I have a bad spate of Anxiety at the moment. I don’t really know where it came from only that I became anxious about a holiday I had booked that I felt might go wrong … and it did. Well some of it went right. On a positive note we went to Portugal and flew from our local small airport which is the antidote to a fear of flying. Complete absence of stress, an easy journey, no overnight hotel stop, easy parking – we drove the car to a space and walked across to departures – how easy is that? Of course, security was still a nightmare as the boundaries keep moving. This time it was finding I had packed a lithium battery in my carry on. No problem if I was going to carry it on but, no, they wanted some passengers to put their carry ons in the hold and apparently that is where lithium batteries cannot go. So a major reshuffle at check in and a once-tidily-packed case resembles a bomb site until the errant battery is located and then relocated into my hand bag.
On another positive note, I will never forget standing at the viewpoints at Praia da Rocha and marvelling at the red sandstone and the large rocks with a sudden blast of sunshine that was horribly absent for the rest of our stay. Stunning is the only way to describe the view. Similarly, we loved visiting Sagres, the most westerly point with its fantastic views, again in a window of sunshine.
But things had been going wrong before this holiday. I should have expected Anxiety to rear its ugly head as I had just passed through several weeks of stress until I managed to stand back from what I had committed to and hold my hand up and say ‘I just cannot do this’. Of course, once the stress was removed, I expected to feel better straight away but that is not how Anxiety works. Being on red alert for several weeks is doing invisible damage to one’s mental health and mine was seriously compromised. I knew it would take time. It will pass … my main mantra for overcoming anxiety or depression or both. I am still waiting.
So what went wrong? For a few years my partner and I have enjoyed hotel breaks in Italy, Croatia and short breaks in the UK and in Krakow, at hotels where the Reception staff speak good English and there are other British holidaymakers around which makes for some semblance of security. We are collected at the destination airport and transported without any hassle to our holiday hotel. We do not have to worry about shopping for breakfast items or where to eat out in the evening as our hotels have been lavish in their care of our gastronomic needs. We are not averse to using local public transport to see prime locations and sightseeing tours. Reception staff are on hand with advice. We explore our surroundings and pride ourselves on being able to cope in any situation.
This holiday involved an apartment in a sleepy village in a remote part of the Western Algarve. It necessitated car hire to enable us to get to our accommodation. Years ago we hired cars in France, drove into Italy without any difficulty. I possess sufficient French to read road signs, traffic warnings and ask directions. I can decode a menu and make myself understood when we arrive at our bed and breakfast.
This time there was a sudden realisation that my now slightly older partner had lost driving confidence and our ‘bottom of the range’ car was manual and inclined to lurch over every pothole – of which there were many. In France the roads are excellent but for the main part of this trip we bounced in and out of potholes and the lack of signs ensured we ended up on industrial sites and waste ground with increasing frequency.
It was the quiet season and there were few people staying on the complex. My partner became ill with what can only be explained as ‘plane flu’ within 48 hours, shaking so badly one night that I feared he was having a stroke. We felt isolated and vulnerable and silently vowed never to embark on another independent holiday at our age, especially in a country where we do not speak the language, where road and roundabout signs are notably absent and where we had no point of reference. No reception desk. No travel company rep. I quickly realised why so many people in our age group go on cruises. The idea was suddenly very appealing. Within three days we could not wait to go home. The weather was the worst the country had experienced in 38 years. I told myself that if the sun shone we would feel better but it only made brief appearances in the afternoons following mornings of torrential rain.
As the week passed we consoled ourselves that we would relax when we arrived back at the airport which, to some extent, we did but we were feeling fragile following further illness. The deep sleep I anticipated on our first night home did not happen and I entered a phase of ‘not sleeping’ night after night. As someone with Bi Polar I need comfortable set routines, relaxation and the absence of stress. Stress can affect me badly. So very quickly Anxiety came banging at the door. The insecurity and nine days of being on ‘red alert’ had damaged my usual state of living in the moment. I was constantly wondering whatever would happen next and this feeling would not go away on our return.
This attack has shown me why Anxiety is often referred to as ‘crippling’. I seem unable to act to move myself forward. Eventually, I visited our library, leaving armed with five or six books on relaxation, anxiety and combating depression. The librarian on duty knew me and my heart sank as I saw her expression when she logged the books out on my card. Once home, I revisited all the advice I have read repeatedly in the past. I always think there will be something new … The Answer … but no. I am thoroughly bored with myself. I have listed the fears and worries, rated them out of 10, re-phrased the worry into a ‘can do’ statement. I have gone for walks, breathed the fresh air deeply, returned to my yoga practice on my lounge carpet, put on stress busting CDs and everything else that they recommend. I am so bored with it all as I have been here before. But when Anxiety bangs at the door, I forget all my positive strategies. I forget what it is I do when I am well.
Every time Anxiety bangs at the door and holds me in its crippling grip, I tell myself ‘this will pass’. This, despite being unable to get up in the morning and face up to what is happening in my life. But one mantra beats everything and that is …
‘Deal with it.’
The worries may be simple and not something that would bring any normal person to a standstill but ‘dealing with’ these anxieties one by one is the only way to get out of this hellhole of a trap. I force myself to make the phone call that I have been putting off. I answer the email that has triggered some concern. I go out to the shops with a small list – anything longer is unmanageable. I list my outgoings aware I have financial worries which will not go away until I address them. I cancel some of my less-needed standing orders. I google ‘Anxiety’ and find some consolation and tips on Pinterest and the web. I go for a walk. I force myself to smile and say hello to strangers. I write down things I should be grateful for. I list my recent achievements. I write a To Do list. It is all exhausting but I keep doing it as I know …. it will pass.
It is all these actions which will eventually change my negative thoughts to positive ones and build up to bring me back to a state of homeostasis where I am relaxed and happy about life and willing to face up to what is ahead of me, no matter what.
I know it will pass. It is just knowing what to do while I am waiting that is the problem!