Hermione Laake

Black Ink & Anxiety

Terror. Terror; terror, Screaming, screaming, screaming. Silence. No air; no air.

Mum. Mum. Mum? I never call for my mum. Why am I calling for my mum?

I ring her.

“Lizzy, you’re having a panic attack. Breathe. Just breathe.”

“Oh mum. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say you’re sorry.  What do you have to be sorry for?”

“Well for ringing you like that. I don’t know what happened.”

“Think back to what you were doing when it started. What triggered it?”

“Well, it was something silly. It was because these two women were both voted off on X factor, and they had been given a second chance. It seems silly. I just felt overwhelming grief and—empathy.”


It had come upon me suddenly; I had had this before; twice. It wasn’t until I realised what it was that I knew I had had this before. Had and had, of course, are two words that you can have in juxtaposition; except if you type this with an algorithm it won’t like this and will assume to correct your grammar. Yes, yes, I know that I jump from one thought to another. I have always been that way. Please don’t consign me to the scrap heap or give me a label. Not E = MC but C (for creative) = A for (autism).

Thinking back, I’ve had anxiety 3 times; although, this severe; never. I think it is because of injustice.

I think my anxiety stems from rejection. I resigned from a job once, and then things went downhill from there. I was sacked; twice; I resigned again; I was sacked twice again. Now my CV looks like I’ve been in a war. I suppose I have really; a war with myself.

The jobs just weren’t me. There was too much sitting in one, and too much scrutiny in the other. GDP this and GDP that. I tried telling them, this was a charity and the people were their most important asset, but they didn’t listen to me. I had to deliver their ethos. It wasn’t mine, it was theirs; this was ten years ago, and now everyone is talking about the people; do you see what I mean?

I would walk, just to get exercise. People actually treated me like I was mad. I mean I was just going for a walk without them. But of course, they didn’t want to go for a walk; they wanted me to sit with them, get fat and probably cancer in the bargain; the fuss when I wouldn’t eat cake; the stares. In the end I took a cake (just to please the doctor who said his wife had made them), and threw it in the bin when no one was looking. (Not all doctors are poor eaters; remember he is a person too; he just happened to be a doctor.)

I had always known the office job wouldn’t suit me. I went back to retail; the problem with retail is that it is customer facing, and means you have to be on your best behaviour all the time. Office workers can shut the door at tea break time and be very un-PC. Believe me, I have observed how office people can be; (Not all office people; they are just people; I don’t include myself.) Except that if you stay, and nothing changes, you become part of the problem. Nobody is any the wiser if you stay silent and blend in with the culture. With shop work you have to smile 24/7—the customer is always right. Well, that is not true. Sometimes the customer is rude; sometimes the customer makes comments about your looks or your management. Is this right? It is just because they see me as a woman. Would they speak like that to a man? I doubt it. God it’s like a village mentality. They don’t get out you see. They should travel; up and down the country for a start. Maybe visit London. We are not all privileged. Is it my accent? Occasionally you slip up. After 8 years of taking crap, who wouldn’t? The other day, I actually engaged in banter with a customer. She was talking about how she had not read one single sign in the shop properly. She was actually criticising herself, which was refreshing; I said, “it is the same with books; people read them and then project their own thoughts onto them and then make judgements about them.” She paused, and took a step back towards me. I could see the cogs going around in her head, was she thinking, I should not be speaking to this sales person; is she the owner? She is alone here; well, if she is the owner, it is ok to speak to her; she must have a brain; what is the etiquette? She agreed with me then. “Yes, and they say they don’t like a book, and it is really their own thoughts they don’t like.” She left me then, as I laughed at the folly of the world. The world that reads Trump as though he is the greatest sinner in the world. He does some things right. He is a great diplomat. Why is it that when people are Great (I am giving Great a capital), we want to view them as perfect, and, when they make terrible mistakes, we cannot allow ourselves to see the good in them? I blame religion.

Anxiety is in the head; it’s thoughts; negative thoughts; what this person is thinking; what you imagine they are thinking; and then, because you are working and that is when the people look at you, you end up scowling at the ones that stare, or when they make inane comments based on a quick summing up they have done of you you, you bear the pain of their converted narcissism. In my head it goes like this; works in a shop: dumb. No brains; no schooling; no math; no brains; and then, after that, the dialogue fits that pattern, if you see what I mean; their assumption of you. I have read the philosophers that tell you to change your thoughts, and mostly this works; it’s just that sometimes people have such negative thoughts that it is difficult to resist them; I am talking about other people. Although, if I am honest, I caught myself doing it once or twice; and it wasn’t malicious. So that must have been in their head. Once I thought a girl and her mum were visiting the shop I was looking after, but they were aunt and niece, and the other time, I imagined that when she said, “should have gone to Specsavers”, she meant me, but in fact afterwards when I mull it over in my head, I realised that she meant her. All this interior dialogue is easy to do; you just think. The problem is that people expect you to be perfect. Me. Well, I’m only human.

Of course, if you meditate then the mind goes quiet and you have no thoughts at all. This takes time. It is difficult. At first the thoughts come thick and fast and won’t stop. Then, in the end when you have thought about everything, after an hour the mind goes quiet. You don’t even notice it. And then you can see the horizon and the ocean and the calm sea and the sunset, if you want it, at the back. It’s lovely. Of course, it is all imagined. Visualised. But hey, isn’t that what you are doing when you are thinking? Imagining what is happening? And it isn’t really is it? I mean, it is not actually happening.

I love it when I am complimented. We are not very good at doing this in our culture. The Sioux had it down to a fine art. If you read Dances with Wolves, you’ll know what I mean. Kevin Costner made a reasonable film about it too. He cares. But now it is a little dated. Someone needs to remake it without all the sweeping scenes of nature. It makes you impatient watching that.

You get impatient when you are afflicted with anxiety. Things annoy you. You could go on YouTube and watch someone squelching some dough or watch blablabla.

She’s really good. She talks to you and does things with a block of ink; it’s mesmerising, and while she does things with the block she talks to you about your state of mind. It makes you think, but in a good way.

I like gardening though; going back to the sweeping scenes about nature; I just don’t feel like doing it at the moment. I don’t feel like doing anything at the moment, except, maybe writing….

I was going to tell you about the Sioux ways. They would reward you with a name to suit your gift or your behaviour. Some of their people got really interesting names like Sitting Bull; I suppose he was the philosopher with a strong mind. And Dances with Wolves; he was the free spirit. You should go and read about them, if you can find any stories. The stories might take you out of it; show you there is justice, sometimes.



Look at the artwork at the top of the page.

I mean really look.

Can you see the bird?

You will if you go out into the garden and look at birds for a couple of days.

They do not have to be drawn by Walt Disney.

I promise.

Now do you see the birds?


About the writer:
Hermione Laake is an award-nominated writer and emerging author and is an associate of the Society of Authors. In 2012 she published her debut sequel to Jane Eyre, a novella cum short story, “Betha’s Journal: A Perfect Immleman [n] sic Turn” under her pen name, Hermione Wilds. Laake held the post of Chair and Secretary of Competitions for Hampshire Writers’ Society from 2012-2013, supporting emerging authors and running monthly creative competitions. Laake is currently working on a Creative Writing MA. She is a Contributing Editor at O:JA&L and is Reader-in-Performance for O:JA&L’s Youtube channel.

Image: Street Grafitti. Fine art photograph by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash. No technical information specified. By 2020.