By Jessica Xalxo
There had been a moment that morning. Just one.
A single ray of sunshine had pierced the otherwise outwardly aesthetic room. Almost shooting at my head, as its golden tendril reflected off of the walls, before losing its novelty and direction. A single yellow spot amidst the black and white of my living squarespace.
It was there. I had felt it. Basked in it even. Hah!
And then like a thought unchased, with no heed for a request, it was gone. Just like the person who ghosts on you.
It had been courteous enough to leave a replacement. A substitute in abundance. For it had left not just one thought but a myriad coiling sentences, nestled in my head, latching themselves to the crook of my brain. In the mellow afternoon light, it had placed in the once haloed spot a hat.
What a common yet largely unused accessory — even in the tropical weather of the city — and oft, unspoken of too.
Had it known it was going to be draughty outside? Perchance. That wouldn’t be a wild guess, given the temperament of the weather lately. But it did not know me well. I did not wear hats, and this one, it did not sit well.
It was a black hat, a fedora, I think. Its felt encompassed most of the top of my head and half of my ears, so that when I put it on, the thrum of the world ceased at once. The only voice I heard was my own. My own words, my own thoughts, my own fantasies, my own reassurances and my own validations. And as my hair rose to meet the hat’s roof, as if joining with the fabric, my head accepted this gift like it had no choice. But really, it did. It, no, I always did. Didn’t I? Alas, meeting the fate of most good thoughts, my mind shied away from tracing this one to its very end.
It was a safe space, really. The fedora. A singular pocket of existence, with as many avenues of imagination as the hair follicles on my young flaking scalp. If I could store all my thoughts in this hat, especially those that corresponded with its colour, these thoughts, would they be contained? I might not even have to speak them. No soul would ever know the expanses, the tall worlds my mind built with my predictions of the speech and movements of the world, not always true but all too real to me.
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What relief, I chimed to myself. But what kind of justice would that be, really? A shaky resounding laugh escaped me, taking several breaths with it. The sighs slowly failing as they tried to keep up with my mind and the conclusions it was arriving at. There would still be the comprehending to do. Thoughts and thinking held each other by the hand. And that was where all the trouble lay after all. At least, this way, no one else would know. This could be my safe space.
And thus, I became one with the fedora. These were my thoughts after all. Contained. Within me. How destructive would they be?
The hat was boundlessly snug. I could close my eyes and never leave the seemingly infinite folds in its abyss of darkness. So many velvet corners of granite coolness to settle into and be lost in — forever. All sights and smells beyond reach and amiss here in this dream of night. Oh no, waking would be unbearable. The thought of raising the shutters and my body off the bed – that might have been where the misery lay after all.
And then, I heard it. The hat. It was speaking!
There was a small congregation forming within the hat. Voices! All mine. Murmuring at first, then slowly gaining in octave, and rising, to a lilting cacophony of screams, as they curled, in smoky wisps, around my heart.
THERE IS SO MUCH TO BE DONE. SO MUCH. TOO MUCH.
ALL THINGS THAT I DON’T WANT TO DO WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS.
ALWAYS A FEW. SOMETIMES TOO LITTLE TO MATTER.
TO BE DONE, MUCH THE SAME.
I WON’T FINISH DOING THEM.
In that moment, I realised I was Atlas. There would never be an escape for me. The hat could only be my requiem, not repose.
Breathe, I reminded myself. Think of something else. Anything else. Try and come up with a new thought to replace every old cycle of notion. Engage your mind with mint ideas. Think. Jump. Again and again. Anything could be better than this. This did work, it always did. For a few spells of time. Until it didn’t. And then the hat’s call was too potent to not heed.
]The tasks of the day seemed insurmountable. Nevertheless, I would do them. And sincerely so. I always tried, didn’t I? What good was that in a globe of millions of actions – I did not know. But what if I couldn’t? What if I couldn’t complete my tasks? I would fail and then there would be too much and too many to lose. More than I could bear.
Will she still talk to me if I don’t submit my part of the Gender Project on time?
I’m way behind on my writing projects and she probably sees it as a lack of commitment.
Why can’t I work at a normal pace like the others? My ass will be fired soon.
I am going to die alone and if I don’t work before then, I will die alone and broke.
Am I even worthy of realising my dream?
Is my dream even for me?
The whole team is going to realise I’m a sham sooner or later.
I take too long to get a simple task done.
Sincerity is not the same as results.
Maybe it is that most tasks don’t interest me. No, that’s definitely it.
But some things must be done anyway.
Get yourself together, you’ve always had a healthy if not crazy work ethic.
It’s work or the void, you have a choice.
Occupy a space.
There are those exams that need to be given too. Correction : re-exams.
Everybody’s going to give up on me.
I don’t know if I can do this.
I am too scared to find out.
Oh Lina also requested me to set up a blog page for her tourism business.
I have to call up Aunt Priscilla.
When was the last time I caught up with Tasneem? She must hate me now.
I am overly saturated in one field.
Dad thinks working from home isn’t work.
I am too dead to want a social life.
I am definitely going to be fired tomorrow.
My parents are getting older and nearing retirement. I need to step up more.
YOU COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT PRIORITISING COLLEGE ONCE AGAIN!
I took off the hat as I felt the voices forming a vice like grip around my throat, clenching my scream. The voices would subdue me. Unless…unless, I did something.
Quick! Jumping from the bed and onto the creamy marble floor, I fumbled to find my slippers and made my way to the white desk that sat beside the bedroom window. I dipped my hand into the pen stand, telling myself to ignore the sheath of dust on the pen I had selected. They were all the same anyway. Where was the time to dust when there was so much to be done? I would probably be found smothered by a dust bunny if and when I lived alone. That is if I ever lived to save up enough to move out.
Focus! I screamed at myself. There’s work to be done.
I laid the voices of the hat out on to the board. To write them. Quantify them. Give them basis and ground. I had found work to be a saviour back when the thoughts had gotten bad. It had helped me rewire and adjust to the new normal. But the thoughts never ever did leave me. Not for too long.
I translated the voices into 8 tasks for my to-do list. Okay, 8 and a half. Some were filler tasks – though I treated them all the same. Each task would take some time of their own, but each was do-able. I could do them. I would do them. And I would make it through.
After all, I had even taken off the hat. Acknowledged its existence. Parted with it. Or at least, I had tried. Now, it was only up to my mind to contain the thoughts. No escape or considerations of a final void. Recovery was better than requiem. Maybe.
I turned to look at the bed, wanting, no needing so badly to wrap myself in the comforting shroud of my bedsheet.
“Just brush your teeth and eat your breakfast,” I said aloud. Speaking to myself again. I only ever spoke multiple authoritative sentences to myself anymore, in stark contrast to my outward social and pliant self.
Put one foot in front of the other. A smile when in doubt. A call should you collapse, but maybe not. What if nobody answers? Those who tell you to call when you need them are being courteous. Don’t actually take them up on the offer. How could they possibly help you? You’ll lose the people you have if they learn of the real you. Just be where you’re most comfortable and not bothersome, but still, try to push the ante – you’ve to get somewhere in life and you could start with getting out of this. This doesn’t have to be your everyday reality. But it is, isn’t it? Will every day be like this? It will.
Mom would hate me when she realised that I hadn’t been able to get myself to go to college. Again. I couldn’t. How could I tell her that? Maybe once the early morning stopped feeling like a second vacuum and college another concrete social obligation of sharing space, I’ll want to go. I’ll have to want to go. Tomorrow, I will. Please, please do, I beg myself, crying mutedly as I shuffled, taking questioned steps to the bathroom.
“We could seek professional help, you know?,” I heard one last whisper from the hat as it sat, taunting and perched on my space.
“Oh honey, nobody believes that you are real, and nobody will believe me about you.” Nobody.
Till date, I live varied renditions of the hour on repeat.
The Anxious Hat is fictionalised narrative, based on personal experience. The author wished to let people know what it is like to live with anxiety and to repeatedly question one’s every thought and action. She experiences extreme anxiety and only recently reached out for professional help. Her days are changing with recurrences but no looped repeats.
WHAT IS ANXIETY
Anxiety is often seen as a mental disorder that can be easily dealt with because it’s normalised and stereotyped in everyday interactions. However, for those battling the actual disorder and not tiny jolts of anxiousness now and then, it can be a very debilitating mental state to live with. Especially when they can’t bring themselves to seek help or to let people know how serious their anxiety is. Imagine living the story on repeat without any external help.
Therapy, breathing exercises, meditation and certain other techniques do go a long way in aiding one to manage their anxiety. Please do try and access help.
Jessica Xalxo is a student engaged in the fields of gender, peace, writing and education. She has authored the Red Elephant Foundation’s “Speaking Our Truth: A Curriculum on Non-Violent Communication.” She is also the Assistant Editor at One Future Collective and a Writer at SheThePeople.TV. You can tweet to her @IriscopeX.
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