Much Ado about Nothing


5am. Not a great time for my Mind to wake up. My Body objected. He just wanted to stay in the warmth and softness of the duvet. So his eyes registered the low numbers on the clock and transmitted this information to my Mind. Then he buried himself under the duvet, in the expectation that the Mind would realise its error and switch itself back to snooze for another couple of hours in our Danish hotel room.

No such luck. My Mind was up and running, frantically analysing some problem as a matter of great urgency. The real culprits were my Emotions. They had woken first in a bit of a panic, tapped my Mind on the shoulder and poured out their issues. And now my ever-so helpful Mind was desperately trying to help.

With all this commotion going on in its head, my Body reluctantly dragged itself out of bed, like a somnambulist parent disturbed by his noisy children. There was no prospect of sleep. Besides it has some excess liquid to dispense with.

So what was the issue the Emotions had tossed to my Mind to solve? It was all about how to get my Body home on a plane. My Body was fine with that – an opportunity to rest and sample the all-inclusive coffee. But my Emotions simply did not relish the prospect. Flying itself was not the problem, but they have a big issue with small spaces. Particularly small spaces shared with other people and especially where there is no immediate escape route. Fight, or flight 2512, anyone?

So my Emotions employed my Mind on the job of solving it, whilst sending alarm signals to my Body, which simply made its stomach churn. The problem was that my Mind had volunteered for a task it was clearly unable to complete. Toss it a logical problem and it is in its element. Fixing feelings is like asking a plasterer to mend a burst pipe. The wrong man for the job.

It was a horribly familiar and unpleasant feeling. Maybe it is foreign hotels which do this to me. Previous early morning anxieties have ambushed me in America, India and Hungary. This time it was Denmark. My Mind had already worked out that in each case it was a left-handed hotel room on a high floor. Very helpful, Miss Marple, I don’t think.

When your Emotions suffer from an unpredictable and unpleasant reaction, your Mind examines every piece of evidence for the logical cause of crisis. Like solving a crime or rooting out an allergy. If the Mind knew why, he could find an alternative, or at least a way of managing it.

More likely our early morning crisis was a result of a late evening with my colleague Jonna, comparing notes on our previous anxiety attacks, encouraged by one too many glasses of red wine. His Achilles heel is claustrophobia.  Mine is being trapped. Subtly different conditions, but we both struggle in planes and go out of our ways to secure an aisle seat. We are two people you will never find sat together in economy.

The last thing I had done before going to bed was to check-in online. There were only a few seats left. I prefer to be at the front with fewer people between me and the door. I found an aisle seat, but it was at the back of the plane. I was not very happy as I lay down.

So I had gone to bed with anxiety pregnant in my head – at least as a subject – and woken with it screaming at me like a new-born baby. At 5am. Waaaaaaaaaah.

This is the thing about anxiety. It can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Worrying about anxiety feeds more anxiety. It inflates itself into a monster balloon until it bursts and then flies around the room in a demented and unpredictable panic.

So my Emotions were stressing themselves about flying home in my Body in a non-preferred seat, on a small plane, which we also knew was going to be full.

I had been unpredictably calm on the plane out. The man next to me had stared at a movie on his iPad throughout the flight and then every now and again he would dart his head like a budgie to look out of the window. He was clearly in trouble, and his “escape route” method was to be near the window.

My latest method is to try to separate my Mind from my Emotions – a mindfulness technique. My Mind is allowed to observe my Emotions, but not to analyse them or solve their problems. “How interesting” my Mind may say as it witnesses my Emotions reacting in a certain way. But it resists trying to help, because that would only inflame the situation. He just lets them pass by and spectates rather than participates.

This is about living in the present, and not examining the past (how did this happen?) or worrying about the future (what is going to happen and what am I going to do about it?). Rather, we concentrate on being in touch with the physical reality of the here and now.

Therefore, I went outside with my camera, the ideal machine for helping you live in the present and focussing (literally) on your physical reality. Even at 5.15am on an industrial estate outside Copenhagen.

And yes, even at 5.15am on an industrial estate outside Copenhagen, there are very present shapes and reflections and the warm orange glow of an early sunrise to dislodge transient thoughts of small planes.

Maybe it was this, or maybe just the freezing air, which calmed down my Mind and with it my Emotions. I was reasonably okay for the rest of the day – refusing to think about the flight home until I had to.

At the airport, I inevitably wondered how I would be. I prepared myself my starting to read a book in the lounge, so that my Mind could be hooked into the story by the time we got on board. I set up my iPod ready to distract if necessary. I told myself that the quickest way home was to get inside this plane.

I was still remarkably calm and when they announced a 30 minute delay to change a tyre. Would my Emotions start to panic and drown when I got on board?  Would my Mind enthusiastically jump in after them and attempt to pull them out? Then there would be all that thrashing around as the rescuer gets pulled under by the sinking man. Or would they decide to tell my Body to get up and demand to be allowed off the aircraft? And if we survived all of that, would every subsequent second feel like a tortuous step on a tightrope across a bottomless ravine?

As we got off the bus on the tarmac, I decided to be the last person to board. This was partly about minimising the time inside the prison, but also because I am particularly phased by the log-jam of people trying to put cases in lockers whilst other people squeeze past.

I paused as I approached the steps up to the plane. I turned round and drank in the beautiful early –evening sky. The sun was painting a streak of subtle yellows across the soft silvery clouds. I breathed in the cool crisp fresh Scandinavian air. My spirits lightened.

We are not our Mind or our Emotions, or even our Body. We are ourselves, and they are our servants. As I calmly walked the length of the plane to my seat, I think I knew I was going to be fine.

  2 comments for “Much Ado about Nothing

  1. March 24, 2014 at 7:22 am

    That sounds like every plane journey I have ever taken and I’ve taken rather a lot 🙂

    • March 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      It is variable for me – trip back and forth from Denmark this week hardly caused a murmur, but then I did secure aisle seats and near the emergency exits!

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