by AJ Place

    There are various incarnations of anxiety from mild worry through to panic disorder and more. Even if you are at the lower end of the scale, the start of 2020 is likely to have tested your mettle. If you have a leaning to worry at the best of times, the head chatter has probably been giving you a solid workout; more a marathon than a stroll.

    I tend to tick along at a jog, occasionally enjoy the respite of fast walk but mostly, keep below breaking into sprint. Months of uncontrolled bushfires, smoke, lack of action on climate change and fear for the future, had already taken a toll on the collective Australian headspace. The visual of the smoke haze wafting through our neighbourhood was a constant reminder of the fires burning, keeping concern and worry trapped on the start line.

    I don’t know about everyone else but the early mumbles of a new virus in China definitely didn’t break through the smoke for me. My mind was elsewhere; worrying about the animals impacted by fire, the people displaced and hurt, the inactivity of the leaders, the proximity of family to fire fronts. The treachery of fire; the steady news cycle of loss, grief and despair, played out on a loop, was all consuming. As an ex healthcare professional, earlier virus outbreaks have impacted my work-life and heightened awareness but still, it made no inroads into my thoughts. My eyes and ears were firmly directed to other issues, closer to home.

    Now, mere weeks later, unlike the haze, not being able to see the new danger lurking, has super sized the scary for some. If you were feeling a little out of whack already coming off summer, this next level media frenzy is very hard to get away from or find a space to clear your head. It started as a drip feed – lots of fire, a little virus, then a steady build; a diet of ‘what ifs’, a daily head count and wildly disparate information. Social media fed the media cycle, filled with ‘experts and sources’ pontificating and predicting outcomes they know stuff all about. The media machine served up twaddle, deniers, jokesters and doomsday predictors; none of which serves any purpose other than to fuel fear; keeping the drama high and poking into all corners of a chattery mind. Then, reality started to hit and all bets were off.

    I felt humourless. Toilet paper jokes pissed me off. Anyone who had a crack about anything to do with loo paper was swiftly unfollowed. My newsfeed rapidly shrunk, now shrivelled, as I added advice from apparent experts, deniers, oversharers and judgy rants to the unfollowed. The government told people to stock up on basic supplies, the media stoked the fear of a pending shortfall or inability to access essentials, they shouted panic and then when people acted on this, they made fun of them, shamed them. People felt powerless, became fearful, greedy, self absorbed and the vulnerable were left without. Nothing about people being driven to this amused me. Those who laughed loudest appeared the least likely to suffer. Smugness had a new demo.

    A gnawing anger and fear wormed its way into my thoughts. Like many, I have family living in a different state, brother, sister, daughter and elderly parents. I recognized early their susceptibility; I understood where this could lead for the vulnerable in our society; the readily dismissed in the growing statistics. A clear and growing division between the have and the have nots; not in wealth but in the hand that’s dealt in health roulette. I was on higher alert and ready to take action before those around me, banishing social kissing and hugs at the outset, hardly a stretch for someone of my disposition. I was strict, unbending and committed to ‘flatten the curve’. My mantra was risk eradication not risk reduction. I aim high.

    I felt driven to see family, warn them, pushing back into their resistance, while trying to keep the fear at bay. By the time, I was able to physically be with them; it was too late for a hug and these people, I desperately wanted to hug. We stood on each side of a fence and pretended in the confusion of age and uncertainty; we’d catch up again a few weeks. We cajoled our daughter over the border to be with us, knowing once locked out, it wouldn’t be possible for a long time. We played out a small part of a similar scene that many others have, across the country and world.

    There’s not a lot to be light hearted about for the many who live with anxiety; for some, or at times, it is crippling, interfering and controlling daily life. It shuts down joy and hope. One of the go to strategies for the anxious, or the worried with a tendency to catastrophise, is to challenge the worrying thoughts or accept them and let them pass, not easy to do when the news is shouting the catastrophic possibilities at deafening levels.

    I have zero wise words to offer those struggling, other than to take a gentle, guided amble through a busy mind. Over the years of waxing and waning resilience, I have spoken to varying professionals, like minded friends, observed others – not in a creepy way, who seem to exude strength, calm and confidence to deal with whatever comes their way. I’ve been strong and had moments, sometimes years, of over confidence. I’ve been brought to my knees, knocked by grief and doubt. I’ve stepped up in tough times, I’ve hidden. I’ve been a star pupil at hypnotherapy, found acupuncture soothing, and failed miserably at meditation. Sacked, I was sacked by my meditation teacher for being too hopeless at class. Hurtful. To be fair, it was a dial in meditation and I went out to get a coffee mid session. I tip toed, so didn’t think she’d notice. I got better at it on my own.

    And here we are.

    I’m no expert but what I do know, for me, is trying to put a positive spin on everything is a bullshit way to live. It’s counter productive because it simply doesn’t work and sets you up for failure, destroying your soul. I’m not a silver lining seeker. It doesn’t allow you to feel a bit rubbish because sometimes, things are just shit. In those moments, there is no bright side. We all need the space to wallow, self protect, struggle, feel the pain of grief or fear and not feel it’s an inconvenience or weakness. Sometimes a problem shared, is a problem doubled, if you don’t choose your tribe carefully. I’m not an affirmation type of chick but I am totally onboard with whatever works to get you through, as long as those who can, stay home, socially distance and take this seriously. Do it for those who need you to – let’s not screw it up.

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