My name is Sarah and I have anxiety. Saying it like that doesn’t seem enough. People often have anxiety and many more have found themselves experiencing it for the first time, during these terrible times. It doesn’t seem like enough. Not nearly enough. If this is what it feels like right now, I can’t face the anxiety when lockdown ends.
Written by Bron Maxabella in discussion with Sarah
I’ve been on medication to control my fears and stress since my late teens. It still comes and it goes. Right now, it is an ever-present, toothed beast, ripping at my back, daring me to relax my ram-rod vigilance. Being hyper-aware at all times is the only way I can settle at all. I can’t see this virus, can’t feel it, would never know it was there, which is why it scares me so much. I can’t sleep, I can barely eat, I roam my home like a shimmering ghost, staring out of windows at the terrifying world outside. And cleaning.
My anxiety about the virus has me washing and sterilising surfaces all day, every day. My fear radiates through our home like fire. I’ve never had OCD tendencies, not once in my life, but now I wash and I wash and then I turn around and start again. Top to bottom, bottom to top, side to side, everything clean, clean, clean until it’s not and back to the beginning I go. Often I sob as I clean, for I can’t stand to live like this. Can’t stand to have the kids see the pain I wash into every corner of our home.
They can’t look anyway, for fear they’ll catch it. They know how contagious anxiety can be.
My eldest catches it easily. I have never known whether she would have been an anxious child if she had a different mother. That’s not the kind of thing a mother’s heart lets you think about. Perhaps. Maybe. Around in circles my head goes, picking at every loose end in my children, pulling, fixing, niggling. But my heart won’t ever let me examine what a life without me in it would have meant for my children. A different life, and a voice in my soul whispers, “better.”
My daughter doesn’t want to go back to school, but that’s okay. She’s never, ever willingly gone to school. It’s been a battle from day one and next week will be no different. My one positive from this coronavirus time has been not having that daily fight. I’ve always known that she has to go in. I spent my whole childhood avoiding the things that made me anxious and look where I am now.
I understand, I tell her, but I have to make you go. You have to learn to bear your pain or it never goes away.
The battle nearly kills both of us, each and every day. A sudden thought wrenches me up with a gasp: next week, it might actually kill her.
Not ready, not ready, not ready, not ready, not ready, not yet.
My son will fly out the door, his anxiety wholly attached to wanting to get away. From me. Fearful I might clutch at his heels as he leaves, pulling him back in. “One day a week of normal life,” was how my son described it when he heard schools were reopening. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there is nothing ‘normal’ about life now. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere. I’m just so comforted by the fact that he is hopeful, relaxed. He hasn’t caught it. Doesn’t feel it. I accept his need to get away, pull it close like a blanket.
My friends are also relaxed about school going back. They are keen to get their kids out of the house, seeing friends, returning to school life. It makes me angry, if I’m honest. I’m angry that they don’t share my anxiety. I’m angry that it seems to be so easy for them to trust. To just let go. I envy them their willingness to relinquish control, let someone else make the decisions. They will never know what it feels like to be rigid with vigilance, 24 hours a day. To see fear in every moment. They will send their kids off to school next week and head back home to work or potter and they will just never know.
It’s hard not to be angry when you suffer from anxiety. I’m too exhausted to be anything else. That’s the bottom line for me. And this is just where it begins.
Feature image by Toa Heftiba