Anxiety is a funny thing. For me, I didn’t manage to put a name to that erratic feeling that made me mess up and fail on so many important occasions until my mid twenties going into my late twenties. People talk about it, and you hear about it. It just made me think about people who were of a nervous disposition. It’s hard to recognise that clenching of your stomach and the tightness of the chest you unknowingly feel is the same thing.
Recognising it for the first time wasn’t a formal process, the first time I recognised it as such, there definitely was a feeling that I was making it a bigger deal than it is – a running comment on the British culture I’ve been brought up with. Now that I’ve accepted what it is, it’s been helpful and freeing to realise all those job interviews I messed up at at the last hurdle, or the time I broke down in my grade 8 piano exam, or my three failed driving exams at 17 were all products of a deep anxiety that had not been managed and not because I was weak, or stupid, hopelessly flawed or a failure. It’s allowed me to do less beating myself up and put that energy into increasing self awareness and trying to manage the real cause of the issue.
It’s taken me a while to be able to catch my anxiety rising. The way I can best describe it is that I catch myself feeling erratic, like my lung capacity has diminished and I can’t breathe like I normally do. This usually causes my brain to panic and in the past has been the zone where my mistakes occur and I feel out of control. Once I recognise that feeling, that allows me to push my self awareness through my body and look for the tension I’m holding in my stomach and chest – the energy pushes my body forward and like it gathers on my forehead and chest. The main way I find I can combat it is to sit up and back (because usually I’m slightly hunched over) and take a long and deep breath in and then out. Repeat a couple of times if necessary but the breaths need to hit the bottom of my stomach expanding it down and releasing the tension that it held before. And that allows some calm to wash over me and neutralise the frenzy.
I now do not view that it is weak to have anxiety. It is just something that I know I have and that I have to conquer, every single time I put myself in a stressful position. That can be in work, in job interviews, whilst climbing, whilst out and about, whilst shopping. It is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to control me. And for being equipped with the self awareness and the tools to help combat it in the moment, it makes me feel more capable. I have learnt to conquer an obstacle within me and I will continue to conquer it each time.
That is the phrase I have tattooed on my leg in Hebrew. “Gam zeh ya’avor”.
I got this because a friend had said it to me during the really dark period of my life a couple of years ago. It was such a short phrase said almost as a throw-away attempt to comfort me (nothing brought me much comfort in those days). It stuck and it seared itself into my memory becoming some sort of mantra.
This too shall pass.
This time shall pass. This awful feeling will pass. This horrific time will pass. This journey will pass. This amazing time in South East Asia will pass. It will all pass, good and bad, all of it.
There are so many things to take away from that phrase. It did bring me comfort. In the days where I was hurting so much I wanted the world to burn with me, it comforted me to know that at some point it probably will. In the days after where I went travelling to heal, it reminded me to savour every beautiful, precious moment out there, because it too, undoubtedly will pass.
And now, in my more settled state in London, I find myself still lost, having been lost since I got back. I know what direction I want to go but I’m scared. It will require sacrifice of time, effort and hope. The last one being something I know how scarce and valuable it is. So I don’t dare dream, I don’t dare strive. I try and build towards my dream within the tiny sandbox that I have penned myself in. It’s impossible to build a real castle inside a sandbox.
Today was the first time in a long time where a conversation with the right person ignited my enthusiasm, my passion if you will. It was there all along, it’s never changed or waivered. I just needed the right person to help me unearth it. I don’t belong in a sandbox. And it is scary to try and invest in this. There’s no guarantee it will be a good investment. But time will pass, it doesn’t hang around. You don’t have eternity so get moving now. You’re never going to be as young as you are now so what are you waiting for?
Expectation is such a double edge sword. On one hand, it helps give the motivation and confidence to fully commit to things because you expect to be able to do it. On the other hand, it does create this discord within oneself when you fail to meet your expectations. It’s so easy to fall into that rabbit hole of berating yourself and falling deeper into the vicious circle.
We all would do well to remind ourselves from time to time that we are not invincible and we are not limitless. To be able to listen to oneself and to take a more overview perspective to be able to see the upwards trend in progression is so important. Yes we should set goals and work with expectations but we are the only person we will ever get to be in this life. If you are keep knocking yourself down from not meeting expectations, to what purpose does that serve?
I recently went through a wobble in relation to my work and lifestyle at the moment. Coming back from travelling into a full blown long hours London lifestyle was something I chose for several reasons:
– because I craved working in the mentally stimulating environment of the business sphere
– it was a good way for me to support myself with a decent wage whilst trying to figure out what it was I ultimately wanted
– because it was familiar
Having seen that I don’t need a lot of money to be happy, it’s felt wrong to be here since I’ve been back. I got so caught up trying to use this period as a stepping stone that I had a mini freak out at the idea that I might be settling back down. The last thing I want is to get too comfortable and then never leave. What is it with my mind and always thinking like each new development is the end all and be all?
I am slowly accepting that the person I am today is similar but not the person I was last November. I think it was just harder this time round because I had such hopes and expectations built into that version of me and the path that I would take. There’s no reason why I couldn’t go back down that path again though.
There is no rush Louisa. You can enjoy your time whilst you are here. As the tattoo on your leg reminds you, “this too shall pass” so you may as well try and be present whilst you can.
Currently on an airplane off to Spain for a couple of days of climbing. It’s just dawned on me that this is the first time I’ve left the country since I got back from the US in November. That might not sound long – it is only the end of January – but it feels like a lifetine ago. All the joys, feeling enthralled, hurt, sorrow still echo inside me but have become more muted. I suppose that’s an advantage (or disadvantage) of being based somewhere fast paced like London.
I suppose I am fully back now. And yet, every single step I take, I don’t feel like I fully returned. I am physically here, but not all of my soul is. I like to think it’s because I’ve scattered it across the world in some sort of romantic but really quite impractical manner. The urge to leave that resonated with me before my travels is akin to an elephant tripping and crashing into a pots and pans store.
Sit down Louisa, think up a plan and execute it. One day, this game of Flee and Return will become Flee and Visit.
I’ve now been back in London for two days. It’s been interesting to see the lack of change in the city contrasted against the changes I see within myself. I feel a different person and it’s made much more obvious being back in a familiar environment. Part of the changes are due to the travelling I’ve been on – I wonder whether if these will be long term, but there are also changes which I can imagine are due to what happened last summer.
Looking back on the person I was, it seems a lot of the stresses and anxieties I had came from the expectations and how tightly I was gripping on life. I no longer have the tension I had before and that in itself feels so different.
I was not in a good place before I went away so it’s kind of comforting to hear my close friends say that I seem happy and better when I stayed with them. But the pain still sits there and still hurts, I don’t think it will ever disappear and I’ve accepted it. Moving on isn’t necessarily to reach a place where things no longer hurt. This last year has taught me that it’s about making peace with what happened, fully accepting that it changes you as a person and having the courage to take the next step without letting it hinder you. It’s been a long, difficult process but ultimately I wouldn’t be the person I am today without everything that’s in my past. I have no insight on who I would be had things panned out differently and there’s very little use in wishing for things to have turned out otherwise. I love myself enough to not waste any time dwelling on that.
It’s bizarre to think we’ve only been together for three and a half months. I’ve never been with someone who I know like I know you. It’s not that I can claim I know you like the back of my hand (or maybe it is because I don’t know the back of hands that well), but it’s more that I can read you – you make sense to me. I spend my time in relationships deciphering the other person. Each one is like a puzzle and up until now, working it out leads me to boredom. But with you, you just get more interesting and I can’t put my finger on why that is. Maybe it’s because I genuinely believe you could leave me at any point and not show any remorse in doing so. I have experienced it and it hurt like hell. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. There won’t be a third time. I love myself too much for that. But even though the possibility is very real that you might break up with me again, and even though it lies there like an exposed nerve, I still want to make this work.
A small part of me is quietly convinced that this will work out. And I’m past the point of knowing whether this part is my gut (which is pretty on point) or whether it’s a ridiculous hope I have.
It’s like the world’s most tense game of chicken and the prize is priceless but the forfeit is tragic.
All this is part of my anxiety I know, and it makes me into this flustered mess that feels like I have no control over anything. I hate that feeling, like I’m spinning wildly out of control and might end up doing something wrong. And that’s why I know I need to calm myself down and compose myself, even though that’s the last thing I want to do.
You need to snap out of it Louisa. You’ve been through too much to let this affect you the way it is. The tighter you try and hold on the more you’ll smother him and the relationship. You want to be with him because he chooses to be with you not because you convince him or nag him into it.
If it ends, it ends. There is very little you can do about it but you know you’ll be alright. That tattoo on your leg saying “this too shall pass” was to serve as a reminder that nothing is permanent. Everything single fucking thing in this world is transitional and temporary. And there is no happy ending because your life is not a story. So take a deep breathe. It is what it is and what will be, will be.