On the soft embarrassment of diarising anxiety

I’ve been busy, but I always am when I begin crawling into another spring. I’ve now been working full-time since August and I have struggled to replace my copywriter’s brain into its jar at 17:30 each day.

The only thing I have been writing with any consistency has been a daily recollection of the weather, of meals, a steady rhythm of birds noticed and oh my god i cannot do this any more (2016), I am confused by this heavy blankness (2018), and I numb myself in quiet oblivion (2022). A drum beat now beyond its tenth year of reverberation. 

I have never really liked the term ‘diary’. It’s reminiscent of secondary school homework logs and a pre-pubescent notion that I was secretly quietly different because I wrote. It’s a word imbued with secrets, of which I had many – when does a secret move into the past tense, by the way? when flesh turns to dust? when the lives of the people involved are no longer entangled in your own?

Now I have fewer secrets, but the term ‘diary’ embarrasses me. My first was a Christmas present in 2008. Puffed pink silken cover with a heart-shaped lock and ‘My top-secret diary!!!! KEEP OUT!!!!’ emblazoned as an invitation. This in itself is embarrassing enough, and strengthened with its descendants: pink and ringbound with jewelled cats, red ‘bugger off’, then ‘fuck off’, and now Moleskin after hardback Moleskin. 

I prefer to journal now: distancing myself from the tender feelings pressed into a diary. But I have realised the changed term doesn’t mean that I find it any less excruciating. In my diarising heyday, taking careful stock of who I fancied and who didn’t fancy me, I took pride in its regularity. Today I got an A in this mock exam. Today he took three hours to respond, does this mean we’re incompatible? Today I didn’t understand my desire to dig a very large hole and lie down in it for a little while, but I’m sure it’s just a phase! 

Trivial things with the benefit of hindsight. But at the time, I was utterly consumed by the present and present feeling. Reading back on past diaries, the depth of feeling disturbs me. It’s a shock to the system, the realisation that I have had feelings and I will continue to have them, like you’re being fingered in a lift and oh shit the doors are opening – 

I suppose, though, that this shock is better than its alternatives. Writing and diarising has always been encouraged by my therapists as a way of removing the noise from my head, and I suppose that thus far it has been relatively successful. And certainly less dumbfounding than one of my early coping mechanisms, painting a series of rotund frogs, like this:

and this:

and this:

But I could at least speak through them. Appearing not as myself, the epitome of mediocracy, but as a jovially fat amphibian dipped in poster paint. When I write my thoughts and feelings, however, I must write as myself, bound with secrets and above all the uncomfortable truth that I am who I am and that is all I can be. I must own up to these feelings like a misdeed. I’m ashamed of admitting to them; I know that recovery isn’t linear, that there may well be no such thing as recovery for the fraying of my quilted brain, but I am still tired of it.

Understanding where this emotional embarrassment has come from continues to be difficult. Covid anxiety coupled with general anxiety has meant that, quite frankly, I’m a snivelling wreck. And now I am set against a political landscape where sincerity of emotion has disappeared alongside honesty, trust, and that one Elysian dream I had last week where Stanley Tucci was Prime Minister. Sometimes it feels like I am the only person still worried, still feeling things like vulnerability and care and a seismic shift in the pit of my stomach as I am unwillingly hurled back to normality. Perhaps this is why, recently, I have felt so acutely ashamed of my emotions. I feel distanced like I was in my teenage heyday, knowing that I will never receive another invitation to drink three cans of lukewarm dark fruits or a bottle of Echo Falls, with work colleagues or otherwise. 

To tune out the sound of Radio Four – do your parents have it on incessantly? – I have had to think outwards. I look at the sunset and take pictures every five minutes. I get into my car and drive at sixty miles per hour along a wide country lane and cry as Sam Fender sings but i’m damned if i give up tonight / i must repel the dying light. I sellotaped my vegetable handbook back together. I wake up in the morning and the first things I look for are the birds, red kites swooping and scooping like sundae spoons. I plan my gardening plots for futurity: potatoes, broad beans, runner beans, lettuce, onions, garlic, kale, dahlias, chrysanthemums. I get up and walk in a loop around the village and dip a steel-tipped boot into the Downs’ chalky skirts. I write these things down in my journal too. 

These daily reminders of a world larger than myself are less embarrassing than the raw joints of emotion served cold. They feel kinder, steadier, and through them I have learnt that I need not confront my emotions head-on. Especially if they result in double-texting grotty pre-pubescent boys with painful hopefulness, or worse. Instead of my imaginary amphibious friends, I need to think through the world around me to address whatever anxiety lies at the pit of my stomach. Not the world of politics, or search engine optimisation, or the insufferable need to punch a wall, but the snowdrops and the skies and the soil at my feet. 

Published by Izzy Dignum

Writing about chalk and landscape. University of Cambridge graduate, now working in PR and Marketing.

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