Mental Health Series

What my sick day taught me about stress and anxiety

Well, ’tis week two of my publishing adventures and I must confess, my emotional thermometer has been yoyoing wildly. That could be due in part to the fact that I am becoming ill, so I won’t blame my writing-responsibilities entirely, but this week mental health has been at an unusual low for me and I don’t think the sniffles can justifiably take all the credit.


I write this as I sit alone in my partner’s house, tucked up in a blanket with a highly-sugared cup of tea, a mound of tissues at my side ready for emergency use; it’s a cozy image, despite the germs. This is where I’m most at home; waiting for Catherine to get back from work so that we can order Chinese from two separate takeaways and blogging as I wait, knowing that this evening leads into a long weekend of pyjama-wearing in a dark room, softly illuminated by the glow of my laptop screen. Writing. Editing. Studying. This is my safe-place; the soundtrack to my peace is the tapping of typing keys.


If you’re someone who has (a) followed my past blogs and writings on my mental health or (b) talked to me for more than five minutes at a time, you’ve probably gathered that Anxiety has played a leading role in the film of my life, accompanied in most scenes by its trusty sidekick, Stress. This week, however, Stress has really come into its own; its performance hasn’t been quite Oscar-worthy, but it’s definitely fighting Anxiety for the spotlight.


Stress and I have strolled hand-in-hand through the hellscape that has been my college experience, but once we made it out the other side, we immediately parted ways. We had no need for each other anymore (Anxiety made stood by me, though, to tell me that I would never see my friends again, I would be unemployed, I would have no purpose, yada yada yada – you know the drill).


After all, why would Stress continue to shadow me? It had done a thorough job of keeping me company through the many deadlines, the all-nighters and the cramming-I-mean-study sessions, but overnight all of those things had vanished; I didn’t need stress as a motivator anymore. My life had dulled to a blissfully low-pressure day-to-day grown-up existence. So you can imagine my surprise when Stress resurfaced this week.


My circumstances haven’t really changed: I’m facing no additional pressures at my kickass creative job; Catherine and I still have yet to have our first fight and, in fact, things are better than ever now that both of us are college-free; I am overjoyed at all the various turns my life has taken in the last several months (I mean, I have a book coming out for gawd’s sake!) so why is Stress here for a comeback tour?!


I’ll spare you the ins and outs of all the various manifestations of stress that have hit me this week, bar one the one which came at the height of it. It was unpleasant and messy and came at an unexpected, highly inconvenient time: while I was in work. Alone in the office (thankfully) but on the phone with my boss (not-so-thankfully. Regrettably, in fact).


I had had a series of miscommunications and was failing miserably at expressing myself; much like an infant who cannot speak in more than sentence-fragments and then tantrums because their frustration gets the better of them, I let Stress get the better of me. My temporary inability to communicate left me so frazzled and down-trodden and panicked that I found myself locked in the office, huddled in on myself nursing a stress-nosebleed and trying to contain my feelings. I even called my Mom to look for calming voice but then, deciding that I needed to try and handle myself like an adult instead of that tantrumming two-year-old, hung up before she could answer.


Those moments of mounting stress, panic and even recovery are undoubtedly the worst I’ve had since the college woes left me. I can only hypothesise as to why Stress has landed at this particular time, and my thesis is thus:


Everything has been great. I’ve announced my publishing plans; I’ve had lots of praise and encouragement from people I care about and who care about me; I’ve had lots of celebratory meet-ups with people whose company I really value. I’ve even had a birthday thrown in there for good measure, so I’ve been surrounded by nothing but love and support. But I’ve still been, for lack of a better term, surrounded.


Despite much controversy over the years, I declare myself, wholeheartedly, an introvert.

And by that what I mean is, socialising, although lovely and enjoyable and basically the thing in life that is of most emotional value, utterly exhausts me.


I love to organise meet-ups; I love knowing that I have upcoming coffee-dates and dinners and cinema-trips to which I can look forward (it’s tough to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition, just FYI). But the thing is, after all of those social activities, I need to recharge my batteries. While extroverts gain their energy from the company of others, I and my introvert brethren gain our strength and powers (yes, powers) from spending time alone. Lately, I haven’t been doing much of that.


I’ve been going from colleagues to family to friends and back again, and when I’m not physically in the room with people, I’m often engaging on social media which is a huge adjustment for me. On top of that, I’ve just stepped out of a four-year college experience where I had trained everyone around me to not be alarmed by my frequent expression of all types of feelings. In short, I was comfortable enough to be honest about all things emotional with my peers, but I have not yet prepared my colleagues or my grownuphood-peers for any such honesty. For now, I’m still faking it.


In general I’m an advocate for the simple route to mental wellness, so if a friend came to me looking for advice on how to deal with this situation, my response would be “If it’s exhausting you and stressing you out, just make more time to be alone. Cancel some plans. Watch more Netflix. Stay off social media. Just do whatever makes you comfortable.” This time, though, it isn’t that simple.


Sure, I can raincheck some coffee-dates and I can squeeze in some Netflix on my lunch-breaks at work, but in the process of publishing this book, I’ve put myself out there for the world to see. I want engagement; I want the support of loved ones; I want to meet up and tell everyone my plans and celebrate with friends when I do well and feel sorry for myself with them when I come up short. But I can’t have it both ways.


This means that I have to struggle through the adjustment period where I work on finding my place in Social Media Land. I also have to learn to pace my face-to-face social engagements a little more sporadically, rather than just combing through my schedule day-by-day to find the next available opening. I have to find balance between being with others and spending time on my own (see above. A sick day is the perfect excuse to spend some quality time with myself).


So, to anyone from my personal life who might be reading this, please try to understand that if I cancel some plans or don’t immediately set a date for our next hang-out or don’t respond to one of your messages, that is absolutely not something which you should take personally. It’s the classic case of It’s Not You, It’s Me; if I take a brief social hiatus now and again, it’s just because I need to recharge my introvert batteries. And, honestly, I’ll make for much better company once I’ve had some breathing space.


Basically, I want to spend time with you, I really do; just not when Stress and Anxiety are around. Those two really know how to spoil a party.

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