Today we're talking about A N X I E T Y.
My apologies if the title of this post was misleading but considering it was the baking of the cake that got me through my most recent anxiety attack I figured it was apropos.
I'm starting to understand that my anxiety manifests itself in different ways.
Once, on my first trip to Miami (a graduation gift to myself) I'd experienced severe itching all over my skin and no amount of scratching, warm/cold water or lotion helped. It was embarrassing too because it was happening in front of a friend - who really seemed to be weirded out by my behaviour. I was weirded out by my behaviour. Because I didn't know I was having an anxiety attack.
Another time, in the 4th grade, I was on my way to school and was suddenly overcome with this overwhelming sense of dread. Like the world was going to end. And I couldn't stop crying. I tried staying home from school but my mom wasn't having it. That whole morning I couldn't breathe and struggled to keep from crying in front of my classmates. Again, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I just felt like I was going to die.
I understand what's happening with me now and I can recognise the signs when an attack is coming on. I'm still figuring out ways that work for me to cope with it. A few ways that definitely do not work for me are ignoring the signs/symptoms, praying, "shaking it off," or just "being happy."
If you know someone who suffers from anxiety and depression please stop offering advice along those lines.
It's not helpful. What you can do is just be there. Try to listen instead of speak and don't assume your friend wants or needs you to save them.
I used to feel intense fear during my anxiety attacks. They started when I was very young and I didn't understand them so, naturally, I leaned on my mother or any adult who would listen. No one did. They just called me sensitive.
When I got older I thought I could turn to friends when I felt like I was drowning. Turns out, in certain circles asking for help is a sign of weakness. And in other circles, anxiety and depression are contagious and you must, therefore, be quarantined (i.e. dropped).
I finally figured out what I needed to do and sought professional help.
I get these attacks less now that I work from home and don't interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. I was really drowning in London because there were people everywhere all the time and it really took its toll on me (we'll get into the "extroverted introvert" in another post) so now I cherish my alone time. My alone time staves off my anxiety. I don't have to worry about whether someone's being sincere or cheeky when I'm alone. It's just me and my own thoughts and my own vibe.
But sometimes my thoughts turn nasty and my vibe goes left.
And I just fall apart. Like during my most recent anxiety attack. I knew it was coming two days before it actually hit. I could sense it. Something was off. Try as I might to be "OK" there was no stopping this episode. It was rolling in and would soon roll right over me.
TWO DAYS BEFORE
I wake up to the distant sound of a lawnmower and a nearby car alarm. Both sounds suddenly stop at the same time and it becomes eerily quiet. I blink, adjusting to the light peaking through the window and slowly sit up.
A small voice whispers, "Why do you need to get up? You've got nothing to do today."
I ignore the voice and move into the kitchen to turn on the espresso machine. The buzzing sound of the neighbour's lawnmower returns and is louder here. Too loud. It sets my teeth on edge. The coffee doesn't help and I prepare to make another espresso.
As the machine hums to life again I stare out the window. The sound of the lawnmower grows louder. As if in a trance, I move to pull open the French windows. I have to tug at it and it finally gives way with a loud CRACK. At the same time, the lawnmower stops and a GIANT BLACK SPIDER leaps out at me. I have an almost paralyzing fear of spiders - this one was too big, too black and too close for comfort.
I scream and run back into the bedroom where I stay for the rest of the day.
ONE DAY BEFORE
I peak into the kitchen gripping a can of insect spray. I was in desperate need of coffee so I couldn't avoid the kitchen forever. With no spider in sight, I make myself an espresso still gripping the insect spray. When no spider appeared for the rest of the day I foolishly assumed the spider had crawled back outside through the open window.
That night I make dinner, having forgotten all about my spider nemesis. We eat our meal. We drink limoncello. Later we have a bit of ice cream for dessert. We watch some of a movie and then the husband goes to bed and I stay up a bit to do some writing. At 2am I decide to call it a night. I wash my face, brush my teeth and tie a scarf around my hair. I change into my PJs and climb into bed.
The room is dark except for the light emitting from my phone. I'd just purchased a new audiobook and as I wait for it to download, I tug idly at my headscarf. Something catches my eye on the wall above my head. I look up, still half focused on the Tana French audiobook downloading to my phone. What is that? I shine the light from the phone screen at the object and cover my mouth in horror, barely choking back a scream. (I would totally survive a horror movie. I know how to stifle my screams!).
In one swift motion, I grab the insect repellent I now keep within arm's reach and move to the farthest point in the room away from the Black Spider. I was too frozen to actually spray the spider so I just stood there. Shaking. Shaking.
My husband wakes up - he's a light sleeper, "What is it?" I'm still stood petrified in the corner of the room, gripping the insect repellent. He switches on the light and again I have to fight hard to keep from screaming. Seeing it in the light, so close to where my head had been just moments ago was traumatising.
I point a shaky finger at the spider and say, "Look," in a hoarse whisper. He looks, "Jesus," I say and finally run out of the room. I hear my husband kill the spider and flush it down the toilet. He calls to me and asks if I'm coming to bed. I'm curled up in a tight ball on the couch - crying. No way was I going back into that room tonight.
As I sit on the couch, feet tucked up underneath me, silently crying, jumping at the slightest sound or movement, I think to myself, "This is no way to live."
The lights stay on the rest of the night. I don't sleep.
But I do listen to my new audiobook.
THE DAY OF
Most mornings, I have an espresso first thing before I unload the dishwasher, make the bed, do any sweeping or straightening up. Then I have another coffee as a reward.
I'm on my second coffee and mentally preparing myself to go upstairs to my office to write. I finish the coffee, grab my trusty can of insect repellent and head upstairs. I get comfortable at my desk, put on some music for writing inspiration and then I burst into tears.
I'm suddenly overcome with fear and dizziness. The music is suddenly too loud and everything is too bright. I make my way back downstairs in search of wine. Something to take the edge off.
As I reach for the open bottle of red my gaze falls on a box of cake mix we'd bought during our last grocery shopping trip. It had been an impulse buy. I don't know what possessed me to put the ingredients in the cart. I love cake but I'm not much of a baker.
My hand hovers over the bottle of wine but my eyes are still on the cake mix. Finally, I come to a decision. I put the wine aside and pick up the box of cake mix. I'd heard somewhere that baking can be therapeutic and decide it's worth a shot.
I have to use Google Translate to read the Italian instructions but somehow it gets sorted. Batter - done. Frosting - done. By the time I'd finished cleaning up and the cake was plated on the counter, I felt tons better.
I baked a cake, I realize. I. Baked. A. Cake.
Feeling like Martha Stewart I do a little curtsy. My silly side slowly returns and I can feel myself smiling. The clouds have parted. I can breathe again.
I would do this again - bake a cake, that is.
It's now one of the things I do to feel better when anxiety and depression threaten to steal my joy. My list is up to five at the moment - but I'll tell you the other 4 in another post.
What's one thing you do to feel good? Leave me a comment. Let's talk.
Ciao for now,
That Former Sidekick Girl x