Anxiety

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So far, the winter is not going brilliantly. On top of a recent bout of norovirus, I have been suffering with terrible anxiety. It is crippling, all-consuming, terrifying. I have been chronically anxious for just about my whole life, obviously, but this is something different. My anxiety used to be attached to more or less tangible things: to exams, to job interviews, to moving house, to messages from my ex boyfriend, to the concept of dying. But not anymore. Now, it floats around untethered, weaving worries from the silvery threads of the cobwebs on the ceiling of my room.

Now, it manifests physically. I can’t bear the darkness. It makes me think I’ve gone blind. I don’t fall asleep. Or else I do but then I wake up in the night unable to swallow. There is a clunking sound in the pipes. I twist and writhe beneath my duvet, in between bouts of vomiting into the bathroom bin. I am crippled by paralysing pins and needles that engulf my whole body. I have diarrhoea. My feet are heavy and numb, like rocks. My hands open and close back in on themselves; my fingers curl up like claws. I cry all the time. Or else, if I’m not crying, I am very close to the edge of bursting into tears. I sleep sixteen-hour days. Or, at least, I lie in bed trying to dispel the adrenaline, gasping fitful snatches of sleep when they appear. I am unable to get out of bed before 1pm.

What are those strange orbs crowding at the periphery of my vision? Am I dying? I think I might be dying.

Did you ever see Cat on Hot Tin Roof?

Fractured scenes from it keep playing in my mind.

Maggie: Why can’t you lose your good looks, Brick? Most drinkin’ men lose theirs. Why can’t you? I think you’ve even gotten better-lookin’ since you went on the bottle. You were such a wonderful lover… You were so excitin’ to be in love with. Mostly, I guess, ’cause you were… If I thought you’d never never make love to me again… why, I’d find me the longest, sharpest knife I could and I’d stick it straight into my heart. I’d do that. Oh, Brick, how long does this have to go on? This punishment? Haven’t I served my term? Can’t I apply for a pardon?

I ring my friends.

‘I feel a bit anxious.’

‘You’ll be okay. Have a nice bath. Light some candles.’

‘Yes. I will. That’s a good idea.’

‘Make yourself a nice dinner and get some sleep.’

I heat some ox-tail soup from a tin and eat it with an old ryvita I find at the back of the cupboard. I sprinkle lavender oil onto my pillows.

Deadlines shoot by, missed. I can’t read anymore. Nothing longer than a blog post. My eyes scan pages and the words jump around and buzz up at me like angry flies, frightening and incoherent.

I check the Facebook page of the cousin of a girl I went to school with. Her daughter is ill. They are waiting for a bed at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich. I check the WhatsApp profile of that guy I was seeing. He’s online now. Who is he talking to?

Remember when I used to read?

There is a clunking sound in the pipes.

I am so selfish.

Last month, I cried at a lunch with my sister. My tears fell in wet streaks and splashed off my chin onto the table. She didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell her what was wrong. There weren’t the words for it. It’s everything and nothing. It’s a vinegar sensation burning holes in my heart.

I call my Mum.

‘Me and Holly were saying it might help you to try some medication.’

‘Oh.’

‘We didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know.’

‘Just for a bit. We’re worried about you.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘Why don’t you speak to a doctor?’

‘Yeah. Maybe. I’ll think about it. Maybe I just need to stop drinking first.’

I poke and I prod and I scratch at lumps and pimples and bruises on my body. I wonder which one is a tumour that might eventually kill me, and which is innocent, benign, nothing to see here babe, move away.

Maybe I need to stop subscribing to all those cancer blogs.

I dial 111.

‘You need to calm down. You have to learn to stop over-thinking every little thing.’

‘There’s a pain in my chest.’

‘You’re okay. Breathe in deeply. Hold it for two beats. Breathe out to the count of four.’

‘_. _ _. _ _ _ _.’

‘How does that feel?’

‘Better, I think.’

‘Good.’

‘I’m scared I’m going to die of this.’

‘You’re not going to die of this.’

It is very hard to connect with other people. Their voices are loud and irritating; when I listen to them speak it feels as if someone is tapping very hard against the inside of my skull. I am separate, very far away. I am watching life at a pinprick distance, as if through a backwards telescope. Or a spyhole on the outside of a door.

I have lost the art of conversation. I used to be so good at that.

I interrupt people halfway through their sentences. Or I ignore them.

I say boastful, barbed, spiky things.

I don’t trust any of them.

I have forgotten how to love.

My interactions don’t feel as if they belong in the real world: they are more like dress rehearsals. Eventually, I’ll hone the witty, confident, charismatic character that I think I used to have, or that I could have, one day, if I could only stop slagging everyone off and maybe do something about all this pain.

Sometimes I see my dead friend’s absence in the shadows of strangers on the high street. But oh. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. She’s turned to smoke and faded away on the thin air.

This is really my life.

Do you think a glass of ice-cold prosecco might help? With a raspberry dropped in to make it more festive? A whisky on the rocks? Then another one? A little brandy just to move it all along? Remember that bit in Cat on a Hot Roof?

Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.
Big Daddy: What’s that?
Brick: A click in my head.
Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?
Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.
Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.
Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.
Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!
Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me.

I’m smiling and nodding at a woman I used to work with. We’re in a café. The lights are very bright.

We’re drinking tea. She is talking about her son. Or her brother. I’m not really listening.

What is that numbness in my little finger?

‘Sorry, can you excuse me a minute?’

I call my Mum.

‘It’s nothing, Kate. Go and see a doctor if you’re really worried’.

I go to the doctor. To the hospital. They give me an enema; pass a camera up my bum. Is this nothing or will it turn into a thing, do you think?

It’s nothing.

And then I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. No, really: really. I can’t breathe. Can I? I’m talking, so I must be breathing — isn’t that the sign — but they were wrong about that, weren’t they? Don’t the police get different guidance on breathing after that black guy, the one in America, died — I remember something from that podcast. What was his name? Am I suffocating?

Is that a pain in my chest or my lungs?

Breathe.

It’s nothing.

Is that pain in my lower back or my kidneys? Where would you feel the pain if it was coming from your liver, if you’d damaged it irrevocably?

A trainee doctor I knew once told me that alcoholics sometimes choke to death on the blood from the burst blood vessels in their throats.

How much do you think Amy Winehouse drank before it was enough to kill her?

Why do I wee all the time?

Am I going to die soon?

There’s a weird hollowness that moves up and down the inside of my body. It starts in my diaphragm.

Is this nothing or will it turn into a thing, do you think?

I’m hot. I lay on the bathroom floor and press my cheek against the smooth, cool tiles. I’m cold again. My skin puckers up into goose-pimples. The thousands of tiny hairs on my arms and legs stand to attention, they are beautiful, slightly bent like erect penises, or flowers reaching up towards the sun.

I’m shaking.

Do you know what, darling?

I don’t think I’m very well.

Part 178: Excitement

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My friend’s sister is getting married and we’re all just fucking sick about it. It’s not jealousy, for once — we really do think she is making a terrible, terrible mistake. I mean, she can’t be thinking straight. There must be some serious denial at play here. Certainly, there is evidence of recklessness — such as how she’s thrown caution to the wind by having his name tattooed on her body in several places, although they’ve not even been dating for a year. (In case you’re unclear, my stance on people getting the names of their lovers or children tattooed on their body is best summed up by a line my brother said to me last year, when I told him my new boyfriend had his son’s name tattooed on his hand: ‘Why, in case he forgets it?’ Although, I do know a woman who has her dead dog’s name tattooed on her forearm and I feel that tips over the precipice of mawkish into brilliant, so it’s a fine line.)

This guy, the friend’s sister’s fiancé, has all manner of warning signs flashing in neon colours all over his personality. He has spent his adult life in and out of prison, he is controlling and violent, he belongs to a polyamorous swingers circle*, he lives in the box room of his elderly mother’s terraced house (the bloke is in his fifties), he is not physically attractive, in either the conventional or unconventional sense. And while I am all for living differently, there is a point at which one must draw a line; a point at which someone’s disregard for social norms morphs into sociopathy. This guy, the fiancé, has reached that point.

‘What does she see in him?’ I asked my friend, when she told me about the impending marriage and her fears for how it would unfold. (Badly.)
‘I dunno,’ she shrugged. ‘She says he’s exciting.’

And I rolled my eyes, cracked a wry smile and thought: ‘Ah! That old chestnut.’

For which of us hasn’t been intoxicated by the ostensible excitement offered by a selfish cad, with regard only for his dick and his ego? Which of us hasn’t felt the sharp, twisted pang of maltreatment and mistaken it for longing? It is easy to confuse unkindness with excitement when your life is a grey series of snapshots: a montage in which you push a vacuum cleaner around the flat, buy discounted three-packs of sellotape from WH Smith and check the Facebook profiles of girls you went to school with, who always seem to be doing very well, thankyouverymuch, if Facebook profile pictures are reliable measures of wellbeing, which they very probably are not.

Excitement is the great big booby trap lying in wait for single women — and, let’s be honest, married women too. It snaps up around our ankles, ensnaring us in its grip. If we’re not careful we very soon end up ragged and strung out, chain-smoking by the river, stress lines criss-crossing deep grooves into our faces — and I’ll just remind you, if you’re still tempted, that the sex rarely holds up after the first month or so. So just beware of that darling, when you feel bad about yourself over Christmas.

It feels good to have finally relieved myself of the need for ‘excitement’, after many years being seduced by its pull.

Not that it’s all good news.

The big story I bring you this week, from the coal-face of dating, is that boring straightforward men can also be massively selfish, egotistical and disappointing. Just because they are a bit geeky and loserish and have fashioned a persona that foregrounds kindness, it does not mean they are truly kind, dynamic, selfless people in real life. In fact, the thing I have learned, lately, is that when people tell you they are kind they are usually only doing it so you won’t shout at them when they act like a prick. Kindness in this scenario acts as a kind of mudguard, in the same way indifference does with your common or garden variety arsehole.

‘So what do you like about him?’ My friend (the one the one whose sister is currently lost to the mists of excitement) asked me, when I described a recent lover, who I thought, perhaps, had the potential to father my children, if only he’d stop being so evasive and dull.
‘He’s gentle,’ I replied.
Now it was my friend’s turn to roll her eyes. ‘Gentle in bed, or gentle, like, picking up a hedgehog?’
‘Gentle with a hedgehog.’
‘Ah that’s nice babe,’ she said, ‘But he’s also boring and a liar. You don’t really want him. You’ll go off the idea.’

And she was right.

It turns out kindness is just as good a cover for sociopathy as excitement, in the kind of guy who didn’t lose his virginity until five or six years after most of his mates. Fuck. Now I remember why I went for the excitement, once upon a time.

Oh well, as Damien Marley once said: Life is a thing when you learn you learn you grow.

*I try not to judge, but can I just say: if you are so broken inside and frightened of intimacy that you cannot love another person without adding a third, forth or even a fifth party into the sexual mix, then you have no business being in relationships at all. Get some therapy. Join us when you’re whole again.

**Is it inappropriate to use a picture of a baby I found on google to illustrate a this blog? Have I mentioned that I want a baby very, very badly and it’s leading me to make some questionable choices? Can you save me from this hell? Can you? Babes, can you? Please?