“Mr. Green, I’m pleased to inform you that you’re definitely not having a heart attack. Neither are you dying in any other way”, he smiled, slightly sardonically. “You simply had an anxiety attack”.
Simply? I’m sure he wouldn’t be calling it simple if he’d been in my body for the last hour, I thought bitterly. Dr Johns grabbed my wrist and stared at it, his eyes squinting under a creased forehead and angry eyebrows. My heart skipped a beat as I watched him check my pulse- his expression constantly looked like he was thinking something terrible.
“Your pulse is still too fast. I’m going to go and get you a small tablet of Diazepam, Mr. Green, to give you some help calming down over the next few hours.”
As the cubicle curtain rustled to a close, I shut my eyes tightly, naively hoping I’d be home when I opened them. I felt cold tears meet my eyelashes. Why did I ever think I could do this? I wondered through an exasperated sigh.
After a year of being housebound with anxiety, I decided I needed to force myself to get a job. Two minutes into my first interview with Abbot and Abbot Accounting, I had met my match. My anxiety immediately made itself known, protesting through my every pore, ‘how dare you forget about me?!’ The only phrases that managed to escape my mouth were: ‘can’t breathe’ and ‘chest pain’, resulting in the interviewer confusedly calling an ambulance whilst wondering if he should work on his interview technique.
Snapshots of the morning’s events haunted my mind as I felt my muscles finally start to relax… “Mr. Green, wake up!” I felt the world shudder and shake, after all that I’ve been through, now we were having an earthquake?! My eyes shot open and I was immediately greeted by the sight of Doctor John’s unimpressed face as he shook my shoulder.
“You fell asleep. No wonder, your body must be exhausted. Sit up”, he said, sharply. Next to him, a nurse shuffled awkwardly towards me, quite visibly stifling a smile.
I shuffled up the bed and brushed aside any embarrassment with a casual laugh, until I felt the cold presence of drool on my chin. I subtly scratched my forehead in order to wipe it away with my arm as the nurse handed me a single pill, accompanied by a plasitc cup of lukewarm tap water. I mustered a thankful expression and ignored my fear of taking tablets in order to avoid embarrassing myself any further.
Outside the hospital, fresh autumn air hit me like a slap across the face, as if I was walking outside for the first time after a week-long sleep. As the valium slid through my veins, I found it amusing that my movement had considerably slowed down. I was fully aware that I was nonchalantly shuffling through the car park with a stupid grin plastered on my face, yet I didn’t feel the need to do anything about it.
I slowly realised that I was in no fit state to board any public transport. My mind felt as if it needed to be left alone, nurtured and given fresh air to get some much needed clarity. The task of reading a bus timetable before sitting on a stuffy bus for the hour journey home seemed like such a confusing task that it made my forehead ache just thinking about it. I swung to the left as I reached the main road and made my way to the nearby park.
The short walk from the entrance gate to the nearest bench was long enough for me to encounter three dog walkers and an ice cream van. I eventually sat down, leaving three startled dog owners in my trail. Still exposing all of my teeth in a wide grin, I held the ice cream up to my mouth. I watched, amazed, as raspberry sauce trickle down my clean, white shirt, and was amused by the thought that I probably looked like a victim in a low budget horror film. After my subsequent laughter subsided, I happily ate my ice cream- the buying of which seemed like the best idea I’d ever had- through intervals of enthusiastic humming.
Sat in a now desolate park, in the middle of a weekday, I felt my giddiness turn into a despondent realisation that something needed to change. Being outside had overwhelmed me with perspective, I saw the person I had become through different eyes, almost like watching a film of a stranger. I dedicated about half an hour to rolling my shirt sleeves down, after noticing that my arms were covered in tiny bumps from the pervasive sharp autumn air. My eyes felt too lazy to focus, I was simply aware sea of browns, yellows, oranges and golds, lazily floating from above to dance with the wind down below, lulling me into a nature-induced ease.
I felt a stinging sensation of sadness behind my eyes, as I realised how perpetual my anxiety had become. The last time I had been outside and smelt a day as beautiful as today was too long ago to remember. I’d been stewing in my own anxious, destructive self pity for a year now, too afraid to leave the house.
The constant materialisation of anxiety’s effects, its poison shooting relentlessly through my blood stream, had left me behaving like I was seriously ill. As a younger man, I constantly craved the dewy air of mornings, the awakening smell of autumn and the freshly cut grass smell that lingered for the length of summer. Every morning, as I stepped outside, my first inhalation would remind me of the mortality of humans, that I wouldn’t be able to indulge my senses with such beautiful smells forever. Delicious food, great company or any other of life’s simple pleasures never evoked the same oxymoronic pleasure induced melancholy.
As my eyes adjusted, I realised that the park was rapidly darkening. The trees had succumbed to another day of surrendering their leaves to the season, and the park was populated by hurried men in suits walking over-excited dogs. A smell of burning wafted past. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply- I could almost embody the satisfied, cosy feeling of a family huddled around a backyard bonfire. I thought back to two years ago, the last winter where I would deliberately go for a walk in order to come home and warm up with hot chocolate.I thought came to the front of my mind- the Valium would have worn off by now, and I was miles from home.
“Are you okay, young man?” I looked up to see an elderly woman, almost vertical as she hunched over her walking stick. I smiled, nodded and politely shuffled on the bench as she lowered herself to sit next to me. Simultaneous to her sudden appearance, was the realisation that I was outside, and that I was fine.
“You look freezing, just in a shirt. Here,” said the woman laconically, and she turned to her handbag and pulled out a long, wooly ball. My stomach churned with a mixture of relief and pity as her shaking, paper fingers slowly unraveled and timidly presented me with a scarf. “I finished this one last night. You can never have too many in this weather”, she added, conceivably relaxing as I gently smiled at her.
Her voice sounded so fragile, as if on the verge of evaporating into the air to dance with the falling leaves. “Thank you”, I said with as much gratitude as I could communicate in just two words. She said nothing, but simply sat and watched with twinkling eyes as I awkwardly wrapped it around my neck. I realised that she had probably assumed I was homeless. “I didn’t plan on spending the whole day here. I’ve just had a difficult day”, I felt compelled to explain, despite it being so long since the last time I had managed to talk to a complete stranger without feeling the onset of a panic attack. I felt a small slither of self-pride push its way through a year’s worth of pity, doubt and submission.
I’d been sat in the park all day, watching people walk past and wishing I could swap lives with any of them. People that could be in the middle of a messy divorce, dealing with a scary diagnosis, or coping with the death of someone close. I’d sat through the day with a self-pity radiating from my every pore, as if the world owed me an apology. I shuffled on the bench, just to check one last time that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.
“We’ve all had a difficult day”, she replied mechanically, as she stood up unsteadily and walked away.