LIZ JONES’S DIARY: In which I try to tackle my anxiety

I thought I would use the time on lockdown to…

  1. Finish my second novel.
  2. Give up alcohol.
  3. Conquer my extreme anxiety.

Progress report. I have finished number one. Ninety thousand words of a thriller, its heroine a 50-something sexual predator. Simples!

Giving up alcohol, not so much.

Abbey Lossing at handsomefrank.com

I was never much of a drinker. Last week, I wrote about a holiday to Portugal in 1983. I’d found a photo of me sitting in a café. Next to me is a coffee cup, not a glass or bottle in sight. I was the person who at the end of dinner, when the bill arrived, would say, ‘Well, as I didn’t have any wine my share can’t possibly be that much.’ I can’t imagine going on holiday now – or to a hotel, or out to lunch – without a glass of something bubbly at my wrist. In my previous house – the one I didn’t so much lose, as was forced to sell – I waited two years before I could afford a kitchen. So, overnight, my still half-full M&S English sparkling wine would be put in a bucket of water by the back door to keep cold. These days, there is no half bottle left. It takes every fibre of my being not to open a second one.

And number three? I have enrolled on a (virtual) course of cognitive behavioural therapy with a man I had a couple of sessions of hypnotherapy with. He isn’t allowed to do hypnosis over Zoom, as that could be dangerous, but he can do CBT which I don’t think I’ve tried. It involves being aware of your triggers and learning techniques to tackle them. Week one’s homework is to breathe through my nose, to the count of ten, three times a day. I don’t have time to do that. Even on lockdown I do everything at speed. Not just because I’ve worked to Fleet Street deadlines for more than 30 years, but as I’m always fearful about what’s next. I unload shopping at speed, desperate to check my phone. I walk the puppies at speed, relieved to be home because that means we’re safe. I realise the reason I chose a scary career – landing in LA to do an ‘insider exposé’ of the Oscars without a ticket or contacts; war zones; earthquakes – is because if I’m scared of going in the Co-op, it doesn’t matter what else I do: it’s all terrifying. That’s why this pandemic hasn’t fazed me. I already know life is scary. You’re in my world now.

In the first session, he asked for my earliest memory. I told him, feeling like Diane Keaton in a Woody Allen movie, that I’m in a pram and my mum is wheeling me to pick up my sister from primary school. When we get there, my sister turfs me out of the pram and sits in it. My mum does nothing. I have to toddle; contrary to popular belief, Essex has hills.

The therapist, Philip Naniewski, knows nothing about my past troubles. But he said something shockingly prophetic: ‘It was as though she was evicting you from your home, your safe place.’ He thinks that one event triggered a lifetime of anxiety. I learned early on to placate her, and everyone else.

He told me I have to make time to breathe, to practise mindfulness, that I must learn to put myself first. I told him my mum was a martyr: with seven children to feed, she had to be. And that I hate (though secretly envy) entitled princesses: the Meghans of this world who believe they’re at the centre of the universe. He told me to think of myself as if I’m on a plane and an oxygen mask is dangling in front of me; I have to put it on first or I’m of no use to anyone.

Ostensibly, he’s helping me get back on my horse after the nasty fall last Easter. But it’s more than that. It’s exhausting being nervous. When I wake in the morning, the first thing my brain does is scrabble around for something I should be worried about, then it latches on like a spring lamb on a teat.

In session two, he asks if I’m leaning on alcohol. I swerve the question, saying I’d once been prescribed antidepressants but had been too nervous to swallow them. I will tell him next week. I promise.

To contact Liz tweet #lizjonesgoddess or visit lizjonesgoddess.com