Negative feedback loops ~ why they are so hard to escape from


Negative feedback loops ~ why they are so hard to escape from


This one is from the heart!

I’ve got myself ensnared a few times this last week with situations where my head has been locked in mortal combat with intangibles. Intangibles like worry about money(Monday) worry about family(Tuesday) anxiety about work or lack thereof(Wednesday) and incandescent fury at exploitation and injustice (Thursday onwards).

I think I may have figured some of it out.

Not the answers to the worries, but rather why they become resident goblins in my skull and refuse even logic, meditation and distraction as palliatives. Last night, I was pleased with the fact that I managed to get to sleep despite my roiling skull filled with fury and righteous anger, but this morning I was awake at shortly after six and ready for battle.

The first part of the answer is imagination.

I’ve got a five star solid gold imagination and it’s sitting there twiddling its thumbs waiting for me to use it. And use it I do. When I am not writing stories, I devise strange entertaining extras to add to the shopping list just to make my husband wonder what I meant by Klingon repellent. I create tiny tableaux out of random stones and leaves. I make up silly stories on the fly, just because I can. Why why why…is my constant question, about peoples’ behaviour, clothes, the world around me. Constant questions and constant imaginational overload.

The second part is idealism.

I believe that things could be better. The world, people, me, my home, publishing, art, literature and so on. I take this further and believe that things should be better.

Put the two together and you get a potent mix. Someone who thinks things should be better and has a vivid idea of ways it might be.

The third part is a destructiveness of self that comes back to a default setting of disaster looming and the sheer hopelessness of it all.

So the very things that make me a good writer are also the things that mean I can get so entangled in certain things I am unable to extricate myself. The recent post Scammed (still protected; if you want to read it, please email me for the password) is an illustration of this. I have been unable to let it go because it presented a way for the world to be a little bit better for many people and then it failed dismally to deliver and indeed, has continued to be a serious concern. It feeds into my helplessness at making the world a better place and while I feel helpless I almost gnaw my own leg off to try and change things in some way.

There are few ways I know of to short-circuit this cycle. It usually has to run its course of sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, panic disorder and finally a sort of resolution of walking away knowing I will come back again and again.

One day maybe I will learn a way of dealing with all of this while remaining a sane human being. I suggest if I ever do, you better shoot me immediately afterwards. It’s kinder than crucifixion.

A rough night

You know how you feel when you wake up after a night on the tiles and getting home at 3am and crawling into bed and watching the room spin slowly out of control till you pass out?

That’s me, today, without the fun of the night on the tiles.

I went to bed at a sensible time, and found I couldn’t get to sleep. I might have dozed for an hour or so before waking with a heaviness in my chest and a pain all down my left arm. It got worse and I decided to get up and see if I could do something about it. I did what I usually do, and turned on the computer and googled various symptoms and came to no firm conclusion about what was wrong. I get chest pains from time to time when I am very stressed and anxious and have had my heart checked out. I’m relatively low risk for heart disease: age, gender, being a non smoker, non drinker, taker of regular exercise, healthy diet all in my favour. Only thing not in my favour is being a bit overweight. I did the mental maths and thought on balance it was almost certainly a form of panic attack, and maybe muscle strain.

So I surfed and wrote and flipped onto Facebook and found a friend up at 2am and chatted for a while. I wrote some more, I made hot milk with honey and when I was sure I wasn’t going to suddenly die in my sleep, I went back to bed at about 4am.

I had a cup of tea with my husband when he got up at 7am and went back to sleep for a while until the cat woke me up, followed shortly by husband with a tray of coffee and an apple turnover. I feel a bit fragile this morning but hopefully it’s going to pass.

What’s worrying me is not my heart, but my nerves. How did I let myself get into such a stupid state that I convinced myself I might have been having a heart attack? Surely the best explanation for my pain was having played tennis against a much younger opponent at work yesterday, and having acquitted myself quite well(ie I didn’t lose!) must surely have over used certain muscles without realising it?

I can see I am going to have to give myself a pretty stern talking-to….


I’ve just crawled out of bed an hour or two ago, after arriving home at 2.30am after a 25 hours shift. I was utterly knackered when I got in but actually I feel worse now, all muzzy and woozy.

But what makes it worse is the crippling self doubt that follows on the heels of any enterprise I undertake. The feelings that I might have messed up or not pleased, or got things wrong and not noticed. In the cold light of day, it was a good trip; nothing went wrong as such, no one got hurt, lost, robbed or otherwise inconvenienced. I think the teachers were so tired when I left them at their school at 11.30 last night that giving the humble courier any real feedback was beyond them; the leader thanked me and that ought to be enough. But I have to do these things almost in a sort of vacuum, because I haven’t ever seen anyone else do it; I’ve just had to make it up as I go along and I am terrified, no, PETRIFIED that I am somehow making a hash of it all and people are too polite/kind/reluctant to cause trouble to say anything. That was my fourth European trip; my boss is trying to make sure I get new groups where possible and she tells me she has every confidence in me. That ought to be enough. But it isn’t. As well as being worn out, I’m in a kind of inner agony in case I didn’t do as good a job as I want to do. I do this in my other job too; I worry that because the kids don’t greet me as their long lost friend that I’m not a good enough teacher.

I think I fear at a very deep level that on every level I am simply not good enough.

And I hate it. I hate the day after a party, an event, an anything because I wonder if I did OK. It’s kind of a need for approval (thank you J!) and because I have a very thin emotional skin, it all hurts.

I’m getting ready to go out to a barbeque with our Bee group this afternoon so at least I’ll have something to take my mind off it soon. But for a few days I will actually be worrying that there’ll be a letter arriving on my boss’s desk saying I was rubbish or worse, complaining I did things badly or not at all.

I do hope there isn’t any alcohol at the BBQ that I might actually like, because I feel like getting drunk and that really isn’t a great idea.

Getting ready…or not!

OK, where’s my passport?

Right, I put it in my messenger bag with the company euros and my euros.

So where’s the bag? Ah, I see it, next to my rucksack for a day’s supplies of food and my clipboard. Is my itinerary still in the clipboarc? Yes, and my notes and the ferry booking and the sweet factory booking. Calm down, no one has touched them.

Where’s my phone? Where’s my freakin’ phone? Like I said, calm down, it’s in the other room charging up.

Company motto: P.M. T. It stands for Passport, Money, Tickets. If you got those, everything else is irrelevant. Actually, it’s the informal motto. I don’t think we have an official motto. It also stands for Pre-Menstrual Tension which about sums up the state I get into immediately before a trip.

I panic, briefly and quietly about everything. I’m full of what ifs and anxiety. I check things six times. If I do this I may have a chance of dropping off to sleep tonight, because my working day tomorrow starts at 1.30am and ends at 2.30am on Saturday. So I’ll be off to bed around 7pm tonight, having hung up my clothes ready in the spare room, and packed everything but the perishables in the rucksack. When I get up at 1am, I’ll fill my flask with boiling water, stuff my sarnies in the rucksack, slap on some makeup and be on the doorstep in time for my boss to ferry me to the coach depot. I aim to have a doze on the coach before we get to the school I’m escorting to Boulogne for the day because once we start, I can’t sleep; I’m on duty then.

So shortly I’m off down to Tesco’s to get my supplies (the budget for day trips is so tight there’s no spare for food; this isn’t a problem but it does mean I need to take what I need) then I shall transfer all I need from my usual capacious handbag into the rucksack and messenger bag. The messenger bag is for vital items I won’t let leave my body, like passport and so on, and the rest of the stuff is made up of things that make travel more congenial, like wet wipes and so on.

I’m going to be away from home about 26 hours, all told, maybe a little less. I do enjoy these trips; I wish I got more of them and the plan is that I will. I’ve got an overnighter provisonally booked for November already, and others that are in the pipeline, like a five day trip along the Rhine next year. They are exhausting in the extreme but very rewarding.

The trouble is I run around like a blue arsed fly the day before as I make sure I have everything. I’ve even asked my boss to get me to show her my passport before we leave my road. I like the belt and braces approach; I’d hate to end up with an involuntary debagging because of lack of forethought.

So wish me luck!

The Little Ease

Much of today I’ve felt on the brink of tears. No special reason; nothing dreadful has happened. I’ve misplaced my wedding ring; not my original one, that has long been to small, but one we bought two years ago. I suspect the faeries have borrowed it but it’s sent me scurrying in corners and turning out piles of books and magazines, and making me anxious in the process. Correction: more anxious.

Those of you who are here regularly will know I have a tendency to suffer from anxiety, though externally I rarely show it. My mask is one of unflappability. But inside I am often a seething mass of undefined and unfocussed anxiety.

Let me now introduce you to my companion of late: The Little Ease. I couldn’t find a picture so I will write you one instead.

The Little Ease was a delightful invention of the oh-so-inventive middle ages, and is basically a device for torture. Before you start imagining thumb screws and Iron maidens, the Little Ease was rather more subtle than those imposters. It wasn’t designed to cripple or maim. Well, not quickly anyway. It consisted of a small metal cage with several strategically placed spikes; don’t worry about the spikes, they’re almost decorative. The cage admitted one, though I suspect some devillish bastard doubled up the occupants for fun. It wasn’t long enough to lie down in, nor tall enough to stand up in, and the spikes(remember the spikes, oh my best beloved?) was so placed as to stop the occupant from sitting down. That’s it: the Little Ease.

Doesn’t sound so bad does it?

Think again. You can’t straighten out or stretch or lie down or even just sit. You are trapped in a perpetual crouch. You can’t lean against anything because of the spikes. If you drop off to sleep in that crouch, you fall and bash your face against the point of a spike.

People were put in them for years.


One man apparently lived in one for seventeen years and when released lived to a respectable old age.

I don’t know about his age beforehand or his mental health afterwards either.

Now imagine you are in that cage with the amusing name.

Nasty isn’t it?

That’s what my head inside feels like this evening. I can’t get comfortable to save my life; I can’t find a posture that isn’t agony after an hour or two. I don’t know when they’re coming to let me out and I can’t even remember who put me in here.

I have a seminar for work this evening (unpaid) and maybe that might be why I’ve been feeling so anxious, as there’s a lot going on that I dislike and find upsetting. I’ve tried meditating but I keep getting the error message.

So if you happen to be walking past my personal little ease, do me a favour, if you can’t fetch me the key, at least chuck me a pillow or something!