‘The Other Me’
A manuscript I entered in a competition won one of eight places to fly down to Queensland, and be involved in a Program run by a big publisher that included writing workshops, feedback on the manuscript, and one on one time with the publisher, as well as the invitation to resubmit the manuscript after it had been revised.
The moment I learned I’d won, my closest and oldest friend, my anxiety, exploded in my face. Dr Warren had posed I might need surgery to remove the disc in my troublesome neck. As usual, my anxiety played out the worst case scenarios: the disc was just holding on; it could go on me; if I went to Queensland, who knew what would happen? I wanted to go, though. I was looking forward to going. I needed to go. This wasn’t like four years earlier, where I dreaded the prospect. I was eager to do it. My anxiety was equally eager to let me know if I did, it was likely that the worst would happen.
Symptoms were bad, with a tightness in my neck and the back of my head – something that might’ve been exacerbated by working all day and sitting in a chair at the computer, then coming home and sitting in a chair at the computer. I’d begun seeing an osteo who was great, but only succeeded in temporarily alleviating symptoms.
I came home from one appointment, the pain in the back of my head tight, but also disconcerting. The anxiety played on it. See! See! You can’t go! I took a walk in the evening. The pain radiated from the back of my head, down into my shoulder blades and my arms. I held out my left hand. It shook. It’s getting worse! the anxiety told me. I finished my walk, had a shower, and checked my hand again. Still shaking. The anxiety crowed in my head. You can’t go anywhere like this! It’s too dangerous!
Frustrated, I jumped in my car and drove to a 24-hour clinic, simply to speak to a doctor about the symptoms. He examined me, had me hold my hand out, and then rested a sheet of A4 paper on my palm. The sheet trembled. The doctor smiled, and told me that these sort of shakes were typical of stress, and symptoms for my neck were things like pins and needles in my fingers, or numbness in my fingers and hands, or pain in my arms.
I thanked him, jumped in my car and drove home, angry at the anxiety, and angry at myself. You got me, I told it, and vowed not to be duped again. No more. I knew that was actually unlikely, but I was determined now not to be stronger, or more resilient, but simply much more indifferent – I wouldn’t respond, unless symptoms were undeniable. And if the worst was happening, then so be it.
The trip to Queensland was enjoyable, meeting new people, making good friends, and talking with a publisher who had some remote interest in that manuscript. The anxiety chatted to me often. A couple of days, my neck was bad, and one evening it was agony, producing the symptoms of the ground rocking beneath me when I walked. But, as panic reared up, I tried not to rear with it, and when I came home, it was with a newfound optimism and hope.
A friend asked me to housesit (and dog-sit) for a month over Christmas, and I used the time – and solitude – to revise my manuscript. Something had changed in my head. The truce I’d shared with the anxiety began to shift – not with any great magnitude, but that I started to accept that I try and accomplish the things I wanted to do.