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Day 32: Anxiety came and bit me on the bum

Is 'bite you on the bum' a thing people say in England? As a Kiwi in the UK I'm constantly trotting out phrases that either perplex or offend people, but say exactly what I mean. (Rough as guts, anyone? Or guts for garters? Piece of piss? Rushing round like a blue-arsed fly?) Anyway, when something bites you on the bum, it means that you've been tootling along quite happily or even borderline smugly, and then you get a shock out of nowhere, or get your comeuppance. Usually it's something coming back to bite you on the bum. So, for example, if you've written smugly in a blog that 'calm comes more easily now', that statement might just come back to bite you on the bum by delivering a humungous dose of anxiety when you least expect it, and laughing in the face of your coping strategies. (Kiwi culture is pretty big on laughing in the face of cockiness. Pride cometh before a fall, and all that. Another Kiwi phrase to google is Tall Poppy Syndrome.) (As far as I can tell, this doesn't apply to the All Blacks, who can be as proud as they like.)

I've been thinking for a while that in my blog posts I've been conflating the feelings of being worried, overwhelmed or a bit anxious with the experience of full-blown Anxiety with a capital 'A', which is hugely unfair to those for whom anxiety has a crippling impact on daily functioning. (Some of these people may be diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, but it's often undiagnosed or lumped in with other mental health issues.) What I've been doing, by not taking more care, is a bit like equating 'depressing feelings' with Depression. I have had periods in my life where the anxiety has taken over and left me only just coping, and that's not what I was talking about in the '100,000 Starfish' post about dealing with feelings of 'overwhelm'. When truly anxious, a person may not even be able to leave the house, let alone make it to a beach or notice anything around them. If they were able to untangle their thoughts long enough to have some memory of the beach, it would definitely feel like there were 500,000 starfish there rather than 100,000, and a few baby whales and stranded dolphins thrown in for good measure. Probably an orphaned kitten as well, and possibly a small child in distress. And that anxious person would be convinced that if by some miracle they made it to the beach, they would definitely do more harm than good.

So, on Friday, anxiety bit me on the bum, with a big old 'Take THAT, Starfish Freak!' and a particularly nasty sneer. I was tired, after four weeks of term and smoothing the kids' transition into new school years (SEN Mums, feel free to nod and sigh here), and of earlier mornings to help The Big Boy get himself to school at the unfamiliar, earlier start time. And as every 'just-about-clinging-on' parent knows, the thing that tips you over the edge is seeing your child anxious or upset and just not being to 'reach' them and help them to see a way through. On Friday, two of my kids were in tears before we'd even left the house. One was pretty much just tired and overwhelmed, but the other was in despair, and over something not really that significant. I got all three off to school and told myself I was fine, but then I:

  • went to town to buy a birthday present, but forgot why I was there
  • eventually remembered and bought the present, but also a large quantity of completely random (but pretty and shiny) things that nobody actually needed
  • went into another shop and attempted to pay with a card that expired a year ago and paid instead with cash
  • went back to the car to pay for my parking and only then put the pieces together and realised I'd left the valid debit card in the present shop, despite it being a 'tap and pay' machine, where the card should never have left my hand
  • retrieved my lost card and absent-mindedly bought two things in the shop next door
  • went back to the car and spent 15 minutes searching for the parking ticket thingummy I needed in order to exit the multistorey car park
  • gave up and spent some time in my car checking Facebook and playing Merge Dragons
  • found the ticket in an obvious place and went home
  • remembered that I'd actually bought a present for the same person the week before
  • realised it was time to pick up the kids and that I hadn't had lunch
  • ate cheese instead
The weekend and following week continued in much the same vein. I couldn't understand satnav and got lost between Hertfordshire and North London (yes, it should be impossible), almost missing my son's football match. I yelled a rude word and cried in the car, which at least shut the child warlord passengers up for the rest of the journey. I rushed, I panicked and I felt utterly hopeless and sure I was forgetting important things every minute of every day. The kids got where they needed to be, which included getting The Big Boy packed and off on his school trip to The Peaks, and I more or less fed them, but I made a right palaver out of the smallest of things and - get this - I only managed one cup of herbal tea in a whole week. Yes, I was in perpetual motion, but I was also in the grip of anxiety and unable to slow myself down long enough to see that I needed a cup of tea, that I deserved a cup of tea, that the world wouldn't end if I had a cup of tea, and that in fact my lack of cups of tea (or any other form of self-care) was turning me into a monster who was scaring the kids rather than being the calm grown-up they could depend upon. I've learned so many techniques to support anxious children, but instead of using them I got myself into an anxious, jittery mess, and that in turn made the kids more anxious. Then nobody could sleep, so we were tired and anxious, instead of just a bit perturbed.

Now, finally, to get to the point. I had people asking me why I hadn't blogged for so many days. In my anxiety, I decided that I shouldn't have plunged into the blog head-first when I had the idea, that I should have planned it out carefully and decided what the point of the whole thing was, instead of wittering on randomly about everything from alcohol withdrawal to autism to herbal tea. (Just pop back to my post on perfectionism and you'll see where I was heading.) I didn't have any extended periods of time to get the laptop out and type last week, but I think I might at least have managed a paragraph or two if I hadn't been running in silent circles in my mind. Mind circles are just nasty. I hate them as much as I hate petunia-eating slugs. (Ask my kids about my petunias and the slugs: there's a lot of unresolved ill feeling.)

But here's the thing. I didn't disappear down the rabbit hole. I felt it happening, and I resisted, and I was lucky enough to wake up this morning feeling much more 'myself'. I'm one of the lucky ones, to be able to do that. I'd booked in a day of cuddles with my friend's baby, which involved a drive of a decent length, so I was putting distance between myself and the mess of my home. The baby was, as always, delightful in every way, and my friend gave me last week's all-important single cup of really good herbal tea. The Big Boy got home from his trip, and had had a brilliant time. He came back talking about how much he loved hiking up and down the sides of valleys and my heart jumped for joy, as I love being outdoors, especially in remote and beautiful places. (If I'm truthful my heart first jumped for joy to hear him talk about something other than farts and gaming apps.) I saw more friends on Saturday, and Sunday's football fixtures didn't involve motorways. Last night I watched The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which made me laugh out loud and I felt my Kiwi soul revive. And best of all, I didn't drink. Let me say that again, with feeling: I DIDN'T DRINK. Now that's new, and it made a big difference. I avoided all the self-recrimination that comes with the jumbo hangover, as well as the headache and dodgy tum. 

There's a lot of good stuff there, from the Thursday baby visit onwards, but I had to work really hard to force it into a week where my head was spinning, and to appreciate it all as good stuff rather than losing it among the anxious whirl. I'm sure nobody who saw me realised that I was working particularly hard to get through the week, but isn't this always the way? Every person has a whole world buzzing around in them, and we just don't know what is going on. It's why I try to teach my kids to be kind (not going terribly well so far), but in particular not to judge anyone (not going that well either), because the lady who is screaming in her car is more than a lady who once screamed in a car, just as the child who lashed out at his Mum in a shop or had a noisy meltdown probably has a whole lot more going on than behaviour you might deem 'bad'.

Actually, there was another point I intended to get to. That point is that I'm back, and I don't particularly care if the blog is random. I would love it if any of you could comment on what you most enjoy reading, but it's fine if you don't, as I'll just keep wittering on for the next 58 days. If you've made it to the end of today's brain-dump, thank you for sticking with me! 

Right now, I'm off for a cup of The Bluebird Tea Co.'s Mojitea. Yummity yummity yum.


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