Can you protect yourself from the anxiety of the unknown?
My skin is peeling, dry and flaky, and I have yet another bump on my head; that’s 3 in three weeks. Also, newsflash: you can’t live in a van with a sick and slightly senile dog. By start of week 4, I can’t take any more of watching the poor mutt suffer, and I retreat home, back to my old house, the place I don’t want to go.
Strangely enough, we settle in quickly, the familiarity of it making the transition smooth, like I never left. The first thing I do is buy food and stock my fridge, a brand new cold-box with glass shelves and ample space, bought by me to replace the old yoke I’d previously had for thirteen years. It served me well, the old one, teaching me how to efficiently store food.
That fridge was part of the system that taught me how to manage IBS. The new fridge is helping me manage my anxieties. How? It’s all about environment. Set your surroundings up to take care of you, and it’s easier to take care of yourself. It’s not rocket science but it does take prep.
Not just learning how to shop, prepare and store weeks of healthy meals, but also knowing what your body needs to sustain it, keep it strong. Van-life was compromising my immune system because I couldn’t get the food I needed to stay strong. The dog was sick because I was.
THE COMFORT OF THE FAMILIAR
Discipline is freedom. This is a motto that the novelist Jeanette Winterson drummed into my classmates and I, as course director of my Masters in Creative Writing. She was referring to the habit of writing, of setting up time to do it every day so that it becomes automatic and you’re not plagued my feelings of dread and ineptitude. It’s a motto that applies to everything.
Living in the van has shown me just how impossible it is for people who don’t have a structured environment to pull themselves out of a rut. The word I’d use to describe it is Immediate with a capital I. Every day is a rush just to cover the basics, water, food, and shelter. When your mind is busy battling those concerns, there’s no time for reflection or planning.
Discipline helps but the grind wears you down. There are moments of intense beauty that make it all worthwhile, but the grind is ever-present, gobbling up time and energy. Van-life demands a clear schedule and lots of flexibility. These are not things I have. What I have is discipline: to eat a specific way and write every day. Van-life is getting in the way.
Two days into home-life and the dog sleeps a lot. She trembles too, seems disorientated. Agonising to watch. But at least I can offer her the comfort of the familiar to ease her suffering. This house is the only home she’s ever known. It’s where she wants to die.
THE TRAP OF THE FAMILIAR
If I stay in the house, I will die. Living there, I’m surrounded by footpaths and walls so familiar, they trap me because I know I could easily stay there forever. On day two, I go back to the gym, my gym, where I went for six years and learned how to lift weights, train, get in shape.
All the old faces there. Same cheesy hip-hop music on the sound system. Some new machines, as cheap as the old stuff. I love this place. But the thought of spending another six years there is depressing. A bigger problem is the house.
While being home is reminding me that indoor plumbing is ingenious and I have access to shops, bank and beach all within walking distance, I can no longer work there. The house was my office for years, a quiet nook hidden back off the street. Then, the street changed.
Years ago, the only sounds at sunset were the starlings flying overhead and the church bells. Now, it’s drunken waffle and kids playing video games. But the real problem is the person I was when I lived in the house no longer exists. It was easy to inhabit a new me in new surroundings. Will it be so easy surrounded by the familiar?
FACING THE UNKNOWN
When chaos hits, the only place to find stability is in yourself. It takes me a couple of days to find a happy medium that works for me and the dog. She likes that I’m out of the house in the morning and she gets to snooze while I’m at the gym. In the afternoon, I use my van as a place to write, parked up in a quiet corner of town, away from the hustle of my street.
It takes just a few home-cooked meals and one gym visit to centre me. I follow my old routine, visiting known shops to buy food. I take utensils out of the van and bring them back to the house. Honestly, right now, some days, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. So, I do what I know, what’s reliable.
I start small. I prepare food. Apple and cinnamon bread. Chicken pesto salad wraps. Pre-gym snack is fresh strawberries and hazelnut nut butter. Post-gym meal is a spinach and chicken burger, asparagus and hummus. When I take care of myself in this way, I feel saner, less anxious.
The dog is quiet again. When she’s calm, I’m calm. I eke out a work schedule at home, unsure which pressing task to hit first, especially when all the paths ahead of me are unknown. Again, I pick the known, the thing I can rely on: I open my laptop and write. Though really, I’m itching to return to the outdoors.
If you want updates on my journey into van-life to overcome the challenges of IBS, make sure to hit that follow button.
What good habits or hobbies do you have to help you feel centered? How much time do you spend each week doing those things? How can you do more of them?
If you need an eating plan to help you manage the challenges of IBS, get in touch today at firstname.lastname@example.org