“The neighbours will call the police if you don’t stop screaming!”
My boyfriend was gripping my wrists. He pinned me into a corner of his bedroom. I could see the concern in his eyes. And the disbelief.
I tried to clear my head. It felt as if I was waking up from a nightmare. A tsunami of self-loathing and shame washed over me. What was going on? What was wrong with me?
Tears streamed down my face. My throat was sore because I had been screaming for minutes. My hands were bruised and aching where I had punched my fists against the walls.
I didn’t even know what had triggered the outburst. A small, innocent remark? A tiny criticism?
My boyfriend was the most caring, gentle and patient person I knew. He didn’t deserve this appalling behaviour, the emotional abuse and heartache.
And it wasn’t the first time either. For the last weeks I had lashed out at him whenever we met. One moment I was fine. The next I was overpowered by all-consuming anger and aggression. Without apparent reason.
This morning I took little one to school. In the school yard, parents were chatting in little groups while waiting for the doors to open.
As we arrived, my mind whispered: “Nobody will want to talk to YOU. You are an outsider.”
To prove it wrong, I joined a couple of Mums. But as I tried to contribute to the conversation, they talked over me, taking no notice of what I was saying.
“See?” My mind gloated. “They don’t want to have anything to do with you. You aren’t interesting enough. People will always ignore you.”
As the children swarmed through the school doors, the two Mums wandered off, still chatting, without acknowledging my existence.
“I told you so”, my mind confirmed. “You are an impossible person to like. People just don’t click with you. You are too boring, odd. Just not good enough. You have nothing to offer. You will be alone for the rest of your life. You pathetic loser!”
A few years ago, this experience would have thrown me into a bottomless abyss of self-punishment, self-loathing and self-pity. For days I would have beaten myself up for being unlovable, unpopular, worthless.
But today I wasn’t bothered. The school yard experience didn’t affect me at all. I didn’t lose another negative thought on it. I went on with my day feeling happy.
So, why do I react so differently now? What happenend?
All my life I felt torn. I hated the hustle and bustle of shopping centres, bars and pubs. I loathed the unbearable noise and suffocating crowds in discos and at concerts.
I felt grumpy and irritated all day if I had to go to a party that evening. And once there, I wished I could be home in front of the TV with my latest needlework project.
While I loved my uneventful hobbies and never was bored myself, I felt that other people judged me: Look at that superbore! Could she be any more old-fashioned, dull and uncool?
I lived in constant fear of humiliation, ridicule and rejection. It hurt when others made fun of me. At times, I felt isolated and lonely because I didn’t socialise enough to meet new people. And my aversion to everything cool, hip or “in” suggested that something was seriously wrong with me.
And, back then, I only saw one solution to the problem…
In 2003, my life had shrunk to the size of my one-bedroom flat. I was stuck in a prison of my own making. Paralysed by fear, insecurity and anxiety.
I felt like life was running away from me. As if I was standing behind a giant window, a one-way mirror, watching other people move by. I witnessed their adventures, failures and successes. I saw them laugh, cry, love and grow.
They had happiness and fulfilment. They had fun, enjoyment, freedom. They lived.
They were oblivious of the pathetic, shivering creature observing them from the dark back room. The terrified bundle of misery that envied them, wondered how they did it. How they could be so care-free, light and joyful.
To me, every aspect of life was a threat. I was traumatised by the past, horrified by the present and petrified of an uncertain future. Fear, anxiety and panic determined my every move. And I knew it had to change. I had to reclaim my life.
Can you remember the magical feeling when you looked into your newborn’s innocent eyes for the first time? When you instantly forgot the pain and exertion of childbirth and an all-encompassing wave of motherly love flooded your heart?
When tears of joy streamed down your cheeks as you marvelled at the beautiful, perfect being in your arms. And you knew that your life was complete and you would love this tiny creature beyond your last breath?
Well, I can’t.
I remember 16 hours of labour pain, 2 hours of pushing and the feeling of desperation over yet another unsuccessful attempt to get the job done. I remember an injection needle and scissors appearing between my legs and an episiotomy that still hurt months after the birth.
And I recall my first thoughts when the midwife finally placed the blood-covered bundle on my chest: “What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing now? Can’t somebody else take it, please?”
No instant overwhelming rush of love. No motherly feelings. No happiness. Just exhaustion, anxiety and the ineffable dread of the unprecedented change my life was about to undergo.
I suffered from crippling anxiety for over 10 years. I was stuck in a prison of my own making. Watching other people live, laugh, love and grow but too scared to participate.
I was terrified by every aspect of life. Horrified that the traumas of my past would catch up with me, petrified by the terrors lurking in the present and dreading an unknown future.
I was a mere shadow of my former self. I felt pathetic, weak and worthless. My quality of life was terrible and sometimes life as it was didn’t feel worth living.
But I managed to work through it. Panic and anxiety are no longer parts of my life. I am free to make my own choices without compromise. I am free.
And today I want to share with you my most beloved exercise. It was the first and fundamental step in my escape from the clutches of fear. If you only did one thing to overcome your anxiety, this is the one I’d recommend!
Simply because it breaks the “cycle of fear”. I’ll explain…
This is our garage. Once upon a time it was a useful room. Venue for enjoyable family snooker matches, organised tools storage and space to overwinter the garden furniture.
Then, about 9 months ago, I decluttered the house. Room by room, I discarded junk we hadn’t used in years and items we had 4 of and only needed one.
But I couldn’t let go of most of our stuff. I tend to get emotionally attached to lifeless objects and some items were treasured souvenirs of happy times. Most of it belonged to my husband and it didn’t feel right to get rid of it. And I didn’t want to waste money by tossing out perfectly good, fit-for-purpose things. It’s fair to say I resisted the idea of parting with our possessions.
So I shifted the problem from one area of the house to another. And now the clutter is mocking me. Every day I enter the garage, it reminds me of my failure to declutter. It condemns me for my weakness and it shames me for the ever increasing chaos, mess and dirt.
I attempted to declutter but the task is so overwhelming, so massive and unmanageable that it is suffocating me. I don’t know where to start, feel anxious at the thought of wading through the mountains of junk and dust.
I know it has to be done. I worry that other people will judge me, I beat myself up for procrastinating. And every time I sit down for a well-deserved rest I feel guilty and embarrassed about the lack of progress. And I think “I should really declutter the garage”.
It weighs on my mind non-stop. And it made me wonder. Why do we accumulate so much clutter? Why is it so hard to let go? And what is the best way to ban useless clutter once and for all?
When I was at the height of my anxiety, life as a whole was a threat. And it didn’t only seem this way. It was!
Every letter in my post box was a bill, demand note or bad news. Every train I took broke down or was delayed. Every electrical appliance I bought was faulty. Every cold going around would find its way to me.
I felt stressed, terrified and somewhat victimised. Everything I touched was destined to go wrong, turn into a catastrophe or make me unhappy.
And I couldn’t help but ask myself “Why does the Universe hate me?”
Until I started to watch “The Big Bang Theory” and I realised that the Universe doesn’t hate anybody! The problem is merely that the Universe behaves like Sheldon Cooper. I’ll explain…