Sunday lists n.2: 5 things I do when the anxiety gets too much

Today is SUNDAY! Sunday means my beloved is at home. Every other Sunday means that we get the house to ourselves for some precious alone time. Sunday means writing lists for this blog. Sunday means reading. Sunday means really appreciating the things that I am grateful for. And as silly and trivial as it may sound, especially in the face of this global pandemic we are facing, I am truly happy that my anxiety has been relatively manageable these past few weeks.

Here are some things that I find helpful, for me, for those times when shit gets rough.

Clean

I find cleaning to be akin to sorting out thought’s in one’s brain. As you are decluttering your desk, you are also decluttering your mind. As you throw out old receipts, candy wrappers, backs of band-aids and so on, from your bag, you’re also sorting out your memories. When I can afford it, the best way for me to calm down is housekeeping. The act of mopping the floor (I do it on my hands and knees) becomes meditative, and the same goes for washing the dishes. Even if the anxiety hasn’t gone away by the end, I can look around at a clean space and feel less overwhelmed by visual clutter.

Cook (a lot)

Since quitting the kitchens, cooking has become restorative for me again and I will work my hardest for it to stay that way. When my internal freak-out alarm is at its loudest, the kitchen is where I find my solace. The calm begins with choosing, or creating, a recipe. But the best part of it is meal prep. Chopping everything and getting them ready in their bowls is so calming. Making something so that your family’s fed and loved is so crucial to me and the way I love. When everything seems to be falling apart, knowing that I can be relied upon to make a big batch of pasta and meatballs, or curry, or chicken karaage that everyone will eat up in a split second is reassuring.

Exercise

Right, so sometimes I’ve done the first two and I would still find myself bouncing my leg up and down and picking at my cuticles. This is the time to bring out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean some good ol’ HIIT and weightlifting. Full disclosure: I have been living with a seriously banged up knee for more than 20 years now, which means I have to maintain my weight at around 50kg. But to complicate things further, there are A LOT of exercises that I can’t do. Still, there is no better way to feel alive than feeling your whole body moving like an engine and then having sweat pour off of you. I know at that moment that I exist, and that life is a bit crap right now, but if I can do 10 pushups in 10 seconds, then maybe, just maybe, I am fucking awesome.

Maybe.

Write

So I only did the first three things for almost as long as I have had anxiety. I couldn’t keep up with something like journaling and I was basically writing for a living, so writing when I was panicking seemed like a busman’s holiday. Or, in this case, a busman’s nightmare. But sometime last year I got back into writing, but writing poetry to be specific. I really got into the groove of it and it helped to have a little notebook and pen on hand to whip out at any moment– on the street, on the metro, in a cafe, at a party– to sort of expunge myself of any panic I might be feeling at any moment. It worked until one of my exes told her mother that I was a poet when she was asked what my profession was. That lie, among many other screwed up things that were happening at the time, just made me want to stop writing. That is until I stared this blog 11 days ago!

Writing is like cataloguing one’s memories and thoughts. It’s better than a photograph because you need to describe everything that you are going through, in your own words.

Writing is cathartic.

Writing heals.

Plan ahead

Let’s be real, I have always been a planner. Sometimes the best part of a holiday is planning for it: the places you’ll go, the outfits you’re gonna wear, the things you’ll eat, etc. But I digress.

When I find myself spiralling, it helps me to have visibility on the future. It doesn’t even have to be that far ahead. It could just be planning for the day, or for the afternoon, even. It helps to tell myself I have these non-negotiable things that I need to accomplish, some things that I would perhaps like to do, and a couple of things that I would include to treat myself with if I happen to get everything done. It helps me focus on the immediate and it also gives me motivation to keep going forward.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

One of the things that I tell myself when my anxiety is riding dizzyingly high is that I need imagine myself walking on a tightrope. The tightrope walker makes it to the other end by placing one foot after the other. Sure, on a long piece of metal string (ok rope. fine, cable), but that’s basically the action. Dwelling on the height, on the morbidity, on its dangers, just renders the act impossible. To me, it’s kind of like managing anxiety. What matters in the end is that we keep on walking.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Image: © Getty Images/Unsplash

Day 6

Holy Batman anxiety. A trip to the pharmacy this morning where I made a mistake in cutting the queue after having thought that there were two, instead of the one, has left me with a shaky hands, heart palpitations and stars and butterflies.

How did I even get here? When did I first begin to realise that this is a condition not everyone has?

Was it when I realised that I would get dizzier and dizzier when my parents pressured me to make calls to the charity hotlines when I was a kid?

No, because I don’t like peer pressure, that’s all.

Was it when I got shaky before I got on stage for concerts?

No, because I read The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright. If they made a book about it, then I shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill with my nervousness.

Was it when I caught myself going through the play-by-play of my mistakes over and over again in my head, as if I could go back in time and make it all stop before it had started?

No, because mommy said it’s important to review the mistakes we make every day so that we don’t make them ever again.

Was it when I got my first panic attack because of all the people and noise? Was it when I felt my stomach knotting up before going to a party?Was it when I would hide in the toilets before presentations? Was it when I would feel the world spin after turning red whenever I heard my voice crack from nervousness?

When was it? And does it matter?

When I was little there were some weekends where there would be a charity event on television. My father would always use it as an opportunity to try to toughen me up. There’s always the song and dance with him asking me if I would like to do a nice thing for the poor people out there, my responding that if we wanted to do nice things for people then we should just show it with our actions instead of donating money that would trickle down several middlemen and lose its meaning. It all usually ends with him throwing down an ultimatum before The Rehearsal.

The Rehearsal was where my parents would pretend to be the people on the receiving end and we would practice our lines before I actually make the call. A bizarre ritual in and of itself without all the rest of it. For reasons unbeknownst to me, they didn’t seem to realise that The Rehearsal just made it worse. Most times I can finish barely dialling the number and would start to be short of breath. Then I’d wheeze and then I’d start to cry. The rare times where I’d made it past the dial tone, my throat would close up and I wouldn’t be able to speak.

Then came the yelling.

There would always be the yelling afterwards: “Otter, it was just a tiny phone call to a stranger about something inconsequential. Why can’t you even do that? Are you going to avoid strangers your entire life? Is that it? You can’t hide behind us forever, you know!”

To be quite frank, I don’t really remember his exact words because it always happened in such a blur, his voice drowned out by my own crying and wheezing. They would try to backtrack when I would start to get the shakes, and then they would explain how they didn’t mean to hurt me and try to explain that they understood what I was going through. That was the worst bit, because they would always get it wrong.

The more they explained the more I shook. Then they’d babble and explain some more and it would get worse.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

My mother likes to say that I get panic attacks because I have a “weak heart”. She said that again a week ago when I was on the phone with her. I am just too fucking tired to argue anymore.

Now, there are good days and there are the bad. But sometimes I really wonder if my anxiety would have been this bad if I had been able to stand my ground and had said no to them, at least once.

Checklist for the day

  • 1 empty water bottle on the coffee table
  • 1 bag of clean unfolded laundry by Big’s door
  • 1 unplugged night light sitting in the corridor
  • 1/2 load of clean laundry lying on the bed in the master bedroom
  • 3 pairs of shoes in the entry way
  • 6 dirty glasses, 2 dirty coffee cups, 2 dirty dishes, 1 dirty pot
  • 12 glass bottles to take down for recycling

Image: © Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images