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How To Fight Anxiety with a Trash Picker

Hot flash after hot flash, the incessant hunt for the perfect cover, not too heavy, not too thin- the nights are never-ending. Going to sleep is more like going to war nowadays, it requires a good amount of preparation, a great amount of effort during slumber, and there’s no guaranteed victory. As a matter of fact, defeat is way more likely.

I measure the outcome of the battle going on in the dark based on the results of my Oura ring (a sleep/activity and heart rate variability monitor) and on the energy, mood and creativity of the following day. I keep track of all the of variables on an Excel spreadsheet.

With the drop in my estrogen making capacity and my estrogen levels, there came a great anxiety. And, it’s a new kind of anxiety: it’s eco-anxiety (this is an actual term, borrowed from the American Psychological Association). I’ve always struggled with anxiety- I remember having my first panic attack at the age of 10, when I didn’t do so well at a math test that was specifically made very difficult, to gauge critical thinking and creativity in aspiring 5th graders. My anxiety reached a peak and wreaked havoc in my life during my early immigrant years, and slowly, after years of furious reading and learning how to control it, has sort of melted in the background of my life, became an enduring fixture, like some kind of wallpaper on one’s office wall that one doesn’t particularly like, but one don’t necessarily have any resources left at the moment to replace or paint over.

The one sign that the big A was taking over was irritability. And the recipient of this irritability was always my husband, the love of my life. It is almost like I could never admit to this debilitating irritation to even myself- but then it would show up in my dearest and most loving of relationships, and then I knew there was time to do something about it.

My better half was always scared when I showed up draped in impatience, he couldn’t avoid the fictional red angry colours flashing at him, darts flowing from my mouth and eyes and generally feeling like my energy was going to overwhelm and eventually engulf him and whoever else was around me at the time. But he learned to overcome his terror, and also learned that just holding me in his arms would lead to unexpectedly pleasant outcomes, for example, a complete taming of the beast, and eventually, the beast crumbling down in a massive pool of tears.

The most recent unfolding of this precise sequence of events: low estrogen- hot flashes- disrupted sleep- irritability- lashing out- just arose yesterday, and due to the newly acquired skills of my love, the beast was pacified and tears poured freely.

This time, the focal point of anxiety was the destruction of the planet and the environment, or in other words, eco-anxiety. The more my dearest held me, the more I was able to feel my despair at the fate of the animals and at the cruelty and mindlessness of the human race. Imagining wildlife being displaced and suffering because of global warming was agonising. The tragic future of the human race (mostly my children) was unfolding in front of me with deplorable clarity: no breathable air, no drinkable water, and a scorching hot planet where life was barely sustainable. The Apocalypse was unfolding in my mind at a very rapid speed.

So my dear husband, in his frenzied resourcefulness, asked me to go trash picking- yes, you heard me right. He asked me to take a large bag, along with the dazzlingly brilliant device known as a trash-picker, and bright fluorescent gloves and pick up all the trash on my usual morning walk route.

I might not be saving the planet all in one day, but I don’t feel so helpless any longer. Trash picking might be completely meaningless and low impact, but a journey of one thousand miles starts with one step. This is my first.

Corina Fratila, M.D.

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