You, I was told as a small child, are a catastrophiser. A catastrophiser, a worrywart, a panic merchant. They told me this kindly, patted me fondly. I was not fooled. Because, of course, if you are any of these things you are adept at dowsing for undercurrents. From their pained expressions I gathered these were not qualities so much as burdens. But I was not unduly concerned. Such excellent words. Catastrophiser! How complicated it sounded. As an adult, having fulfilled their prophecies, they still tell me I am these things, although less kindly now, no longer soft-pedalling their exasperation.
Recently, though, I experienced an epiphany. You may recall, two weeks ago I wrote of my anxiety. By chance I spoke of it on the radio too. I felt daft afterwards, as if I had revealed my true self; unhinged, devoid of poise. Normally I would try to keep a lid on such feelings but like a king tide they kept coming, bigger, higher, more edacious than ever before, until I thought I might never surface. Then one of you threw me a life raft. My preserver offered no miracle; she simply said the key thing with anxiety is to treat it, either through exercise and meditation, or medication. And the more I pondered this, the more buoyant I felt. And although nothing had yet changed, just the intention to make change lifted me.
On the Monday I rang my doctor. Discovered he was in Zimbabwe for a month. No mind, my newly equanimous self thought, see his absence as opportunity. I rang a friend who meditates. She sent me the link to an app. On the Tuesday it was my birthday. Part of my anxiety, I suspect, had been around this. Not so much the ageing, as a sense of dread, that the day would be ruined by small disappointments, unmet expectations.
Subconsciously, perhaps, I had been setting this up. Lurching, in the approaching days, from tiff to tiff with my husband. So on the big day I arose early and, guided by a bloke called Andy, attempted a 10-minute meditation. It was hard, but I enjoyed the feeling of my chest rising and falling. My husband had a cold, he had not organised a gift. No mind, I thought, look at these beautiful cards from my children. My husband suggested we go out for lunch, but his nose streamed and he was grumpy. No mind, I thought, these smashed peas are delicious. Perhaps I would go shopping, buy myself something. The school rang. Could I please pick up my daughter, she needed to vomit. No mind, I thought, when my son got home we could walk the dog. Eat some cake. I'm too sore, he said, showing me a grazed knee. No mind, I thought, I'll go by myself. And the day was so fine, and the sun on my face so good. And I thought how tired I had been of all that rain and all that mud, and wondered if I hadn't had a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder. At dinner that night my daughter vomited everywhere. No mind, I thought, at least she missed the hot chips.
John Krop, a New York lawyer who teaches meditation, says anxiety takes a tough but manageable situation and convinces you it's unbearable, unfixable, a disaster. The next day, nine minutes and 13 seconds into my second 10-minute meditation, that nice bloke Andy was telling me to contemplate the contact between my feet and the floor, when my daughter screamed and the dog barked. The perfectionist in me wanted to start again. To do it right. I focused on my breath. My chest was still rising, still falling. No mind, I thought, and I let all those anxieties wash right over me.
Last week I wrote about women's fear and risk of being raped. Andrew took exception. "We do not have a rape culture in this country." Julie said men "face a different sort of danger. That of being assaulted or even killed at a party, walking home late at night, or being murdered for something they own." Jill, 55, says she is familiar with feeling vulnerable. "I think of the effective strikes I could use and the targets on the body I would aim for if I needed to exercise the black belt in karate I gained just over a year ago."