The great war on anxiety continues here and barely a day passes without a minor skirmish being fought. I’m not quite sure who’s winning. A week ago, I would have said I’d made a decisive victory, but then just when I think it’s over, I find newly replenished and reinvigorated troops marching back from the dark side. This has been the pattern so far; I feel I am gaining ground and then, just as my confidence rises, so the anxiety returns stronger. I’d like to think of myself as Hercules, slaying the many-headed Hydra, or Perseus determined to outwit the Medusa, but alas the reality is far less mythic. I’m just an ordinary middle-aged woman trying to face down old and rather ugly demons because it turns out I have a strong disinclination towards negative emotions.
Everyone has a cross to bear, this much I know. I began long ago with chronic fatigue, and over time this has revealed itself as the cover for banked up reserves of anxiety. So, we have to take this as progress. But I find that my emotions are still rarely experienced as such, instead I am far more likely to feel ill with them: sadness is lethargy, distress is pain, insecurity is nausea. This tends to make me feel more victimised, because it’s harder to tell a physical sensation to go away than it is an emotion, harder to assuage it.
A fortnight ago I tried Reiki for the first time. I went to the local alternative health centre, where I feel very comfortable as I know it well. There’s a lovely woman on reception, the mother of a friend of my son, and seeing her always makes me feel right at home. The Reiki healer was unknown to me, a small, neat woman who came from Eastern Europe, at a guess, and who exuded compassion. I lay on her couch and she explained what would happen; that she would place her hands on me and I would feel warmth, possibly emotion too, and that whatever came up I should simply allow to be. She had been practising Reiki for many years and had pretty much seen it all. Not that I find that sort of thing particularly reassuring as keeping my emotions packed away has been one of my key goals in life, although it becomes clear that here lies one of the big problems.
‘I say a prayer for you before I begin, okay?’ she asked me, and I said ‘Okay!’ as I figured I need all the help I can get and frankly any source is good by me. Then she placed her hands gently across me, spending a lot of time on my head (‘No kidding,’ said Mister Litlove. ‘I expect she could hear the hot metal ticking in there.’) I felt rigid with tension to begin with, but I concentrated on my breathing and gradually I felt myself begin to drift away. I was quite sorry when it ended because it had become peaceful and safe. As I was thanking her, she held my hands and patted them kindly. ‘You will be able to let go more now,’ she said, and I tried to smile as if this were pleasing, rather than horrifying. I had a headache in the evening, but I felt okay, too, and the constant underlying anxiety had actually, finally gone away. This lovely state of affairs lasted about 48 hours, before the anxiety was back, but I felt braver for the tussles, and it really did seem that perhaps I was making a breakthrough. Ach, and then it all went wrong again and the past week has been a white water ride. She suggested I should go once or twice more and then leave it for a while. I should book in again.
I also still have the doctor’s pills which I keep putting off taking, partly out of stupid stubborn desires to overcome this myself, partly because I am a wimp and the thought of side effects when I feel poorly already is quite unbearable. I suppose here lies the crux of the matter; I don’t feel calm in the face of what my body can do to me. I’m not accepting of ill health, or pain or suffering. When I get a symptom, I don’t say, oh look, it’s a symptom; I say, the end is nigh! And yes, as ludicrous as my intelligence recognises this to be, the tenacious lizard brain that controls my sense of survival has a direct hold on my central nervous system, and persuading it to let go is no easy matter.
All I can usefully do is be honest about where I am; hence this sort of post. I know I am reluctant to reveal how I feel out of fear that people will gasp in horror and whisk their children out of my sight, etc. In fact, whenever I have spoken about my travails in the land of anxiety, people have been nothing but sympathetic and compassionate and often full of reassurance and good advice. People, bring it on. I need all the reassurance I can get right now that this will pass and that facing it down will do me good in the end.
Out of reasons of transparency I also told my son a bit about it earlier today. I’ve been very conscious that I’ve not been quite so present of late, hiding out in my room rather than sitting with him, and I’ve been agonising over the best way to keep him free of worry. I don’t like the atmosphere that arises when there are things that can’t be said. So I told him I didn’t have chronic fatigue anymore, but was dealing with anxiety that had built up over time and that I’d never really faced, preferring to be stoic. My son, as he often does when I’m telling him something he recognises as important, acted this out. ‘I’m not going to deal with you now,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘No, and I’m not going to deal with you either.’ Then he lifted up a finger and put on his cartoon lightbulb-moment face. ‘Now I’m dealing with you!’ he declared.
‘I just didn’t want you to worry,’ I said. ‘I’ll be fine, but it may not always be pretty. Dad’s brilliant at helping me when I’m anxious, though.’
‘We’re all good together,’ said my son, reassuringly.
‘Yes, I do realise that I can only deal with this because I feel so secure and loved,’ I said. ‘It’s ironic that I’m feeling all this anxiety when my life is really perfect. You’re the one with tough exams this summer. I don’t want you ever to think that you can’t tell me your problems; they’ll make a nice change from my own.’
My son gave me a look. ‘If I don’t tell you my problems it’s because I don’t want you to know,’ he said. ‘I am a teenager, after all.’
We had a good laugh about that, and I pointed out that since I couldn’t be a good example I had to be a terrible warning about the dangers of bottling, and then I said he might have to help his father out a bit practically when there were things I couldn’t do (I’d been schooled by Mister Litlove to put in this bit), and he sashayed off down the hall seemingly quite unconcerned. I am such a lucky woman to have a boy like that. In the midst of this difficult patch, I feel so grateful for all the love and support I have around me from my family and my friends. Many of whom I owe an email right now! With all your help, I should be able to beat this, right?