Anxiety OJ

I’m sitting here in Kaffe Uut, the trendy Dili cafe chain with wooden-plank tables and abstract copper-sculpture light fittings and Four Pillars gin in the fridge, with my laptop open and a fresh orange juice dripping by my elbow. My hair’s scraped back off my face into what I believe is an elegant topknot, I’ve got my cats-eye sunglasses on the table before me, and in the minds of the other customers I well may be tapping out a novel, finishing up some crucial piece of work, or closing all the tabs of the articles I’ve finally and successfully read.

I’m of course not doing that; I’m on my blog! 31 tabs open across two windows and no plans to close any of them soon. The sunglasses are a hand-me-down and the topknot’s entirely about sweat, not elegance.

I find it funny to think of what my life must look like to someone outside it; to friends back home. And not just the bare fact that I live abroad; the details of my daily life here. Take today. One narrative of today reads as follows: I bounded out of bed at 6:30am for a beachside walk and coffee with friends. They left for work, but freelance me lazed home, boiled soft eggs, sliced fresh bread, and chatted to Felix as I ate a slow breakfast. I Instagrammed the novel I’d just finished reading, made a couple of calls to organise an island holiday for the weekend, messaged a friend for a lunch plan, sent a couple of emails for my volunteering gig, applied liquid eyeliner, and then wafted out to microlet my way to get my car, feed the borrowed cat, and sate my orange juice craving before my lunch date. All I have planned for the rest of the day is an hour or so of computer time, a Tetun class and yoga.

And another version goes like this.

Snooze alarm twice. Crawl out of bed and stumble around room looking for socks and tights. Find only skimpy shorts and feel vaguely self-conscious on the sweaty walk down the beach. Spend a while in the bathroom because morning coffee doesn’t sit too well (sorry). Check emails. Realise weekend is coming. Panic about people cancelling on English class volunteering. Send desperate emails trying to find more people. Eat breakfast. Chastise self for over-boiling eggs and for leaving kitchen messy. Procrastinate making calls to confirm weekend plans; spend an hour scrolling Instagram. Remember how far behind you are in year-long reading challenge. Check emails. Return to bathroom. Feel guilty cat remains unfed. Check emails. Make calls. feel apprehensive about Tetun class. Manically message friends about weekend plans, then send “I’m really in my own head today, want to have lunch?” to a mate who gets it. Consider cancelling Tetun class. Walk to microlet; get whistled at twice. Helloooo hunneeeyyyy. Check emails on microlet. Send a couple of replies. Get to car. Check sweaty eyeliner. Crank AC. Decide to get orange juice before feeding cat. Start counting the minutes to figure out if you have enough time to dine in before lunch date. Consider bailing on yoga. Open laptop. Rearrange face into thoughtful, serene expression. Check emails. Finish juice.

Naming my anxiety has always helped me recognise it (I nearly wrote control there, not recognise. That may be what I want, but it isn’t the goal of living well with anxiety). I’ve written before about how I saw a therapist for about a year, and she helped me a lot with recognising and valuing the symptoms of my anxiety and perfectionism. I think, today, I’m a little flustered by the sudden complexities of planning my Easter weekend trip; I’m still not used to my freelance schedule and I find the long, unplanned hours alone intimidating and isolating; I’m beating myself up for not exercising for a while (body image is my Achilles heel, and when my self-critical mind is looking for something to call myself up on, what I’ve eaten or when I last exercised is always near the top of the list).

Something my therapist taught me is to recognise thoughts like this without attempting to judge or solve them. Like clouds drifting across the sky, they’re there, but you don’t have to unpick them. Notice them, and notice your response to them. She used cognitive behavioural therapy with me, unpicking the judgements I’ve layered over different emotions (anger is bad; I can’t feel that!) and teaching me that a rich life full of light and shade is what’s worth striving for, not eternal sunshine and a fear of shadows.

One of the reasons I like being busy is because it gives me less time to think.

I’ve had a lot of time to think this year. Unchecked thinking.

Today, the volume in my head is turned up to ten.

So I will let the clouds drifts and enjoy the dappled sunshine. Drink my juice, write my blog, feel my feelings, feed the cat. Cancel whatever I want; attend whatever I want.

Don’t bother Instagramming it.



7 responses to “Anxiety OJ”

  1. […] realised this week that the earlier-than-usual start to my Tuesday tend me to anxiety those days; fretting to fill empty hours with for-the-sake-of-it activities. In March, I’m glad for […]


  2. thanks for sharing those thoughts 🙂


  3. […] talked at length on this blog about anxiety, perfectionism, who tells and discomfort, and how my life in Timor-Leste exacerbates my natural […]


  4. […] A few months ago I sat in the other Kaffe Uut, the one in the Pateo complex, on a panicked halfway stop between feeding a cat for a friend-of-a-friend and fretting all morning about flaky English tutors and unconfirmed weekend plans. I ordered an orange juice, forced myself to sit still for 30 minutes and bashed out a blog post I quickly titled Anxiety OJ. […]


  5. […] A comparison: what my life looks like on the outside versus what it looks like on the inside […]


  6. […] that, of course, is just the outside. As I documented a few months ago in a post called Anxiety OJ, living with anxiety means that while my life may sometimes look serene from the outside, on the […]


  7. […] What anxiety looks like from the inside […]


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