Tigers Under The Bed
That hard ball of anxiety keeps on getting bigger and, before you know it, anxious is the new normal
One minute I was peacefully listening to the soothing tones of Sean Bean, describing the courtship of the rutting stag (well, not so much a courtship – he’s more of a get-your-coat-you’ve-pulled kind of guy), then the next I had a knot in my stomach the size of Piers Morgan’s head.
And the thing was, I didn’t know if this hard ball of anxiety was about whether an unfledged gannet would fall to its death from its narrow, cliff-side perch or about our broken gas fire or the state of the world. Non-specific anxiety. It had been happening a lot lately.
OK, I’d always been jumpy: shrieking at drivers to slow down and starting when anyone walked in the room.
“I live here,” Dave would say, looking pained. He, of course, being the coolest, calmest person on the planet, thought it alternately amusing and exasperating that I couldn’t relax. He called it tigersunder-the-bed syndrome.
“It’s getting worse,” I told my friend, Jeanie. “I lie in bed having palpitations over nothing. And they only recede when Dave hugs me to calm me down. Then I might just get to sleep.” “It’s your age,” Jeanie said. “You mean it’ll pass?” I asked. Jeanie knew about these things.
“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” she said. “Buy a whale music CD – that’ll help.”
Well, I’d tried ‘soothing’ whale music when I was pregnant and it hadn’t worked then…
Dave and I were coming up to our silver wedding. We didn’t want a party. I thought that with luck it might pass me by, like the number 49 when
I’m waiting in the rain, but no, Dave was making plans.
“Let’s go to Amsterdam – you’ve always wanted to.
We’ll get the ferry.” He already knew flying was a no-no.
I hadn’t told him that recently my unease about boat travel had increased, too. Who wanted to be out in the North Sea in a gale? The last time, a short trip to France, I’d just about coped; I didn’t think I could do it again.
“They won’t bring Amsterdam to you, you know,” he said, and walked out.
He seemed a bit fed up. In the end, we went to Giuseppe’s for pizza and Prosecco. It was nice enough, but even I knew it was all a bit samey, a bit tame.
The following week, Sean Bean – I can’t think of him as Mr Bean, and Sean’s too informal; I hardly know him, after all – was still concerned about the limping roe deer and her two fawns. I thought of my own three little chicks. Not so little now. I’d always felt more content when they were all safely in the nest. Those teenage years of late nights and coming home tiddly, and driving lessons and boyfriends! Well, it’s how it is, I suppose. So many possible accidents and incidents waiting to befall them, and untrue friends and lovers to break their little hearts. You’d never let them know, but if their heart breaks, so does yours. And that hard ball of anxiety keeps on getting bigger and more generalised and, before you know it, anxious is the new normal.
Then something happened. Michelle, our middle daughter, fell over in a rowdy restaurant in Spain. Her leg was swollen and strapped up, she’d lost her bag, she was shaken and bruised and needed us.
Dave said, “I’ll go. You stay here and have her favourite meal ready for when we get back. And make up the spare bed.” I could hear him giving me clearance to stay home, making allowances.
I thought of my three little chicks. So many accidents waiting to befall them
“Wait for me,” I yelled, running up the stairs. “I’ll pack a bag.” My heart was pumping and I tried not to think of how claustrophobic planes are, how fast they take off or that awful, inevitable bumping as they land; I tried to focus on Michelle, alone in a strange country.
I held Dave’s hand very tightly on the way to the airport. I held it all through the flight and I nearly broke his fingers as we landed.
So, we went, both of us. We rescued her, dealt with the police – CCTV showed a simple slip, followed by an opportunist theft – and brought her home. Safe and sound.
Jeanie was somewhat less than overawed by my bravery. Leaving the country isn’t the major step for her that it is for me, so I don’t suppose going on a plane struck her as a big deal.
“Did you have a nice time?” she said, as though we were a couple of runaway sun worshippers. She did manage a, “How’s Michelle?” later, in between bites of Battenberg.
“I’m worried that now Dave will think I can just take off anywhere, anytime, though,” I whined. Even I could tell I was whining. “He might not realise how hard it was.”
Jeanie looked at me steadily for a moment or two. “I think he’ll realise,” she said.
She was right, because Dave told me later that when I gripped his hand it reminded him of the births of the girls – a kind of silent, permitted, fingernailsinto-palms abuse that would only normally be acceptable in labour. And I’m taking that as a sign. Forgive the extended metaphor, but I’m about to birth a new me. I’ve decided that next time he suggests something I’m going to say yes. The anxiety won’t ever go away, but I can try support groups and herbal remedies and I can meditate and concentrate on other stuff. And I’m going to carry on, regardless of that unfocused feeling of dread that catches up with me whenever my mind’s not busy with other stuff, and sometimes when it is. If making that effort goes against my grain, stops me from sleeping and makes me feel physically sick, I’m going to do it anyway. I can’t wait to tell Dave.