Day 19: Nature

How lucky that we’re in Wiltshire, where bits of gorgeous green countryside are never more than a ten minute walk away.

I hadn’t realised, until I spent a year in a second floor flat, just how much I require the outdoors. I’m sure all of us do, but maybe, for those of us that live in the countryside, it’s just a part of our lives enough that we don’t realise how essential it is until it’s gone. Until we’re told to work from home and stay indoors and ration our outdoors time. I don’t know if the lack of a garden last year contributed to the anxiety, but the panic attacks did start three months into my gardenlessness.

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The New Year starts on the 10th doesn’t it?

I’ve long ago stopped pretending that I could make any new changes to my life on January 1st. Even in a Lockdown, new years day happens in a strange time of disorientation, alcohol and chocolate.

Then the first Monday could count as a new start but the first week back at work is a bit messy and muddled and you’re still putting away Christmas.

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Day Nine: Exercise

Oh my God I should have started with this one. It’s so flipping essential. I know this, why have I let it slip?

About twenty years ago I was in such a religious bubble that I didn’t know how to speak to real people and was painfully shy in all secular social settings. I happened to go for a run with a non-church friend one day, and I found that afterwards, I could chat and laugh with my friend with zero inhibitions. I decided running would be my way to overcome social uncertainty, and tried to fit in a run before any stressful social event.

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Day Eight: Emotional Freedom Technique

This is a bizarre method of tapping on acupressure points and telling yourself you love and accept yourself regardless of the bad feelings. I was taught the technique by a lovely religious lady a few years ago, and even then I was skeptical. It did seem to work though, even if it was by virtue of placebo based self delusion. There was one occasion when I was hurt so badly by someone right before a meeting, and I had one minute to snap out of the sobbing, which, with a few taps on my eyebrows and chin, I managed in an instant. It really might just be the practice of doing something completely different that tricks your brain into thinking you must be fine now, but it did work.

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Bonus chapter: surprise panic attack!

And on a day when I have done so many of my mental health practices – exercise, meditation, cold flipping shower, walk in nature, and an hour of breathing techniques. It still flipping got me.

It was creeping up on me all day, minor trembles, a couple of visits to the loo, and then it hit in earnest just after my love went to work for his night shift. So much wretching I thought this time there would be actual vomit, but no, just the empty hollow lurch of my entire self over the loo, accompanied by the usual rush of hot and then cold, and the lightheaded dizziness of not being able to breathe properly.

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Day Six: Cold Showers

Today’s shivery suggestion is brought to you by my very happy, healthy and confident little brother. In a family zoom call recently he talked about how great he was feeling since he completed his three day fast a couple of weeks ago. We were fascinated by his experience, as he described the physical and mental benefits of a complete cleanse and reset. While not at all tempted to follow that example, the conversation went on to the similar benefits of cold showers, which everyone sort of nodded in agreement to. I didn’t realise the extent to which immersion in freezing water was of recognised benefit to health, and looked it up.

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Day Five: Breathing techniques

5.30pm. The more astute of you will notice I’m a day late with this one. But instead of beating myself up about it, I accepted that on a day when my part-time job (that is supposed to require three hours per weekday) ends up taking eight hours, then I am allowed to roll my wellness hours over and catch up at the weekend.

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Day Four: Bedtime routine

Last night I still wasn’t 100%. I fended off the anxiety by making myself a cosy nest on the sofa with the heavy blanket and playing a previous Helm De Vegas’ show on the laptop. We join his Facebook live music performances every week which are not only full of amazing music, but real connection to a community of love and beauty, which works even when it’s not live.

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Day Three: Art Therapy

I know absolutely zero about this subject, except that I love the process of making art, and I even often love the results too. I have very little space for creativity right now, in our little flat, and all my art stuff is boxed up in storage, so my indoor expression has been limited to felt pen doodles on cards for birthdays, while outdoors I have been arranging bits of the countryside into hearts for whoever wanders by before the squirrels get there. I know that making, drawing and painting make me happy and calm my mind. But I’ve never known why. Today’s lesson is to understand it and then excitingly to do a bit of it.

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Day One: understanding where anxiety comes from

I woke up at six am, proper excited about day one of my new course! And sat there in the dark for nearly an hour wondering where exactly I was going to start. It’s like I had promised a curriculum of 21 lessons and my single student (me) arrived at class and we’re both delighted with the clean blackboard and new notebooks but we haven’t actually got a lesson plan.

So the first hour was spent brainstorming all my ideas, so that I now have a neatly alphabetised direction to follow for the next three weeks – packed with a diverse range of subjects including Gratitude, Cold Showers and Radical Forgiveness – but before delving in, today will start with the question of what is actually going on in my brain and why it keeps doing what it so masterfully does to keep me in fear.

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