Inviting the World In or Self-Care?

I’ve stupidly invited the outside world in.


I needed the distraction, I thought. I needed to being so self-centred and fascinated by my own navel, my petty little worries, my anxiety about the next few months.

People who refuse to engage with the reality around them, who retreat to their ivory towers, are despicable. Or so we thought back in the days just after the fall of Communism, when we were ashamed that there were so few dissident Romanian writers compared to those in Russia or Poland or Czechoslovakia.

So I opened up the doors and, instead of switching off the internet at night, I now check it during those long nights when I cannot sleep. I let the world in, with its mad melee of cacophonous sounds and barking, lies and ridicule, entrenched positions, animosity, rabid language and ugliness. I cannot unsee it now. And I am frightened. I feel like a small boat buffeted by shrieking winds and roaring waves, skin sliced open by hailstorms, head ready to rip open, a driftwood swollen to unnatural proportions.

I still function perfectly well on the outside: no one who has ever worked with me would believe I suffer from constant, if low-level, anxiety and depression. However, the toll of this ‘ability to muddle through’ is quite high at times and I wonder how much more of this constant assault on the senses (including common-sense) one can take. When you wake up daily to heated debates about crowd sizes, border walls, banning Muslims, the efficacy of torture, making Britain global again while keeping those nasty cockroaches like myself out… how long before you start accepting it as the inevitable status quo? How long before your health and mind starts to give up?

There is no doubting the impact it has had on my writing already. I struggle with prose, while the poetry I produce feels uncouth, full of sludge and invectives. My lack of productivity may not be a great loss to the world, but I wonder how many other artists and writers (far above my level) are struggling too.

For those who say that great literature was produced by dissidents, there is some truth in that. However, that usually happened during the periods of relative stability following the mass shifts, when the despair of ‘nothing will ever change for the better’ started to kick in. We will never quite know how many more fell into silence. As Akhmatova says:

And how many poems I have not written
Whose secret chorus swirls around my head
And possibly one day
Will stifle me…

I realised only recently that I gave up any form of creative writing during the other period of my life (from 1991-94 onwards), when I felt the same level of rootlessness, anxiety and despair at humanity. I blamed it on academic work, moving abroad, then joining the corporate huddled masses and the magic roundabout of marriage and children, but it all started before that, when I became distressed by the collapse of hope in a democracy that wouldn’t be equated with wild, rampant, cruel capitalism. My ‘escape’ back then was Cambridge and the friends I made there, and Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper.

But at the time, it was only one portion of the world that seemed to be going mad. Now the lunacy is engulfing the whole world. I stopped writing for 20 years then. I just hope it won’t be that long again now.


P. S. The examples of animal friendship and compassion in the current BBC documentary series ‘Spy in the Wild’ help a little, while simultaneously making me wonder if animals are not superior to humans.

34 thoughts on “Inviting the World In or Self-Care?”

  1. Animals superior to humans? That’s not even a question if you’re talking about cats at first. This I know. For the other animals? I suppose, but no guarantee

    1. You should have seen those monkeys and elephants mourning their dead, wolves searching together for a lost cub, just unexpected empathy and collaboration from creatures who are supposedly without our fine ‘humane’ feelings.

  2. The world is a scary place in many ways, Marina Sofia. I don’t wonder in the least bit that you feel that sort of anxiety and rootlessness. I have to be measured, myself, about the amount of the world that I let in, and when I let it happen. I do know just how you feel on that score. I’ve found that it helps to concentrate on what is good around me. I know – too idealistic, perhaps. But I find that, when I feel that anxiety, if I focus on something good, however ridiculously small, I feel better able to handle the rest of it all.

    1. I’ve adopted the ‘cookie jar full of good things’ approach: I jot down on paper any good things that I notice around me and put them in the tin to peruse at times when it appears the bad will win. Simple, but effective little trick.

  3. Animals *are* superior to humans – despite the wonderful art of all types we’ve created, we’ve managed to nearly destroy the planet and create a world full of hate. I’m trying to do a Bowie and ignore it out of existence but it ain’t working…. ☹️

  4. It’s gotten to be a bit much lately. Back in December, the Queen of England suggested taking a deep breath ahead of this new year, and it’s wise advice. Yesterday I started a self-imposed 10 day period of total abstinence from press, TV and online news. Feeling lighter already…

  5. Is sad but very true post Marina. I can’t afford to let too much of the world in otherwise I’d cease to function which would cause immeasurable damage to those close to me – not a new strategy for me.

    1. You understand perfectly! I’ve just joined the Ramblers’ Association and will be walking, exercising and getting a bit away from the news in an attempt to self-soothe.

  6. I have been doing the same – reading too much, watching too many news bulletins/online videos- I have completely freaked myself out. This weekend I have rationed my news intake to much smaller amounts. I feel much better, but I at least feel calmer. Just sad. Animals are far superior to humans, they act only according to instinct and the natural order of things. As a race humans seem only capable of repeating the mistakes of the past, and failing to learn from our own terrible history.

  7. I’ve decided to shut some of the world out – no more Channel 4 News for me, restricted amount of discussion of politics with partner and friends, trying not to spend too much time in the Twitter echo chamber. It’s helped a little. It’s tough trying to find a way of informing yourself without drowning in all the misery out there but I hope you find one that suits you.

  8. Animals are superior. I don’t doubt it.
    I react like you normally but not right now. Maybe I feel less alone. I see the world around me reacting like me. Scared, shocked. Before, like Cassandra, I was always the only one to see it.

  9. Dearest Marina, I’m with you in fear and low-level anxiety, especially given the state of the headlines. I would suggest two things: one, do not rely on social media for your news; it overwhelms by sheer volume, and the stories one reads there are often hard to corroborate. Find a news outlet that seems reputable—does their fact-checking, protects their journalists—and try to get most of your news from there, tuning out the Twitter maelstrom. Two: choose one or two—at most, three—organisations to which you can donate either your time or your money, even if only a little. I always want to change the whole world all at once, but that can be counterproductive; knowing that I’m giving regularly to an abortion access fund in my home state, though, makes me feel I’m doing at least one concrete thing to fight back.

  10. Don’t they say, the more I know humans, the more I love my dog? 😬. But take my advice, browsing the net is a recipe for insomnia… A good book is a lot better at night. And jotting down a few good things every day works wonders, as does nature (in my case, riding- horses are great conveyors of positive energy).

  11. I understand how you feel, it’s pretty terrifying to see what’s going on out there and there’s a terrible sense of powerlessness. There is so little we can actually do. That being said, it feels wrong to look away. But then I think self-care is possibly the best we can do until such time as there is something we can do to make a difference and then the self-care will perhaps have made us strong enough to do it. So wait and look after yourself and remember you’re not alone however lonely it may feel at times.

  12. Yes, it’s never-ending at the moment, isn’t it? I go back and forwards between despair and a feeling that we’re reaching a tipping point, and the world will sway back to normality, but maybe with us in the liberal elite having a better understanding of why this has all happened. In a sense, the fact that Trump is so appalling is preferable to someone with the same views but a more politic way of expressing them. He’s so divisive that everything he does will be protested vigourously, and that will keep the spotlight firmly on, not just him, but all the senators and congressmen, many of whom won’t want to be associated with these policies once the first flush of “we must support the President” wears off…

  13. I agree with Elle. SM is the worst with people sharing and retweeting stories they don’t bother to research to see if they’re factual. I’ve been on Twitter for years but it’s become so toxic I’m limiting my time there and only check on a list of select people (including you!). I thought things would cool down after the election but it’s 1000 times worse. I’m keeping my news intake to the NYT, The Guardian, and occasionally the network evening news. We have to care for ourselves first before we can care for others. (((Hugs)))

  14. MarinaSofia, your writing moved me to tears on a crowded tube train. I hope you don’t feel stifled in your writing. I would like to say that we need what art does, now, more than ever. The arts remind us of what humans are capable of, art aspires, inspires, reaches, dreams, and often arises out of our wish to connect, transcend division and speak truth.

    And as someone who is not a writer, but is of course a reader, I need writers, and artists, and musicians, to wake me up and help me really see the world and what it can be, as well as what it is.

    As for ‘better than animals, or not as fine as animals’ debate I’ve never found that meaningful, because we ARE animals, and all our fineness, as well as much of our savagery, can be found in non-human species. Perhaps the only difference is that our self-consciousness gives us choices, and the ability to self-reflect. But, even that is an evolution, and must exist in some kind of ‘proto’ form in other species. I do think our self-consciousness, and our knowledge of our own mortality, poses challenges, and poses possibilities. It OUGHT to make us care for our futures, but, for some, living in denial is the only response they know. Artists, the ones finding a way to show truth, rather than just escapism challenge living-in-denial

  15. Before Xmas I stopped watching Channel 4 news and I’ve been complete C4 junkie for years. It was the combination of Trump and what was happening in Aleppo. I hope you keep writing because I want to read your book!

  16. Of course animals are superior to humans… and so is nature. That’s why we’re always trying to control it/them. I say watch some cute animal videos for a while, go for a walk outside, and then read. No more news! Easier said than done, I know. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way… Does it help to know you have a lot of company? 🙂

  17. I missed this post. And I have nothing new to add to what you’ve so eloquently described and what the earlier commenters have already said. As a fellow sufferer of background anxiety and depression most of which is masked by a functioning exterior and by what others expect to see when they look at me, I can relate. I made a conscious decision last month to prioritise self-care: I knew I was sinking. It’s helped. Hang in there and know there are many who sympathise and wish you well.

    1. Thank you for your understanding and encouragement and good wishes. I’m not good at hanging around and waiting for things to resolve themselves, but sometimes you just have to let time pass…

  18. It is easy to despair, there is much to worry about. Try to not give in to it though. you are not alone, there are many of us all over the world who are feeling the same as you and who are taking action in our own ways to resist the despair and the tide hatred and destruction. I make myself unplug one day a week so i can catch my breath and gain some perspective. Take care of yourself and don’t stop writing! big hugs!

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