It was moving to London that made me really aware of it, in a way that moving to Japan never really did.
I think it was because Japan was so utterly planned – my job was there, my flat was there, my salary was this, and my friends were these. There was plenty to worry about, like lack of understanding, like being far away, like being hated, being bad at my job, being to person who finally convinced Japan that all foreigners were a waste of space; but there were so many other people with exactly those same concerns that they felt weakened and dispelled.
And then there was the fact that it was book-ended: I could not stay here. At some point, whether that be after one year or five, I would have to go back to New Zealand, to the sun and my parents and the places I knew. They might be dragging me there kicking and screaming, but at least I knew where I would be.
Moving to London was different because there were so many hundreds of things waiting to go wrong, and there was so much uncertainty. No job, no home, money enough only for a few months. A city so large and sprawled and self-sustaining that it wouldn’t notice me arrive, nor care if I left. I went to Japan because someone decided I was needed there; I went to London knowing that I was a tiny drop in a human ocean that was already over-full.
Suddenly, things mattered more. Spending too much on food; being five minutes late. Offending one of the only three people I knew in the country. Overstaying a welcome. Saying the wrong thing. Missing out. I got anxious. I got worried.
I’ve always been a planner but I also always considered myself easy-going. I’m adaptable, I would tell myself, I’m someone who would find a way around a problem.
But then I became that other type of person, the one so afraid of being late that she’s 20 minutes early to everything. The one who uses three different journey planning apps in case one has failed to take account of a line closure. The one who checks the weather every 20 minutes before leaving the house in case some horrible storm has rolled over the horizon, unforeseen.
Some people suffer from anxiety so severe that they cannot lead their lives properly, and I’m not one of them. My reasonable mind still has the capacity to take over; I can recognise the rising feeling of panic in my gut as unnecessary and push it down and tell it shut up and to go away.
It doesn’t go away though, not entirely, and it shuts up only briefly.
It wakes when I try to sleep, when the world around me is quiet and dark, and all the awful things I can conjure are just as possible as the wonderful things I dream of. That’s when it tells me that I won’t succeed, that I’m standing still, that no one likes me, that all around me there are parties and friendships springing up and I’m not invited, not invited, not invited.
I lead a normal life, but it’s always there, ready to take over, if I let it.
And so I fill my life with good things and I keep moving. And if I’m 10 minutes early everywhere, still, for fear that my train has stopped, I’ve got the time wrong, I’ll let someone down, I’ve disappointed everyone I’ve ever met: I always have a book. Because the one good thing about being anxious and expecting the worst is this: if – when – it comes, I am ready.