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Anxiety Echoes

IMG_4509Anxiety echoes. It rumbles, whispers, shouts and faintly calls us by turn. Persistent, unwilling to let us be free. We turn away – that can’t be there I dealt with that, that time is gone. But it is – there. And it knows that it is much harder to ignore the unconscious than the conscious, the heard and felt than the seen, the elusive and the nebulous than the concrete and static.

I’ve lived with a sense of low level anxiety for as long as I can remember. A constant fear of the what if, a sense of future dread that is slippery and evasive yet omni-present. MS of course simply added to my low-level anxiety hill, quickly a high mountain worthy of the Alps, as the reality of a life with a condition that may or may not take mobility, may or may not take ability to control basic bodily functions, may or may not take cognitive abilities, moved from denial to acceptance to encroaching reality.

May or may not. Perhaps. If. These are my solid ground now, my realities. No longer able to kid myself that life could be “managed” and “controlled”; abandoned instead on the slippery slopes of hubris. I cannot hide as we so often do, for so much of our lives, in a fog of denial that we will lose all this one day. Perhaps anxiety is just the inevitable by-product of life; the wake that lingers behind us, marking our passing, reminding us that whilst where we have been can be seen and recalled, where we are going will always be a mystery.

I wonder if there was a time without anxiety, if there are others who escape its clutches longer, or even altogether. I recall vivid dreams of my father dying, of strangers chasing me up a slope I could not reach the top of, constantly bogged down in its mud as the mysterious pursuant closed in.I recall a family picnic when an adventurous spirit led me too deep into a forest and I felt for the first time the anxiety of being lost. I recall the fear of being shouted at for a spill, or a broken ornament. (And as I recall it I recall also – this time with horror and shame – shouting at my own children for such silly misdemeanours. Have I really gifted them my own anxieties?).

These last weeks have been open season for my everyday anxieties. Leaving a safe and secure job, with reassuring pension and sickness benefits built up over many years for a new start, new challenges, and fewer safety nets. A commute, an open plan office, so many new faces and facts and ideas to fix in a brain that can struggle to remember the simplest things when the MS fatigue kicks in. My anxieties have been having a field day. But luckily my defences are well honed these days.

I’ve worked hard these last few years to try and face, address, my anxieties. Watching many friends and relatives dying recently has brought home hard to me how important it is we face our anxieties – those things that paralyse us, demean us, take away our spontaneity and playfulness and replace it with timid inaction. In the jargon of our times – I “lean in” deliberately, consciously, to my anxieties now. I’ve learned to be aware of the signs – the tightness in the chest and stomach, the hyper-sensitivity to criticism perceived and real, the turning away. But it’s clever my anxiety, clever and insistent. There is to be no simple escape route from this dense forest of fears and shadows, what ifs and doomsday scenarios. My tricks, my lists and meditations, deep breaths and timeouts may work well on the everyday anxiety, but there is a new version in the app store of my un-conscious and it’s an auto-download – anxiety echoes.

Now though I face, lean in, manage and control the anxieties, my sense of accomplishment is usurped as I find myself hijacked hours, days, weeks later by the echoes of those old anxieties. No longer tied to an obvious spark or moment – anxiety echoes leap out unexpectedly, in a meeting, at night half asleep, in the middle of a concert. The voice that whispers – you can’t. The voice that whispers you’re not good enough. The voice that whispers this will end in tears. The voice that whispers – ah, poor deluded fool, you thought you were so clever, you thought you had conquered me.

You are right – echo – I though I had conquered you. But don’t be too cocky. I hear you. I’m a good listener, I’ve been trained to be good at that. I’ve been trained to probe, and think, and probe again. I’m studying you , echo. I am listening hard for signals and patterns and hints. Not because I imagine I will ever conquer you really, but because I know I can learn to accommodate you, to live with, despite, you.

Poor echo, doomed to repeat the words of others for the rest of her life because she talked too much. But I have learnt that the way to enlightenment is to listen, not talk. I’m listening echo. I’m listening.

Tomorrow I Go To Edinburgh

photo 2

Tomorrow I go to Edinburgh, to start the job that a year ago would have seemed unimaginable. I worried only about surviving, breathing and swallowing, walking without collapsing. Tomorrow I go to Edinburgh; the place I went from child to woman, the place I found my greatest happiness and my greatest sadness, the place where almost exactly two years ago we said goodbye. Tomorrow I go to Edinburgh, the place I sat and wept and wondered how the world would, could, be without you there to discuss it with, argue over it with, love it with, laugh about it with. I think of those times so often now as Gaza once again erupts – a place you knew so well, a conflict we discussed so often.

Tomorrow I go to Waverley Station, where we met so often after I left home for the city. You sweeping off a train with stories of your latest adventures. Me shy and awkward and desperate for your company. You heard me, saw me, when others didn’t. I could never hide from you. You saw my dreams. You let me grow into myself. You told me once of catching me pretend I could see when in fact my eyesight was so poor that I could barely see across a table,and no-one had noticed. How it made you sad that I didn’t know how to ask for help. And you told me once of “Catriona’s Bells” – the bells of the church near your house in Yorkshire. In the garden one day I had suddenly mentioned how beautiful the church bells were. You and my aunt had wondered what I was talking about. I said can’t you hear them, it’s like they’re singing. And later, driving through the country, you and she had passed your local church and heard the most amazing singing bells, and realised I had heard bells after all. And every time you passed the church you would laugh with each other about Catriona’s bells. I was blind and you cared I could not see. I was not deaf, and you loved how much I could hear. But I can’t see you now, hear you now.

photo 2Tomorrow I go to Waverley Station, where two years ago I spent trip after trip changing trains on the way to you, in hospital in Yorkshire. Backwards and forwards carrying my love and my fear and my pain through happy crowds of tourists and festival goers. And tomorrow I go to Waverley Station where I went home with the taste of our last kiss on my lips. It didn’t end there though, Waverley. Then there were trips to your home to sort out your estate. Your belongings and house to be sold to raise money for the Motor Neurone Society, in honour of June. The last journey home after all was done I carried a small attache case, the case your mother had given you for your first job at the BBC. In it some memento, memento mori – a pen, passports (so many – you travelled so far), letters and cards, old scripts from your Thames TV days, letterhead from hotels in exotic and in some cases (such as Persia) lost places. I treasured them those early days but I couldn’t get rid of the smell of you from it. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was so painful. I tried everything but it clung. Today, swept up in memories of you, I opened the case and the smell overwhelmed me. Two years and all my efforts and it’s still there. I can’t see you any more, and I can’t hear you any more. But I can smell you, and dream you, and long for you. So tomorrow, in Edinburgh, in amidst the excitement of a new job, and a new phase of life, my mind’s eye will look for you, my mind’s ear listen for you. Tomorrow I go to Edinburgh and meet my past and my future in Waverley Station.

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