In high school, I was in the drama club and we were doing All Shook Up. The director, a slow-moving, obese but cheerful woman with whom I never interacted very much (I was in stage crew), had a heart attack at a local diner and died a week before opening night. The show, of course, went on, but every student in the drama club learned how fragile life was and how it could be drastically changed–or taken away–in an instant.

When I was younger, I read a small story in a newspaper about how these two little kids went out to play soccer; they were struck by lightning and killed instantly. The reporter quoted the mother weeping something like, ‘You never expect it to happen to you, you just send your kids out to play soccer and it’s just raining and you think they’ll come home’.

My best friend in middle school told me once that her uncle died one night for no reason at all; he just stopped breathing in his sleep.

Life is fragile. I could think of a hundred good stories that begin with, ‘and those were the last words I ever said to my father’. We love those stories, where someone dies or loses a limb or gets otherwise life-alteringly hurt–and it only ever takes a second, and it could happen to anybody. In fact, it usually happens to those who least expect it, or deserve it. These stories remind us to live our lives to the fullest, and enjoy your loved ones while you have them, because you never know when that could change.

But all I learned was to worry.

Every moment my loved ones spend out of my sight is a moment they could choke, have a heart attack, get hit by a car, get struck by lightning. It only ever takes a second. And myself, every waking moment I spend is a moment my heart could stop beating, my lungs deflate, my brain swell, the earth quake, the house crumble, a tree fall on me. I find myself imagining scenarios in which I die, or worse, someone in my family dies–what happens next? Who is the first to know? Do I go back to school? Do I go to India? What about my other family members? What is the funeral like? In other words, my mind is like an out-of-control car that I am constantly trying to wrench back to rationality: calm down, this isn’t happening, how can you be thinking of this, it’s just making you upset.

I used to be afraid of feeling my pulse in case it stopped; now I can’t go ten minutes without checking it for the same reason. I now know more ways of checking my pulse than any health class could have taught me. I try to do it discreetly so I can do it anywhere. I am hypersensitive to the workings of my body: if something feels even vaguely wrong, or ‘off’, or even different, it consumes my thoughts. If my heartbeat is irregular, it’s about to give out. If I feel dizzy for no apparent reason, something must be seriously wrong with my brain and no amount of normal MRIs will convince me otherwise. If my feet feel tingly it’s because my circulation is poor, which means I have a weak heart or diabetes and will probably die soon. If every time I thought this, of course, something actually was wrong, I would be an invalid by now. So I wrench the car back on the road. Sometimes I wish I could go to sleep to stop worrying so much but of course the idea of sleep is worrisome for obvious reasons–what if I don’t wake up?

Perhaps what is ironic about all of this is that usually, once people realize how fragile life is, they are supposed to live life to the fullest. But I don’t. I am overly gentle with my body; I hate exercise, because when I exert myself my heart starts pounding and I think that’s bad. So I do no more than what I need to in order to function and convince myself that I’m still alive physically okay.

Every night, I tell my family, ‘goodnight, see you in the morning’, because I’m superstitious enough to believe that if I say I’ll see them in the morning, then I will, and if I forget to say that, then I won’t. Same for ‘goodbye, see you later’. I don’t remember the last time I told anybody just ‘goodbye’.

This is not an easy post for me to write. It took me a long time to decide to write this. I’m probably not going to proofread it. I must have checked my pulse at least ten times so far.

I have never been formally diagnosed with anxiety, or OCD, or anything of the kind. I wonder, does everybody feel this way? My mother tells me she worries about me all the time, because that’s what mothers do. Do mothers always feel like this? If so, I don’t know why anyone would want to be one.

I read today: ‘A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.’ Well I do want to live life to the fullest and stop living in fear. I don’t want to be anxious like this any more.

 

 

 

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