by Jessilyn Rich
Anxiety erupts in my skin and overtakes all my senses. It is 3:13 in the morning and I lay curled in a ball in my bed, suffocating at the hands of a monster that I can’t see, a monster I can’t control. I am not okay. I am not okay and I can’t breath. I can’t breathe and I am going to die. I am going to die and so will everyone I ever love. We will all die someday, our bones crumbling to dust. What if no one remembers me? What if I am not worth remembering? Why would I be worth remembering? Would anyone even miss me? These are the things running through my mind at 3:21 AM.
Anxiety drums aggressively on my spine, as my battered inner voice tries to scream over the sound. My thoughts make me tired but the noise keeps me awake. My fingers tingle with the urge to rip the covers from my bed and do something. Do something, do anything to create relief. Relief that my body so desperately craves. What am I doing? Why do I do this to myself? Laying in bed at 3:27 in the morning, panic ripping through my body like wildfire about things that haven’t happened, things that won’t happen, things that don’t matter, things that I can’t even control. This is what crazy people do, I must be crazy too. I don’t want anyone to know I am crazy. Why do I have to be crazy? I make lists in my head of things with no purpose, trying to distract myself from the raging thoughts splashing against the walls of my mind. My lists drown in the roaring waves, as the roar of a monster fills the silence.
I am lying alone in my bed, in the middle of the night, held captive by a predator caged within my ribs. My anxiety is like a tiger. On the good days it walks the edges of its enclosure, waiting for its prey to stray within its reach. On bad nights like this one, the tiger escapes from its cage and I play dead. I play dead beneath my covers, tears streaming down my cheeks while I wait desperately for it to leave me alone. Alone in my bed, alone in the darkness of my 3 A.M. lonely.
It is 3:31 AM and I sit alone on the floor of my bedroom trying to catch my breath, trying to escape the jaws of a monster that my ribs hold captive within. Tears leak from my eyes but my lungs are too empty to make a single sound. My chest heaves with the desperation of my mind to hear sound, but nothing comes out. I am alone on the floor, my blanket the only thing there to hold me because who would want to hold a crazy girl anyway. I feel so alone. No one wants to try and rescue a crazy girl being held hostage by an invisible monster at 3:38 in the morning, they want to be asleep in their bed.
Bed, the place I wish I could be. Warm under the covers with dancing sugar plums or sheep in my head, anything but these nagging thoughts and drowning lists. I try to look back on the day I had before to distract myself from the overwhelming sense of doom that consumes me. Suddenly every conversation I had becomes a highlighted film of my own awkwardness and stupidity. I cringe at the things I have said and every interaction I had. I crumble at the thought of the babbling that spewed from my lips as anxiety tampered with the messages between my mouth and brain. I talk too much when I am nervous and I am almost always nervous. This is the curse of social anxiety. People don’t like me, why would they? I question every moment of my day, every person that crossed my path. My anxiety taunts me, reminding me that they were probably just being nice to the crazy girl, they will get sick of me soon enough. Trickling tears exploded into noiseless rivers as my own self loathing car jacks my inner voice, and whispers in my ear “Who could ever love someone like you?”
3:54 A.M. and I rip the clothes from my trembling body, possessed by a caged animal. Climbing into the shower, water blasts from the tap and I let the darkness swallow me whole. I can’t bear to look at my sorry self. Even in the dark, I look away from the mirror that hangs on the wall. The mirror is the place I see the damaged goods I have become. The place I am reminded of my scars. The place where I see the things I don’t want to see, the place where I refuse to find anything about myself to love, as the tiger’s roar echoes off the tile. I had to do something, but the mirror is a bigger monster than the tiger within and I regret coming into the bathroom.
Adrenaline floods my veins and my drowning body collapses to the shower floor, the ache in my limbs just too much. Knees to my chest as ice cold water pelts my back, I beg my body to grow numb. I can’t take another second of this. This is my lonely. This is my 4:00 am, lonely. This is my lonely that cries alone on the floor, because my body weighs too heavy to be anywhere else. This is my lonely that I hide away from the world. This is my lonely that lives so deep in the darkness, I fear no one could ever find me. This is my lonely that writes the songs that anxiety sings, the anxiety that makes me feel unlovable. This is my 4:06 A.M, eyes burning, limbs shaking with exhaustion lonely. Why am I the crazy girl?
I pull myself from the floor and my body weighs heavy like cement. I stand in the darkness wrapped in a towel that feels as rough as sandpaper. Sandpaper on my burning skin. Skin that holds in my anxiety. Anxiety that makes me the crazy girl. The crazy girl that I don’t tell anyone about. 4:16 A.M. and I crawl into my bed naked and ashamed, my body too defeated to even pull a t-shirt over my throbbing skull. My trembling limbs pull the covers on the bed a little tighter and beg them to hold me a little closer. Exhausted and alone my body succumbs to sleep. Why do I do this to myself? Why am I the secret keeper of a monster that has no master?
In what feels like seconds my alarm screeches with fury instructing me to start my day. The world has little care for the anxiety that roams my body in the night like a raging beast, or the sleep that it stole from me. I stumble through the motions of my morning, too exhausted to analyze anything, but the process of making tea for myself, which may be the only blessing. I walk out the door having tamed wild hair that had dried in knots from the disaster that was my 3:00 A.M. lonely. I get in my car and I drive. I drive and I pretend that I am normal. I am normal and I am okay. I am okay and I am listening to music. I am listening to music and drinking tea from my travel mug. I am drinking tea from my travel mug and I am just driving to where I need to go.
You greet me as I walk through the door and I wonder for a moment if you are crazy like me, or you actually slept well last night. I don’t ask. You ask me how I am, I smile and tell you I am great, I’m lying but I don’t want you to know I’m the crazy girl. I wonder for a moment what you would say if I told you that I was haunted by ghosts of the past, paying for a crime I didn’t commit. I wonder what you would say if I told you I was lonely. I wonder what you would say if I told you I wished someone would listen and help me leave some of this behind, but I don’t tell you.
I’m too scared to find out what you would say because people don’t like broken souls. They would much rather live within a beautiful lie than a heart shattering truth, so I just smile and keep talking. We chat for a moment and you smile at something I said, what did I say? Why can’t I remember? I made you laugh and I can’t even remember what I just said a moment ago. Why do I feel like a distracted third party in a conversation that I am having. I replay our conversation in my head like a wobbly VHS tape as I walk away from you and down the hall.
Were you just being nice? Were you smiling because you felt you had to? Am I a burden? Do you really care how I am? Did you roll your eyes as I walked away and I didn’t see it? Do you dread the moment you see me walk through the door? I analyze every movement, and I feel inferior. I feel like someone people would never want around. I feel like no matter what I do I am never enough. I feel like I always say and do the wrong things. I feel like a nobody that wants to be a somebody. I just want to hear that people care, that I matter just a little. That I would be missed if I wasn’t there tomorrow. I can hear my anxiety laughing at my insecurities, and I bite my quivering lip. I wonder if you thought everything I said was as stupid as I did. I wonder if my anxiety hangs in the air like a bad perfume.
I wonder if you could tell I’m just the crazy girl?