Sounds like a CBeebies character doesn’t it? A small furry purple thing whose tail goes boingggg! and puffs out a farty cloud. Except it’s me. During a particularly stressful moment yesterday I realised, to my intense embarrassment, that a bayaaaaad smell was wafting up from my armpits, impervious to triple strength deodorant, a good showering, or the fact that it was -10 degrees outside.
This, along with other unpleasant physical symptoms (racing heartbeat, lack of appetite, spots and boring my loved ones stupid by obsessively going over and over the source of my anxiety) have appeared on and off throughout my life. You see, as well as being prone to depression, I also get very anxious and jittery. Yes I know – I’m a real prize.
This stinky worrywarting though – I noticed it first a few years ago when I was temping. I sat in a tiny, crowded office, and the Office Manager insisted on giving me an hour’s training even though I was only going to be there for a day! Then as I sat trying to type, I realised that a stinky pit smell was wafting up from my armpit. Specifically my left armpit. Horrors! I’d only put deodorant under my right arm!
It was dreadful. I sat with my left arm clamped to my side like a secretarial Quasimodo, struggling to type, feeling myself get redder and redder in the face. And stinkier in the pit. It crept up into the atmosphere like a miasma of evil. At one point someone stuck their head round the door, furrowed her brow, flapped her hand in front of her face and glanced at me. That was the longest afternoon of my life and I’m sure my name in that office will be forever writ large as The Stinky Temp.
I get particularly anxious when I feel undermined and attacked. I’m doing some creative writing teaching, and having been on both sides of the fence, know how it feels to have your writing criticised. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that some people take the slightest hint of criticism as a full on attack. Unlike the real world where people will either ignore your work, or that one time at Random House when my irascible boss picked up the phone to an unpublished writer and shouted: “Your book is utter shit sir!”. However, I’m expected to examine minutely and frame comforting but rigorous critical feedback on work. But there will always be those who equate constructive criticism as a personal attack, just as there are also those who believe that their exclusion from the Booker shortlist is due to the massive conspiracy against new writers. As W.B Yeats said: “The best lack all conviction, the worst are full of a passionate intensity.”
But not only do I stink when wracked with anxiety, one half of my brain is metaphorically wringing its hands and getting into a state, while the other half is sternly admonishing and pointing out that this is ridiculous and it will all blow over. Don’t be ridiculous I shout at myself. It’s like one half is worrying and the other half is telling me off about it.
After a few days of calming emails, gentle encouragement and Super Strength deodorant I’ve stopped smelling. And started to think of how one person’s mild anxiety is a nervous breakdown to another. My mother rang me. “I’m so glad I’ve done my Christmas card list” she sighed. “It was really bothering me.” I mentally rolled my eyes. Then I thought of Barack Obama, who always seems cool and collected. With the whole world on his shoulders.