I just finished an incredible book that my friend Marsha recommended called, first, we make the beast beautiful by Sarah Wilson. It’s all about anxiety… and it’s wonderful.
I have often said, when I moved to Hawaii, “I moved to paradise… but I came with me.” What I was really referring to was that my anxiety came with me. After reading Wilson’s book, I realize that anxiety may have been a key driver to my professional success, but it may have also been the albatross on my psychic freedom. The book is not so much about curing your anxiety, but about managing it and embracing the good parts… ‘making the beast beautiful.’
I have spent a lifetime trying to turn the volume down on my anxiety. Like Wilson, meditation, yoga and vigorous exercise have been very helpful in recent years… along with eating less sugar, drinking less alcohol and giving up caffeine in recent months.
But in spite of all of that, I was feeling really anxious yesterday. Ironically, I think it was triggered by trying to live up to writing a review of such a perfect book on anxiety. I know how crazy that might sound. It may also have been a combination of low blood sugar and dehydration. This is a big part of Wilson’s coping mechanisms — proper nutrition. So, I made myself a healthy lunch and drank several glasses of water. And it helped. A little. But I was still in a funk.
My husband could see that I was not my usual self. I was melancholy and indecisive. He suggested that we go and do something. I was reluctant. I had laundry to do. I needed to go to the grocery store. I had bills to pay. I had no idea what to make for dinner. I forgot to pick up my daughter’s computer from being repaired. We had houseguests coming and I needed to get their room ready. Maybe I should be cleaning the gutters and re-bricking the chimney too?! In Wilson’s book, she talks about this exact coping mechanism for people with anxiety. She writes, ‘We grind harder. Try harder. Think harder… we think this is what will fire us up out of our funk and get us back on on our game. It’s a self-perpetuating pain - we use anxiety to fight our anxiety.’
So, my husband suggested we go to the County Fair. That seemed like a perfectly reasonable suggestion, except for one thing, I hate the County Fair. It’s hot. It’s expensive. It’s dirty. It’s crowded. I don’t like carnival rides. I don’t need to eat junk food. Our daughter already went the day before, and she wasn’t interested in going again. So, it seemed like a terrible idea. Which is exactly why I said, “Yes.” I thought I could not be in a bigger funk, so going to some place that made me uncomfortable might just be the very thing I needed to snap out of my mood. I was taking a page out of Wilson’s book —“The Wobbliest Table” chapter.
When we got there, it looked pretty crowded and it was very hot. But somehow, this beautiful cloud cover rolled in and the crowds started to thin out. We walked around and shared a giant pretzel. We looked at all the blue ribbon winners for agriculture, art, and livestock. We even went on two rides. One was a rollercoaster which was just scary enough to make my stomach leap up and make me forget about my melancholy. Then we went on the giant swings which was really fun and freeing until we got off the ride and we both felt queasy for the next hour. We decided that we might be too old to go on anything that spins. We had a good laugh about that.
Then we went to Home Depot to pick up something my husband needed. He knows I don’t like Home Depot, so he joked that if I saw anything in the store that I wanted, he would buy it for me! It made me giggle. Lucky for him, I had no interest in a power drill or a chainsaw.
If you had told me that I was going to spend my Sunday afternoon at the County Fair and Home Depot, I might have been anxious and depressed at the mere suggestion of that. But, it was just what I needed. I needed to break my routine of productivity, control and predictability to get out of my sour mood.
The irony of being on an actual rollercoaster to get off my own internal rollercoaster was not lost on me… and I highly recommend it.