Having to manage anxiety on a daily basis is like having an incredibly persistent child who is continually throwing a tantrum, dragging on your legs and telling you not to do something, please oh please, let’s not do it. The only way I’ve found to manage this, is to always Do It.
Yesterday I went for a bike ride. Alone. To a place I’d never been before.
Okay, so far, it doesn’t sound too hard right?
Well, on paper, it’s not hard. On paper it was; look at map, decide where to go, get helmet, get bike, get water bottle, go. Considering I used to cycle everywhere all the time, this isn’t exactly rocket science.
But yesterday it didn’t go like that. It went like this.
I can’t be in the house anymore, where should I go? I could go for a walk. But I’ll only do the same familiar loop. I need something new. I could go to that nice-looking Abbey. Yes, how far is that? 5 miles. Huh. I could just stay here and watch Netflix. I’ll look like an idiot cycling there. I’ll have to cross the high street and people might look at me and think, ‘what an idiot’. I might get lost and have to stop to check my phone and people will drive past and think, ‘what an idiot.’ I’ll look red faced and sweaty, it looks pretty hilly.
What if I get there and there’s nowhere to lock my bike to? I guess I could just cycle past and cycle straight home again. Do people go to country estate gardens alone? What if I arrive and the staff think I’m crazy? They’ll all stare at me. I haven’t had lunch yet and it’s 11am, should I go after lunch? No, then I won’t go at all. If I start putting my stuff together I’ll have to go. If I tell Alex I’m going, then I’ll have to go. What if the neighbours think I’m weird for cycling away? Is five miles much further than I remember five miles being? What if I crash? I’m going to look so stupid wearing a helmet. Everybody in the whole world will think I’m an idiot.
It’s incredibly difficult to achieve anything when your brain is saying all of this.
It’s really quite monumentally difficult to act like a ‘normal’ person where you are forever having to convince yourself to do basic things. Having to manage anxiety on an hourly basis is, frankly, exhausting.
Retrospectively looking at what my mind said to me yesterday is shocking. It’s genuinely shocking that I thought all of those things. The pull of inactivity is so strong because every other option is scary. Not scary scary, just ‘people will think I’m an idiot’ scary.
And I haven’t always been like this. It’s crept up on me over the years and now, when I write about it and look at it on paper, it’s seems mind-boggling that it could’ve got so bad.
I went for the bike ride
And you know what? The relentless nagging doubt stopped the moment I pushed off and started freewheeling down the hill. Because I can ride a bike. And no one is looking at me. I mean, that’s the whole reason why cycling on British roads is a little dangerous to begin with; nobody is looking at you.
It was wonderful. There were hills, autumn leaves scattered all over the windy country lanes and views out over the fields. It only took me half an hour and I hardly saw any other cars, so quiet and rural was my route.
I cycled into the Abbey car park and got off my bike. A couple carrying plants from the nursery to their car smiled at me. I stood in the car park wondering what to do. I wrestled with the idea of turning around and going straight back but there was an arboretum here and I wanted to see the trees in their autumn colours.
So I locked my bike to a wooden fence and went into the entrance. Naturally, the woman behind the till didn’t bat an eyelid at my helmet dangling from my rucksack and instead enthusiastically gave me a map of the grounds and pointed out things she thought I might like.
‘In half an hour the fountain in the pond will turn on,’ she said, circling a point on the map. ‘It’s the tallest fountain in England.’
‘Well, the tallest fountain in England powered by electricity. It’s well worth seeing.’
With great relief I wandered the grounds for over an hour and was one of the only people there on the chilly November day. The sun made a few theatrical appearances, in particular, this one:
Freedom in achievement
After I was done, I collected my bike and headed home with a sense of satisfaction. Not only from having seen a beautiful place, but from having done it despite the crushing rhetoric in my head saying, don’t go don’t go don’t go.
And it helps. Every single time I don’t something that Anxiety has told me not to, it helps. It doesn’t make it any less likely anxiety will crop up in the future, but it makes it significantly more likely that I will be able to acknowledge and move forward in the face of it.
As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. This goes for good and bad things. If I consistently give in to anxiety and hide away and stop doing things, it becomes easier to hide away and not doing anything. But if I hear the anxiety and Do The Thing regardless, it becomes easier.
I stood on the brink of my doorstep today, about to go for a walk. I was booted and coated. Ready to go. But I still stood there, paralysed. Don’t go. Why bother? Until I tipped my weight forward and took the first step.
And every step after that is easier.
One of the things that helped me get on my bike yesterday was a campaign by a fellow Outdoor Blogger, SplodzBlogz. She’s doing #OneHourOutside this month and I highly recommend you read her blog about it. It’s just an hour a day but my god, it does wonders for the soul.