One day last week I woke up feeling anxious. This day I decided to note down what happened, when I felt anxious, what I did and what I could learn from it.
It’s 7:45am, I’ve checked, re-checked and then checked again to make sure I’ve got everything in my bag for today. I already know it’s going to be one of those days where I’m constantly anxious. I’m used to having these days periodically and I’ve got better at managing them. Still, managing a day of constant anxiety feels like, what I imagine, tight-rope walking feels like. Constant, tiny adjustments have to be made to make sure I don’t fall off into some kind of anxiety canyon.
8:10am I’m on my bike and halfway to work. It’s biblically pissing it down and I’m canvas shorts because I’m a bloody idiot. Cycling generally helps me deal with anxiety and depression to boot. Cycling in London especially helps as I’m constantly on high alert to make sure no cars, taxis, buses, trucks, fellow cyclists, pedestrians inexplicably wandering down the middle of the road, kill me. Concentrating on this really helps as a distraction plus the added boost of testosterone always makes me feel better. I’m finding it more difficult today to switch off my anxiety and concentrate because it’s pretty shitty conditions today.
9:15am nearly everyone on my team at work has called in sick. I work in social services and today is the day we usually have our 3 hour team meetings to go through all our cases. Since it’s only me and one other person I’ve cancelled this meeting. This has left a 3 hour gap in my schedule and although I’ve got plenty to do I have no idea where to start. I generally have a set plan in my head for my work day, when I’m not feeling anxious I’m much more flexible and find it easy to re-arrange tasks in a second. Anxiety though makes the thought of doing this seem like trying to build a house based on an Escher painting.
10:00am I’ve got myself a coffee. I know it won’t help but I’m cold and tired and it seems like the thing to do.
11:00am I’ve done a couple of smaller tasks to try and get my head into the right kind of mind frame. They’re done but they felt ridiculously difficult to complete. On a good day I’d have flown through them, barely having to think about the steps I needed to take, no problems. Today though it feels monotonous, every little step I usually never have to think about I analyse and rethink in great detail in case this time I get it wrong. I’m terrified that what I’m doing is wrong and will screw everything up making everything in my job fall apart.
11:25am My brain’s spiralling. All my work/personal tasks are going through my head on an infinite, quickening loop. I’ve taken a 10 minute break to go for a quick walk outside. There’s no particular point to the walk I just need to change my environment.
12:00 I’ve started making the phone calls I need to make today. A lot of my job involves persuading people to do things they don’t particularly want to do and these phone calls are all about that. I’ve been dreading these, if the first goes badly I’ll feel like shit for the rest of the day and get nothing done. Luckily it goes well and now I’m suddenly king of the world.
1:10 – 2:00pm I was too lazy to make a packed lunch last night so I’m wandering around deciding what to eat. I like to wander around slightly aimlessly at lunchtime. I go to the nearest park, I wander around playing Pokémon, I sit down and look at all the dogs, in short I distract the fuck out of my brain for an hour.
3:00pm One tough phone call has kicked off an hour of tough phone calls trying to sort something out. Luckily it’s just after lunch and I’m full of energy after being outside and walking around for most of that. It’s only after the phone calls end, when I start writing them up as case notes, that I worry if I’ve done the right thing. I go and speak to my co-worker to go over what everyone said, make sure there’s nothing I’ve missed. It pays to be meticulous but I go over and over inconsequential points thinking if I could have done anything better. I can feel my brain going into overdrive again so I go and get some water.
4:00pm Spent pretty much the last hour unable to concentrate, but slowly getting work done. Very slowly. I keep going in cycles of heart beating quickly, getting over-agitated, doing breathing exercises, getting water, calm down, heart beating quickly, getting over-agitated and so on and so forth. Unable to break the cycle this time. My muscles feel weak and faint. I’m actually snapped out of the cycle by suddenly having to deal with a minor crisis. A tiny re-set button somewhere in my brain has been pressed and all I’m left with is wondering how I let this build up to the point in became almost uncontrollable.
5:25pm I’m on the tube and it’s fucking awful.
5:55pm I’m in a pub and there’s a guy playing guitar, the sound’s bad so you can’t hear what he’s actually singing but at the same time it’s so loud I can’t hear anyone around me. I’m partially deaf so loud pubs are generally a nightmare for me anyway but this is impossible. I feel helpless and hate not being able to properly talk to people. I can feel my heart speeding up and I know there’s very little I can do to stop it now. I need to feel like I can make any situation better or bearable but there’s nothing I can do here.
6:50pm We’re in a different pub now, it’s much quieter, I can hear people, I feel much more in control.
8:15pm Me and my wife are on the bus home, we’re gathering pokemon and comparing what we caught that day.
8:45pm Home, at last, home. I’m cleaning out the bins and tidying up and working out how I’m going to cook our noodles. Being home, with nothing else to do, instantly makes me less anxious. My wife is here, my cats are here, I can do or not do anything I want here. There’s nothing expected of me which I can’t manage.
10:30pm Bloody hell Stranger Things is good.
What did i learn? Well, on days like this all I can do is distract myself as much as possible. When I absoluteloy had to speak to people, when I was outside, when I was exercising these all made me feel more in control of myself but conversely more distracted. Absolute concentration on one thing stopped the anxiety. This isn’t really a way to live but on these days when anxiety takes over they provided distractions, they stopped the anxiety from taking over completely.