I have spent this year living in three wonderful, exciting vibrant cities, making lovely, interesting friends, experiencing exciting new things. I’ve been free from the world of essays and stress – and rainy England – that we moan about so often. It should have been the DREAM. And often it has been, but despite my best efforts, it hasn’t always been quite so straightforward.
A few months ago, on a particularly wobbly day, I started to jot down all of the horrible thoughts that were worming their way into my mind. They sounded far sillier on paper than they did in my head, where they were loud and booming and stopping me from enjoying the things I ought to have been enjoying. I went over and over my notes, trying to rationalise their irrationality, to distance myself from them. Like an Oxford essay, almost.
On a whim, having wiled away a few empty office hours on the Guardian website, to send my piece in. It’s an anonymous feature, and they probably wouldn’t print it.
But then they did print it, and since it was Mental Health Awareness Week I decided to step out of anonymity and declare it my own. (The sheer excitement of being published in the Guardian might also have been a contributing factor…)
Published here in the Guardian, and posted below for posterity.
You never think it’s going to happen to you.” Oh, that trope you find so often in the testimonies of the seriously and terminally ill. It’s an idea I’ve internalised and reversed. I’m convinced that “it” happening is inevitable. It started with an MRI scan for a legitimate health scare. When, after weeks of gruelling waiting, the results came back clear, it didn’t matter. I’d already moved on to the next terrifying obsession.
I’ve lost all ability to rationalise. A headache? I must be about to have a seizure. Achy leg? Deep vein thrombosis, probably. Stomach ache? Call the ambulance, it must be appendicitis. Statistics mean little. One person in a million is still one very real person with a life and family, hopes and dreams. It could be me.
On good days, I see my irrationality. Young and fit, why would I have a heart attack? On bad days, I can’t believe I was so blase. Why wouldn’t I?
I look at friends, twentysomethings travelling the world, with awe and envy. How brave of them to venture so far from a GP! I wonder if I’ll ever escape this cloud of fear, this crippling state of hyper-alert. I long to make peace with my body and its aches and pains. Instead, I’m terrified of it.
I seek constant reassurance. I need my parents and friends to tell me I’m fine, because I can’t do it myself. I need them to laugh it off; I need to see they’re not worried the way I am.
My main source of comfort is the life that surrounds me. I observe every adult face I see. Parents. Grandparents. Colleagues. Fellow commuters. At the swimming pool, I watch imperfect bodies move, function, survive. Most people make it into old age without being struck down. Why can’t I believe I will, too?