The Inner Monologue of an Anxious Man at the Post Office
I didn’t really want to do this today, but I’ve forced myself to get out of the house and here I am approaching the post office. Already I feel like I’m from another world, like I’m trespassing and everyone’s eyes are upon me, silently judging. Every muscle and fiber begins to tighten as I approach the door. Hopefully this will be mercifully quick. I’ve planned, I’ve prepared. I’m chewing my gum to ward off the dry mouth and terrifying inability to swallow. I’ve dressed sensibly (not too hot, not too cold). I have enough money — I’ve checked that at least 10 times as I’ve walked along. I’m set.
I open the door and my heart sinks — there’s a line. That wasn’t in the plan! Quickly now, reassess. How many people are in front of me? Can I stand the wait? Are people likely to fall in behind me and trap me there? How quickly are people being served?
I reach the line — I think I can do this. I fidget and shift my weight from one foot to the other, scratch non-existent itches, fumble with my door keys and the parcel, fold and unfold my arms, hand in pocket counting change, hand removed from pocket. I hear the people chatter, I hear the background noise and it starts to scream at me. It’s too much input and my senses begin to overload. “Concentrate on your breathing” they say, “Breathe slowly, in and out. Insert a happy thought and break the vicious circle.” What crap! I have an invisible steel brace around my lungs getting tighter and tighter, the air is being squeezed out of me. I’m not over-breathing — I can’t breathe at all! Therapists, some of them have no idea how this feels. Every breath is forced and difficult. My vision becomes vague and yet pin-sharp at the same time. Just two people in front of me now. God, I hope they get served quickly. Every nerve is beginning to scream.
I hear footsteps behind me. It’s like the lid has been put on my coffin, but I’m still alive, I’m trapped. I’m screaming but nobody hears me! I’m now next. I shuffle forwards with legs I now feel like I have no control over. Fidget again, distract myself. I can feel the sweat beginning to trickle down through my hair back and front. Stop sweating, stop sweating, please! Is it too late to run? Should I stay and take a chance or play safe and go? What if it gets worse? Stop fidgeting, stop sweating! Try to force another breath. Come on, force it through. What if this is “it”? What if this is the moment I’ve always feared? But what is this a fear of?… It feels like I can’t decide whether to implode or explode. Am I going to constrict in to an ever-tightening ball on the floor? A ball so dense and heavy it crushes itself in pain until nothing more exists. Or am I going to somehow explode and expel such directionless rage that everything and everyone around me will vaporize and turn to dust? I feel a scream building, trying to force its way out. I can’t let it through, I must not let it through!
I’m next in line. Everyone behind me knows how ungainly, awkward and weak I feel. Everyone is judging, they want me to fail so they can laugh and then they want me gone. “That’s right, run away you weirdo, you failure! This world is ours!” Two counter staff on duty — one female, one male. Please let it be the man. “Next please.” Oh Christ, it’s the woman. I try and walk forward with some degree of normality. Come on, chew, make some saliva so you can speak to her, chew damn you.
“I’d like to post this please”
Well done, you got that bit over with but don’t forget — everyone behind you is watching. Remember that time in ’76 when you fell over in the playground at school and everyone laughed at you? Remember how uncomfortable and useless you felt then? That’s what all these people are waiting for. Who just spoke to her? It didn’t feel like me, I don’t feel like I’m here but if I’m not here then where am I?
“Pop it on the scale for me. OK, now pass it through. Do you want to send it first or second class? Do you need to track it?”
Christ, I don’t know, just let me send the damned thing and go home to my safe place. Stop asking questions. I’m sure my sweating is showing. I bet she saw it and is wondering what’s wrong with this strange person standing in front of her. She knows everything. Keep chewing.
“First, no tracking, thanks.”
Please God hurry up, the sweat is dripping down my spine, every nerve in my skin is crawling. Clench your door keys, clench harder! Maybe pain will distract your anxiety and let you function normally. Hah! “Normally?” That’s a joke. Look at all your friends going on holidays abroad and enjoying life, being normal and here you are struggling just trying to mail a bloody parcel! You’ll never have what they have, you’re a freak and your life is one big waste of time. Drop your keys, further distraction – don’t look her in the eye because she’ll see right in to you and discover what a useless, inadequate lump you are.
“That’s £3.50 please.”
You have that in your pocket but don’t even think about trying to count it out, you’re messed up and you’ll hand over the wrong money. More pain! Just give her a note, any note.
“There’s your change, thank you. Next please.”
Just shove the money in any pocket and sort it out later – get out of here now!
I walk past the people who are now in line behind me. I can hear them judging me.
“God — look at him? Why is he sweating on a cold day like this? You don’t belong here, you’re fat, useless and weird. Go on, get out, scurry home where you belong.”
I’m free, I’m outside, I must get home. No, sit on this bench by the side of the road and cool off. Do what the therapists say and take some pride in your achievement. You did it, you didn’t die or go mad. Just think about that! I compare my ordeal to everything else the world has to offer, but I will never have. I hunch forward with my head in my hands. I feel that I am less than nothing. The tears begin.
Knowing someone out there has felt the same as me won’t make this cruel condition go away, but it can help send a little beam of light into the dark cell of isolationism I often feel confined to. I shared this experience hoping someone could relate to it, and maybe now you won’t feel quite so alone either. Join me on “the bench” and perhaps we can laugh at the absurdity of it all!
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