Tag Archives: mental health

#52Beats. Beat Four: Hooked into Machine. Reflections on Work, Life, and Rhythm (part 1)

By Way of Introduction

On the Sunday night, I struggled with the idea of going to sleep and letting the week end without a blog post. “Only four weeks in, and you’re already lagging behind,” booed my inner critic. My response to it was that these posts are supposed to be a time for reflection, not something I hastily hobble together for the sake of regularity. And last week, truthfully, I didn’t manage to take a beat.

I did a lot of editing of my novel, finally getting into the swing of it and not petrified by the fear of ‘ruining’ my allegedly perfect manuscript. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t perfect before editing, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be that, after. But it is going to be one I like more, now that I bring two more years of writing and storytelling experience to the table.)

I also did an unprecedented thing of taking an entire weekend (!) away from both art and paid work. As a result, I was able to finally organize my clothes for the first time since the house move (now I get to actually choose an outfit instead of wearing the first three things I pick off the floor!); put together an impassioned residency application for the Home Office, complete with a hefty document package; and spend a lot of time with my husband in-between those projects.

When I finally sat down to write this belated beat on Monday night, the post quickly ballooned to a sizeable length. My original intention to talk about rhythms on the scale from hourly to yearly has spawned several necessary stories from my personal history. Thus came the decision to split the post into two logical halves. Address my past practices in the first one, and current ones in the second.

Here goes.

Hooked Into Machine: Reflections on Work, Life, and Rhythm – Part 1

I have a real soft spot for Tony Stark (as pictured in the MCU). In addition to the knee-bucking combination of charm and vulnerability that Robert Downey Jr. brings to the role, Tony’s is a story of continuous conflict between humanity and machinery. We see the “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” move from being metaphorically stuck in the machine that is the military-industrial complex, to literal dependence on machinery for his survival. We see his definition of the self evolve from “I am Iron Man; the suit and I are one” to “You can take away my tricks and toys, but one thing you can’t take away: I am Iron Man.”

One last thing I’ll do before this becomes an essay devoted entirely to Tony, is leave this video here. I think it’s an amazing exploration of Tony’s character and the transhumanism implications of his story arc.

An important question that my therapist had taught me to ask is: why? So I asked myself why do I have such a soft spot for Tony? The answer is probably manifold, but one aspect of it is: for most of my life, I’ve had a habit of treating my entire being as a machine.

When hearing about someone who “is like a machine,” you probably imagine a high-powered triathloning CEO, not a freelance size 24 who came fourth-last in the one 5k she ran. However, I define one’s machine-ness not by societal standards, but by two things:  fitness for purpose and consistent output. With the benefit of hindsight, I should also point out that most machines have a limited useful life.

Fitness for purpose

While I have never been fit in the conventional sense, I’ve always been extremely fit for each of my purposes at any given time. Continue reading

Photo by Martin Fisch

#52Beats. Beat Three: Anxiety.

My anxiety is an old suit of plate armor, one that has gone unused for years, standing in a dusty museum or a forgotten corner of the armory. Some of the armor’s hinges move reluctantly. Some are rusted shut. It wasn’t made for me, and being inside it locks my body in unnatural shapes. There isn’t much air to breathe inside it. It’s very cold. I’m afraid to move, lest some piece of it comes off and falls to the floor with a deafening crash, giving me away. All I can do is stay there, motionless, peering at the world through the grimy openings in the visor.

How’s that for a mental image?

Over the past week or two, I’ve been working my way back into a certain creative project, one which is fraught with quite a bit of anxiety. Today, I was doing some unrelated reading and came across some shares from a therapy group, where people gave their anxiety visual shapes: some as a bowl of water with a dirty oily film, some in form of an orange bristling with spikes. I paused and asked myself: so what’s my anxiety like? The image of a rusty plate mail sprung to my mind almost instantly.

Think of that armor again. It’s cold and rigid, and the longer you stay in it, the colder you are, the less able to move. Fight, flight, or freeze? Do item three on this list for long enough, and you won’t be capable of either of the first two.

Both temperature extremes can provoke an emotional response from me. Being too hot can make me feel uncomfortable in my body and result in a body-shame spiral (where “hot and sweaty” equals “useless fatty”; as an aside, I spent years avoiding any exercise outside of water, because I didn’t want anyone to see me sweating, convinced that only fat and unfit people do that). Cold, however, immediately translates to fear.

When I’m scared, my hands turn to ice, and my feet are often to follow. This connection is entrenched in my brain deeply enough that it can easily reverse the cause and effect. If fear equals cold, then cold equals fear. My hands may have gone cold for objective temperature reasons, but a part of my head will start wondering what it is we could be nervous about. If unchecked, it will easily find a dozen outlets to channel the fake anxiety into until it becomes real.

Going back to the suit of armor. I find it fascinating that when casting for a mental image of my anxiety, my brain didn’t go for things like a straightjacket (immobility), chains (immobility and cold), or even a plain block of ice (even more immobility and cold). Of all the possible images, it opted for armor: something that can (and is meant to) protect you, but, BUT only if properly taken care of. If neglected, it stops being protection and becomes a trap.

Armor is also something that can cater to the “fight” and “freeze” options of the adrenaline triad. Not so much the “flight” option. That’s pretty in-character for me, because I’m terrible at fleeing from fear-inducing situations. Not holding myself up as a lionheart here: the inability to flee means I’m rubbish at stepping away from emotional situations and am more likely to make decisions in a hurry, discarding potentially more reasonable choices in favor of getting the situation over with.

Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that the image my brain chose to represent anxiety isn’t something inherently bad or damaging: rather, something that has been poorly maintained. I’m sure someone well-versed in psychoanalysis could have a ball exploring all the aspects of this imagery as juxtaposed with my history and personality. Myself, I can name two obvious truths. One, I am much more prone to get anxious when I haven’t been taking proper care of myself. Two, the brain itself is our greatest protector or trap, depending on its state and our circumstances.

So what’s your anxiety like? Tell me while I shuffle around in this rusty thing and try to oil some of those stubborn hinges.

Photo by Martin Fisch