It has been two long months. No, a little over that, I think.
I am not the most original thinker to state that This Quarantine (TM) has been a weird beast to be forced to befriend. Fully aware of my immense social privileges, including the privilege of being able to protect my life, I risk stating that this has been a phase of great mental churning.
The mind, it loves sending you unceremonious reminders of its complications. It holds on to figments from the past that you were sure you had purged, and regurgitates them to torture you some more. Again, I am not the only one being crushed by this mental pummelling. But, when left largely alone, unable to step out of the home, and unsure of what the heck is going on outside, your mind begins to sharpen its knives.
The attacks often come at night. One night, you will be reminded of that silly moment long ago when the wind blew your skirt up and a man caught sight of your thigh and licked his lips. Another night, it would be about the sharp words you uttered when breaking up with someone. Or did the words make the person leave you? Doesn’t matter, point is that you suck. The next night would be the persistent dread of someone you hold dear dying and you being forced to live on with the pain, wrapped around your neck like a giant rock.
Many such nights come and go. You sleep not a bit, or you sleep like a mess to wake up dishevelled. You continue to function with a lacerated heart and a throbbing head. That disembodied voice inside you keeps up a vile chant – “You have been a failure.”
On the outside, you look OK. Your showers may be delayed and your scalp may be cakey with sweat, but you don’t look repulsive. Odd, because going by the internal dialogue, you should look grotesque. You are able to fix a coffee, speak with friends, even offer counsel, conduct meetings, participate in webinars, and all that. So, you seem OK.
But that persistent dread of failure, of inadequacy, of being useless, of being talentless, of being a pest, of being an annoyance – it stays. No soap can wash it off. No sanitiser works against it. It is an infection I have lived with all my life and I am almost resigned to its lethality.
I have watched conversations on mental health steadily crawl upwards in the past decade, and I am proud and grateful. I have thrown in my two cents of experiential currency into this well of information, hoping to exorcise myself while also inspiring someone to take note of their own scars.
It also made me realise, that anxiety is a subjective beast. Its character as you experience it is moulded by your history, your temperament, your surroundings, your diet, your finances, your privileges, your gender identity, your sexual orientation. It is decided by these things and more, and it is deepened by how these aspects find violence or acceptance around you.
I never imagined that I was anxious. When I was first diagnosed, the doctor told me that I had lived with it for years and he couldn’t fathom how I had survived. That diagnosis was like a torch with which I could go down the rabbit hole of my memories and assign causation. I realised all those moments of pressure talk, of selective amnesia, of severe confusion at the smallest things – that was not a character flaw! Yay…?
As I was then, I am today. I am better at handling it but not fully free of it. What makes This Quarantine (TM) unique for me is that this is the first time that I have had to involuntary submit to social isolation. I have done it before, but it was just me and just my mind dictating. But with all my friends inside and dystopian video chatting the only way, my anxiety has enjoyed some superstar days. It’s not every day, but it is a lot of days.
Based on the samples I have been exposed to, most anxiety-related imagery or imagination is of hyperactivity, breathlessness, panic attacks, and other dramatic stuff. Accurate, but far from comprehensive. Anxiety is also god-awful lethargy and brick wall-thick self-doubt. It is also, sitting in isolation and being both relieved and pensive about it. It is a lot of inaction, and a lot of self-loathing because of that inaction. It is like living with emotions that know little of the middle ground. You are either sitting on a wall and smelling a flower, or face down in a gutter with your nose filling up with sludge. If you have an uneventful day, you congratulate yourself.
Anxiety takes meds, it takes therapy, it takes love, and it takes patience. Isolation, though. That’s tough. You want it, but you are also nervous because of it. You take it one day at a time, and just wait for things to improve.