Having been an adult for a number of years, there are certain things that I am confident that I have learnt. Things like that life is a long journey made up of destination checkpoints as determined by oneself. Things like that even though you’re aware of something being an issue like anxiety, it never truly goes away, no matter how much you work on it, it’s an ongoing relationship where some days feel better than others.
But what I do not know, is how things like this restless feeling keeps coming back. I do not know where it stems from, and I do not know how to live alongside it. It’s been sitting inside me like the ever-present rot during a wet and rainy winter, and it concerns me that there’s this feeling it may cause my house to fall apart.
Last night we went down to the river for a wild swim with my boyfriend and his old school friend. His old school friend lived locally and had invited a long a bunch of other parents that he knew through his children’s school. They were all lovely people and you can see knowing each other in their community gave them support, comfort and joy. To me, there was something that made me want to run away from it. There was something distinctly monotonal to me about their identities being British parents. Part of me is horrified at the thought of it if I were to ever have a child, knowing full well that if I had a child, this would probably be the type of community I would seek out. So what is it that makes me feel such an aversion? What am I seeking instead? Because every time I ask that question, all my brain does is come up with nothing. I long for the times in my 20s where I go out adventuring, meeting new people, being free to explore however, I am no longer that person. I have trouble reconciling how it is I “should be” vs what I have known vs what it is I want but do not know. Getting older is not easy. They say that the 20s are the time for you to figure out who you are and that 30s are when you have come to know yourself. Sure I know myself better in some ways but I certainly do not feel like I have it figured out. I feel since I’ve hit my 30s, I’ve had to try and figure it all out again with new doubts like “Am I too old to be wearing this crop top?”. It feels like if I’ve set myself off on one direction, I come to change my mind at a later stage.
Sometimes I’m envious of people like that group of parents. They know what it’s like and are making the most of their lives as parents and seem to be owning it. Perhaps they struggle with exactly how I feel, but then they’re probably distracted by their children screaming about something inane, or creating some sort of mess or chaos.
Is this restless feeling a sense of not belonging, or wanting to run away?
It’s taken me a while, but I slowly feel like I’m reaching a stage again where I feel capable of pushing physical and also mental limits.
I broke my ankle at the very start of the year, and was off my feet for weeks if not months. I barely left the house for the first two months. With such dominating condition, I guess it’s not surprising in hindsight how much that would affect me physically but also mentally. I became very used to being inactive and staying in which is very different to how I usually am. It also made me feel very trapped because I didn’t feel like I could go out, it took a lot of effort for a long while.
If I had to take a stab at explaining it, I would say because I was going through such an amount of physical pain, it left me with a reduced capacity to deal with any other discomforts. So I was drawn to easy and pleasurable experiences that did bring a degree of comfort. However, a life well lived (in my opinion) is one where one must become somewhat comfortable being uncomfortable because that is where the most personal growth occurs. For example, returning to rope climbing, I have been feeling more fear of heights and falling than I did before. That fear has always been there, but in the past I’ve been able to acknowledge the fear and climb past it. With no little amount of patience, I’m finally feeling a little closer to being able to do that again.
Another avenue in my life that provides mild discomfort is my recent uptake of Spanish lessons. Learning the language has always been something I would love to do but never known quite how to make a reality. I finally decided to bite the bullet and commit to a course and so far, it’s very early days, it seems to be going well. But one thing I do recognise is that you do also have to be uncomfortable in being unable to express yourself and still be willing to learn and be corrected. It’s amazing though, if embraced, how much progress you can make in a short time.
Life does gives us all knocks, but I am glad to have been able to navigate back to this point where I am seeing more progression. The other important point, is that the healthy way to look at progression is comparisons between where you were recently (maybe like 6 months or a year ago) rather than all time. Progression is about recognising the uptrend in performance and sometimes that may have fluctuations over “all time”. It’s just something I’ve had to remind myself of in an effort to be kinder to myself.
My life has radically changed since the last time I wrote. I’ve moved cities, bought a house and also changed jobs. Kind of crazy that it all ended up happening at the same time. It was definitely a lot of stress but now I am starting to enjoy the rewards of having made those changes.
The cities thing was always going to happen. London will always hold a special place in my heart and memories, but it was never the place to stay long term. Every location has a rhythm, a pace and London’s is just a bit too fast to sustain long term. It’s wonderful to visit though and I thoroughly intend to do so regularly to see friends and for work.
Moving to Bristol has been a great change so far. It’s just such a more relaxed place without having the sacrifice the fun things that we love about a city. It’s also allowed us to buy a cute little house which is something that would’ve never been an option in London. Well, not never been, but certainly would have to work a lot lot harder in order to be able to afford a house.
That part has been hard to get my head around. Having lived in London for so long, owning property was something that I had labelled in my mind as something that was unattainable (certainly to buy an actual house and by myself). So to actually do so is hard to wrap my head around. The living part is easy, our house is great and we’ve been able to decorate it into a lovely place to live. But it’s the understanding and realisation that I now own a house and have a mortgage, with a lovely man who I’ve been dating for a short two years with. My brain just goes “riiight… As if that’s happened”.
And then to top it all off, I managed to leave a job which I was constantly feeling overwhelmed and stressed and joined a company that I would’ve never thought I would be able to get a job at. I have only recently started so it’s early days but so far it’s been a real 180 in pace and I can see lots of potential in things I can do and achieve here which is exciting. Adjusting to a lower pace has been hard so far. I don’t think I’ve realised how wound up I’ve been by my last job and how that has lasted longer than I think it has. However I think it makes for a healthier long term. No one can feasibly sustain working under constant stress with a huge workload for an indefinite amount of time. And I look forward to acclimatising back to a slower, more varied pace in work.
Overall there’s been a lot of new starts and lots of changes. Reflecting on it now, it’s been a long time coming for that change of pace but at the end, I’m grateful for everything that enabled me to make those changes and choices, luck goes a long way but also allowing myself to take those steps which can be scary. Something to definitely look back and be proud of.
It’s weird how sometimes anxiety can be your worst enemy. Or at least my worst enemy. In relationships I’ve learned that if a relationship doesn’t work out, there will likely be someone else out there that I’ll meet later on. If not, I’m more than happy being on my own. There’s little to no anxiety in that area of worrying about rejection.
In other avenues of my life, that definitely is not the same.
I’m here now until something sticks. Just got to ride along with it like a wave. At the end of the day, anxiety won’t beat me.
It’s six weeks into the new year and it’s been pretty eventful so far (despite a national lockdown). I’ve managed to break my ankle, catch covid, lock myself out of the flat (on crutches) and also had the water supply temporarily cut off without warning. But all in all, I feel pretty good.
I think in some ways, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have felt so all encompassing in their isolation and how much they affect you, that more trivial or common mishaps in some ways breaks that doom and gloom feeling. Shit still happens. Life still happens, it’s just a little subdued right now.
Crazy to think we’re fast approaching one full year since I started working from home. Trying to remember how it felt back at that time, it felt like such a bizarre occurrence. There was such disbelief from friends, loved ones and also myself that it would last any longer than 4-6 months tops. And how we’ve all learnt since.
We’ve taken a lot from 2020 in terms of teachings, although definitely more of the tough love vein. My hope for 2021 is that we end this year having been able to implement those learnings and grow positively.
At the end of a year, it’s natural to do some reflecting on the year past. Particularly what with time off work for the holidays, it’s natural to start thinking with more time on your hands. Having just watched Death to 2020, it just really hammered in what a bizarre year it’s been. With the Hong Kong security law, Brexit, the Beirut explosion, a new intensity of wildfires due to climate change, the trash TV show that’s been American politics, ending with a big finale of the election all drawn out to the overture of covid and all its complexities… It’s hard not to have felt fatigued from reading the news this year. Opening a news site became associated with an ominous feeling of dread “what new development awaits us now?”. And that’s all stuff on the global news cycle that I have no control over. In fact the main mental health implication is how those breaking news stories bled over and impacted personal life. Not just mine, but everybody across the globe. It’s hard to imagine another development positive or negative that has simultaneously affected everyone globally.
Personally I’m doing well which I recognise and am very grateful for. My partner and I are both working for companies that have not only survived but had very good years despite covid so our jobs are stable. In fact, my job has been incredibly stressful and busy since August which brought on its own issues. I work in an industry which has historically been vulnerable to budget cuts so my company has been cautious in spend (i.e. hiring people), and being in a world situation where job losses was at an all time high it meant you had to just suck it up and pull in the intense and long hours in order to meet client demands. Which has sucked. My mental and physical health has suffered for it. It’s scary to think that I am still considered one of the lucky ones and I do still think that.
Mental health wise, being in London has been incredibly tricky. It’s so easy to feel stuck, London has always had its own centre of gravity that made it difficult to leave, but now public transport was made to be something to fear, it meant you couldn’t travel 45 mins to get to the other side of the city to do that thing you wanted to like go to a restaurant or a climbing wall. With restrictions changing on a weekly sometimes daily basis like the menu of a bougie hipster cafe or restaurant, just flip flopping between being stuck indoors and being able to go out and see friends, it’s been really hard to adjust and get through it. You’re having to adjust every two seconds with very little consistency. The loss of control and ability to actualise what I want to do is the thing I struggle with the most. It will be interesting to see what the mental health implications of this will be. You don’t have to have had covid to be affected by the pandemic.
With vaccines being approved one by one, and distribution starting, I know the start of 2021 won’t look much different from the end of 2020 – I don’t think we’re under any illusions there. But I do fervently hope along with the whole world that we can reach a point where this becomes manageable. Covid isn’t going away miraculously, no matter what outgoing idiotic world leaders say so. It may mutate out of existence (which is random and small in chance), but likelihood is that it will continue to exist and infect people so if we can get to a point where there are protocols to manage it like smallpox, we might be able to get back to some semblance of life before. Where we were able to go about our lives without having to worry about an invisible enemy.
…that I miss feeling the way I did three years ago in the darkest yet period of my life. But I kind of weirdly do. Going through the emotional stress and turmoil I was forced to suddenly go through gave me a very unique experience. The lack of caring about things meant that my anxiety was thrown into a box and taken to one side.
I don’t necessarily miss what had happened to me, although I maintain that I wouldn’t change what happened. I am who I am because of what’s happened and I accept and love who I am. But the detachment I felt, was in some ways intoxicating. It felt like the lack of emotional investment meant that I gained a certain sense of clarity in the motivation behind other people’s actions and also for me to be able to better control mine. I felt like I could do anything.
Perhaps that wasn’t the case but it certainly felt it.
Outside of that, it gave me some preparation of the suddenness of this pandemic and having to abruptly change our lives at the drop of a hat. I’ve done it before, and whilst it wasn’t any easier, at least I had my previous experience. Gotta keep looking out for ways to be grateful for your experiences. No matter how painful.
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.
With a sudden curtailment of the freedoms a lifestyle in a western city offers, it removes all of the glorious distractions that makes such a place attractive to live. Suddenly in a densely populated city where people are living upwards, you find it suddenly feels very claustrophobic. This has been ever more highlighted in the recent week where restrictions have loosened and allowed sunbathing in parks. Right near where we live on days with beautiful sunshine, it somewhat resembles a field at a music festival.
So in this busy, crammed city where your normal routine is completely dashed and time for your thoughts is exponentially increased, it leads one to question “what restrictions would need to be relaxed in order to make things more bearable?”. For some people it’s simply seeing friends, for others it’s pubs, and others it’s travel abroad. The more I thought about it, the less I am sure about how to answer that question. Suddenly without the distractions I’m yet again faced with the question of what life it is I want to live. What makes my life worth living?
It’s hugely interesting to see on the news how countries are starting to put measures in place to allow businesses to open and international travel to take place again. In the face of a likely second wave or possibly even a third, it feels like they’re saying they’ve had enough and life cannot continue the way it was.
This pandemic as with every other trial in life will pass, eventually, how we choose to handle it is entirely up to us. If I could possibly leave this period with more idea and motivation towards a life I want to lead, that would be a great result of a very weird period in this life.
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?