Keeping calm and carrying on is no longer an option
"Is that squeaking noise the guinea pigs being eaten by a carpet snake or the whirlybird on the roof?" is a question I regularly ask myself at 3am.
My pre-dawn fretting fiesta is followed closely with: "Where have I put that bread maker from our wedding that we only used twice?"
Then: "Should I buy an oxygen tank?"
Finally concluding with: "Is Prince Philip even still alive?"
I don't know how you're handling life at the moment, but I'm struggling. I'm having trouble sleeping. I'm stressed and anxious and I can't stop worrying about many, many things.
I've tried to keep calm and carry on, but infectious fear has crept up on me.
I'm scared for my loved ones. My grandad in his 90s. My sister who's been hospitalised three times with pneumonia. My mum with metastatic breast cancer. My close friends: one with diabetes, another with a second-hit of lymphoma, one a young mum in remission from cancer and another about to give birth.
I worry about my best friend in another city who just had a miscarriage who I can't visit or wrap up in a big hug and cry with.
I'm stressed about my friends with small businesses who have weeks, maybe days, before they must walk away from their dreams, burdened with broken hearts and debt.
And I fear my little children could possibly lose me.
But in some kind of psychological triage, I've downgraded this pressing threat of coronavirus and transferred my worries into a far less worthy subject: our pet guinea pigs.
They are highly strung rodents called Gary and Roly, one a cheeky long-haired ginger.
The last thing I needed was two more living beings to be responsible for, along with everything else. But now they are all I think about.
In the supermarket last Monday night, I was confronted with empty shelves: no bread, meat, eggs, cheese, cleaning products or toilet paper. Nothing I needed. I felt the familiar throat tightening of anxiety, and so instead I rallied and bought two bags of guinea pig food and a jar of olives.
I've googled guinea pig leads and rodent-sized BabyBjorns so that I can take them for a walk. I fuss over medleys of capsicum, carrot and cucumber, before I even begin on my human kids' meals. When I pass their cage, we'll have a little chat. I'm working on translating their whistles. I'm like Arnold Schwarzenegger with his indoor donkey and mini horse.
Normally, this column would be a rant about tone-deaf (socially and musically) celebrities singing Imagine from the deep-cleaned comfort of their mansions and prioritised COVID-19 tests. Or a swipe at yet another hypocritical lecture from Harry and Meghan Markle telling us to support each other, while ignoring her dad with his dodgy heart.
But I just can't seem to find the rage. My emotional volume has been muted.
Suck it up, it's just like the war, people say.
But it's not. In the war you could at least go to Catholic mass or do the jitterbug with some handsome Yankee sailors.
There's nothing normal about this world, deaths doubling daily and every person for themselves in the supermarket aisles. And it's taking its toll on the one in four of us who have experienced anxiety.
But it may be a blessing, says best-selling author Sarah Wilson, who has explored anxiety in her latest book, First We Make The Beast Beautiful.
"A lot of our anxiety comes from being anxious about being anxious," she tells me. "You should be feeling fear. It's a normal human response right now."
But she advises to "do anxiety once".
"This is legitimately a threatened time, but that doesn't mean to stay in fear," Wilson says. "Sit it out, ride it out and then move on."
Funnelling our anxiety into lesser worries - yoga classes being cancelled or guinea pigs - is also normal. But being proactive about battling coronavirus is something we can channel our anxiety into, Wilson says.
"When you take action, even wash your hands, you don't feel so powerless," she says. "If you engage in the collective movement to stop the spread it does help. Even if it is something charitable like helping the elderly, that will help you."
The reality is this pandemic will not be over soon.
I'm not ashamed to admit that anxiety, although it may pass, is now a normal part of my strange, new world. I'll give it my undivided attention for a moment and then get back to trying to source a mini twin stroller for my guinea pigs.
Lucy Carne is editor of Rendezview.com.au
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Originally published as Keeping calm and carrying on is no longer an option