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.’
‘We didn’t mean it like that.’
‘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.’
‘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?
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?
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.
Do you know what, darling?
I don’t think I’m very well.