Anxiety is a beast that reaches up from the pit of my stomach each morning to clutch my heart in its icy hand and press its long, sharp fingernails against my throat. You're going to die, it whispers, its voice like crushed gravel as I stumble out of bed and into my oversized black robe.
Stop that, I tell it as I shuffle to the kitchen, breathing slowly through my nose, in and out, in and out. We're not dying, we're making coffee. A pile of dirty dishes greets me—you need to wash those, they're starting to smell, your roommate hates it when dishes pile up in the sink, he hates you for not washing them sooner—Coffee first, I tell myself, just make the coffee—but the plants in the windowsill need watering and your turtle is begging for food and the recycling bin is overflowing isn't collection day soon? Don't you have emails to answer, don't you have a review to write, shouldn't you get ready for storytime on Tuesday, you should work out, you should wash your hair, take your vitamins, check the weather, choose your outfit, call your grandma, call your senator, YOU'VE BEEN OUT OF BED TWO MINUTES ALREADY HOW ISN'T ALL OF THIS DONE???
I grip the countertop as a tidal wave of nausea hits me. I'm going to throw up, I think, and then, no, I'm not. This is just anxiety. I know it is.
Asshole, I call the crushed-gravel voice, and I rub my chest in small circular motions, trying to massage the grip on my heart loose, reminded always of a cat kneading its paws into my collarbone.
I know those cold fingers clench too tightly to be undone by my fingertip massage, more a comforting habit than a real solution, and after I hand-feed my turtle—I dropped that piece, I'm sorry, I'm feeding you later than usual today, I'm a terrible mother, I'm sorry—I reach for the bottle of little white chill pills, the soldiers against the beast inside me, my first and strongest weapon to beat my anxiety monster back.
I swallow two little white pills—"I've been taking double doses lately," I told my psychiatrist, "Is that okay?" and she'd assured me that it was, if I needed it, and I don't trust the single doses these days, don't trust that one little white pill has enough in its arsenal to tame the beast, to push it back enough that I can quiet the clamor of the crushing to-do list that leaves me feeling too paralyzed to begin even a single task, much less finish them all.
Ten minutes. That's how long it takes my Lorazepam soldiers to fight and win their battle, and while they work I focus on one task at a time, ignoring the cacophonous monologue of my monster. You still haven't heard back from Donna about that job—an icy squeeze threatens to stop my breath—or decided which books to use for storytime because you suck at storytime. You've got dirty clothes on the floor in the bedroom and you haven't started those library books that are due at the end of the week. When are you going to find time to read all those? Your coworker's going to know you didn't read the novel she recommended and she will hate you for it.
No, I think. Later. Later I will worry about that. Now I have to shut the bathroom door, lock it, take my clothes off, put my shower cap on. I need to step into the shower—you haven't gotten your mother anything for Mother's Day yet. You don't even know what to get her. You're a terrible daughter—and wash my face. Just wash my face. I'll feel better then, once my face is clean, and then my body. By the time I step out of the shower and finished getting dressed, it will have been ten minutes.
By the time I step out of the shower and get dressed, the beast should be calm enough for me to go about my day. In ten minutes, I should stop feeling sick.
Just ten more minutes.