Central Park: soothing the pressure of being in NYC. Photo: @createsima / freeimages.com
For some, extreme sports is leaping into a canyon attached to a rubber rope or swimming with sharks. For others, it is opening the front door and walking out.
I am nearer the latter. After 18 months in my attic, followed by a couple of months touring UK bookshops, I am back in the business of touring the world with Professor Brian Cox. My job is to interrupt him at moments of audience peak confusion and occasionally read a poem. I have gone no further than Belfast since March 2020, but now there are far wider seas to cross and it is making me anxious.
Like many in lockdown, isolation and lack of distraction led to a discovery that was staring me in the face for decades but which I had managed to elude. In August last year, Jamie Knight, co-host of the podcast 1800 Seconds on Autism, contacted me. We had never met, but he had been following my work for a while. We had a long chat after which he said, “You do realise that every answer you have given strongly points to you having ADHD.”
It is something audience members have been saying to me for years, but I have brushed it aside out of the fear that it would look like I was showing off. At the same time, as Jamie broke it down, it made total sense on many levels.
It provided a moment of strenuous clarity. I thought I’d better tell my wife this had been suggested. I expected her to be unimpressed. Instead, she welcomed it.
Her reaction was, “That would be brilliant. See, because I’ve always thought you were bipolar.”
I have still not had an official diagnosis and I am not sure if I will, but it did make me decide to see if I could find something to quieten the incessant voice in my head.
Unfortunately, I started the SSRIs a few weeks before the tour, not realising that they drag you down before they show you any light. Having spent such a long time surrounded by the familiar, by quietness and birdsong and now blossom, returning to the touring world, to the noise of cramped and frantic life all around us, seemed threatening. I felt like the first passenger of automated steam travel, fretting that the speed of the world would atomise me.
The trouble with anxiety is that the grooves were carved in your brain a long time ago. Your rational mind can’t just smooth them out with reason. The anxiety imagination is both fertile and comes from an old bit of the brain that might not even understand language.
After much thought and worry, I did send an email to two of the people I will be travelling with, just to admit that my anxiety is peaking of late. It will not cure it, but maybe it will reduce just a bit of the internal pressure. I received a friendly email back reminding me that we will be in Central Park on Wednesday night punching each other in the sunlight, and possibly watched over by the Mad Hatter too.
My mind played a series of unhelpful sketches of fleeing from the airport terminal or going insane on the flight (maybe I should say “visibly insane”).
At 6.30am, I reached the airport. Nine hours later, I was lying on a bed in Manhattan, listening to honking drivers and machinery of the city. I turn on the television. I am straight into one of those medical adverts that lists every possible distressed bowel movement, angry rash or aneurysm this miracle cure may cause as it attempts to heal you by killing you another way.
If you don’t supply your own anxiety, the advertising industry can always help you out if the 24-hour news channel hasn’t got you already.
Worrying about tomorrow’s long car journey to Washington DC, I remind myself that I have done this all before and I can do this all again.
Robin Ince is an author and broadcaster @robinince
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