I am seated at a table, two magazines clutched in my hand. I put my bag next to my chair and carefully stack the magazines on the empty table. Deep breath. The aroma of coffee fills my senses.
The space is pretty empty, so it would simple for me to approach the counter to order a coffee. But I’m unable to move. I feel exposed at this table, but I can’t figure out how to get myself to a more comfortable seat. So I clench my fists and wait.
Ledcat will be here soon. She’s paying for a purchase a gift for our nephew. She will help me navigate this seemingly impossible difficulty of being at the wrong table.
She sits down, looks at my face and asks me what’s wrong. I tell her and she gently reminds me that it’s anxiety. She’s right. I know the anxiety has been gathering for weeks. My chest is heavy, my hands tremble and my thoughts go to apprehensive places.
People seem threatening. I’ve been groomed and played before so I’m uneasy about my capacity to protect myself. I don’t want to really be around people who I know or at all. I know I’m being judgmental, but everyone seems creepy and inappropriate and as if they should have somewhere better to be. I’d give anything for a disinterested millenial barista instead of a cheerful upseller who asks all these questions.
I’m thinking about the US bombing Syria as I look around the nearly empty store and parking lot. Maybe I should buy a book about Syria to better understand? But I remember that I can’t read. I know how to read and do so daily, but books magazines and newspapers are like puzzle boxes. I hold them uncomfortably in my hand. I look at the words, but they don’t stick. I reread the same sentence. My heart races from despair to frustration and back again.
Anxiety has stolen reading.
Ledcat suggests a bite to eat and I agree because I haven’t eaten since 5 pm the night before. I just don’t think about it. Our fridge has bagels, waffles are in the freezer and oatmeal in the cabinet. There’s also fruit, eggs, cereal, etc. But if I start to think about the food prep versus just doing it, I don’t feel hungry enough to follow thru.
Anxiety steals hunger.
After lunch, we try the bookstore cafe again. She’s right about eating, but I knew that. She selects a table near a wall. I see ‘Jane Eyre’ on a nearby shelf and start to talk about the Masterpiece episode on the Bronte sisters. I liked Jane Eyre, but not Wuthering Heights. Laura has read neither, but her interest in non-fiction has her interested in the movie. Nearly half an hour passes before I realize that books are still my comfort.
Anxiety returns some tools.
I reach for my phone and open the library app. I’ve been trying to read ‘Lilith’s Brood’ which started off strong but became increasingly unsettling. I set that aside for now and try to find something more comforting for these difficult days. Nothing on my list resonates so I put it aside.
I consider buying the magazine, but I know it will sit on the coffee table unread. I just can’t master gripping the pages while following the typed words with my eyes. I tell myself that I will subscribe online, a temporary release of the angst, but one I know that I will not honor. I like being a supporter of feminist magazines. I feel included in a way that is unique to my identity as a 2.5 wave feminist, fitting in neither with the old guard nor the Bikini Kill feminists.
Anxiety steals my small pleasures.
I am tired. Engaging the world consumes energy at twice the typical rate. My hands ache, my heart is tired and I am restless. I haven’t napped today and we still have one more stop to make. Napping is definitely on my to do list each day as I push back against anxiety, depression and allergies.
It is time to go. I put the magazines back on the shelf, sad to see the feminist section has been demoted from third shelf eye level to second shelf back row, behind the wedding magazines. As we leave, I see a spring tote bag that strikes me as pretty. I pick it up and Laura urges me to splurge. But splurging is not an anxiety tool. Momentarily looking at the pretty bag is such a tool. I can see pretty things. That’s part of recovery.
I am writing this anecdote down so I can remember how anxiety steals time, taking my mind wandering down scary paths and demanding twice the energy to complete half the daily tasks. Even now, I am unsure if I remember everything correctly. But I outsmarted the anxiety by drafting notes on my phone that very day.
Anxiety doesn’t always win. It is a tension filled battle between how my heart aches and what my mind desires, but the battle isn’t over yet.