It will come as no surprise to regular readers (or Twitter followers) that I have anxiety.
Diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I mean, not just normal anxiety about money or exams or whether G.R.R Martin is going to die before he finishes Game of Thrones.
I’m outspoken about it because I spent many years suffering in unmedicated shame, too anxious and embarrassed to seek help. When I finally did, citalopram changed my life. A few days after I started it, when I drove home from work for the first time ever without going over and over every social interaction to analyse just how idiotic I’d come across, I found myself laughing maniacally at how free I felt.
So, you know, I traded anxiety for looking like something that’d escaped from a lunatic asylum in 1923, but swings and roundabouts.
Most days, the drugs allow me to experience life with normal levels of anxiety about normal things. But some days, The Drugs Don’t Work.
Last week, I had one of those days.
I was due to travel to Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s town) and stay overnight for a meeting the next morning. Naturally, I’d packed six months in advance because you can never be too prepared, but what if i’d forgotten to pack something?
That’s all I could think about the night before.
Brain: Let’s go through our daily routine and write down every object we could possibly need.
Me: Okay! Who needs sleep anyway?
Brain: Right! So, first things first – wake up, crawl out of bed while groaning, “Why, Evening Anna? Why do you stay up so late watching compilations of cats falling off things on YouTube even though you know I, Morning Anna, will suffer?”, stumble into the bathroom… TOOTHBRUSH!! WE NEED A TOOTHBRUSH!
But we can’t pack our toothbrush – we need it in the morning! What if we use it and forget, in our bleary-eyed hatred of Evening Anna, to pack it? WE WILL BE TOOTHBRUSHLESS IN A FOREIGN LAND AND REMEMBER THAT STUDY WE READ IN 2007 THAT LINKED TOOTH DECAY TO HEART ATTACKS OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE TOMORROW
Me: Okay, brain, it’s okay – it’s Stratford-upon-Avon, not the Gobi desert. In the unlikely event that the hotel doesn’t sell toothbrushes, there will be a shop nearby that does.
Brain: BUT WHAT IF WE HAVE TO DRIVE TO THE SHOP AND THERE’S NO PARKING?
Me: Well… we… OH MY GOD, WE’LL HAVE TO ABANDON OUR CAR IN THE STREET!
Brain: WE CAN’T DO THAT!! FUCK, WE’LL HAVE TO DRIVE AROUND AND AROUND HOPING TO FIND A TOOTHBRUSH ON THE STREET BUT EVEN IF WE DO, HOW WILL WE GET IT BECAUSE WE CAN’T GET OUT OF THE CAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET BECAUSE OTHER DRIVERS WILL BE ANGRY WITH US FOR HOLDING THEM UP!
–screen fades to black while Anna rocks back and forth in a corner–
–Cut to the clock showing an hour later. Camera follows a trail of 237 PostIt notes leading from Anna’s forehead to the bathroom mirror, each one saying PACK TOOTHBRUSH.–
Me: Okay, we’ll have a toothbrush. It’s all fine.
Brain: Remember that time you stayed at a hotel in 2006 and the complimentary shampoo dried out your hair and it was a hot mess the next day?
Me: Nono, it’s fine. I’ll pack some conditioner. If the hotel shampoo is bad, the conditioner will sort us out.
Brain: What if it leaks in your bag?
Me: It.. well.. EVERYTHING WOULD BE RUINED
Brain: AND WE’LL DIE
Me: NO! I’ll put it in a plastic bag and tie it tight and pack that in my case so any leakage is contained.
Actually, I’d better double-bag the bag. Just to be sure.
Okay, I think we have everything we need for the first ten minutes of the day.
Brain: Lol, did you forget toothpaste?
Me: Lol! Close one! I… but… HOLY FUCK BUT I CAN’T PACK THE TOOTHPASTE BECAUSE WE ONLY HAVE ONE TUBE AND I NEED TO LEAVE IT HERE FOR THE PEOPLE WHO AREN’T GOING TO STAY IN A HOTEL!
Me: No, look, it’s okay. We’ll buy some.
Brain: WHAT IF THERE’S NO PARK–
Me: –We’ll get it en-route. I’ll stop at the services–there’s always parking at motorway services–and buy some toothpaste.
Brain: But you know those places are overpriced because they have a captive audience of motorway travellers.
Me: Shit, you’re right. Well, we’ll stop at a convenience shop when we come off the motorway.
Brain: BUT WHAT IF THERE’S NO PARKING?
Me: Well, we’ll… I DON’T KNOW THIS IS TOO HARD WHY IS DENTAL HYGIENE SUCH A STRUGGLE THIS IS WHY THE PEOPLE ON JEREMY KYLE LOOK LIKE SHARKS ON METH
God dammit! Look, forget about parking. Worst case scenario is I have to brush my teeth without toothpaste and I read a study that said the mechanical brushing action is far more important than the toothpaste anyway.
Brain: Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Cool. Let’s sleep.
Brain: OMG I just had a thought. Wanna hear it wanna hear it wanna hear it wanna hear it?
Me: No! It’s five a.m. and we have to drive a hundred miles tomorrow.
Brain: Okay. But wannahearitwannahearitwannahearitwannahearit?
Me: Oh FFS, fine. What is it?
Brain: Remember six months ago when you looked up the hotel’s menu to choose your dinner in advance so you wouldn’t look like an idiot when the waiter asked if you’d chosen and you had to say no?
Brain: Remember what it said?
Brain: This is important. We have to PLAN. What did it say, Anna?
Me: It… it said sample menu only.
Brain: We don’t know what the dinner options are, do we, Anna?
Both of us:
So, that was my day before I woke up and went to work, followed by the 100-mile motorway journey.
I won’t treat you to a blow-by-blow account of the rest of the day, but a summary of the things that made me anxious.
- Fretting that not only can I not prepare for my dinner order but I will have to do maths to make sure I spend under £25 because if I go over my allowance my company will fire me (even though I could just pay the balance direct to the hotel) BUT WHAT IF?
- Worrying that people will talk to me at dinner because they feel sorry for me eating alone. Hatching plans to get there the moment dinner service starts to reduce the chances of any other diners being there.
- Worrying that if I’m the only diner, the wait staff will be attentive and I won’t be invisible.
- Worrying that my alarm wouldn’t go off the next day and I’d miss my meeting.
- Arriving at work to find CARDS AND PRESENTS for my birthday.
- Worrying that I’ll forget to thank somebody for their card and/or present.
- Worrying that I won’t show the appropriate level of gratitude. Too much = psycho and everybody will hate me. Too little = ungrateful bitch and everybody will hate me.
- Dying of embarrassment that I had no idea people did cards and presents here, and I haven’t bought anyone anything since I started in December.
- Worrying that people are judging me for the brand of treats I brought in to celebrate my birthday.
- Worrying that I missed someone off my, “Hey, there are treats in the kitchen!” email and they will think I hate them.
- Somebody coming up to my desk to wish me a happy birthday just as I’d taken a bite of my sandwich, and it was a tough ciabatta-like bread, so I had to make a snap decision: chew and swallow, or answer without swallowing? and knew it would take me half an hour to chew and swallow while they watched so shoving the bite of sandwich into one side of my mouth like a hamster and talking with my mouth full I HATE MYSELF
And this is when I’m on medication. Can you imagine my life five years ago?
But, seriously, that was a bad day. Most days now are good. If you’re suffering, ask for help!
And don’t forget your toothbrush. Or you will die.