I feel like I’ve always lived this way. As far back as I can remember, it’s mostly been the same. Not a single moment is spent focusing on the moment itself, but rather thinking about what may happen in the next ten minutes, the next hour, day, month even. I’ve seen all the posts on Instagram with painfully glowing backgrounds and child-scrawl text loudly proclaiming “live in the now!”. Who hasn’t? But even as I see the picture, my mind is thinking about the next post, the next overly cheery piece of life advice that I probably won’t follow.
For years, I thought this was normal. Then, when my therapist told me I had this thing called Anxiety, I found out it wasn’t normal to always be thinking about the future. But did I stop doing just that? Did I even try? Nope– I kept right on worrying. That’s not to say I was always worrying, because I was and I wasn’t at the same time. It wasn’t a constant, leg-shaking, nail biting worry that I lived in. It was just a permanent state of “what’s next?” interspersed with a few moments of relief. I hung out with friends, watched movies, played games; I enjoyed doing all of these things, and I felt happy, like any other person would. And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind was always the person waiting for the next moment, worrying what it might contain. I am always two people, never being fully able to feel the present, letting myself down by always thinking about the next ten minutes.
Just the other day, I was spending time with my boyfriend. We watched movies, cuddled, passed the day away together. And I was happy– I swear, I was. Then we went for a walk, and as I was pushing aside a tree branch, he looked at me and said, “What’s wrong? You seem upset.”
“I’m not,” I promised him, flashing what I hoped was a convincing smile. I wasn’t upset, but that other me was there playing out the next ten minutes in my head, and they were throwing me off. I couldn’t fully focus on the green of the leaves and the comforting sound of the water because I was also focused on what might happen if I said something dumb. Or maybe if a skeleton hand suddenly broke through the ground right under us and grabbed his ankle. Would I be able to save him, or would I run in terror?
He nodded and kept walking, but it was clear in his eyes that he didn’t quite believe me. I kept walking too, wondering now about the possibility of a tree coming alive and a skeleton assaulting us. Might the tree fight with us, or would it grab me and throw me high into the air? I had no way of knowing, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t spend all my brain power preparing for both scenarios. While I kept walking, the Other Me stayed behind, at war with the mutant tree. Even when they were out of sight, I could still hear the sounds of their battle.
One part of that day sticks out to me. Held up by three trees, all of which seemed to be very alive, there was a vine about as thick as a baseball bat, hanging down over the creek. As my boyfriend grabbed it and began to tug, testing its strength, my brain was racing with the thought of the trees falling on his head; Other Me was racing towards us, already dialing 9-1-1. But the trees didn’t budge. He looked at me with a sly smile, and suggested: “Why don’t you get on?”
I won’t lie, every part of me said no. The next ten minutes playing out in my head led directly to the hospital, without passing Go. But I ignored that, and, with a little help, climbed onto the vine. Keeping my balance was hard, and it wasn’t the most comfortable of perches, but I managed. In the back of my mind, Other Me was still there. But then something odd happened.
I felt his hands on my back, gently pushing me forward, the air flowed past me as I swung, and Other Me disappeared. The next ten minutes were of no concern to me; I was one person, and I laughed wholly at the feeling. I let myself feel my surroundings, the roughness of the vine and the coolness of the air, and enjoy it. The world was sudden, not planned or anticipated but just there, and I was there with it. After a few minutes, I jumped down and turned, placing my arms around him. He smiled, and his eyes told me that he knew something was different. “Your turn,” I challenged, and gave him a kiss. He laughed and climbed onto the vine, and before I knew it, Other Me was back, hands waving wildly.