woman looking out a window with raindrops

The Kind of Anxiety That Makes Everyday Tasks Seem Like Life or Death


Stability is like being tied down to the floor in a dank, cement room. At first, it may seem tight, but it is comfortable. So I often resign myself to complacency. I just live with it. You can be mindful, even when you’re tied to the ground. After all, if something isn’t hurting, then it might not require attention just yet. I kind of just let it ebb away in the background, unnoticed.

When I’m in this kind of psychological homeostasis, I can unclip the straps and move around the room. The room is still dark, and I’m technically imprisoned. Yet, the small amount of freedom is an illusory relief from what I know will come. I try not to think about it.

Then, the worries begin to gather like spider-webs in the corner of the room. They seem unnoticeable at first, blending into the grey, cement surface. They bother me because I like order and imperfections are irritating, but they can still be ignored. I make a conscious effort to press them to the back of my mind. I close my eyes. I open them again. Life moves through its daily cycles of everything under the sun, and I carry on swimmingly.

However, almost without any nuance, no warning, no stepping stone from calm to chaos, I notice a glaring scythe hanging from the center of the ceiling.  It is secured, and it is far away, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. It cannot slice my nose off, but it cannot be ignored.

The curved edge is sharp and even if I close my eyes, I can still feel its presence. I reach for the straps that bind me, but suddenly, they are stuck. I can’t undo them. I’m staying in this place. I writhe and I wriggle, but I cannot control this weapon that is moving rhythmically, back and forth, back and forth. I am scared. My complacent reality has gone from a safe haven to a death trap in a matter of moments, without warning.

That’s when I lose the ability to think straight. The knot in my stomach tightens. My palms are sweating. I start scratching my scalp, my arms, my fingernails. Sleep won’t happen. How can you sleep when you have a sharpened weapon waving above your face?

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My head feels like it is on a train that switches between full speed and rapid braking, starting and stopping the whole time, no time for recovery. I lurch forward in pain, but I have no option, except to keep staring at this weapon. All I can do is move through the experience. There is no way out when I’m tied to the ground.

It starts coming closer, closer, closer still. I want to vomit. The rhythm of the back and forth is pulsating in my ears, echoing and ripping through my skull. The whole experience has me in its grips, and for sure, I am going to die. It is the only thing I can focus on. My eyes are fixated, dilated. My whole body prepares for the inevitable. The scythe is less than a centimeter from my face. Swinging, back and forth, back and forth.

I am going to die.

I swallow. I wait. I sweat. I wriggle.

The sharpened edge is so close. I can feel the passing motion against my nose. I try to squeeze the back of my head as far back to the ground as I can, the pressure nearly crushing my skull. Nothing will save me. I am going to die. Unlike the Poe version of this story, there are no rats in the corner to chew through my straps and free me. It’s pointless now. It doesn’t bear thinking about. The scythe is closing in. I just hope it’s quick.

Just as I can nearly taste the sharp pendulum, it locks shut. It stops moving. It’s close. I can see it, but I will not die today after all. I have just fought off the physiological symptoms of death. I am still covered in sweat. My stomach is tied tighter than a nautical knot, and I am still paralyzed. Yet, I will live to see another day. I am relieved, but it’s exhausting to be back in these concrete gallows, day after day.

It may just be a task with multiple steps, a feeling or a fleeting doubt. For me, it is experiencing the physiology of life or death, just to get things done.

Learning to live with it means having the understanding that I cannot always control the swing of the pendulum, but at least, I know the scythe can’t kill me. I have to lean on that thought. Sometimes, the sense of security it brings is the only thing that keeps me moving forward.

Image via Thinkstock.

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