There seems to be a recipe for everything these days! There’s one and many for baking a laddi pav or Indian bread, making a dream-catcher, creating a garden for herbs and vegetables and even for developing a vaccine (not one that you can try at home though!).
For not being anxious? There isn’t one, in all honesty. At least not one that suits all. If anything, paring down or averting anxiety requires a ‘customized’ do-it-yourself protocol. Cuss me all you want for using words like customized and DIY, but this is the most widely understood language these days.
So, this piece of writing is not a guided course on training your mind to NOT be anxious. Instead, I want to talk about ‘real’ anxiety, finding your own way to curb it and reconciliation.
I don’t remember being anxious by nature. Cautious and at times over-cautious but not quite anxious. I have had my share of some thrilling adventures and harmless mischiefs but never felt anxiety while putting into action our plans. Think, cooking noodles and soup in a kettle when we didn’t have any plug points in the hostel rooms. At Karate tournaments, I sat outside the bout studying and marking my opponents, discussing a strategy with my coach, but anxiety remained elusive. My first job had me working with annoying stares and two-faced people, being the only female in the department for some time. That too couldn’t reach my mind. (I am not saying I never felt anxious. I may have and must have felt it but don’t remember the circumstances.)
Fast-forward to 2017. At around 10:30 pm Tejas and I strolled the corridor of the 10th floor of Bombay Hospital, while 1 doctor and 3 nurses attempted to strap Ira with an intracatheter. She was due for a biopsy the next day. I clutched his hands tightly while we held each other against the wailing being heard from the room. I felt my legs weak, trying to give way. “Pratima, you have to be strong”, he said.
Anxiety! “Which doctor comes at 10:30 at night to strap a pediatric patient with an intracatheter after she has slept?” “Tejas, why are they taking so much time to do just that?” They must have hurt her with their multiple attempts. That night I slept with one arm around her and the other trying to keep safe the intracatheter on her little hand.
Next. “She hasn’t shown any signs of improvement”, I said to the doctor. “Hmmm. The tumor must be acting up. They haven’t been able to remove it completely”, the doctor replied. I blacked out for that moment, almost lost balance. I had not been getting enough sleep, felt very weak and hadn’t seen her respond well to the treatment.
In Pune, we had just got Ira home from a clinic. The nasogastric tube (NGT) had required to be replaced with a new one. This tube enters the stomach through the nose and is used to feed a patient. As soon as I flushed the tube with water before giving in the feed, as is normal practice, blood flowed in the tube. Aghast, I let a few minutes pass and tried again. Fresh blood spurted into the tube each time I flushed it. Anxious and scared I scooped her up while Tanmay backed the car out of parking to take us to the hospital, again. I remember losing my poise that day. Frequent tubing caused stomach ulcers and had hurt her insides.
Once on the way back from Cipla Palliative Centre, with Ira and my mother-in-law in the backseat of the car, I dashed an autorickshaw at a signal. I had released the clutch too soon, in the process of addressing the whirlpool of thoughts in my mind. Out came the rickshaw driver shouting “can’t you see?”, “you have damaged the rear”! But one look at the child in the backseat and he let the matter rest.
I decided to address the anxiety and depression level when I saw my hands begin to tremble while doing basic, routine chores. Nervous breakdown anyone? Nikita saw it too. “Di, did your phone just tremble in your hand”?
Here’s what I did or rather realized about anxiety, and you can do too.
BEING IN CONTROL
We think we can control what happens to us. Not necessarily true. Take a step back and distinguish between what you can control and what you absolutely can’t.
The root cause of my anxiety was distress over impromptu happenings. I didn’t know what to anticipate and hence felt unprepared. Each day was different w.r.t Ira’s symptoms – some days she couldn’t digest the feeds, the laxatives didn’t seem to do their job well, there was swelling on her face and sometimes she slept well and sometimes stayed awake all night. No one could make heads or tails of the problems. It took acceptance to settle in before I could gain perspective on the uncontrollable aspects of the situation. Ira’s suffering was beyond my control, but measures to alleviate that and to ensure her comfort was within range.
Let me tell you, this sifting through is no tea party. In order to reduce control you need to increase patience and perseverance. That which is beyond control needs to be accepted and dealt with fastidiously.
UNDERSTAND THE TRIGGER
This is the simplest, yet the trickiest part of the game. You may realize the onset of the feeling, but the mind can’t wait to react. So as soon as anxiety sets in you may panic, you can’t bite back the mean words, your appetite is killed, or you send an angry message to whoever, making matters even worse. The trigger is what you need to understand, take control of and resolve.
In March 2019, I took a few medical tests including mammography and Pap smear. This was part of a package offered by a hospital specially for women. Big mistake! Mammography is recommended for females of 40 years and above. It exposes one to lots of radiation and should be done only upon suggestion. A week later the hospital called to report the results and insisted that an ultrasound (USG) be done, on basis of the mammography. I complied. “Let’s rule out any possibilities/findings”. Throughout the USG the doctor and his assistant took notes of the findings, pronouncing everything as ‘lesions’. They almost diagnosed me with the possibility of breast cancer, suggested further tests including fine needle aspiration (FNC) and recommended that I see an oncologist. It took immense strength to keep calm, with the added trouble of pacifying another lady with similar results. I set about taking the practical next steps- spoke to 2 doctors, who I knew would guide me well, fixed an appointment with Dr. Koppiker of Orchids Breast Health and didn’t utter a word to my parents. I understood the trigger, knew what would make it worse and avoided it completely. This brings me to the final step.
TRAIN THE MIND
At the reception of Orchids Breast Health I felt a knot in my stomach when I saw her. She must have been in her 40s. Bald and beautiful. Weak maybe, but smiling.
The doctor almost threw my reports down on the table and exclaimed, “What kind of terrible reporting is this”? He recommended a USG again at his clinic. Outside the OPD I saw a 30-something woman with a 4 year old child chatting gaily with her acquaintance. I could make out the beginning of hair growth below her hijab. I could feel the rise and fall of anxiety and emotions as I took in the surroundings. I wanted no one from family or friend to accompany me to the clinic. If positive, I knew it would be disastrous. So, I sat by myself reading Rujuta Divekar’s notes on strength training and dozed off on the USG table before the doctor’s arrival. The reports came negative for breast cancer, except for presence of two cysts. I tried two things here. One, diverting my mind and two, worst-case analysis. Has worked neatly in different situations.
At the onset of anxiety, I have self-talked myself out of it, engaged my mind in a different activity and did a worst-case analysis to realize the triviality of the problem in the first place. Focus on what needs to done, what is practically possible and even what or who can be avoided. Do anything, but don’t let it cloud your judgement.
Warning: For some, the worst-case analysis may increase levels of anxiety.
We have to preserve the mind, like we try to preserve our body. There’s no one way of doing this. This is what worked for me. People kept advising ‘be strong’, ‘be positive’, ‘think good’, etc. No one was able to tell me how. I am not a fan of self-help books so couldn’t find solace there. I could only devise for myself what would suit me, what would make me happy, and what would give me some balm.
We all face circumstances of different nature. A job lost, an ailing parent, a stagnant career, a boisterous child, etc. Think it through, find the things you can control, understand the trigger and address it, temporarily and if possible permanently.
Anxiety is never a friend.
No matter the reason. It’s a bad, invisible enemy, hiding just there beneath the skin, ready to usurp the mind.
I haven’t been able to do away with it, but I’ve learnt to hold the reins well! Here’s a list of things I do to either divert my mind or address any issue.
- Read, read & read
- Workout, Yoga, Walk or Run
- Watch dance videos
- Vent it out to Tejas or a friend
What about you? Want to share something?