Last night, in what must have been a preemptive effort, I made a list, as I often do when I can’t slow my mind down.
“I feel so restless,” I told Nick as I opened up the Notes app on my phone, furiously adding tasks to my to-do list. He didn’t reply; I’m not sure what I expect him to say–but he rubbed my back and kissed my forehead, which is more of a cure than anything else I’ve tried.
What really happens is that, as I make these lists, I tell myself that I will feel better if I can be productive enough. That the more I achieve and accomplish, the more okay I will be.
(Which is a lie, of course. It’s a non sequitur.)
The anxiety is gnawing at my insides today. It’s in that respect that last night’s list was preemptive because I know by now that a night of restlessness is generally followed by a day of pit-in-the-stomach anxiety for me; it was my best effort to make an inevitable morning less damning. It’s like what happens before a hurricane hits–you throw some sandbags on top of one another, you fortify and support this and that, you stock up on food and necessities. But then you must wait and see what kind of storm will hit.
My lists are my sandbags, my boarded up windows, my stockpile of non-perishables. They don’t prevent the storm from hitting–hell, they might not even prevent the wind and water from creeping in–but at least I’m somewhat ready when it does.
I woke up with the familiar feeling of fear and unease that was so faintly foretold, but I did my best to go about my day anyway.
Let the dog out. Shower. Brush my teeth. Drink tea. Turn on music. Try to eat some breakfast. I even crossed off some of the tasks on my to-do list before suddenly collapsing on the couch, heavy and frustrated, eyes blinking back tears. Here it comes.
That’s when all I can do is lean into it and wait for it to pass.
I can feel it all hitting me–the jagged fear, the blinding uncertainty, the queasy churning of my stomach, the intermittency of tears and sadness–and I am overcome with a need to prove myself to myself, to interrupt these feelings of inadequacy and anxiety with evidence that I am measurably capable of accomplishing something. Anything.
It’s all a lie, really. Crossing things off my to-do list feels good, sure. I feel accomplished, productive; the perfectionist in me is quelled for a time. But all I’ve done is bury the fear with some sort of temporary anxiety-analgesic. The storm will still hit; I will still have to feel it.
There are times when I am full of fear and singed with self-doubt, and there is not much method to the madness other than that. So I make methods of my own.
Step 1: I turn up the music a bit louder, and I let the beat of drums or the thump of the bass, the tightness of harmonies and the strumming and plucking of strings recalibrate my insides.
Step 2: I check off some of the tasks on my to-do list, establishing some sort of rhythm and structure of my own for my body and mind to follow.
Step 3: I also stop and sit, searching for any sort of quiet or simplicity to affix myself to, to observe, to appreciate.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 as needed.
It’s not a cure; I’m learning nothing is. But it’s something, and something is better than nothing.