My home does not feel like a prison. It doesn’t feel like a coffin both because I am not dead and because I cannot afford to line the walls with silk sheets. I love my home. I also love swimming, but if something was standing at the edge of the pool and kept me from getting out of the water, even being a place I love can’t keep me from feeling trapped.
Anxiety is weird because, to someone who doesn’t share the same anxieties, it probably would look like I get nervous for no discernible reason. But usually I can figure out the reason. People exist, and today they were existing right outside the door and on the little patch of grass and while cooking and eating and having a happy night and all this… probably looks ridiculous. But it’s hard to come out into a world when you’ve constantly had the idea that you do not belong reinforced by a dangerous tag team consisting of you and what you think people are thinking and sometimes the news.
I’ve been trying to find a way to explain my anxiety to someone who has no experience with it.
Imagine you are a wanted criminal, the distant old west “Dead or Alive” poster kind, not the too-real “shot a bunch of people because they had guns and no impulse control or sense of intrinsic morality” kind. Now imagine you’ve just moved into a new town. You have a new name, a new set of furniture, a new life, and now you’ve got a new home. You’ve just finished unpacking your mule when there’s a knock at your door. Only, you’re in the old west, so the knock is actually at those little swinging door things so they just swing open.
You invite the knocker in. That’s what you’re supposed to do when a new neighbor comes to welcome you, so you do that. Not doing what is expected of you shows you’re different, and you don’t want that.
The visitor is friendly and asks to sit down. Having nothing, you offer them the floor. They sit. You follow. Things seem off, but you can’t place why. You don’t realize that sitting on the floor is weird until hours later. You introduce yourself and your guest does the same. All seems to be going well. Your secret has not been revealed. You start to think maybe you could actually be a part of this community. Maybe they’d just let you live and be boring and, even though you kind of look like an outlaw, you never have to confirm those suspicions. Maybe they’d do that even if they knew people in another town would call you a different name and thought you’d done something terrible because of it.
They ask where you’re from.
You fall back into your head and are forced to recall everything that led up to this moment. You remember being accused of robbing a train because you looked like the kind of person to rob a train. You remember being chased from town. You remember being dearly confused why anyone thought you’d done anything wrong when you had, in fact, just had some rough bedhead and hangover breath. You remember the posters going up and just being alive suddenly being something to worry about.
The visitor asks their question again because you’ve just been staring at their forehead for a solid minute. They are concerned you had died. You start a response, can’t think of what to say. You’re caught between wanting to tell the truth to see what reaction that gets and lying because it’s easier and there’s less of a chance that somebody will shoot you. You don’t say anything. You just sit there. Instead of affirming that you are what your visitor thinks you are and seeing how they react, you stay silent. You are frozen at this moment just before the confirmation.
The visitor leaves.
Your house burned down because the townsfolk think you’re a witch.
It is not criminal to avoid interacting with people for whatever reason, but this deep part of myself mired in insecurity knows that being seen as socially different in any way is dangerous, even if it shouldn’t be. And when I’m talking to someone, there is always this little nagging fear that they know everything about me and are just waiting for the right moment to pull me apart. I could be talking about the weather and they’d just be waiting for their moment to say“You smelled bad in 6th grade because you lived in a motel like a loser.” And, I mean, yeah, that’s factually accurate, but people have this weird ability to turn things that are true and neutral into things they try to use against you. These little guiding insecurities are terribly inaccurate and would wither upon closer inspection if they didn’t draw power directly from me constantly thinking about them.
Despite the impression I definitely give in my writing, I’m a pretty normal person, but anxiety demands that I do not think of myself that way. Instead, I convince myself that normal attributes are weird and that slight differences are cause to hide and that the people around me think I’m some kind of reclusive monster when, more accurately, I’m a reclusive dork who would inflict a critical discussion about dragons on anyone who would listen if I could.
So I didn’t go to the little community gathering outside. I was too busy convincing myself I had something horrible to hide when, more accurately, the only thing I should hide is how many pictures of my cat I have on my phone because nobody needs that information to judge me with.