Feature image photo by Rafa Elias via Getty Images
Top Five Times I’ve Thought I’ll Die But Then Clearly… Didn’t Die
- I’m sitting next to a man on a flight, and he has something beeping in his bag. At first I think it’s a watch, but immediately after, my brain convinces me it’s something worse. I remember something I read that said if you’re nice to violent people, they’re less likely to kill you. I wind up making polite conversation with this man while alarms go off in the back of my head and I think about exit strategies. It eventually hits me that we’re on a plane. There aren’t really any exit strategies, I’m just… stuck. We land after 45 minutes (it’s one of those short, regional flights). I discover that the beeping was, in fact, a watch as he digs through his bag upon arrival.
- A man knocks on my apartment door, but we’re not expecting anyone. I look through the peephole and notice that the person outside has a large box. I convince myself that large boxes can contain anything, including dangerous objects, so I pretend I’m not home. Eventually, my partner gets a phone call from our landlord who sent a repairman to fix the clogged drain we emailed them about a few days earlier. Because no one answered the door when the repairman arrived, we’re stuck with a clogged drain until Tuesday.
- I fly cross-country to visit some friends and notice a phantom pain in my leg. I reach out to primary care, who tell me that it’s probably deep vein thrombosis and that I need to go to the emergency room immediately. I do not go, mostly because I’m scared of getting Covid while there (which is honestly a terrible reason for not going, in retrospect) but stay up all night anyway terrified that I’ll die in my sleep. I wind up making an appointment with a cardiologist the following morning who rules out DVT, but who tells me that with my family history, I really should have been going to the cardiologist annually all along.
- I’m in bed, lethargic and feverish after a particularly bad Covid booster. I try to wait out the fever, but after six hours, I finally cave and ask my partner for a fever reducer. They bring me an unmarked pill, but tell me that it’s Tylenol. We’ve been together for multiple years, but my anxious brain tells me that this pill could be the pill that does me in – that my partner could, after all these years, murder me. It probably doesn’t help that the majority of what I consume, content-wise, is thrillers. All I’ve learned from the genre is that the people you least expect can be the ones most likely to harbor ill intent. I decide that giving up on my vigilance is a surefire way to die, so I wind up not taking the pill. Instead, I just lie in bed, feverish, for a lot longer than I need to.
- I match with someone on Tinder. I usually date my friends (gay), so online dating is new for me but I tell myself that this is a healthier approach to dating; I won’t lose friends in the process. I match with someone, and we have a great conversation, full of banter and emoji-heavy. As conversations on dating apps tend to do, ours turns to the topic of meeting up IRL. The person I’m talking to suggests a rooftop bar and sends me their number to coordinate. My anxiety spikes immediately. I was raised with a healthy dose of stranger danger, so someone sending me their number “too early” (or what I deem “too early” which is probably a normal amount of time) raises a red flag for me. That, and the fact that they’re proposing a rooftop bar. Not all rooftop bars have high walls, and I convince myself that this person could push me off. I wind up not responding to their message. A few weeks later, I match with this same person on Hinge. I push through my anxiety (two apps in a row has to be a sign), and we wind up going to a non-rooftop bar (important) for drinks. We date for multiple years and now live together. They offer me a Tylenol when I really need it, and I think of the rooftop again and how easy it would be to just finish the job.
No matter what the actual content of the opening scenes is, because you (presumably) purchased tickets or picked out this movie on a streaming platform or rented the DVD from somewhere, you had some agency in the making of this decision to watch the movie, and therefore, your body already knows it needs to be scared. It’s ready to notice all the things slightly askew and to assign meaning to them as being part of this larger, more horrific narrative.
My body also does that, except not just while watching horror movies. My body does that all the time.
Like an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. alone, I have anxiety. I experience dread pretty much constantly. Every time I wake up, it’s like my brain says, “Okay, Ashni, let’s do a quick inventory of all the things that could kill you today!”
Usually I don’t have to look very far. The New York Times widget, that I originally downloaded so my news wouldn’t come exclusively from Twitter, makes unlocking my phone an overall miserable experience. The only headlines I see are about the frontlines of war in Eastern Europe, the looming national debt crisis, or about how climate change will kill us all – and actually already is.
Living with anxiety is kind of like being trapped in a horror movie, except it lasts way longer than a standard two-hour situation. It lasts pretty much all the time. The initial anxious thought is like those discordant moments in opening scenes, that hint that something is amiss. Much like in horror movies, your brain tries to convince itself that whatever it’s anxious about couldn’t possibly happen, that you’re overreacting. But then something bad actually does happen, confirming you were right to be scared all along. And then the cycle of fear restarts and you’re trapped, tormented by a villain you literally cannot escape from.
I read something recently that suggested perhaps genetically, anxiety is something that has helped previous generations survive when others didn’t. Maybe having anxiety, or as I like to call it, “no chill”, is what’s kept me going for so long. Maybe anxiety is actually my family’s secret weapon! We certainly pass it down the way other families pass down secret holiday recipes. My therapist (who I adore and am so grateful for) has said anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the body’s way of letting us know something could, in fact, be wrong. But most of the time, anxiety feels fucking awful.
Anxiety manifests in lots of different ways for people, but in my body, it feels like a constant barrage of thoughts, all very much variations on “what if [insert terrible thing] happens.” My heart races, my palms sweat, and I’m stuck in this cycle of not being able to move on from the anxious thought(s) until I do something about them or someone tells me that things are okay. Sometimes, anxiety is fleeting. I can be anxious about if I locked the door, if someone is following me on the subway platform, or if I accidentally sent a link to porn on Slack. Other times, the anxiety is larger and all-encompassing. In my worst moments, I’ve been anxious for entire days, occasionally weeks.
Most of my fears are around dying, maybe because I don’t understand it. The narratives that I consume teach me death is everywhere, that it can come at any time. It’s why I’m terrified of beeping watches, or taking a harmless pill from my partner, who by the way, is my emergency contact! I trust them with my life, apparently, just not all the time. Nothing about my anxiety makes real sense, but that’s part of it. It convinces me that it does — that the man at my front door is someone to be scared of, or that a rooftop bar is just as good a venue for a first date as it is for murder — not unlike a good horror movie. We all know that monsters don’t exist, but while you’re watching them on screen, they feel real, and that’s all that matters.