My mother died last October. Since then I have woken every morning with ‘butterflies’ in my stomach and an overwhelming feeling of dread.
Of course, I Googled all this and discovered, somewhat surprisingly, that butterflies in the stomach were a symptom of grief and not nerves or an undigested slice of cheese. Our bodies are amazing, not just for their dexterity but for the interconnectedness of the whole mass, flesh, blood, bone and tiny cells shunted along by bubbles of oxygen and constantly snapping electrical charges. The brain controls all this and what the brain receives the body feels; misery loves company as they say. Anxiety and depression will eventually have physical side effects on the body which is why doctors recommend exercise or a good stiff walk rather than a stiff drink.
My grief manifests itself in anxiety for my family and for our future. I am no spring chicken and a very keen sense of my own mortality rears its mocking head at regular intervals impatiently tapping its watch. When this happens I do indeed try to ‘walk it off’ with varying degrees of success. Churchill suffered periodic bouts of crippling depression which he called his ‘black dog’. I don’t have a ‘black dog’. My manifestation of anxiety is a ginger cat who meows loudly for food while sitting by a full bowl and who surreptitiously knocks objects onto the floor while looking at mewith narrowed eyes. The ‘ginger cat’ is flea-bitten and snaggle-toothed. A feral being devoid of any gentleness.
The ‘ginger cat’ wakes me up at night, sits on my chest and breathes fish fumes into my face. Cats are contrary creatures and the ‘ginger cat’ is no different. It will react in ways that cause confusion and anger. Don’t drink to excess, while you are comatose it will pee in your shoe. Avoiding it will earn you a sharp swipe and a scratch and don’t leave your valuable sense of worth on the shelf because it will knock it off with devilish abandon. The best way to deal with it, is to confront the beast head-on. Don’t show fear, it thrives on that, invite it in and feed it cream and cheese and speak soft words to it, until lulled by lactose, it sleeps… at which point you grab it by the scruff of the neck and throw it in the cat basket.
Show it who the alpha Tom is in the relationship, acknowledge its presence, but do not let it own you (I do love a good metaphor and am very partial to the odd analogy, as you may have gathered). Winston managed to get his ‘black dog’ to heel and went on to govern the country through a war so I am damn sure I can keep the ginger cat under control and not indulge it or spoil it and hope that eventually it will grow bored of me, and slink off back into the bushes where it belongs.