Lying in bed with anxiety involves balancing the fear of emerging into the world against the self loathing for staying under the duvet. The self hatred is as multifaceted as the anxiety; I spend many days internally brutalising myself. Getting up involves pushing through the panic and doing… something. Making a cup of tea. Getting dressed. Whatever it is, however small, involves a certain amount of cruelty.
I hear my mother saying to me from some past exchange or other, “Sometimes beating anxiety is just mind over matter.” She’s right, but I didn’t catch the nuance in the advice in that once-upon-a-time. Sometimes we do just have to push through it and get up. Sometimes it’s necessary to stuff it in a box and confront someone — if it’s important enough. Sometimes someone needs you more than you need yourself. In those times, we crush ourselves into submission and do the things.
The problem with ‘getting over it’ is its inherent brutality. We deny our minds the space to deal with the problems, and we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Succeed and we feel mentally drained, fragile and sore because our needs aren’t met. Fail and we feel the same because we spend our time shouting at ourselves internally for not meeting the needs of others.
"...SOCIETY AT LARGE DOESN’T AFFORD US THE SPACE FOR KINDNESS."
I hear a lot about mindfulness, self care and giving ourselves space to be kind, but society at large doesn’t afford us the space for kindness. The messages coming at me from work, school and daily life are not kind. Kind people don’t always give me the space for self kindness, even if they encourage me to be so.
The self care mantra feels almost like a taunt. I am universally strangled on all sides while people tell me to stop and breathe. The universe isn’t going to stop needing me to do something just because I stop doing things. It makes self care feel like self indulgence: a fantasy for the privileged.
It probably feels like a thing privileged people can do because it is. Whether it’s wealth privilege or being lucky enough to have an understanding workplace, most folks aren’t afforded the luxury of kindness. That we’re socialised into a puritan sensibility that demands productivity above all doesn’t help. If idleness is evil, my hiding in bed to keep the panic away is also evil.
The stricken live in a wasteland, and self care does end up being a point of mind over matter. Not the Puritan kind. Not the process of self harm that endures blind panic to leave the house anyway. It’s allowing the mind space to feel; to process. Imposing moments where you can stay in bed. Quieting the voices that tell us we’re bad people for taking time out. Letting ourselves expand under pressure.
It sounds crazy but it works. I’m starting to think we’re being conditioned to reject the lessons that allow our minds to create space under pressure. That actually, our misery serves some bigger systemic oppression. That makes sense to my anarchic, anti establishment thinking but I have no evidence to support it beyond the obvious: time is a wealth privilege. For those of us without wealth, we aren’t afforded time for self care.
“I’m not a still person!” I finally blurt to my therapist who is selling some brand of mindfulness to me. I’m not. My mind is never still. It’s forever spinning out lists, streams of words, topics to write about, idle worry and thought puzzles. I think without pause, and I’m told to pause as some form of hand waving assignment. It sounds utterly insane.
It’s easy to hear absolutes when being told to find stillness. It’s even easier to wall yourself into old habits — that’s kind of what most therapy is trying to prevent. And again, it’s a point of mind over matter: we find a space that works in ourselves even as the universe seeks to close us in.
It’s often forgotten that stillness is a relative term, and even allowing some of the noise to pass over without scrutiny is a kindness. Being kind is how we recover. Brute force entrenches pain; we can’t answer one trauma with another. In a world intent on traumatising us, we need to find the little dips in activity.
"THE TRULY SCARRED ARE LEFT WITH THE MESSAGE THAT KINDNESS IS NOT FOR THEM..."
The market machine around self care, the industry of kindness, is cruelly aimed at those able to pay for their spa treatments, retreats, lotions and potions. The truly scarred are left with the message that kindness is not for them because to the wellness industry, self care is a commodity. The wealthy can afford kindness. The rest of us need to get over it.
That self love is being sold to us perpetuates the idea that we can’t be kind to ourselves without extra money or time. We’re told that until we can, we have to continue to hurt ourselves. That actually, our self worth is a thing we need to earn and buy; the solution to our unhappiness is to remain miserable.
It’s a lie. Kindness is free, and we can be kind to ourselves even if we aren’t afforded the time or the money. Mind over matter, as my mum told me that time. Our minds over the matters at hand; creating space for us to be partially still. Kindness is not zero-sum, as the market machine would have us believe. We don’t need total stillness to be mindful. We don’t need to be perpetually busy to be good. They are artificial relationships conceived in the minds of those who seek to profit from the suffering. We just have to believe we deserve it.
Don’t just get over your anxieties. Get over the idea that we are bad for creating spaces to breathe. Get over the notion that we can’t afford to be kind to ourselves. We can only do the best we can with what we have; once that is done, we have done enough. Some don’t have as much to work with, and that is not their fault. Accepting that we have done enough in a world that is never satisfied is perhaps the biggest kindness we can allow ourselves. The world is often wrong.