It’s a sultry August morning and I am sitting in the coffee shop upstairs by the window looking down the street at the people milling about in the sweltering heat. A text arrives on my phone from my daughter. “I almost passed out in the piercing place. We’re going for a drink until I feel better enough to go back in. ‘sad face emoji’”.
Years passed, but she didn’t go back.
It wasn’t the first sign of anxiety in her. Variously many things have troubled her, kept her awake, upset her and laid her low. It’s dispiriting and upsetting to see someone you love so crippled by their own imagination.
More recently, on the way to work, I received a message from her. “Can we talk about the belly piercing when we walk the dog later? We’re heading towards summer again and, I know it’s silly but, I keep thinking about it and it’s stopping me sleeping”
If anxiety weren’t painful enough, the tiny and seemingly inconsequential aspects of our lives it sticks to can make us feel ashamed. Not content with feeling the fear we compound it by becoming frustrated at what we see as our own pathetic inadequacy.
If anxiety were a frightened child shouting at her, railing at her weakness and stupidity will not soothe the panic. It will light a fire underneath which will burn endlessly until there is nothing left but ashes.
Walking through the quiet valley Daisy searches wilfully for something to eat or, much worse, roll in. Beth and I talk about how useless rationale and logic is in the fight against anxiety.
The emotional brain is so much more powerful than logic. So if there is no reasoning with irrational fear how on earth can we ever escape?
In one sense, we can’t. Nobody lives a life free from anxiety. But when we can see its obvious inaccuracy, its claim of oncoming catastrophe where none exists, the most effective way to let go of it is to find a way to confront and stare it down.
Anxiety will not leave of its own accord.
When the passenger afraid of flying steps onto a plane, when the dental phobic slides courageously into the chair feeling it gently recline; when the socially anxious walk into a crowded room at a party and prepare to mingle, anxiety is in the crosshairs.
“Perhaps you need to think about the best possible conditions for you to be able to actually go through with it”
She looks at me, then away. Thoughtful.
“You’ll never think your way out of anxiety. You can only behave your way out.”
Silence, eyes fixed ahead, down, then up.
“OK. Could we go in there tomorrow and see how crowded it is on a Wednesday? It’s the waiting that freaks me out. Maybe if I didn’t need to wait it would help”
“Sure. Let’s try it”
Walking into town she stiffens as we approach the stairs. She’s not been in here for two years, other than on most days, in her head.
Upstairs we are the only two people in the room other than the pleasant smiley young lady who asks if she can help.
Then, before I have a chance to say much at all, it is happening. She’s choosing a stud, I’m paying and we’re ushered into a room next door.
“Is it done?” she asks, surprised.
“Yes, I’m just putting the stud in”
Moments later we emerge blinking in the spring sunshine. She is elated. Two years of anxiety gone in an instant through nothing other than action. No reasoning, no rationale, no bargaining, no coaxing or bullying, just forward motion.
That evening I am saying goodnight and she is staring intently at her belly.
“It’s bleeding,” she says.
“Yes, it’s a wound” I reply.
Her again. “I hope it doesn’t get infected”
I laugh and I look at her, eyebrows raised. She laughs too.