Anxiety and Fiction

I’m a dealer of Fiction. My life, my work and my (future) career are all based around my capability to invent and fascinate. To tell a story so convincingly that my reader asks, “But what happens next?”. I feel like I do a semi decent job at this. My stories all have beginnings, middles and ends. My characters change and develop. My intention comes across. These are all good things, right? Yeah, they are, but when you suffer from anxiety like I do, it can become a living hell.

My name is Conner and I tell myself stories that make me wish I wasn’t here anymore.

I’ve always been anxious. I was brought up in a house where the rent might not get paid that month, where weekly shops meant that, come Sunday, there may or may not be food in the cupboards. Once, when I was in first year at high school, my little brother and I went around collecting money for some school Bingo nonsense and that was the money used for dinner that night. It was replaced, of course, the very next day. My mother is a lot of things but, to my knowledge, she is not a thief. I was also heavily bullied. Kids I didn’t even know hated me and one or two of them would take that unfounded aggression out on me physically. I couldn’t just be worried about the kids I knew, I had to be worried about them all. Every one of them was a potential humiliating trip to the bathroom to wash the blood and dirt off my face.

I was terrified all my friends were plotting against me. And, as they were thirteen-year-old girls, they probably were. I’d spend nights desperately worrying who I would sit with at lunch if all my friends decided that they just didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I didn’t come up with a great solution so when it happened, and it DID happen, I made the best of it. But it taught me something I now take too far – sometimes the bad thoughts in your head do come true. Sometimes your anxiety is a warning of what’s to come.

Fast forward to today. I’m a twenty-four-year-old man, I have an honours degree in History and I am about to go back to uni to get an MLitt in Writing practice and study. I have written two novels and dream of the day I can earn money simply by writing books. I am number one in my area for sales and, hopefully, Employee of the Month this month. I smile, I laugh, I survived depression and a few suicide attempts. I speak what’s on my mind and I have no problem – anymore – with walking into a room of people that I know don’t like me. Screw them, I say, they don’t know me anyway. I’m overweight, true, but all-in-all, if you were to ask someone, they’d probably say I was doing alright for myself. What they don’t know, and what they will now that I’ve decided to talk about it (after accosting the girl serving me in Starbucks with a rushed tirade of gibberish that probably made her question whether she ever wants to ask “how are you?” to anyone ever again), is that I am terrified, utterly, disgustingly and very palpably, terrified that the Police are going to knock on my door and take me away.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not, in any way, ever break the law. So extreme am I about this that I don’t speed – not EVER – I never stream or download movies I haven’t paid for and I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate a grape in Tesco without paying for it. Not that any of these things are that bad (speeding’s not great, but 75mph on the motorway isn’t exactly the worst thing that ever was or will be), I just can’t do them. I think it will sow Karmic retribution that treble-folds and leads to my incarceration. In fact, so deep rooted is my fear of the Police, I never watch porn online as I’ve read several articles that talk about the UK’s draconian laws on the matter that are so loose, you could, technically, be breaking the law by watching a spanking video. My tastes have always been vanilla, but when I read that my heart stopped in my chest, my throat seized up and I almost passed out.

Yeah, psycho right?

I used to go to counselling. I told my counsellor then all about this and she suggested that, because I grew up in a house without any semblance of strict authority (I never really had a bed time, or was grounded, or even asked where I was if I stayed out past dark) when I was a child, I crave it now. I crave the strong arm of the law because it represents everything I never had. Yes, I was an intelligent boy that never really got up to too much mischief and so never had to have iron clad boundaries set around me, but nor was there anyone to really care what I got up to, but that’s a story for a different time.

Back to my dealings in fiction.

I work hard on my abilities as a writer and a story teller. I craft words and concepts like a potter may do a lump of clay, or a painter an easel full of paint. My imagination has always been vivid, raw but powerful, and that’s great for when I’m writing. But when my body floods itself with whatever chemical causes anxiety to nibble away at the reality in my head, my imagination turns on itself and constructs scenarios to justify the anxiety. I think back to what I’ve done that day and convince myself that something, anything, must have been illegal and therefore the police are on their way. Every cop car I see on my way to work is an omen of what’s to come. Every night out, rare but they do happen, any segment of it I can’t remember becomes the time when I must have committed murder, rape or worse. It simply must. Why else would I feel this way?

I can’t talk about it, the logic of how unlikely my story is to be true just doesn’t work. Remember, just because your friend smiles at you doesn’t mean they haven’t just been calling you a poofter behind your back. Just because they come with you to report the bully doesn’t mean they won’t condemn you for getting him into trouble and not just ‘taking it as a laugh’. Those were the lessons I learned as a child. These are the results now.

Logic doesn’t work because my imagination is stronger. More crafty. Infinitely more flexible.

Take a scenario that happened the other day. I left for work, saw a puddle of hard, plastic looking glass on the pavement. A car window was clearly smashed. No doubt the owner of the car phoned the police. A day later my boyfriend tells me the police were in our building. My body is flooded with fear. Utterly swamped by it. But we’re already late for the cinema and I need to try and not let these feelings take over my life. I convince myself in the darkness, as the man behind me kicks my chair like he’s tapping out the Star Spangled Banner, that the police couldn’t have been at my door. Why would they be? Unless to take me away. I haven’t connected the dots about the car window yet. That’s too convenient. Almost laughable. It must be something more.

I get home. I have CCTV (some yahoo kept putting glue in my locks, the swine!) and say to myself, “they didn’t come to my door, they didn’t come to my door.” They did. Now, despite the fact that the officer rang next door’s bell first I am now convinced that my time is up. They’re here to get me. I’ll never see my cat again. And I can’t just sit complacent. I can’t wait around for them to come back. So I phone 101 and ask them why the police officer was at my door. I wait as she places my call on hold and no doubt types my address into the computer. I know how this sounds. I know how fucking psychotic this must sound to you. But this is my life.

She comes back on the call and says there is nothing on her system. No warrant for my arrest. No big red banner saying “DANGEROUS! APPREHEND NOW!”. She assures me, she was very polite, that it must have been general enquiries. The broken window flashes before my mind. I thank her and hang up. Relief takes hold for a second. And then doubt creeps across my mind.

What if she only said that to keep me in the house? What if the police are on their way right now? The next hour or so is hellish as I wait for my imminent arrest.

And you get the picture.

It’s exhausting. I clearly need help. But that’s the clincher. I’ve already had help. I got over the depression, so why do I need more? And what if, horror of horrors, I need to be medicated? I can’t do that. I won’t. Not ever.

One of my earliest memories is of standing in a doctor’s office, looking for my mum to get some lunch money and her being hunched over, on her knees, begging a woman behind reception to let her see the doctor now. She needed a prescription or something. Her pills had run out. And I thought to myself, as I stood there and saw the other women also waiting eye her with pity, is that how I’m going to end up? Begging for drugs, no thought for how I look to anyone else?

My step-father’s mum once said to my brother and I, “No wonder your mum needs so many pills with the way you two argue.” I was crushed. I didn’t even know she needed pills then. And now I was standing in front of her, tears streaming from her eyes, seeing just how far she’d go to get them. And so, as I type with anxiety ripping at my insides, I have to wonder if that’s what would be best for me – medication. Or should I just admit defeat and return to counselling when I left it so triumphantly before? Can I ever really be helped? Or am I condemned to live like a nervous cat, jumping at every noise and praying I get another day of freedom? A darker thought crawls across my brain, like the monster pulling itself from beneath the bed, what if this is the price I need to pay for surviving all I have? I prayed to feel something, anything again and so maybe God listened. Maybe he even has a sense of humour. Dark as it may be.  Now I feel too much, too often.

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I know I have to get help. And I write this and share it with the hope that for every ten people that laugh as they read it, one person knows they’re not alone. That their fears don’t make them stupid or moronic. That their anxiety is painful and real and deserves to be tackled. If you’re reading this and see yourself in me (I am not so arrogant as to think these experiences are mine and mine alone) then reach out of the darkness in your head and do your damndest to find the light. I can’t promise salvation. I can’t even promise that it will get better. All I can do is tell you what it’s taken me years to finally admit to myself.

It’s not going to get any better on its own.

Now, something has just moved outside my door and so I have to get up and press my eye against the peephole just to make sure an angry looking officer, clad in lime green, isn’t standing there with handcuffs in one hand and a warrant in the other, ready to take me away.

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