Talking to myself

country road sepiaI spend an awful lot of time talking to myself.  It started years ago, when deep in a bout of anxiety, I doubted every single word that came out of my mouth.  Every conversation, however small, was later examined in detail. I’d beat myself up for the idiocy of what I’d said, my self-centredness and my lack of empathy for the person with whom I’d been conversing.  (Jees – self absorbed much? But selfishness, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of the side effects of anxiety.)

I’d resolve not to talk at all, but that didn’t work in the real world, so I started to practice conversations I knew I was going to have. These took place mainly in the car while driving.  I told myself other people would assume I was singing along to the radio or talking on a hands-free phone. It did get me through some necessary conversations, but it also became a habit.

And it’s got worse, because for the last year I’ve had to do a lot of driving. The kind that doesn’t get me anywhere, but is helping someone out. (Or maybe it isn’t, but that’s someone else’s story.) Anyway, I have to do it and so have plenty of time to yak to myself.

Last year, I had my first interview in about 25 years. The build up to this resulted in many, many practice sessions en route to nowhere. As a result of that interview I now, alongside the journeys to nowhere, get to go somewhere: my other world, the lovely Corsham Court, for the MA in Writing for Young People. Of course, this means writing workshops and, in these, I need to talk. It’s essential to discuss books, give feedback to others, comment on feedback given to me, and so, more practising of talking is required.

Once, in full flow while driving to a workshop, I failed to notice that the satnav had overheated and was no longer functioning. Hence, I missed a turning. For a considerable amount of time I was lost in the wilds of Wiltshire.

So, I’m back to Uni after a bit of a break and talking to myself has begun again, not least because our first reading-in-public event approaches. So, if you see a slightly frazzled woman driving though the backwoods of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire in a dirty and battered Volvo, apparently singing along to the radio, you know who it is.

P.S. Coincidentally, I have just read this: ‘my habit of practising even the most mundane conversations repeatedly before I actually have them.’ This by twitter mate: @blondiecamps  on her blog: blondiecamps.

Rewriting Anxiety

I see that it’s World Mental Health Day today.  Here’s something about anxiety from my own experience. I hope it will help others making their way through the storm.

Think of when you have a burst of adrenalin. Anxiety feels like that, but all the time.Your heart beats too fast. You breathe too fast. There’s too much air in your lungs.

Eventually, you reach a point when it moves in and occupies you, body and mind, and it never goes to sleep.

On top, sits a good old dose of guilt. What right have you – well fed, clothed, sheltered, loved, educated – to feel like this?  Why can you not celebrate and enjoy life?

It makes you incredibly selfish, completely wrapped up in yourself. You snap at people who ask a simple caring question because your head space is used up just existing. You hate the selfishness, the snapping. More things to feel bad about.

Anxiety is worry that’s so out of control, it’s running around naked swinging its pants around its head. It’s hard to think straight, let alone curvy. Before you know it, even though anxiety is rushing through you, blurring your lights, you are stuck. Living is on pause.

night jpeg

If you read books about anxiety, you will learn that sufferers frequently catastrophize and indulge in black and white thinking.  This means always thinking that the worst case scenario is going to happen, regardless of any other options or possibilities, and despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

What I finally worked out, with a bit of help, was that I was using my imagination to tell myself a story that always had the worst ending.  For me, that worst ending, apart from the fear of horrible things happening to people I loved, usually involved being embarrassed, feeling stupid, not getting things 100% right, not being perfect. In other words, human.

I began to resent anxiety for stealing my imagination and I wanted to take it back, reclaim it and write a story with another ending. And that’s what I did. I got back to writing. I made things up. I wrote stories about people who were nothing like me and some who were.

Writing is my thing, but I believe a creative outlet of any kind can benefit the anxiety sufferer. Instead of channeling your imagination into creating your worse case scenario try painting, drawing, singing, dancing, drumming, baking, gardening, game design…whatever rings your bell.

Keep it to yourself or show it to the world. Be kind to yourself – it takes time. Baby steps.

I cannot say that writing alone saved me. I had some hypnosis and counselling. Exercise, especially outdoors, is also a factor in maintaining my mental balance. And some days, the anxiety returns.  Of course, it does.  But it’s not as strong, and it doesn’t hang around so long.

I say: Alright, Anxiety? How you doing?

And then I get on with my life, you know, writing, talking to myself and, of course, procrastinating…

More info at: Anxiety UK   –    Mind   –   YoungMinds