Dream or No Dream?
Do you wake up anxious every morning? I’m not talking about the debilitating feeling you’d experience before an important presentation or a big event. The anxiety I’m talking about is low-grade and chronic. You’re not paralyzed and unable to function, but there’s a sense of discomfort and uneasiness about what you should be doing in the day (or in more existential cases, your life) ahead.
When I wake up, I can’t pinpoint when my dreams transcend into my conscious thoughts because sometimes the dreams feel so real. My (anxious) mind struggles to reach a conclusion that it’s a lucid dream, to maintain sanity within my unconscious thoughts. Who the heck is anxious before they even wake up? Dreamers (i.e all of us?) apparently.
When I become fully conscious, I try to make sense of the dream–assuming I remember it. I analyze and ask myself what it means. I cringe at not having a dream journal by my side and remember I need a night table in my tiny studio apartment. That thought begins a mental checklist of errands I’d been putting off for some time. #buynighttable.
I instantly get to the work of managing my thoughts even if my eyes are still closed. This is a full-time mental job. Did I drink last night? A little. Am I hungover? No, not this time. I chose not to buy that bottle of wine even though it was a Friday and needed a mini-celebration for having gone through a grinding week. I feel relief.
The hypervigilant, anxious mind is skilled at managing oncoming attacks of inner self-talk demanding the brain’s attention. Attention, which needs time to come to in the morning.
I keep my eyes closed because if I open them, the wave of visuals around my apartment jam my brain. I start to see tasks that need to be completed. It resembles the spaghetti highways of a metropolis during rush hour, except I see piles of clutter on my tables, couch and counters.
Eventually, I open one eye. What ensues is a rambling dialogue that is a tedious–often frustrating– part of starting my day.
I peek to my right, where my floor-to-ceiling windows are half-closed by my light gray roller shades. It’s sunny. Sunny makes me feel obligated to do outdoor activities. I remember I suffer from summer depression.
Anxiety 1, Yasmeen 0.
I hadn’t vacuumed nor Swiffer-jetted my floors. There are dirt prints all over my dark wood floor panels. Could I put that off until tomorrow? Perhaps, if my Sunday blues don’t kick in. 2-0.
I pull my mind back, watching my thoughts like I’m behind the waterfall of words cascading down the pool of judgment. I need to write first. That thought alone empowers me. Morning pages will help with dumping all of these on paper. 2-1.
I need to exercise today. It’s weights day. I forgot to book a gym slot. 3-1.
I can’t do weights before I have at least one meal, because my strength won’t be up to par and I might not maximize my session; heck, I might not even complete the minimum number of sets. 4-1.
Do I have a banana to make my smoothie? Yes, yes I do, and it’s frozen and overripe, meaning it’ll be refreshing to drink. 4-2.
But maybe I should go out and do something first. Go for a lovely walk to the bakery perhaps. Spaccio (my neighbourhood Italian bakery) is still quiet this early. Yes, I can go and write my morning pages there, and I’ll have a decaf. But I want a regular coffee to boost this mood even though it’ll make this anxiety worse. 4-3.
I can’t believe I’m still single. Where is my man already? 5-3.
But I’m taking the time to break the pattern, the pattern of dating bad boys. 5-4.
I’ll need to go to the supermarket this morning. Maybe if I make it there before it gets busy it’ll be a quick trip. Oh but then Spaccio might get busy, and I really want to do my morning pages before I really start my day. *Mental Mexican stand-off*: 5-4.
I need to do more creative stuff today. Maybe I’ll teach myself how to operate the DSLR camera I borrowed from my sister. Gosh, the buttons don’t mean shit to me. I’ll need to sign up for a photography class. Or maybe I’ll hire a private instructor. But I’ll need to budget for it because those one-on-one lessons are expensive. I don’t get paid until next week. 6-4.
Ah, yes, I had ice cream from Cafe Oro di Napoli last night. Shit, those calories from a double-scoop are not helping my weight loss. I need to make sure I don’t get the Nutella Cornetto when I go to Spaccio. 7-4.
I take my medication for my acid reflux. Popped. This self-care act eases anxiety. 7-5.
Walking around my apartment now. I start to feel my blood flow. Grounding. 7-6.
The clouds start to dim the day. It might rain after all. I walk to my balcony door and open it; a chill enters my place. Invigorating. It’s a cloudy day with a cool breeze. Cold skin is good. It makes me feel alive; better than the sun rays that bake my eczema and rashes form. Yes, cool skin is definitely in order. 7-7.
I apply black liquid eyeliner on the upper lash line. And then black powder smudge for the lower lash line. The upper is always tricky. It glides on smoothly–I dare a cat-eye look. No bumps, no mishap. Score; 7-8.
I put on my most comfortable clothes, and bend down to put my shoes on, attempting to lace up. The fat on my belly hinders my ability to bend all the way down. 8-8. Shit.
It’s a good hair day. Curls are still intact. No need for a labour-intensive wash. 8-8.5.
Turn on my laptop and open Google Docs to work on my latest short story. It’s about an underground mob of pharmacists. My working title is Pharmacy Mafia. I write for thirty minutes. The draft is messy and murky, but it’s a start; it’s all I need to get that momentum. 8-10.
Game, set match Yasmeen.
Today I won. Tomorrow maybe I’ll lose. Right now I’m in the present. I won’t fret.
Anxiety and Creativity
My anxiety will never fully go away. It’s gotten better in the last year, mainly because I’ve learned how to manage it. But the one thing I realized is that writing (or doing anything creative) silences the anxiety. Even if I just put in fifteen minutes every day. And I keep going after the fifteen minutes have passed. If not, at least I’d have gotten something down.
Not everyone is built this way. While we’re all creative–it’s not a critical component of everyone’s life to practice making something daily. Some people thrive on checking off a list of errands or going to a baseball game. Some people attend to their loved ones which fulfill them in ways I’m not sure would negate the deep anxiety for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my partner and cherish the time we spend together. If I had to give up love in exchange for creativity, I would pick love. But creativity is a tool. It’s a tool to achieve the goal of being my best self and calm this mental rumbling I feel every day if I don’t venture into an unknown space. This rumbling, like when your stomach goes off when you’re hungry and you eat something to satiate. This rumbling, like when you know you need to scratch something in your body to feel relief.
I don’t forget that doing something creative when you’re uninspired is a difficult task. But what’s beautiful about it is the same thing that makes it hard: the lack of clarity which is the beautiful mystique of the unknown. Too often I show up to write because I don’t know what to write about, and then it appears.
If I don’t show up, I feel (temporary) relief at not having to do something difficult. But experience has taught me that I’m going to pay for it the next day; anxiety rears its ugly head then, blind sights me and wins. What I didn’t do the previous day compounds into even more anxiety. No one wants to lose that match.
I do stay compassionate though. If I miss a day then it’s ok, but missing two days in a row? That’s the danger of beginning a pattern. And getting back on the wagon is tougher then.
How do you deal with anxiety?