The Clucking of Hens

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“There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains. So if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens.” Alan Watts

It’s my last day. My flight leaves tomorrow. I’m packed, the boxes have gone, the dog has been to the vets for pre-flight jabs. And I’ve tidied, washed, ironed and cleaned, to the extent that the house feels empty. I am no longer here.

I am lying in bed beneath a blanket writing by candlelight. In the main room, a fire burns. Outside, its raining. It has been for hours. The shift I had hoped to avoid caught me unawares, materialising without warning. It’s winter now, properly; not sometimes or some days… Still, at least I will be better prepared when I land, which is something.

I’m not sure how I feel, as I’m doing my best to avoid thinking and feeling is strictly banned. I’m scared that if I pause for long enough for it to sink in, the everything that’s happening around me (which is pretty scary and big) will rise up causing me to drown. I have a tendency to suffer from overwhelm at the best of times.

To keep the monster at bay, I drink lots of camomile tea and dose up on sedatives – all herbal, mind. I move a lot, too – all nervous energy atop impatient feet.

Looking after my dog is helping; tending her agitation, aiding my own dis-ease. What she is suffering is bad enough: she sees boxes, cases; knows something is happening to her environment, chipping away at it, but she can’t quite explain what it is. Is mummy leaving? Is daddy going on a trip? Has she done something to anger or upset? Why are things disappearing: her blanket, her bowl, her bed? I know where she is. Being in limbo is uncomfortable.

I wish I knew what was on the other side, whether I will love or loathe it. I wish I knew how long it will take, the exact length of this interlude. I wish I could have a guarantee that if I hate it, if I am unhappy, I don’t have to stay that long. I wish someone could promise me that the temperature will be favourable, that there won’t be much rain and that the sun will always shine. I wish there were answers. In their absence, I have no idea where I am, how I feel, what is happening. Like my dog, I am confused.

I reach out my hand to those around me, looking to them for comfort, only to realise too late that they are only interested in subtracting. I lend my shoulders, my arms, my breasts… while my heart endures a battering. I need to widen my circuit, balancing the flow between to and from.

Tired, drained, I shrink back, taking refuge in the one place only I can find. It’s quiet and dark. Even in a busy cafe, nothing reaches in. Safe within the void, held by the flow, I find comfort. For now, it works.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A creature of habit

IMG_6520-0I suffer from chronic anxiety. I’m not sure when it started, if I have always had it, or if it is only recently that I have become affected, like in the last 15 years. I do know that it plays an influential role in my day-to-day life and that it occurs with enough regularity to have become frustrating and annoying.

When I was at university I had a boyfriend who experienced panic attacks. They were a mystery to both of us, neither one of us understanding the shortness of breath, the hot flushes, the dizziness, the nausea, the blacking out, the vomiting and the lack of consciousness. He lived in fear of a repeat attack and this fear dominated our evenings. With the understanding I have now, I look back and feel guilty: I could have been a lot more compassionate and helpful if I had known what it was he was going through, if I had understood it. As it was, a part of me thought he was doing it to sabotage our evenings (it only ever happened when we were out with my friends). If we had kept in touch, I would have phoned him long ago to apologise. I would have also explained to him what they were, if he hadn’t already arrived at his own discovery, and recommended possible avenues of treatment. A rough analysis attributes them to the state of flux he was experiencing as a result of his recent uncertainty about the future and the pressures from his family. Several months later, he dropped out of a law placement and switched to teacher training. A dramatic shift in direction (provoking disappointment and anger from his parents) which helped him profoundly.

Anyway, regardless of when my attacks started (at a guess, I would place them at 8 years), the reasons were similar and the results pretty much the same. And ever since, each time there is a significant shift in circumstance: a sudden change, an enforced situation, a necessary transition from A (where I am comfortable) to B (where I have no idea), an extended journey resulting in a separation from everything known, etc., I start to unravel, my inner peace disappearing. If I fail to act, attempting to ignore the emotions and run from the reasons, the anxiety escalates until it reaches a level that incapacitates me. And even then – housebound, bedridden – there is no relief. The only solution is to turn around and face and to attempt to address.

Over the years, I have learnt that there are things that I can do. And they are things that, on the whole, are fairly successful. The challenge is becoming aware of the spike before it is too late and getting my mind to agree to accompany me on the necessary journey to solution and recovery.

Things that work are:

• self-hypnosis for anxiety, worry and stress
• meditation, ideally with a mantra
• gentle exercise (yoga or a walk with music)
• verbal expression (either by talking to someone I trust or writing in my diary)
• a solid daily routine
• safe places where I can go to relax or work
• an emergency plan (i.e. someone who can talk me down or come and collect me should the need arise)

Practiced regularly, I can keep the anxiety to a minimum and the attacks at bay. There are periods of time when I forget about them completely. It is only when the circumstances are such that I have no power to affect them that I struggle to arrive upon a cure. In these times the above list is key to my survival and, while it might not remove or solve, it does deliver a situation that is manageable.

These days I am a creature of habit. I have a routine, essentially a timetable, which I follow without complaint. At a certain time I will always be in a set type of place going about a specific activity. And, while it could be viewed as small and limiting and perhaps a little sad, sequestering my life and its experiences to the confines of a box: for me, it has actually been the opposite, allowing me to travel the world, live in different places, experiment with different things.

more information on panic and anxiety
Broken Light: photography for mental health
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