I sit at my PC. My hands hover over the keyboard, my mind trying hard to focus on the letters. I will them into words, sentences, paragraphs. I flick through my folders of research; the articles I must read, the chapters I have identified in the books taken out of The London Library. But it isn’t right. It is never right. The words are there but they are not fit for purpose and refuse to get into shape. I switch to the internet, searching for inspiration on twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Nothing but distraction, they only add to a sense of frustration and an anxiety that increases as the minutes and hours pass.
I turn to the social media and blogging work I do for others – that is fine. My editing and proofreading work is going well. I am not letting clients down, just myself.
I stand up, stretch and try a change of scene, getting out the colouring books that still my mind. Alternatively I take up the book I am currently reading, greedily turning pages of stories that take me away from my desk, the room, the house and ultimately the life I am living. The sun might be out, the day warm and the plants in pots close to where I sit offer a faint scent. All I can hear are gulls, light traffic noise and a sound akin to a roomful of anxious sleepers grinding their teeth, as my dog sits next to me chewing on an old bone.
What has happened? Shell Shocked Britain has been a success, as far as I can tell from reviews and comments following the many talks I have done. I have been commissioned to write two further books, both non-fiction and both on subjects that would usually fascinate me. They do still. But I can’t write. This blog post is the first I have written in weeks and it scares me. Everything scares me. and perhaps that is the problem. As always, my favourite poet is wise beyond words:
….if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all…. (John Keats)
The world feels a frightening place at the moment, the very air we breathe charged with anxiety. Austerity, deprivation, radicalisation, dehumanisation, the race for technological progress at the expense of simple peace. Clearly life is in real terms much more frightening for those fleeing war zones, fighting extremists, simply struggling to stay alive. But their fear seems to transmit around the globe with an intensity that touches my soul, and eats away at my sense of my own safety. My work on social media offers no protection from the tragedy and sadness that can strike even the happiest of communities, families, individuals. Illness, accident, the actions of the wicked, the thoughtless or the desperate that devastate and cut short lives – stories that are shared, retweeted, posted and reposted until our bodies become ticking time bombs and our families prey to the seeming whim of fate.
I return to my chair in front of the large, bright screen and the stream of words that taunt me, meaningless as they seem in the face of the tears that fall, the heart that races and the breath that comes in wretched little sobs. Anxiety is a condition for which I am prescribed a number of pills, but this doesn’t feel like a sickness that can be cured by any chemical. It is a symptom of a loss of control over the world I inhabit, of a sense of being done to, rather than doing. Reactive rather than proactive.
How do those of us that struggle with mental health issues regain a sense of power over our destinies? Is it possible to surge forward once again when one has tripped and fallen behind the confident front-runners? I have lost my momentum and am struggling against a headwind; somehow I must pick up my pace once more, and fly (you can tell my family are in the next room, watching an athletics meeting on the TV….)
Does anyone else feel like this at the moment? The tiny space I occupy on the troubled globe seems a lonely place sometimes……