TRICIA STRINGER’S new novel features a “character” many of us are familiar with — anxiety. The popular author today opens up about her own brush with the Big A, what it meant for her writing, and offers comforting advice to those in a similar situation.
“You are not going to die.”
Lying on an ED bed I clung to those words. The woman who’d spoken, studied me with a look of compassion and understanding. Over a period of weeks, I had been in and out of different EDs and doctors’ offices. I’d had numerous tests that had come back normal and yet the pain I was suffering was incapacitating; I had difficulty breathing, nausea shut down my appetite, I couldn’t sleep. Something bad was happening to my body. I didn’t want to die and her words offered hope.
It was late on a Sunday night. The nurse convinced me to take a half a sleeping tablet that night. The pills had been prescribed by one of the doctors I’d seen but never having taken one before, I was worried how it might affect me. That night I slept for several hours. The most I’d had in weeks. I went to my GP the next day and for the first time we discussed the possibility that I was suffering from anxiety.
Most people will suffer anxiety at some point in their lives – young and old, men and women, rich and poor. Anxiety is not necessarily bad for us. It might be the motivation we need to achieve change. It’s also innate, part of our body’s fight or flight response to danger and it is often triggered by a major life change that might be expected to cause anxiety – a bereavement, a job loss, a broken relationship.
Anxiety is rife at present. The pandemic is triggering stress in the young as well as the old, as they struggle to see a future in terms of employment, travel and relationships in a world that is hitting a recession, has closed borders and where a touch can literally kill. Anxiety is a natural response to this, but it’s when it affects your life so that you can’t function, well then you need help.
Like any other health issue, anxiety can be treated and managed. The support of my GP and my family have been pivotal. I’ve had many sessions with a counsellor and tried acupuncture. I’ve made lifestyle changes. I’m a writer and it’s easy to let that take over my life. Now I eat well, exercise regularly, factor in breaks, time off and even holidays: they’re blocked out in advance on my calendar. Since my initial diagnosis I’ve had some relapses. Now I recognise the symptoms before they take hold and can counter them. Sleep or lack of it can still plague me at times but I try not to focus on how little sleep I have had. Instead I get up to a bright new morning and promise myself some down time later in the day – a power nap or a book to read.
Relaxation, even for ten minutes is a powerful tool as is some kind of meditation, reflection or prayer where you shut out other thoughts for a time. And whoever said laughter is the best medicine was right. I like to think I’m a glass half full kind of person but finding something that makes me belly laugh each day is like having a power boost.
And sometimes the unforeseen happens, like a pandemic, and like many thousands of people, I need to give myself time to adjust to changes.
Of course, my experience has also fed into my writing. At the time I was writing The Family Inheritance (releasing in October 2020) which focuses on the effects of a toxic will on three generations of women. One of the characters, Felicity, begins to suffer anxiety when she finds herself with a broken relationship, no financial security and suffering a bereavement. Her panic attacks have a ringing authenticity, I am told. Like me, she finds a pathway out with a little help.
The message is anxiety can be treated and if as you read this you recognise any symptoms, I urge you to ask for help. I’m back to living a normal life and dealing with the highs and lows in a healthy way. I’ve learned what my triggers are and strategies for managing. And I’ll never forget that nurse who spoke those reassuring words. Like medical professionals all over the world at the moment, she offered hope when I needed it. She will forever be a hero in my eyes.
BOOK OF THE MONTH
Be kind to yourself by settling down with a good story by Tricia or another top author. Our Book Of The Month is All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton. Head to booktopia.com.au and enter code SHIMMERING at checkout to receive 30 per cent off the RRP of $ 32.99. And remember to visit the Sunday Book Club group on Facebook.