I was hoping to have a new dinner recipe, but this week's attempt generated nothing more than shrugs and nose-wrinkles from Elliot... so instead I'm falling back on a favourite gourmet toast recipe.
Asparagus has gone back up in price a bit now, but for the few weeks it was going for $1 a bunch I became nothing short of obsessed. Several mornings a week I'd cook it tender-crisp in a frying pan and serve it up with a simple white-bean-and-feta dip and a smattering of caramelised red onion. Of course, now that the price has gone back up to $2–3, the mania has subsided. But it's definitely going to stay on breakfast rotation for many years to come.
Asparagus has such a unique, fresh taste, and it takes centre stage here, perfectly complemented by a bed of creamy white bean and feta dip. The finely diced, pan-fried red onion offers a burst of sweetness that completes the picture.
The dip I use in this is the same one I use for my roast pumpkin and red onion with white bean and feta toast, so if you end up with any leftover dip this is the perfect way to use it. It's also great with crackers, especially if you add a smattering of sumac, za'atar, or fresh basil and balsamic glaze.
This week I'm going to talk about an issue that's starting to come into the mainstream a little more but still seems to be considered taboo in most situations, and that's social anxiety. I guess the broad silence on the issue makes sense – when you're already experiencing anxiety in a social situation, drawing attention to the fact is hardly going to ease those feelings. But then again, not mentioning it certainly isn't going to help either. I'm writing this partly as a cathartic experience for myself, but also in the hope that my story and my strategies might help someone else make progress in their own fight against anxiety.
It's been a pretty crazy couple of months for me emotionally. When we first got back from our great big trip, we were still on a bit of a high. We caught up with our closest friends and family, we hugged them hard, and we had so much to share. We came back home to our apartment and took great delight in headbutt sessions with the sweet Salty boy. We revelled in the ability to cook for ourselves, have things home delivered, re-engage with our creative sides, wear a whole range of different clothing... and all the other little joys of normalcy.
It wasn't until a few months later that I started to tumble into the low I'd always anticipated. After a year of constant stimulation, I figured it wouldn't take long before I started to feel a bit of a void, a sense of normal life not being exciting enough. But that's not quite how it panned out. I didn't feel a void, per se. I didn't specifically miss the travel. But something was definitely amiss.
It started with a deep sense of unease at parties – the bigger the party, the more anxious I felt. I would feel stranded at times, looking around for someone I felt comfortable with or a group conversation I could infiltrate, but I always seemed to come up empty. As I conversed with people, I found it hard to focus properly on what they were saying; I kept thinking forward to the inevitable moment that I would have nothing interesting to say. I thought back to how I used to feel at these big parties, how confident and fun I used to be, and I was struck by grief for the person I used to be, and now felt so desperately removed from.
I don't know if it was a natural progression of the anxiety that was already beginning to take hold, or if it was a side effect of these experiences, but the sense of fear and loss continued to deepen. I started to feel anxious and on edge even with my closest friends, and with that came a sense of inadequacy and foolishness, a concern that I was becoming boring, a feeling that I wasn't a good enough friend, and imaginings of a lonely future.
Fortunately, after six years of writing and editing for an online psychology company, I'm a big believer that we are all capable of overcoming these damaging patterns of thought. So I started working on a solution. I downloaded a social anxiety self-hypnosis course, and started doing the sessions. I listened to an audiobook about mindfulness, and started daily mindfulness meditation sessions. I started doing yoga at home twice a week.
Initially I thought I might have been feeling a bit better. But then, two weeks in, I had a kind of a late-night breakdown after a dinner party with friends whom I knew I had no reason to feel anxious around – and yet. I cried myself to sleep as I pined for the lost self-confidence that seemed to be showing no signs of returning. (Fortunately I had drunk quite a bit of wine, so it didn't take long!)
The next day I was writing a hypnosis session sales page for that psychology company I mentioned. The topic was 'Fear of Losing Yourself'. These scripts always start with a 'pre-talk', a short passage explaining the problem and giving an overview of how hypnosis can help overcome it. In this case, it mentioned that while fear of losing yourself is most common among people who feel dominated in a relationship, it can also affect people suffering with anxiety or depression, because they spend so much time lost in their worries that they lose touch with their actual values and passions. And, funnily enough, it commonly affects people who have come back from a mindfulness retreat, because they have been so busy clearing their minds that they've lost contact with the person inside.
At the time of reading, I didn't really think much of this. But later in the day, it came back to mind, and fortunately I was in the right state of mind to realise why. I hadn't been on a mindfulness retreat, of course, but I had certainly been doing a whole lot of it. I remembered, too, Elliot telling me he had read that mindfulness is very positive for 95% of people, but for 5% of people it actually makes them feel worse. At the time, knowing what I did about the proven benefits of mindfulness, that fact had seemed totally incomprehensible. But now I was starting to understand.
Whatever time I could spare from my busy workload and social life had been almost exclusively dedicated to hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and yoga. I'd been giving myself a whole lot of opportunities for relaxation, but none for actual fulfilment. I had lost contact with the things I truly enjoyed. I had, I supposed, lost myself.
Of course, this hadn't been a problem during the trip. I'd been doing things I truly enjoyed almost every waking hour for the entire year. And for the first couple of months back, the novelty of normalcy was more than enough to make up for it. But now?
Now I was working myself to the bone at a clinic where I didn't know my teammates and I didn't feel I could provide a proper standard of care. I was desperately missing the friendship and counsel of the wonderful team I had left behind at my old job, yet I wasn't making any effort to actually see them. I was spending three days a week working from home, barely leaving the house. I was saying yes to basically every writing and editing job that came my way, regardless of whether I thought I would enjoy it. I wasn't planning any trips or special activities. I wasn't playing piano, or making cards, or painting.
I've come to see my social anxiety not as a reaction to the social situations themselves, but as a manifestation of a generalised misalignment between the life I am living and the values I want to live by. So instead of looking for treatments for the anxiety, I am now looking for ways to live more congruently.
I will spend my time on activities that truly align with my passions, and with people who share those values and passions. I will find a workplace where I can be part of a team, where I can teach and learn and help and care to the absolute best of my ability. I will study not towards a particular exam, but just so I can be better at what I do. I will draw, and paint, and play, and create. I will explore new places. I will surprise the people I love with visits and gifts and experiences. I will continue self-hypnosis sessions for my anxiety, but only as a small aspect of my self-care. Oh, and I will definitely have a baby!
It's been a bumpy ride, but I'm proud of myself for the way I've approached these feelings. The anxiety isn't gone, but it's definitely reduced, and I'm feeling optimistic that this will be a phase, not a fixture, of my life. If you suffer from anxiety yourself, I hope that you have gained something from reading this, even if it's just a reminder that you're not alone. We are all in this together.
P. S. I've now finished the Feta Hands Travel album for Memphis & Nashville.
What did you think of this recipe? I'd love to hear from you!
Belinda 04 Dec 2019So, I made this recipe before you even posted this recipe because your photo that you posted a while back looked so damn good. My twist was to soak the sliced red onion in some apple cider vinegar whilst prepping everything else, also used butter beans instead of cannelini and used loads of garlic in the dip :) Big love for your beautiful words too xx