HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Hugs are the parachutes for the fall of anxiety
Are you suffering from low mood levels and/or a sudden onset of depression? Do you find your palms sweaty with anxiety and knees weak with excessive worry? Are more irritated than your own personal average irritability level? Have you started to get more lethargic, more sleepy and feel more fatigued in the past few days or weeks than you usually do? And do everyday activities, socialising or doing anything that may normally pep you up leave you feeling disinterested, agitated and annoyed? If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, welcome to the autumn anxiety club, where the sun sets earlier and the mood gets darker.
In the west, the saddest month is September. Here, it’s in April. In fact, in the US autumn anxiety is simply known as the “September sads”.
We are all prone to feelings of unsettling worry or being queasy in our own skin out of sheer emotional unease. It’s part of the human condition. If you tell me you have never felt this I will call you a liar, to your face. Of course you have.
But autumn anxiety is so much more prominent a feeling and for some people it visits depending on the season of their lives, pun intended. For others, it comes every year, like clock work. It’s prominent, it’s present and it’s severe. And some years, it brings its friend depression with it. Depression is like the rain in autumn. Too early to be expected and it surprises you. And other times, its just hyperbolic, ever-present vibrating, unaltered, unfiltered and unmanageable anxiety.
You know that saying “ants in your pants”? well, if you don’t have them come get them because I am crawling with them and they are all over. They have not and will not not left me alone for several days. I am the Duracell bunny in the most unfun way possible. I am thrumming with anxiety and raring to go, but sleep at the same time. My autumn unease has never been this severe.
The first question any novice in this area will ask is, “okay but what’s causing it? There must be a trigger? Is it work? Is it lack of sleep? Are you expecting bad news? Do you have family drama? Are you stressed about moving or taking on a new career path? Is there something specific in April that has me humming like the world’s largest flock of humming birds and buzzing like the world’s most gargantuan beehive”? Well, honey, if I knew, I would have pin-pointed it by now, don’t you think Sherlock? And not only that, I would have stared it in the eye, given it a name and dealt with or at least recognised it. It's not fun to feel this way. It's like one of those massage chairs that someone forgot to turn off, just working hard and vibrating away at nothing?
Something that does help though is playing tennis. Sure, I’m thrumming on the court but it becomes an enjoyable beat. I can march to it, or play to it, rather. It uses some of the energy – if that’s what we’re calling it – and I feel calmer for a bit after. But I can’t play grade-school level tennis all day, can I?
Welsh therapist Gillian Scully created the term "autumn anxiety" after she saw many patients at the same time of year dealing with the same symptoms. Scully is said to have experienced the feelings herself. It all happened around the same time frame, around the end of summer and the start of autumn. All patients, including herself, had a feeling of anxiety or daunting anticipation that was disconnected from any life event, task or life-altering changes. She also found that individuals who are generally more sensitive and aware of their surroundings are more inclined to the autumn anxieties.
One of the most commonly known facts and least understood ones about anxiety in general, is that you simply feel overwhelmed in every fibre of your being with zero explanation. Experts suggest that this is a good place to start talking about your feelings. To simply call up a friend or sit across a loved one and say "look, my heart’s beating like a drums and I don’t know if I should sleep or swim all the way to Robben Island and back to get rid of these radioactive waves that are holding my body hostage." And so I do that. I have been doing that for the past couple of days.
As someone who suffers from general anxiety disorder and who has gotten used to it, I can tell you this version is no walk in the park. Even the most private of us will want to say something and I have been saying something every day of the week.
I wake up. My partner wakes up. She has to hear about my anxiety. She buys me calming drinks. Tells me to go to the gym (for the second time in the day), I don’t. She tells me to take my mind off things by getting more work done after I am done working. I don’t. She tells me to cook to get my mind off things, I don’t because this is a chore and if I could take my mind off something I certainly would not replace that something with a pot. Before you know it, it’s four days down the line she’s sitting across the couch from me teaching me a one-nostril breathing technique to help me relax.
I am doing this new procedure while typing this column with one hand. The anxiety is debilitating and getting in the way of my work now. And no, I don’t know why I have it.
But I will say this: someone you know is experiencing this same thing right now and really, all they need is a very, very tight and comforting hug. If they want to talk, they’ll talk. But just go out there and hold a friend today. Not because it’s chillier, not because the season’s have changed and not because the leaves are falling, but because that one snug hug may be the reason they stop shaking in the inside for a few seconds.
I think a reason they call autumn "fall" in some parts of the world is because that’s exactly what happens to us. In some way or another, some of us fall at this time of year. And in my case, and many others, there’s no telling when we’ll hit the ground. I have never wanted to hit the ground more. Until then, I’ll be needing lots of hugs. Hugs are the parachutes for the autumn of anxiety. I’m sure there’s a card out there that says that. Side note: don’t buy the card for someone.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.