There are times when I am able to convince myself that my anxiety is a good thing, that working myself up into a frenzy is the way forward. In my mind’s eye I am like ‘the Flash’, moving at super speed, able to do multiple things at once, thinking through problems at 100mph…
‘How can this not be positive?’ I will think, as I simultaneously load the dishwasher, feed the cats and send work emails, ‘If I calmed down, I would never get anything done!’
Of course, when I step back from the scene – laptop covered in catfood, cat bowl full of soap, cat sat in dishwasher looking annoyed – I realise I am wrong. And then I feel sad, frustrated and more anxious. It’s a vicious circle.
Over the course of my alphabetterings I’ve developed several strategies to calm myself down and, for the most part, this has been working. I am less frantic, more relaxed. But… the last couple of weeks have been difficult.
My car died, buying a new car made money tight, I spent 3 consecutive weeks away from home, A PHD application was looming, I needed to be applying for jobs, I was struggling to sleep. I kept the panic at bay, knowing I had 2 weeks off to get all of these things done. Plenty of time. Then I got sick and spent 9 days in bed unable to even attempt to get through my ‘To do’ list and with more things being added to the end of it daily. When I finally recovered from my physical ailments, my anxiety was worse than ever. The mental list of things I needed to do seemed unmanageable. I walked in to the living room on Monday night and collapsed in a heap next to my husband Jim.
I’ve got too much stuff to do and I’m going away again on Sunday and I’m just going to have to work the whole time until then and the cats hate me now and I can’t pay any of the bills and no one is ever going to give me a job and I’ve put on half a Stone and I’m not ready for the Race For Life and I can’t think of a Q activity and I’ve just put salt in my tea instead of sugar and MY WHOLE LIFE IS SPIRALING OUT OF CONTROL!!!!!
Jim, used to dealing with outbursts like this, made me a new cup of tea, sat me down and said ‘You seriously need to blow off some steam, reset your brain’. Then his face lit up, ‘Q is for Quasar!’ he smiled, ‘You should go and shoot stuff! It’ll be cathartic’. I remained unconvinced, but ‘Q’ isn’t the easiest letter to plan for and finding something to do was high on my priority list for the week. When I found out games typically last just 20 minutes I booked in, that would give me plenty of time to get everything else done too! I fitted a game into my Thursday schedule (in between ringing British Gas and hanging out the washing).
Quasar (sometimes called Laser quest or Laser tag) was developed by the United States Army in the 1970s to be used in combat training. Then in 1977, while watching Star Wars, a man called George Carter III had the idea of designing an arena based game (which he called ‘Photon’). The aim of the game is to tag an opponents’ vest using a hand-held laser ‘gun’ as many times as possible within a given time frame. Games take place in centres which are typically dark with UV paint, black light and fog – a bit like the set of Running Man.
Spending half an hour talking to British Gas had put me in the mood to kill things so I was quite excited as I walked down to the Laser quest centre in Bristol. I did wonder though… would anyone else be there at 1pm on a Thursday? Walking in, I saw I needn’t have worried. A group of about 5 people were waiting for the next game to start, I paid my money and was lead into the airlock to ‘kit up’. I put on my vest, was handed a gun and then we sat through a safety talk which also covered some basic rules ‘don’t cover your sensors’ ‘don’t climb on the walls’ etc. Everyone else seemed to be taking the situation very seriously, like we were actual soldiers, but I just felt silly. Like I had dressed up as a spaceman. The whole situation seemed ridiculous, especially considering all the other important things I could’ve been doing.
We walked into the arena, the countdown started and it suddenly felt more real. Actual people were shooting at me. I couldn’t see them, of course, but could tell because my vest was vibrating and my gun was powering down. I spent the first few minutes wandering bewildered around the maze just trying to work out where everybody was. The others had a field day, notching up hit after hit. I hunkered down in a corner. This wouldn’t do – I was here to shoot, not to be shot!! I saw a guy heading towards me, targeted his vest and shot. He span round, and I smiled before scampering away. Brilliant.
From there on I just kept going. Sneaking around corners, creeping up on people – I felt like an assassin. Or like Princess Leia escaping from stormtroopers. Or like Katniss Everdeen escaping from the Careers. Yes, I still got shot but I was also managing to do some damage in return. My lack of strategy seemed to be working in my favour and I just kept finding myself in the right place at the right time – the others were all too busy targeting each other. I could just sneak past, shoot a couple of times and run away. I wasn’t scared or intimidated and I certainly wasn’t anxious.
Before long the game was over and we were given our scores. I knew there was no chance I would come first, but as they kept going I realised there was a distinct chance I would be last. I frowned, maybe I’m not such a badass after all. And then it happened, someone there did worse than me. A poor guy called Tim who was there with work colleagues was beaten by me, a small frightened girl. Brilliant. And it was my fault! Unbeknownst to me, not being able to tell in the gloom, I had managed to shoot him more than anyone else. Poor Tim.
I walked away from Quasar feeling confident and pleased with myself. More importantly, I felt calm. In the thick of combat, my mind had quieted itself. I strolled along, enjoying the sunshine, even taking a detour to look at the narrowboats. And I stayed calm, even when I got home to my massive ‘To do’ list. That afternoon, I was more productive than I had been in weeks.
Quasar was a lot more fun than I had thought it would be, and it did the job – resetting my brain box so I could start from fresh. And the best news? I now have another strategy for next time I’m flustered – head out on a killing spree. Simples.