I’ve been swimming a lot lately, at a pool that requires you to reserve a lane. Easy enough. But for me, making the reservation is only the beginning. While I’m in the the locker room pre-swim, I’ll start to worry that that someone might be in my reserved lane, and will refuse to leave. This obviously never happens.
If this anxiety-for-no-reason inner monologue ended with my agitation in the locker room, then okay. But I continue to think about it while swimming. What if there had person in my lane? What would I have done then? I try soothe myself, by reminding myself that I am currently swimming in the very lane I was worried about, but it doesn’t help. My mind is an endless loop, no exit.
It’s the realization that there’s no way out of the endless loop, and not really the endless loop itself, that turns something annoying into something frightening. It’s not that I’m ruminating, but rather the knowledge that I can’t stop ruminating that makes me take to my bed 4 p.m in the afternoon with a Xanax and a meatball sandwich. This helps a little bit. The anxiety seems to be buried below the benzos and the meatballs; it’s still there, but smooshed. That is, until it’s time to swim again.
Worse, there’s no good way to describe anxiety. Sure, there are the same thoughts over and over, and the physical feeling of having a layer of aluminum foil under your skin. But it’s mostly indescribable; it’s a triumph of language that people have even a basic understanding of what you mean when you say you’re anxious, or freaking out. Still, it’s disconcerting that the only way to describe it is to rely on phrases that make no sense: the mind races, we feel on edge, the heebie-jeebies.
I’ve felt this mostly indescribable feeling in the material world, or the meat world, a few times. Almost thirty years ago, my friend Ali and I went to Coney Island on a random winter day, and for some reason the rides were working. We got on one of those little loopy roller coasters that just go in a circle, forwards and backwards. We were the only ones on the ride, it felt like we were the only ones on that cold, gray boardwalk at all. Maybe we were, and that’s why the ride operator had some fun with us, making the ride go backward and forward and…