My anxiety has been ba-a-ad lately, in particularly mundane ways. Riding in the passenger seat Saturday night, I imagined oncoming traffic swerving into us, hitting us head-on, killing me instantly. I was up until Sunday morning’s ungodly hours fretting about the cat pee in the carpet in the second bedroom, imagining thousands of dollars charged by the rental office.
I used to think studying abroad three years ago was my first brush with anxiety. The acute nature of that anxiety was certainly new to me—every moment I thought I was going to die—but I was wrong to think anxiety was new to me altogether.
As a child I would lie awake imagining our house catching fire. I, however, made no contingency plans to enact in the event that my walls met flames. My only defense against this invisible blaze was my hands slapped together, my eyes closed, praying in whispers to a god I wasn’t even sure was up there. For all I knew, my prayers stopped at my ceiling. But adults told me he existed, so it had to be true.
I was a staunch rule follower. My mom used to tell me that she always knew when I was misbehaving—that mothers had a sense for their children’s wrongdoings—and though I knew this was scientifically impossible, some part of me believed her. I feared disappointment, so I was the best kid possible, always, whether or not adults were around.
Like, the first time I tried alcohol, I was 14. My best friend and I snuck vodka from the cabinet above her fridge and mixed it with ice-cold apple juice in small ceramic mugs. Her parents both asleep. We took our drinks on the roof, careful not to spill them as we crawled out her bedroom window. I had two sips and couldn’t drink any more. I was certain my mother would find out merely by osmosis the next time I was near her. My best friend finished my drink and neither of us got drunk.
I was always certain I was being monitored, somehow. Watched but not protected. When my grandmother died, family members consoled each other by saying she would be looking after us from above. But I imagined it one step further. For years, well into adolescence, I imagined my dead grandmother up in heaven, her transparent ghost-form standing on a cloud, not just looking down but watching me and reading my mind, reading all the filthy dirty impure reprehensible things I thought about. I imagined her crossing her arms and scoffing, daily, at my disappointment.
I guess this is to say that I finished So Sad Today and it both consoled me and terrified me. It consoled me because I related to it so much and it terrified me because I related to it so much. It's all about sadness and anxiety (she also regularly imagined her house catching on fire as a child, only she made plans to escape) and sex and self and self-hatred. I don't feel better but I feel less alone. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.
Most days, I’m not sure which is closest to the surface: my sadness or my anxiety. Both adored this book. It’s weird and magic and exactly what I needed.