I’m sitting at a long white table at Kaffe Uut, watching the afternoon sun weaken through the streetside windows, tapping quietly at my laptop as a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice condenses by my elbow.
I’ve been here for about an hour; slowly wandering up the road after a lazy couple of hours reading at home to sit and put down the thoughts I’ve been muddling over this morning. “I’m in search of health,” I announced cheerily to Felix in a text; I caught his cold this week and have been slow and stuffy all morning. I feel calm; I feel happy.
I am also right now wearing these shoes.
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.
In the short post I described the disconnect between how my beatific day off looked from the outside compared to the soup I was experiencing inside.
“One narrative of today reads as follows,” I wrote.
“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.”
Then, I described it from the inside.
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.
I make no secret of my anxiety disorder on this blog and repeat visitor will likely know I’ve been feeling less-than-great for a couple of months. But the last few weeks have been a turning point; I bottomed-out with the end of the deadlines and a manic hacking cough; I’d barely recovered from that before spending a week in the mountains with work; and I returned to Dili exhausted and happy and prepared to fully rest and rebuild.
Today, I walked slowly home from the English class celebration I’d been at, stopping at Pateo for an espresso at their high bench and to read more of the book I’ve nearly finished. I wandered past Hotel Timor on the way home and drifted into Things and Stories, trailing my fingers over stuffed toys and tais-covered journals. I nodded hello at the top-hatted porter I always see at the desk, then descended the stairs outside to see a funny little blue car, unusual for Dili. The tall, bespectacled, grey-haired driver nodded a greeting; I laughed as I passed to see it was former Timor-Leste president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta; of course that’s who you see on the street in Dili. I idled home in the sunshine and lay in the cool for a while, finishing my book, and then I slipped into a softer dress and padded up to Kaffe Uut, for writing and juice and the pursuit of health.
This is not the end of a story and I know I’ll never conquer anxiety; it’s something I exist with not something I try to expel. But this is a reminder to myself that slowness, gentleness, awareness, shedding expectations and seeking curiosities and delighting in the unusual and doing things that feel annoying and good is all good good good and it’s there, it’s the bright blue sky behind the threads of cloud, and it was a brilliant bright afternoon sun and even as the sun slips it’s still a beautiful day.