“What does Anxiety feel like?”

The sea, the sea, get to the sea. The sea will get me away from me. Don’t look anyone in the eye, they’ll know, they’ll know. Don’t open your mouth, you might scream forever and never stop. Just go to the sea.

My head was spinning like the children had been.

‘I just spun around 50 times!’ The red-headed girl was proud of herself. I wasn’t – I couldn’t remember her name. I couldn’t remember any of their names and wasn’t sure if I’d ever known them, I was the worst volunteer ever.

‘Wow,’ I heard a voice say. I think it came from my mouth. Stop spinning, please. Stop spinning before my head falls off and trips you up and you’ll never spin again.

Cross the road. No, wait for the green man. Don’t look at the wheels.

Finally I’m at the beach. I am angry that there are other people here, watching the sunset, playing with their children, taking photographs of the birds. Don’t they know I need to be alone, can’t they go and live their happy lives somewhere else and let me wallow in peace?

The waves come in. I breathe in. The waves go out. I breathe out.

The birds duck their heads into the water and flap their wings. The couple in their wellies splash in the water. The children throw stones. One woman alone, points her camera at the waves. Although alone, her happiness is obvious. She’s enjoying her own company and probably making some art which she knows will be successful and financially lucrative too. I want to push her in the sea.

I go through my phone and think about who to call. There seems a reason not to call everyone. They’ll be at work, they won’t understand, they’re getting a divorce, they’ve got their own worries, they’re far away and I’ll only worry them. I move a stone through my fingers, it is soft and cold and real.

The waves come in. I breathe in. The waves go out. I breathe out.

There are dark dots in front on my eyes. When I move my eyes, they move too. I am transfixed. I make the dots dance in front of me, I do figures of eight, I move them up and down and side to side. I close my eyes hesitantly for a second and when I open them again, the dots are still there. I’m pleased they haven’t left me.

I realise it is darker and time must have passed. I check the time – it’s been an hour. I thought it had been fifteen minutes at the most. Yoga is starting now. I try to do some yoga in my mind but I can’t think of any poses except child’s pose. I concentrate hard on doing child’s pose in my mind. I check the time – another half an hour has gone.

The waves come in. I breathe in. The waves go out. I breathe out.

My dark dot friends have gone now and I miss them. I think about getting the bus. This would mean crossing the main road nearest the seafront, walking up another road where there will undoubtedly be people and cars and other loud things and finally finding the right stop and right bus and scariest of all – speaking. I decide to practice and whisper to myself out loud, holding the now warm stone in my hand.

‘Single… road… thanks… please.’

This doesn’t sound right. I imagine the bus driver frowning at me and the impatient sighs burning into my back. I try again.

‘Single…’

My whisper fades out and I am hypnotised by the sun which seems to be setting faster than it should. I decide that I obviously can’t speak anymore and that I’d better stay here forever. This is a relief. I am stuck on that one word – single. I am single, I am alone, I will sit here until the tide comes in and covers me and I’ll become a mermaid or a seagull or a pebble or maybe nothing at all.

The waves come in. I breathe in. The waves go out. I breathe out.

The sea is closer to me now. I decide that maybe I can walk after all. I don’t have to talk if I can just walk all the way home. I look behind me, towards town, the buildings like giants and the cars like ants. It looks terrifying. I look in front of me towards… well I don’t know where that goes but I have an urge to walk that way anyway. I wonder if anyone is worrying about me. Well they will if you walk that way and never come back, is that what you want? I drag my feet across the pebbles, off the beach. They are heavy and reluctant and my heart is beating too fast. Suddenly there are people around me and it seems their legs are moving in triple time. Are they running or walking, I don’t know. I jump in the air as a bike passes me. To my left, there are cars moving at 100 miles per hour, I get caught looking at the wheels and try to shake the image of myself underneath them.

I go back to the beach.

The waves come in. I breathe in. The waves go out. I breathe out.

Maybe I could live here and it would be fine. I try to pretend I’m not cold and hum to myself. I try twice more to leave the beach, but return more terrified each time. I think about getting out my notebook and trying to write something, they say writing helps. But the thought of using my shaking hands to form letters, and letters to form words, and words to form sentences… It all seems too much. I remember the anti-histamines the doctor gave me to take when I am panicky. I take three and close my eyes.

The waves come in. I breathe in. The waves go out. I breathe out.

I put on my headphones, select ‘songs’ and ‘shuffle all’ and breathe deeply as something loud and angry plays in my ear. Anger, the perfect antidote for sad – perhaps this is unhealthy but feeling anger is a relief when all you feel otherwise is a hollow emptiness or a paralysing despair. This will block out all the noises of people living their lives. I leave the beach again and concentrate hard on putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t catch anyone’s eye, don’t look at the wheels. Now I know that I cannot speak, the bus is not an option so I walk up, up, up. I choose the road with the least people. Each time I pass a person, I change the road as soon as I can. Up, right, up, right.

Left foot, right foot. I breathe in. Left foot, right foot. I breathe out.

Shuffle was unpredictable and brought up songs that were so quiet and sweet I could still hear life all around them. I choose a Sonic Youth album, turn it up to full volume and wonder vaguely about ear damage. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be a bit deaf and not have to hear everything so loud. I hate myself as soon as I have the thought. I think about the places I should have been this evening and note to myself that He hadn’t phoned to see where I was. There is a tiny voice in my mind that reminds me that I’d told Him I might not come, that it had been left to me to make contact later. I shut that voice up easily and convince myself that He doesn’t care and is having a better time without me anyway. I wanted to be there, to let the music wash over me. I wanted to phone Him too but I couldn’t speak so what could I do. He doesn’t get it anyway. I look around and note calmly that I have no idea where I am. I see a person coming towards me and cross the road.

Left foot, right foot. I breathe in. Left foot, right foot. I breathe out.

Maybe I’ll just continue walking until things make sense. Like in Forrest Gump, except I don’t have the energy to run and actually now I think about it – my whole body aches. Maybe I can walk through the pain and reach some higher ground where I understand that everything is meaningful, or meaningless, I guess I’ll find out. I think of everyone in my life that claim they love me, I line them up in a row and one by one I tell them – Go away, go away. If you didn’t exist I could just disappear quietly. I could walk to the sun, I could run to the moon.

Left foot, right foot. I breathe in. Left foot, right foot. I breathe out.

My phone rings. It is Marie, the woman I volunteer with. I hold my phone in my hand and watch it ring, feeling nothing. I think maybe she has passed me in her car and wondered what I am doing walking around in the dark. The phone stops vibrating and I put it back in my pocket. Looking around again, I wonder if I am near Marie’s house. If I am, then I have gone in the wrong direction completely… I realise I don’t care anyway and actually feel quite pleased with myself for getting lost. It was an accident, I didn’t know where I was, my phone died, I didn’t mean to disappear. My phone buzzes in my pocket, one voicemail.

I stop still and listen. Marie’s voice is tight with worry.

“Hello… Just phoning to check everything went okay… I’m sure it was fine. Um, I have a bit of a situation… the bloody landlord didn’t show up and I’ve got to go again tomorrow. My daughter isn’t around and I’m wondering if you could walk the dogs? I’d pay you £20. Could you call me back this evening… if you can… and thank you so so much if you can do it. Okay…. Bye.”

I listen to the message three more times and slowly it penetrates. I imagine walking dogs in the morning sun and I imagine Marie worrying at home when she should be getting ready for her date. I imagine phoning her back and forming words and sentences that make sense. I wonder where I am. I realise I am starving and bursting for the toilet. I turn the corner and suddenly I know where I am, I have made it all the way back in to town. I look down the road and the bustling crowds, realising with a jolt in my stomach that it’s Friday night and there will be people everywhere. I sit on a wall, take two more anti-histamines, eat a banana I find in my bag and focus on the music in my ears. I plan a route home without walking through the busiest streets and somehow, I put one foot in front of the other and I make it there. It is three and a half hours since I finished volunteering.

I unlock the door. I calmly take off my coat and my shoes and jump onto the bed, covering my head with the covers and biting a pillow. I cry and cry and cry… and then I pick up the phone and call Marie. It seems I can still talk after all.

 

 

Some available support (UK):

  • Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.
  • Mind (0300 123 3393 – 9am-6pm Monday to Friday) info@mind.org.ukMind provides confidential mental health information services. With support and understanding, Mind enables people to make informed choices. The Infoline gives information on types of mental distress, where to get help, drug treatments, alternative therapies and advocacy. Mind has around 140 local Minds providing local mental health services.
  • Blurt Increasing awareness and understanding of depression. They offer advice and also have a peer support network, a ‘buddy box’ scheme, a free self-care starter kit and an active Facebook group.
  • Anxiety UK (08444 775 774 – 9:30-5:30, Monday to Friday) works to relieve and support those living with anxiety disorders by providing information, support and understanding via an extensive range of services, including 1:1 therapy
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