There comes a point in lockdown when beyond feeling trapped in my bedroom, I begin to feel trapped within my own skin – almost like it’s no longer mine. The person I am, underneath quarantine-related afflictions, is unknown to me. So, as I ease into a world that the news flippantly calls normal, I am unsure as to how I can belong in it.
Pre-COVID, anticipation for lunches, parties, sleepovers, and even classes, left no room for feelings of anxiety. But as soon as everyone was locked up in their homes, my accumulated anxiety began to surface. It later multiplied until it presented itself less like a feeling and more like a living being. My anxiety now has a voice, that warns me of the impermanence of my happiness. It has a body, bruised by whatever lockdown has inflicted upon it. It has hands that suffocate me should I feel even just a sliver of hope. And it has a mind, filled with a thick, tangled string of thoughts. My anxiety’s body and mine, sometimes feel as though they are one and the same – so much so that I can hardly distinguish its beliefs from my own.
Its possession of my body is slow to start: a minuscule and irrational, yet intrusive thought crosses my mind. By simply acknowledging it, I trigger a domino effect, where a hundred similar thoughts fall right onto my chest, one after the other. As my anxiety consumes me, I suddenly feel like someone else. Did my anxiety send that message, or did I? Did it make that decision, or did I? The stakes were far lower in self-isolation; the only choices I had to make were what to have for breakfast, or what show to watch. But outside, it pushes me even further down the edge.
I can’t help but feel like a fragmented version of myself – some parts belonging to me, others belonging to my anxiety. When I step outside, I’m more so a pair of eyes: watching new experiences unfold, but not having sufficient connection to the rest of my body to be able to actively participate in them. Though I’m in the midst of the regular flurry of activity, my mind isn’t; it’s back home with my anxiety, ruminating the past and the future, and overlooking the present in-between. I can exist in the banter with friends and family and the hugs that we share, but I can’t feel it; my anxiety absorbs the emotion amongst us so that it can’t reach me.
The prospect of having a greater connection with my anxiety, than with the people I love, terrifies me. If I could crawl out of my skin to stop myself from feeling the way that I do, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. As difficult as it is to admit, I must come face to face with my anxiety. No amount of wishing it were different will make it different.
Only a few months ago, I couldn’t visualise life post-lockdown, or anything concerning the future, for that matter. But right now, even if all I think I am is a pair of eyes, I can at least see the faces I’ve missed, the cars filling up the roads again, and the light from buildings past 10PM. These trivial things serve as daily reminders that the world is opening up again and soon, it’ll carry me with it.
I don’t know how to belong in this post-lockdown world because who I was before it started, is different from who I am now. Back then, I had the privilege of being so caught up in the thick of it all, that I couldn’t even stop to ask myself how I really felt. Though I’m anxious now, I’m aware how I feel and I know that I want more than this. I continuously try to engage in this changing world, knowing full well my anxiety will reappear, because I need to tell my anxiety that this could all be over soon. And that my body has just been a guesthouse for it – not a home.