It goes like this:
You start the week feeling bright and prepared. You feel quietly assured that this time things will be different. You make plans, you write to do lists, you make a a vow to be healthy and productive. Go for a jog on Monday, salad for dinner Tuesday. You put that copy of Anna Karenina in your bag to read at lunch. You’ll be the you that you always knew you could be. You’ll keep it up for two, maybe even three days. But inevitably come Friday the veil of sensibility will have been torn to rags. You’ll find yourself desperately scrabbling for the weekend, on hands and knees, like a man in a desert dying of thirst, withering under the noonday sun, clawing his way towards an oasis.
Anxiety has a physical force; it stretches over the skin like cling film.
You’ll need distractions from your failure. You’ll need to stockpile them like you’re in an arms race – there’s no such thing as enough. Play some videogames – that’ll quieten the static for a while. But at some point your mind will become accustomed to the rhythms of the game’s internal logic and feel comfortable in resuming its assault on you. Consider adding music. Or if that doesn’t work maybe a podcast, an audio book, a radio show. Or if audio isn’t enough you could even set up some TV on a laptop or your ipad or your phone. Then you’ll have visual stimulus even during the loading screens.
Imagine you’re trying to black out a large window with thin paint that becomes translucent as it dries. You’ll never block all of the light from coming through at once. But you need to keep working to get as close to complete darkness as you can. Keep pushing that rock up that hill. Don’t waste your time questioning why.
Your partner watches you haul a bag full of cans of cheap lager and sacks of nutrition-less corn snacks through front door and says nothing.
It goes like this:
You make your physical presence comfortable with a soft chair and a pint glass within easy reach. Vices are essential. You can alter your thought patterns, skew them in different directions. So drink. Make sure you have a fridge full of your chosen poison and maybe some spirits in reserve. You don’t want to run out and be left without at too early a stage. What would you do then? What if it’s too early to sleep, if there are waking hours left to kill? Christ man, what would you do then? Take precautions. Keep an eye on your supply. You can slouch towards the off licence if you need to. If the worst comes to the worst you can order a crate from one of those late night delivery services. But how will you explain that to your partner should she awake to find you hauling 24 cans of lager through the front door at 3am? Or tomorrow when she gets up and discovers there’s the best part of a crate of over-priced booze in the kitchen and you’ve spent the night alone? It’s wise to keep it simple wherever possible. Stock up.
Drink may not be enough. You have friends who’ll grasp at whatever they can get hold of – coke, methedrone, ketamine. Whatever is popular and inexpensive. But that’s not us, right? Weed will do the trick. The drink and the smoke are enough. Because there are those blissful moments when it increases the feeling of significance of everything, where you’re just drunk enough to still feel heroic, majestic, and everything feels perfect. You’ll dance, you’ll strut through the halls, you’ll lay back and grin as songs burst and bloom through your headphones, spilling into your ears. Later it’ll work against you of course, the heightened sense of importance lending every internal cutting remark and unbearable memory your subconscious chooses to summon a feeling of fatal urgency. By the time this happens, you hope. you’ll be barely conscious, unable to do much of anything. You’ll be close to passing out.
It’ll get worse before it gets better.
At some point your partner will pop their head around the door to ask if you’re ok. You know the drill. It’s entirely normal to love someone and keep them at arm’s length, even while appearing to draw them near. That’s what love is, isn’t it?
It goes like this:
There’ll come the moment that you won’t be able to play games any more as the drink and the drugs take hold. Your thumbs will become sluggish, your vision will blur. You’ll start to feel annoyed with yourself for being unable to slay those monsters, score those goals, win those races, pop those headshots. No matter how many times you find yourself in that moment you’ll never stop getting irritated. Because we don’t want to stop playing – we don’t want to let the light in. Sooner or later though you’ll have to give and fall back on staring at those same few social media websites, watching strangers chat and vent about nothing in particular. Maybe you’ll feel feisty and get involved. Maybe you’ll feel your façade drop for an instant and you’ll say something honest. Maybe a favourite or a like will give you a glimpse of how it feels to not battle on alone.
It won’t last. How could it last? We’re all alone. The world is a messy place. So many people, all locked into their own private experience, colliding into each other at random. The world is a pinball table and we’re on an 8 billion multiball bonus stage. But try to remember: you’re not controlling the paddles. They aren’t your responsibility. So relax. Enjoy this brief window of time before your weary body surrenders itself to the grave. You can’t save anyone. And no one can save you.
You’ll try and stay quiet and not wake your partner. You may well fail: she’ll rise to ask you where you’re going. You’ll smile and say you’re going for a smoke; she’ll shake her head in despair. She doesn’t have to know how loud the harpies scream. She doesn’t need to know how the sound of their fluttering wings deafen you to reason.
It goes like this:
The hours drift by like a half-hearted wind. You think: I have had enough. I can go to bed now. But you also think: I’m not done. There is always another drink. There is always another smoke. You’re slumped outside, smoking down to the roach, throwing back slugs of booze between tokes. It serves no purpose now – you aren’t doing anything but maintaining the vices. The games are over. The music is just background noise. You spent some time cycling through the same few social media sites trying to find something for your brain to latch onto, a ledge to grab on your way down. Eventually you realised that nothing of interest would happen. And now you’re alone. You don’t have the strength to keep painting the window. The light comes shimmering in. You ruminate over the bad moments in your life, those mistakes that feel like crossroads where you made the wrong turn. Lovers you had, lovers you spurned. You shouldn’t have said that. You shouldn’t have chosen that. You shouldn’t have done that. It’s a parade of errors gliding down the main street of your mind’s eye and you’re glued to the concrete watching each grotesque float drive by. Your regrets leer at you. You finish another can and weigh up the option of another.
Your dexterity abandons you. You can’t wrap your thumbs around the rizla in such a way that you can roll another one last joint. You feel your head getting heavier, your eyelids falling like theatre curtains. You abandon the project, head to the bathroom and stare deep into your bloodshot eyes.
The guilt is a key ally of your malady. You’re in a civilized society with no real worries. You’re under no threat, you don’t have to fear any particular danger. You have food, shelter and entertainment enough to sustain not only yourself but potentially many others. You even have love. You have a family who care for you. You have a job. You have a bank account with money in it. What could you possibly find to complain about?
And so you say: I can’t keep doing this. And you say: I won’t keep doing this. Soon it’ll be Monday. You’ll stand once more at the threshold of a new beginning. You’ve had your fill now – there’s no need to drink with such wild abandon any more. You can eat healthier. Dig out the trainers from the pile of shoes by the door – you’re ready to go running again. Get those lungs working. Pull down some of those films you’ve been meaning to watch, those books you’ve been meaning to read – let’s give the mind something to chew over that isn’t your own mental gristle. Let’s re-write that to do list – be realistic this time, but still keep some ambition. It will be blank this time next week. You’re sure of it. And if not, well, there’s always another Monday, another week, another chance to do something different.
You slide into bed and listen to your lover’s breath, place your hand gently on her hip and you think: I’m sorry. And as your bruised and bruising brain finally slips into the depths of sleep you ask yourself: when and where will this end?