By Thomas Stewart
I first met my anxiety at the end of a cigarette. It was brief, I didn’t get to know it, only that one day it would return when I wasn’t ready.
I watched my father stop eating because the cancer prevented him from being able to swallow, the chemo got rid of his appetite, his pain got rid of his desire.
I started hiding food from the living room and filling my stomach with it late at night.
I started to wake with a heavy feeling in my stomach, like something punching its way out.
I started curling over the toilet each morning and throwing up junk.
Before work I’d pick myself up from the floor, still trembling, with the occasional tear rolling down my face. I would ignore my anxiety. But my anxiety demanded attention.
My anxiety took many forms. It started to move its way around but always found its way back. It would come to life when my phone rang. It hid in the corner of my brain when I was alone so I’d always know it was there. It would find its way back to my stomach when it was time for dinner.
My anxiety would take me to the toilet when I was sitting alone or with my family or drinking in a bar. It took me to the toilet a few times every hour. My anxiety stunned me and kept me wrangling my hands. My anxiety got in my head.
My anxiety didn’t like cigarettes or coffee or food – it screamed when I put anything in my stomach. The only thing that contained it was weed.
When I was stoned, I Googled anxiety and the Internet did that thing where it said yes, yes, you have anxiety. I didn’t believe the Internet. I didn’t even believe my anxiety to be my own. I thought it was fake or momentary. I thought my anxiety would leave my stomach as soon as it came.
Soon, my anxiety couldn’t get me down because I had something to look forward to, a light at the end of the black tunnel, a way out from this death. I had weed and my window and my falling sun. I needed nothing else.
But my anxiety became a part of my shoulders and my arms. It rallied through my veins, it became part of the movements in my blood. When I blew out the smoke, I no longer felt that weight of dreams, instead I looked out of the window and kept seeing the dead in the sky.
There’s a moment where I feel the anxiety of my past close like an air vent and there’s a strange moment of certainty. I am certain this is who I am without my anxiety because this is who I always was. But then the flap of the previous anxiety is thrown open and what feels like a hundred bats soaring around inside.
Sometimes my anxiety isn’t around but I still feel its vibrations. I know there’s something wrong inside my body but I can’t define it anymore.
My anxiety has become my stomach and become my body. I am disillusioned by my body, some might say afraid of it. I have no control or knowledge of what happens inside. I have to trust that the red splatter in the toilet is red wine and not blood. I have to trust my anxiety isn’t a tumour or cancer. I have to trust I will not go like my grandfather and father.
“How will you die?” my anxiety whispered to me one night.
“Painfully,” I replied.
And then I hugged my anxiety because it’s the only thing I knew to do.