Annie the Anxiety Butterfly

Yesterday I woke up feeling really anxious. I had had disturbing dreams, running on an all-too-familiar theme. I had been ill, and my illness had prevented me from doing something (in this case studying and doing coursework), and as a result I was going to fail in some way (in this case, my exams). Never mind that my school days are long behind me, in my dream it was a very real and present danger, and I woke up feeling sick and tight with anxiety.

I was supposed to be going into my voluntary job. But after half an hour of lying in bed trying to talk myself into that, I realised it wasn’t going to happen. I’ve had an up-and-down week, and clearly there was more down to come.

So what was I going to do? My instinct was to reach for my anxiety medication, but something stopped me. I’m trying not to take that too often, and besides, there was the personification technique that had worked so well when I felt depressed the other day. If making Glooming (my depression) feel uncomfortable had helped me to move forward when I’d been feeling depressed, perhaps I could overcome this anxiety in the same way?

So what was my anxiety like? I decided that she was called Annie, and that she was a butterfly. But not any butterfly. A half-and-half, or gynandromorphic butterfly. These half male, half female insects are split down the middle, as can be clearly seen by their mismatched wings. I imagine they find it hard to fly.

And this is how I thought of Annie. As a butterfly-like creature, desperately fluttering around but unable to really take off and escape. This is how I feel when I am anxious.

I then attempted to follow the thought process I had applied when Glooming came to stay, and ask myself what Annie would hate for me to do. But I couldn’t. Whereas I had wanted to make Glooming feel uncomfortable, so that he would want to leave, I felt sorry for Annie. She hadn’t come of her own accord, she was trapped in the room with me and was unable to leave.

That was when I hit on it. What can I do to help Annie to calm down, so she can fly away and leave?

I felt much more comfortable with this approach to Annie. I decided that a cup of tea would be a good first step. And e-mailing my voluntary job so they knew not to expect me.

I spent the next hour sitting in bed, sipping tea, browsing Facebook, and generally taking my time over getting up. Annie’s flutterings grew less and less frantic.

Then I put my normal morning routine into place, but I took care to go slowly. Annie was now fluttering gently around.

By the time I was up, dressed and breakfasted, Annie’s flutterings had diminished enough that I was able to think of activities I would like to do that day. Annie hadn’t flown away yet, but I was confident that if I continued to take things slowly, and treat her gently, she would.

… And eventually, she was able to fly away.


Glooming and Me

Recently, I have been attending a course on building self-esteem. One of the techniques they have introduced us to is personification – to characterise and personalise our issues.

This morning, I woke up weighed down with the fog of depression. I spent the morning curled up in bed, hiding from the world.

Then I remembered this technique, and I decided to try and personify my depression.

What is his name? (I don’t know my, but my depression is definitely a ‘he’.)

Somehow, I didn’t want to give my depression a human name…

Then a line from Romeo and Juliet came to mind:

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

That phrase, “a glooming peace”, defines depression for me. It conveys a heaviness, a peace that is not restful or pleasant, but deadening and oppressive.

So I decided to call my depression “Glooming”.

What, I asked myself, is Glooming like?

Glooming is not human. Glooming is not an animal. Glooming is not really a recognisable being.

Glooming is a fog-creature. A thick, heavy fog-creature, with the insubstantial and creeping nature of fog, combined with the heaviness of a very wet, cold blanket. A creature that can at one and the same time penetrate every nook and cranny of your being, and weigh you down and submerge you. A creature with no legs, that hovers as it moves, but with many, many arms, reaching out for me, to pull me back down into his dark embrace.

That is Glooming. That is my depression. And strangely, having named him, I felt as if I had a slight measure of control over him.

But knowing and naming my depression is only part of the battle.

I will try and tell you more tomorrow.