Another thing about anxiety

It’s boring. I mean, really boring. Mine bores me. It makes answering the question ‘How are you?’ really hard, so I’ve taken to saying ‘Pass.’ This isn’t because I want people to dig, it’s because my brain jams and somehow, the only answer anyone wants in response, ‘I’m fine’, won’t come out. I don’t want to talk about being anxious most of the time anymore, even to the people who I think I believe I know are genuinely willing to listen. And that’s invidious, because staying trapped inside your own head all the time only makes it worse.

Anxiety is also one greedy motherfucker. It will feed off anything. I am constantly balancing on the high wire of trying to calibrate my own reactions, and it doesn’t take much to tip them one way or the other. Am I being paranoid or should I legitimately interpret that comment as criticism? I can’t really tell, so I have to make a judgment call, but my judgment is shot to hell. Or is it? I don’t know. That’ll be a fiver for another spin on the merry-go-round, lady. ‘How are you?’ ‘Pass.’

My other answer to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Two glasses of white a night.’ This is a new thing, but it turns out, while white wine doesn’t disturb my sleep or give me hangovers, it does knock me out. It is, therefore, fucking brilliant. And I don’t have to worry about the calories, because I’m not eating so much, so that all balances out then! Ok, I know it doesn’t. I know it isn’t ok, and it isn’t sustainable, but I’m not expecting it to be. There is a magical future land where everything will be ok, and it is called ‘When I move’. Unfortunately ‘When I move’ is indeterminate.

Or rather, ‘When I move’ into the house I am allegedly buying is uncertain. I have lost any sense of time in that regard, so it could be next week or next year. Who knows? If I was previously struggling to find the excitement in buying my first house, now even the ashes are cold. But the removal company are rocking up on 18th June, and either the boxes and I and the cats will go to our new home, or the boxes will go to storage, I will go to my friend S’s house and the cats will go to a cattery.

I’ve always sworn that I will never put the cats in a cattery, and the thought of being forced to do so by circumstance now creates a fantastic mix of tear-inducing murderous rage. They will hate it. I will hate it. There isn’t really anyone I can blame for this, not even me, so I simply snarl and growl and snap at the binds of the situation, and pour another glass.

The logistics of this potential interim move become further sources of anxiety.  I know that all of the decisions involved are in fact, relatively minor. They are all manageable. There are solutions to all of the problems that only even seem like problems because anxiety has no truck with problem solving and prefers to skate over answers and loop endlessly back to questions.

And that’s another thing about anxiety. It’s tiring, because it’s relentless. Not even in some grand, dramatic way. Anxiety is pettifogging and small, mosquitoes of the mind that refuse to be swatted. They will die, one by one, because life is not a stagnant pool, it’s clear running water. I just need to get out of these shallows.

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Schaudenfreude

Ok, so everything is all friendly etc, and we went out to see Deadpool 2 and have pizza. Then we got home and I realised those are date like activities, and that, mwah ha ha ha ha, the soon-to-be-ex Will. Have. To. Date. Because, as I have explained in gentle, soothing tones, he isn’t going to meet his prospective future wife by hanging out at home watching videos about Porsches. Nope, he’s going to have to sign up to Flamr* or whatever, iron a shirt, shave, dig out the aftershave and go out and make polite conversation for a couple hours at a stretch. Possibly repeatedly.

I confess that as soon as I had this realisation, I started laughing not entirely sympathetically. Partly because being friendly and supportive only goes so far and I’m not a fucking saint, and partly because of the absolute horror of the contemporary dating scene.

In comparison, I have done my time. I’ve had so many boyfriends I couldn’t do a roll call, I’ve been married, I’ve had one night stands. I have earned my stripes and now I get to retire from active duty and sit in on Saturday nights until the end of time, wearing PJs by 7.30pm, with a bottle of wine, a box of Maltesers and Strictly.  Bring it.

*As far as I know, I just made up Flamr, but now think it’s a dating app for barbecue enthusiasts. Or arsonists.

 

The slowest break up in history

I think it was January that conversations started, and here we are, still in the same house. The situation is simultaneously fine, weird, exhausting and normal. We are definitely splitting up, there is no avoiding that, but because of the reasons (Him: ‘I think I might want to get married and have children’;  Me: ‘I was never that woman’), it’s all very amicable. If not downright supportive.

We are both buying houses, both moving north to do so. So long, Oxfordshire, you’re just too damned expensive. There was no point either of us going through the hassle of a short term move, so instead we discuss wallpaper and paint options, new tableware or cutlery. If we can’t be bothered to cook, we go out for dinner – normal. The removal company who came round to do a quote, did one for each of us at the same time – weird.

Whoever moves first will make the break, and currently my house buying process is nosing ahead. Either way, we have to move in June. The end is in sight, even if still indistinct on the horizon. I don’t think this protracted state of limbo has made things any easier. It’ll still be a matter of ripping off the plaster, even though we both know that’s what has to happen. We’ve said we’ll stay in touch and remain friends, and I believe that is true; right up until a new girlfriend arrives on the scene, at least.

It is, also, impossible not to behave a little more independently. We have our own plans for the bank holidays, and random days off and future holidays and there is a certain luxury in being able to do exactly what I want. It’s not that I’ve been constrained in the past few years but change drives other change more readily. I find myself stepping out of my comfort zone, perhaps even permanently re-establishing its boundaries. I booked myself a ticket for a festival in August, not the most dramatic step in the world but it will be three days of camping, surrounded by strangers.

And I did a nude art photo shoot at my sister’s photography studio. The reasons for that are complicated, but ultimately celebratory. A is nine years younger than me, and if he wants children then it’s an achievable life goal with someone else. Reproduction has never been my body’s purpose, and even if I had wanted to scream a crazy yes to the idea this year, I just got my first pair of varifocals. It would be very easy to be defined by what I’m not right now, with the primary signifier being ‘not young’. That is not the definition I choose.

Both of us are taking steps into our separate, single futures. Maybe this slow break up is splitting up, but with each other as stabilisers. For which one can only be grateful.

Transforming Ovid: Achilles

I’m still playing with stories from Metamorphoses, slowly as ideas occur to me. I’m thinking of a series of them but I need to do some planning and pick out the sections that I think might work. I’ve been sharing them with some of the members of the email group that was set up after the Ovid course I was doing finished, and as always, it’s both heartening and surprising to get positive feedback.

Achilles’ Nereid mother who foreknew

The death that he would die, disguised her son

In women’s clothes…’ (Ovid, Met. Bk XIII).

Achilles steps lightly into the hall, with the girls. Kohl-eyed, rouged, his golden hair curled and scented, his slight form belies his fate.

Such an array before him! Silks and ribbons, unguents, mirrors. He strokes the cool fabric, lets a rainbow slide soft through his fingers. A tall, grey-eyed woman nods and he sees a bright glimmer beneath the river of finery. As the spear comes to his hand and his arm drops with the weight of it, Achilles tastes blood in his mouth for the first time.

Reading round up

Just a quick scamper through the last couple of weeks of books, plus latest additions to the TBR pile.

Unnatural Causes, PD James – I keep forgetting about PD James and I really shouldn’t, because I do like these books. In this one, Adam Dalgleish is on holiday, hoping for a real break from murder so that he can think about whether he wants to marry his girlfriend. Which he clearly doesn’t, because he’s having to give way too much thought to the inevitable disruption to his bachelor existence. In any case, his holiday is soon interrupted by the unexplained and macabre death of a local writer. This even puts the whole community under suspicion, including Dalgleish’s aunt, so inevitably he stays to help out. It’s a cast of varyingly unpleasant characters, although I did figure out the murderer in this one, and the end was far more chilling than I had expected.

The Witch at Wayside Cross, Lisa Tuttle (Jesperson and Lane, book 2) –  I’d been keeping an eye out for another Tuttle, because I enjoyed the first book in this series. Sadly, this one not so much. It’s a promising premise: unknown man dies in front of me, having firsts proclaimed ‘A witch!’ They track down who he is, and are then recruited to find out who was responsible for his death. There’s the suggestion of witchcraft, thwarted passions and even a sub-plot involving a stolen baby and the last of the troglodytes. But somehow, the relationship between Jesperson and Lane didn’t seem to work so well and it all felt a bit stodgy.

The Trick to Time – Kit de Waal. I bought this at an author event where de Waal was present, and she was lovely and funny and I really wanted to like the book. But. While I liked the writing, the rest left me cold. I am fully prepared to believe this is my loss, but I found the wooden babies thing macabre, the careful not naming of the carpenter irritating (because it was obvious who he was), and Karl entirely creepy from the outset.

Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan. Oh lord, this is turning into a real negative page. Ok, so in my defence, I read most of this when I had a cold, so I can’t say I was paying my closest attention. I kind of liked the premise: rising star in government is accused of rape after an affair with his assistant. No one can believe it, because he’s standard handsome, charismatic, committed family man politician. Professionally plausible and entirely untrustworthy.  The prosecution barrister, Kate, has her own reasons for believing him guilty, which are revealed in a gentle and pretty obvious twist. And Sophie, the man’s loving, loyal wife is initially supportive and then starts to have her doubts. I liked the multiple narratives, but without their different settings I think I’d have struggled to tell the women apart.

It’s part courtroom drama and part backstory set in Oxford, and I found the Oxford part a lot more interesting. I did feel like the need to switch back and forth meant that both narratives were sketched in, and I also felt like I’d read it before. Maybe part Apple Tree Yard, part Every Contact Leaves a Trace?

And now I can’t find the rest of the recently read books, because I’ve just had a bit of a clear out ahead of moving and a few shelves have been condensed. Still, probably best at this point. I am listening to a Jack Reacher at the moment, so that’s reliable entertainment, and it’s Norse Mythology up next and if Neil Gaiman goes wrong then I shall give up.

Ageing practically

We were at the hospital with my mother again on Friday night. She’s fine, she’s home now, before anyone worries. My stepfather was with her and I turned up to provide additional support and tell the story properly as he can’t be relied on to give the appropriate details. So my sister, who usually handles all the medical scenarios, had called me. Eventually, my mum was admitted overnight and I drove my stepfather home and finally got in myself at around midnight.

As I head into another break up out of whatever, strange, intermediate relationship status this currently is, I realised that if I were in a similar situation, most likely there won’t be anyone turning up at a hospital to look after me. That’s not self-pity, but there really isn’t anyone fulfilling the role of husband or daughter in my life and based on life experience to date, it would be fucking madness to assume that the future will look any different. I’m quite comfortable on my own and although my friends are busily reassuring me that ‘You’ll meet someone else,’ my primary response at the moment is ‘Why?’ On the off chance that they’ll be around if I have any health scares does not seem like much of a reason.

Much better, I think, to look at the situation pragmatically. Aside from the huge unknowns, which I cannot predict and for which I can’t plan, there are some steps that can be taken.

  1. For the whatevernth time, I have to get back to exercising. Which I’ve known, but seeing my parents wheeze their way through a few steps really brings it home. My stepfather’s refrain is ‘It’s all due to getting old’, but I know it doesn’t have to be.
  2. I realised I can’t become one of those people who doesn’t know how to do stuff. Whatever the equivalent in my senior years is of internet banking or dealing with utility company screw ups, or fixing the computer, I’ll have to be able to handle it. This is bad news, given my propensity to hate dealing with that shit already. On the other hand, if there isn’t anyone else to do it, necessity will damn well have to become a virtue.
  3. I’ll have to use what is available to my advantage. So, let’s assume that the IoT has moved beyond just a selection of pointless, hackable tat in the next 20 years. With that, and whatever wearable tech is around, I presume I’ll be able to pay for a service that will remotely monitor my health and take action if I collapse somewhere. That’s going to have to be outside the home as well, but we’ll all be geotagged by then anyway. At the very least.
  4. Chuck money at the problem. Tricky one, as I don’t have any, but if there are any tattered remnants of the NHS left, there will most likely need to be some private options filling the gaps as well. I have to think about this one.

This is turning into a year of real adulting. I can’t look ahead with pre-regret to the situation that my own choices are likely to bring about. But I do have to think and plan now, because being old is no longer unimaginable.

Responses to Ovid

It was the last day of my Ovid’s Metamorphoses course on Monday, and I shall miss it. The good news is that there are plenty of online courses, so when I move I’ll still be able to study something, although not anything in the classics line.

There were a couple of lines about Helen in Bk XV that stayed with me, because they reference Helen when she’s old and you never think of Helen as old. In fact, I don’t know what does happen to Helen after she’s taken home from Troy. I can’t imagine it was back to married life with Menelaus. I think there’s a play to be written about Helen’s life when she’s older, and I’d like to see Helen Mirren play her.

In the meantime, a few stories were stuck in my head, so I exorcised them by scribbling some bits down. Sorry, Ovid.

Helen

‘and, when her glass shows every time-worn wrinkle, Helen weeps

And wonders why she twice was stolen for love.’ (Ovid, Met. XV)

Helen dreamed her birth again. Curled, nestled, perfect in the perfect oval of her egg, she felt the sunlight illuminating her and stretched out to reach its warmth. The eggshell fell away. Helen, unfolded, saw for the first time her own graceful, white arm extended towards the sun. She recognised beauty as though it had been waiting all along for her to claim it.

Waking, she felt the weight of dried tears on her cheeks. Old griefs.

Eurydice

‘And now they neared the edge of the bright world,

And, fearing lest she faint, longing to look,

He turned his eyes – and straight she slipped away.’ (Ovid, Met. Bk X)

‘Do you know, just before he slipped out of sight, I swear I saw him shrug. Like, oh well, that’s it then, worth a shot. Why did he have to look back like that, just as I was nearly out in the light of day? I only stopped to check for snakes, once bitten, twice shy is what I say. If he really loved me, he’d have been straight back down here, begging Hades for another chance and never mind that dratted dog had woken up again. What’s the point of being a great musician if you can’t lull a dog to sleep, I ask you? Not that I ever liked the lyre all that much myself. But oh no, off he goes, drowning his sorrows by partying with those Maenads, and they’re no better than they should be… And now he hasn’t even got a head, and if he thinks I’m spending the afterlife with a man without a head, well, he can just think again is what I say…’

Medea

‘Medea fled, swathed in a magic mist

Her spells had made…’ (Ovid, Met. Bk VII).

The potion had taken weeks to create, and Medea had used up the last of her energy in searching for the right herbs, picked at just the right time. Much of the mystery attaching to her rituals was for show, but this particular magic needed moonlight in its making. Now she was exhausted and all she wanted to do was to sleep. She would complete the spell in the morning. She sent the dragons away, and told her maidservant to wake her at dawn.

The girl had been with Medea for a year now. She was quiet, unobtrusive. Medea mistook her silent watchfulness for stupidity and was grown careless. When the moon was full in the sky, the girl took the wicked black knife set out for the morning’s work, and slit Medea’s throat.