So I cannot be joyful and triumphant, even when I win a significant battle like that, it feels false. I feel like am betraying anyone who looks at the “victory” and gets inspired by the lie. If anything from my life is motivating or informs someone else in their struggles I could not live with that being based on a fiction. Reality is, that weekend was awful, I never want a weekend like that again. The night before I competed I cried, I cried so much I had a stinking headache, I was chronically lonely, I had been to the competition that day and felt immensely out of my depth watching the first day of competition; a feeling made worse by the procedure of registration of which I had absolutely no experience and no knowledge. The whole weekend was difficult, beyond my experience, boundaries and I was woefully unprepared.
Since then, lessons have been learned, and management of my debilitating anxiety and depression is being adjusted to make things possible and make my life all it can be. But it is a tremendous battle, and it is difficult. Seemingly simple things can be massively difficult. I never go to a new place alone, or if I am travelling to it alone I do everything in my power to make sure I have a familiar and friendly face when I get there. When travelling I will often set up way points with friends in case I need them. I did that last long trip, and I really valued that afternoon chilling with coffee, even tho I had an amazing time connecting with a friend at the event and meeting people I had competed with, it was a challenge and difficult. Even with all the lessons and all my best management techniques, it was difficult and I travelled with constant doubts, from what if it’s a joke and not happening to what if I embarrass myself, even with no possible reason for that to happen or be likely, and multitude of reasons running through my head why it was a bad idea to be there.
Which is my day to day reality, this month we are having people we have met over for tea. We know them a little bit and they are great, but inside I am terrified, scared of everything from the food I do being awful, me saying the wrong thing. I know so much of this fear is because of “feedback” and consequences from my life, parents telling me that I had embarrassed them or let them down, my ex-wife telling me why no one spoke to me, no one liked me, what people said about be to her, and how I was an embarrassment, from how I looked to how I acted, to the car I drove, how I drove, it was all a disgrace. I had always been a disgrace and a let down, I was always a disappointment, so according to my anxiety, why would that be any different now. And that is in spite of the evidence that, it was never true in the past and it is not true now, it still feels real. I hope, it feels less real as time passes.
This is the reality, there are victories and small wins, there are pyrrhic victories and defeats. That is life with anxiety, it may be gone for a while, mine always comes back, it may come back weak, it may come back strong, but it will always be there. At one time I may have thought anxiety a curse, perhaps it is, but anxiety is also essential to our survival, so it has been hard wired into our make up to have a concern that is future orientated. Survival is predicated on the prediction of danger and that involves fear via anxiety. After all if you never worried about starvation it is likely you would not store food, and when it ran out you would starve. Some people live where food is not massively seasonal and they do not have that anxiety and they do not stockpile or develop preservation methods. So it is with life, I don’t think it is possible to rid ourselves of anxiety. Anxiety is the dark-side, it has to be there, without it there then our positive drives have no roots, or perhaps we have nothing to run from. Perhaps that is why creative people are plagued, they are always running, and their creativity rests on a bed of anxiety and fear.
I am sorry I cannot proclaim, victory the war is won, I am sad that I may well walk to my door to get the bin and stumble and pause as I take hold of the handle, I will struggle to walk in public because I feel the stare because I am different, and I will hide in the familiar while seeking to achieve something positive.
What I mean is, sometimes Victory is getting out of bed, getting dressed and eating a meal, success can be simple, it can be words, it can be silence. Learn to accept success however small, learn to love yourself, however, alien that is, anxiety may walk our road for life, but we can, I know we can, make it travel with us and not let it root us to the spot in fear, we can be overwhelmed and still come back. I believe that, and like all rebellions my rebellion against anxiety is built on hope!