It’s been another anxious week or two – panic curling its fingers round my neck at unexpected times: on the train to work, at my desk, standing in the flat talking to Drummer Boy. It’s like living with a goblin (the anxiety, not DB) – a horrid little creature that likes to pop up just when I’m trying to have a nice time, or get things done. The usual things help: being on the beach and watching the sea, trying to match the pace of my thoughts to the idle in-and-out of the waves, the question game when I’m circling the drain of a proper full-on Freak-Out. And life-fuel: books, music and good food. Here’s what’s trying to keep me sane right now…
Anxiety For Beginners, Eleanor Morgan. I have been waiting for this book – without knowing it – for six years. Morgan deals with a much more terrifying incarnation of the Panic Spectre than I do, and has written possibly the most comprehensive, readable and genuinely entertaining (I’m not kidding) guide to anxiety you ever could hope to find. It’s only partly a memoir – she looks at the science behind those racing thoughts, that choking dread; she writes about the different kinds of therapy and treatment available, and how to access them, and acknowledges how hard it can be to a) feel able to ask for help, and b) actually get that help when you do finally find the words to say, “I think I’m going mad”. I wept on trains reading this, but also laughed out loud several times; Morgan can really turn a phrase. If you are prone to anxiety, or know someone who is, you need to read this book.
Lissie. Just the fact that she exists totally thrills me – with her massive, gutsy voice, guitar-driven songs, and the fact that the last time I saw her live, she joyfully told the audience she’d forgotten to bring a hairbrush on tour and hadn’t shaved her armpits for a few days. There just aren’t enough female musicians giving that little of a fuck, quite frankly. ‘Wild West’ is one of my favourite tracks off her latest album, and the video was released this week. Even better, she did a session with another one of my enduring woman-crushes, the velvet-voiced Jo Whiley, and covered one of my childhood favourites, ‘Eternal Flame’ (me and a friend had the Bangles’ Greatest Hits on repeat when we were about 8). Listen here from about 01:29:40.
“Will you be OK?” asked Drummer Boy as he headed out to a gig on Wednesday night, having had to talk me down from an emotional ledge half an hour previously. Feeling rather feeble but determined not to stop the man I love from going to watch a band called ‘Exploder Than You’, I assured him I’d be fine and shoved him out the door. And then, as if my Feminist Fairy Godmother had been watching, I stumbled across a conversation between Emma Watson and Caitlin Moran, filmed in Moran’s kitchen, and you know what? It’s hard to panic when you’re listening to clever women being funny and right about things, it really is.
Switching off. I’m not one to extol the virtues of doing a social media ‘detox’ to you, really I’m not – these days, social media basically makes the world go round, and after ‘work’, ‘home’ and ‘on a train’, Twitter is where I spend most of my time. But about ten days ago, I reached ‘peak news’ (I think we all did), and had to take a bit of Matt Haig’s advice: “Do not watch TV aimlessly. Do not go on social media aimlessly. Always be aware of what you are doing, and why you are doing it” (from Reasons To Stay Alive). The last five weeks or so have been relentlessly terrible for literally everyone on the planet, and it’s hard not to let the darkness seep its way into your day-to-day life. The only way to fight fear and terror and anger is to be resolutely hopeful – it is optimists who will decide the future. But I noticed I became significantly calmer and happier in myself when I stopped scrolling through Twitter on my journeys to and from work, and started losing myself in a book instead. Sometimes, you need a break from reality, especially when reality is proving to be so endlessly fucking bleak.
OK, so a bit of clothing can’t halt a panic attack in its tracks, but I’ve discovered the ultimate t-shirt and other women need to know about it. Finding a good basic t-shirt is like finding a good pair of jeans – there’s so much room for error, and the devil really does lie in details like the placement of hemlines and seams, and the ratio of cotton to Lycra. To cut a long shopping trip short, I’ve found The One, and it’s perfect. Sure, it’s only £8 so it will probably fall apart within ten months, but I’ve bought three in the last week, so I should be set for a while.
‘Feel better soup’ – warning: you will want to take a bath in this stuff, I absolutely promise you. It’s a bowl of comfort, but in a very grown-up way. And like all the best dinners, it totally leaves room for a proper pudding. I’ve given it the rather twee name of ‘Feel Better Soup’ because it really does make everything OK. This soup has saved me from hangovers and alleviated the blues more times than I can count. It’s a great one for anxious types, as it requires a certain amount of chopping and grating and stirring and tasting, so your hands and mind are well-occupied. I’m not actually very good at making it – every time I try, DB has to swoop in at the end and save it somehow, and it’s infuriating, but also lovely, because he’s never not managed to make it totally delicious.
Anyway. Chop a couple of cloves of garlic, a couple of chillies, and peel and grate a fat thumb of ginger. Start to fry them, and zest a lime into the pan. You can have your chicken stock in a separate pan, or just slosh some just-boiled water onto the ginger and chillies and crumble in some stock cubes. Now for the fun bit: the adding and tasting, adding and tasting. A splash of fish sauce, a stalk or two of dried lemongrass, another stock cube. If you’ve got any leftover Thai curry paste – the scrapings round the jar from the back of the fridge – spoon it in. You can add diced chicken breast – just plop it in and watch it turn from pink to white – or button mushrooms (I’m slowly coming round to them). You can balance the heat by stirring in some coconut milk, or have the soup clear and brothy. Add noodles and beansprouts for some starch and crunch. And no matter what you do with it, squeezing in some lime juice at the end is absolutely crucial. Have with a cold beer, unless you’re hungover, in which case, eating it in your pyjamas is non-negotiable.