I have a new release coming up. Walking on Custard by Neil Hughes will be released on 31 March 2015 but you can pre-order it now here
Inner critic: I can’t believe you’re doing this…
Inner critic: I mean, it’s bad enough you WROTE this damn book, now you’re TELLING everyone about it as well? You do realise how embarrassing this is going to be, right? You’re like a chimp driving a stolen car. You have no IDEA of the consequences. Just stop already!
My inner critic has some reservations about this article, it seems. But then he had a number of reservations about the book, too.
He reckoned that a comedy book about anxiety was a guaranteed disaster.
Inner critic: In fairness, that’s mostly because it was an idiot like YOU writing it. The idea is fine.
But I went ahead and wrote it anyway. Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life explains how I learned to be less anxious, mostly by telling embarrassing personal stories… mixed with flights of outright fantasy, badly-drawn graphs and philosophical discussion of anxiety and happiness.
Inner critic: I’m in it too! I’m the best bit. Tell them about me!
Sigh. Yes, my inner critic is in it too. But don’t let that put you off. It’s still a fun read. And even a helpful one for those struggling with anxiety, or who want to get to know themselves better.
Or, I suppose, for those curious enough to want to know the Meaning of Life. But who would be interested in that…?
Inner critic: Really? THAT’S your attempt at a hook? Pretty obvious and lame, Neil. Lucky your book is better than that, or –
Aha! I knew you liked it really! And you just admitted it publicly!
Inner critic: Aw, nuts.
If your inner critic is as annoying as mine – or if you’re anxious, self-critical, unsure, in need of a laugh or confused – then check out Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious Humans.
AN EXCERPT FROM Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life (999 words!)
It was late 2010 and I was sitting at my desk at work. My life was broadly satisfying. I was settled into a new job, and my social life in a new city was budding. I was writing a book (I wrote one, it was rubbish), and had just done my first stand-up comedy gig, to mostly universal acclaim (of the people who’d been there, which was more than enough for me). And I was dating a girl I’d secretly liked for months. All was well.
Yet, on this day, suddenly, I felt awful. I had noticed a slight unease earlier, but now my head was spinning and my heart was pounding. I was terrified. I imagined the embarrassment of falling apart in front of my colleagues, and forced myself to sit still, hoping that no-one had noticed what was going on. Whatever it was.
I went to the little office kitchen and looked outside at some trees. Possibly somewhere in the back of my mind I thought this would help me connect with nature and make me feel better.
In fact, the normality of everything outside contrasted with my spinning sense of falling apart, and I felt worse still.
I returned to my desk. At lunchtime I liked to watch a comedy show, a treat I usually looked forward to all morning. As the familiar sound of the theme tune started up in my headphones I put my fingers to my neck to feel my heartbeat thumping. What is that… like… 120 beats per minute? Am I dying?
I couldn’t concentrate. I closed the browser tab. I wasn’t even in the mood for laughter. Something was seriously, seriously wrong.
I left work early and went to the doctor convinced I must be ill. Something was wrong with my stomach, perhaps. In the back of my mind was an insistent thought that I was severely sick. I could not shake the thought.
This non-event began a lengthy anxious period. Every day I woke up feeling a heavy dread, my chest tight and my heart pounding. I couldn’t concentrate, only pretending to engage while my inner monologue desperately screamed about how awful everything was. I said no to social engagements in case I fell apart and embarrassed myself and everyone would know what a fraud I was.
I dreaded everything. Mostly, I dreaded continuing to feel like this. But I couldn’t see how it would stop, so I sought to explain how it started.
I was certain there must be a physical cause. I had stomach aches, headaches, bowel problems, racing heart, dizziness and shortness of breath. Surely these must point to the underlying cause. I simply had to find what was wrong and then all would be fixed. Or so I hoped.
I searched online. I diagnosed myself with every disease humans can catch, and probably some that they can’t. I saw multiple doctors, and signed up for blood tests, urine tests, fecal tests, scans, allergy tests, reaction tests and the bar exam.
(Well, maybe not the bar exam. But I would have, if I thought it might help.)
One day I even had a surprise endoscopy.
I should probably explain the endoscopy. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Obviously I knew I was having an endoscopy. A certain amount of co-operation is required, after all.
The surprise was that, somehow, I hadn’t really considered what an endoscopy meant.
If you don’t know, it involves a scope going, er… in your end. Pleasingly, the word describes itself: End-o-scope-y.
I optimistically believed it would be a quick in-and-out procedure, so to speak. I’d nip to the hospital, there’d be a momentary discomfort, and I’d soon be on my way, finally armed with the answer to what’s wrong with me.
Five minutes, at most.
Two hours later, as I lay in a hospital bed, naked but for a backless gown (having reluctantly been forced to hand in my clothes, my mobile phone and my wallet), I wondered if perhaps I should have told my colleagues – or in fact, anyone at all – that I was going to the hospital for a procedure and that I might be late to work.
Several hours later, I uncomfortably boarded the bus home. I never made it to work that day. But I did have a story that greatly amused my housemates that evening.
Some days I’d feel better, some worse. But every day I feared that today would be the day I’d “lose control” or “lose my ability to cope”. I wasn’t sure what I was failing to cope with, exactly, but it was clearly something. I became terrified of driving, of getting trapped in traffic, or being on a train, or in a crowded place like a theatre. I was afraid that there was something deeply and irretrievably wrong with me.
And every day I searched for more possible causes, figuring that if I could just understand why then I’d finally be able to fix everything.
Maybe it’s subconscious trauma. Or delayed grief for the death of my father. Maybe it’s carbon monoxide poisoning. Or brain cancer. Or an allergy. Am I getting enough exercise? Or doing too much? It could be my environment. My life choices. Did I say brain cancer already?
Even – finally – accepting that there was nothing physically wrong with me didn’t help. Now I couldn’t understand how to fix myself mentally. My frightening online research indicated I had several anxiety disorders. At least.
I was afraid of the feelings. I was afraid they’d never stop.
This book is the story of how I came to understand and handle these feelings. Maybe you’re in a similar situation. If so, you have my sympathy. At the risk of getting uncomfortably poetical, this is a pilgrimage I’ve travelled myself, and I understand how arduous it is to pass.
But before we talk about exactly how, I’m afraid that there are things we must discuss regarding custard and physics…