1 February 2016

Mind games

When you have an anxious or obsessive nature, it can be hard to escape the worries and thoughts that constantly whirl around your head, but I've always found reading to be great escapism.

The problem with this is that I prefer to read when I have at least a couple of hours at my disposal, so that I can really lose myself in a book, and such large chunks of free time are hard to come by.

Television might seem to be an alternative remedy, yet it doesn't work in the same way; it's simply not demanding enough. It rarely requires you to 'engage brain' fully and any unoccupied corner of my mind is just another space for worry to creep in.

Fortunately, over Christmas, I discovered two new forms of effective distraction - or, rather, rediscovered in one case. 

While staying at my sister's, I got drawn into helping her with a 1,000 piece jigsaw that she and my two nephews had been working on. Once I'd started, I found it as addictive as she did. Time after time, we'd say, 'I'm just going to do one more piece'... and then still be hunched over the table twenty minutes later.

I'd forgotten just how involving this apparently simple process can be. Although I had a lot on my mind, it was all forgotten as I hunted down piece after elusive piece.

Of course, I was compelled to apply my usual methodical approach to the pieces we had yet to place, first separating out all the odd-shaped ones, then sorting the rest by their dominant colour. My ever understanding sister left me to it, while she continued to plug the gaps in the picture.

My sister's latest completed jigsaw
Photo: Alison Barbour
I was reminded how, after my 'A' level exams, I spent weeks doing jigsaws while listening to ABC's Lexicon of Love album on a loop; the mental downshift was therapeutic after all the academic effort. The repetitive music was probably somewhat less therapeutic for my family.

On the train home from my sister's, the noise from fellow passengers drove me to abandon my magazine and seek an alternative diversion. In desperation, I resorted to my - very unsmart - phone, which has one solitary game on it: sudoku, the number puzzle.

I'd never played before and couldn't get the hang of it at first. Repeatedly making stupid mistakes, I had to re-start the same grid several times and still hadn't finished it when we pulled into Euston. Over the next few days, however, I got to grips with the concept and began to enjoy the challenge. 

Sudoku taps into my love of order and logic and is something I can continue with in my flat, where I don't have the space to lay out jigsaws.

Since then, my boyfriend has persuaded me to try adult colouring books (no, not that kind of 'adult'), with the promise 'If you buy the book, I'll buy the pencils. It'll be good for you.' 

I'm not sure whether colouring will prove sufficiently absorbing, and it doesn't have the 'right or wrong' element that I enjoy about puzzles, but I'll let you know how I get on.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen, and what a coincidence! I did the exact same jigsaw puzzle (and many others) during the wee hours of the morning when my son was going through a rough time with his OCD. One of the few things that would calm me for a while.

Helen Barbour said...

Gosh, what a coincidence, ocdtalk! The one I was helping with over Christmas was a very festive, snowy scene and I set my sights on completing the sky - lots of shades of blue littered with snowflakes and stars. Hard enough in itself and then, late in the day, my sister realised she had connected the edge pieces incorrectly. No wonder I couldn't make anything fit! Once we'd resolved that issue, it all fell into place - literally.