Prompt 017: Anxiety, or the Difficulties of Working Throughout the Night and Into the Morning

 

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Photography provided by Flickr user ~Craig~. See more of his work here

I am tired. Every morning this week has been early, every night late. Yet here I am again, looking miserably between a pile of sub-standard work and an endless to-do list. The light outside my window begins to fade and I note the time, eight o’clock in the evening. That gives me a fifteen hour window, I think to myself. A portfolio of my work, a collection and evidence of the hard graft of the three months prior, is required to be completed and submitted at eleven hundred hours the following morning.

At first glance you might have observed a young man with calm demeanour, sat at a desk, cradling a cup of coffee. Working with diligence in a measured and methodical manner, the approaching deadline nothing but an unavoidable formality. Sadly this was not the case. I don’t know if that speaks more about your ability to read a situation, or said man’s ability to hide his emotions.. Either way, a facade.

Listen, the night went like this: I stared at the screen of the laptop, repeated the clicking, dragging, typing, printing. Mindless repetition. On occasion looking to my side and crossing a task out with a slash of blue biro, momentarily satisfied, only to add to the list minutes later. I’d swing my wide casement window open, pushing back the net curtains to let the night in. The air woke me, the cigarette brought clarity and focus. Blowing smoke out into the night. The housemates would smell the smoke had they been awake, but they were not awake, and I was, so I smoked, and I worked, and I smoked, and I worked. Music played on shuffle through the tin of laptop speakers and it sounded forgotten, nothing genres thrown together. The soundtrack of stress. And time, time passed inconsistent. Glances at the watch bringing increasingly disturbing updates accompanied by a quickened heartbeat, or palpitations. The laptop became my world, a screen with four corners and within flashed lines and numbers, shades of atmosphere and occupation. Specks of nothing that distorted and manipulated the focus of my gaze. I became blind, finally, and decided a trip to the off-license was needed.

Just a two minute walk down the hill. I was saddened but unsurprised that it was two in the morning. The street was quiet, the neon sign beckoned, reflecting luminous green off wet grass and puddles in the pavement. BR40. Ambiguous shop name. Hasan greets me. The kindness is appreciated. Maybe he sees the anxiety, the stress in me. Or maybe he is always like this? An automaton leering with fixed grin at whoever stumbles off the cold streets this time of night looking for alcohol or tobacco or a microwaveable snack to continue the party or complete the night. Energy drinks and chocolate and a pack of marlboro lights please, Hasan.

I wandered back to my front door, staring up in a trance at the bright and beautiful stars. Peaceful, nearly. Stumbling into my bedroom I cannot see my desk. I cannot see the four walls. As if the freshness of the night was a drug and had tuned my senses onto some other frequency far from here, for instead of my room I saw a shed in the snow, barely visible under the gloom of an industrial wall light, sat adjacent to a larger and more ominous building that hummed in the silence of the forest. All around stalks of grass and other plants reached through the thin white covering and in the surrounding darkness there was something else, and although I could sense it I could not see it, hidden by the inescapable blanket of night.

I flick the ceiling light on, the room returns, as does sight of that desk, that pile of notes and cardboard, that laptop still buzzing furiously, those papers and drawings strewn over the walls and floors and even covering my bed now, confirming that there was still work to do and therefore there would be no sleep.

Later I fell asleep at the desk, sat up, pen in hand. Not for long, but enough to feel guilty for it. Work continues to be churned out but the process is slow and it is painful. Later I showered, I put on fresh clothes. In an attempt to mask my tiredness – but it was there on my face, for all to see. Much later I had more coffee, a slice of toast. What I needed more than anything was sleep, that or assurance, and comfort.

Now – finally – I wonder through the halls of the studio, portfolio in hand. Heavier than you would believe. I wait for my printing to be completed. The anxiety, the panic, the nausea gone. Replaced with a numbness and a heavy sense of dejection. Small talk is difficult, more so than usual. I make the easy decision to leave now. Undeniably lighter I walk out and observe the day in a new light. A bus unloads dozens of students who walk up the university steps to a new day. A new day. The bus roars off and I follow, dizzy in wake of its fumes, sloping back up the hill and longing for my bed. To sleep, to rest, to forget.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

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