What do you do when you have a plan, you know exactly what needs to be done, but your mind and body won’t let you? Do tasks that seem easy to others become for you a thing of dread, sending your thoughts whirling, Dervish-style, and your body begging for breath? Perhaps other people don’t understand, think that you’re lazy. Maybe you have a constant battle on your hands to justify yourself and be accepted as you are. A lot has been said about improving mental health services in the NHS and shifting public perceptions of sufferers. Let me know if you have seen any evidence of change, because I certainly haven’t.
It has taken me a week to write this. A week! It wouldn’t be so bad, but I had planned to work on a short story and force myself to take a trip out of the house. I warn you now: all I have managed to produce is a post about not writing a post.
I haven’t done much over the last five years. I haven’t been able to work, I’ve isolated myself from any friends that might have still put with me, and I rarely leave the house. There is barely a hint of routine in my life. But that’s going to change, right? I’ve confronted a lot of issues over the last couple of years, gaining more insight into why I have become the quivering and lazy little person that I am. It is time to move on. The plan is great; the execution has me in a right state.
Tuesday morning, with a new story to work on, the old brain became overly enthusiastic. I was bombarded with ideas: ideas to add to my story, ideas for new stories, things to add to my (unstarted) book. There were ideas about decluttering the house, about painting old furniture, and all kinds of other nonsense that I usually have absolutely no interest in. And there are so many books that I want to read, subjects I want to learn more about, and what about learning to play that piano that’s downstairs?
Each time I began to make progress, another idea would come bombing in. My mind felt like a sample in a scanning electron microscope. It was one big stream of consciousness mash-up in there. And I had to write them all down, the ideas, every last one. My short-term memory is atrocious. Even during the time it takes to fire up a document, thoughts evaporate, like the bird that disappears just as you reach for the binoculars. So I scribbled them all down. But I needed to categorise them, and ended up using three notebooks, often having all three open in front of me at the same time. No work on the story could be done at all, so quickly were new thoughts occurring. I wrote hundreds, possibly thousands of words, achieving nothing. I was thundering through the time, hours disappearing without me noticing. The irony, eh? In my efforts to make the most of the years left to me, I have succeeded only in speeding up the clock.
It went on for days; mind racing, increased heart-rate, no sleep, skin and flesh physically agitated. I became confused over which notebook to use for a particular idea, my handwriting got bigger and bigger and more and more illegible. I even had difficulty deciding which colour pen to use. I was misplacing things, walking into things, forgetting to eat. I was turning back into that clumsy 8-year old whose favourite auntie called her ‘Wobbly’ instead of Robbie.
By 19:30 hrs last night I was exhausted. I couldn’t think at all. And then I remembered: I had planned to meditate (mindfulness) that morning. Funnily enough, I was going to start a of block of guided meditations entitled ‘Focus.’ What was that I said about irony? That was when the sun rose and I realised that all week I had been following my thoughts, no matter how irrelevant to the moment, unable to concentrate on anything and creating mental and physical anxiety. Had I learnt nothing from meditating over the last four years? Had I not realised I could be using mindfulness techniques every moment of the day? Idiot. Mind you, that realisation didn’t stop me wondering, as I bumbled off to bed, if HTML has changed much since that course I attended back in ‘97, when I still thought the Internet wouldn’t catch on. And it didn’t stop me wondering, as I yanked the duvet up to my chin, how hard it would be to transform the duvet cover in to a pair of curtains.
I was going to scrap all this. It seems unlikely anyone would interested in how I managed to achieve a neurotic nothing over the last week. But one of the reasons for being here in Blogsville in the first place is to connect with others who suffer from anxiety disorders, PTSD and depression. It is a place for me to document progress in dealing with anxiety and learning to get out into the world again, something to give me the impetus to push on. The last weeks have been difficult and erratic, but I haven’t given up as I usually do. I still have the plan.
I’ve knocked a hole through the wall. I no longer feel that I have no right to write, that I’m a time-wasting imposter. But this new zeal, this sense of urgency, has me wanting to sort out other areas of my life. I’m desperate to get going but I am completely overwhelmed and suffering from a severe case of concentrated lack of concentration. Trying to look at it from the outside, the way I have been is a reminder that I need to take my time, learn to walk not run, and not to be too hard on myself if I’m not yet ready to save the world. What I need are practical ways to manage the anxiety that accompanies this fresh enthusiasm. Firstly, I need to stop bloody well thinking that I need to write down every damned thought that flies around my head.
Today, the aim is to move slowly; walk slowly, write slowly, try to think slowly. Perhaps I can trick my mind into believing all is well, as being forced to smile can cheer me up, in spite of myself. I will not allow myself to go chasing after thoughts, or adding more and more ideas to my lengthening lists. And I am absolutely going to limit myself to one notebook. Well, maybe two. And perhaps just the odd scrap of paper…