Joshua / Male / 25 / London

I had to escape. Relentlessly, the walls surrounding me inched ever more closely to my sanity. It was all encompassing; paranoia with a stream of guilt took to my insides like a blender to soft fruit. It began to churn and twist and rip me apart. My breath became shallower. I was beginning to pant like some dehydrated dog stuck in the back of a hot Cortina in the midday summer’s sun. The tips of my fingers and the flesh of my lips began to tingle and twitch. I felt the muscles under my eyes begin to spasm. Then the tears came. Streaming down, warmly, across my freckled, blemished skin. I began to crouch over. I knew this stopped the air I needed from entering my lungs. I knew this enabled the panting. But like so many other things in my life, I knew this was damaging, yet I was unwilling to stop. Twenty minutes later I had straightened out. My eyes were blotchy. I was still slightly panicked. But I’d developed a method to get through these attacks.

Occasionally they would occur at the most inopportune times; going through the local McDonalds DRIVE-THRU being one of those. The animalistic screams and shouts and piercing horns of people and their machines were what stuck with me after that event. They wanted their hamburgers. All the while I sat paralysed to the wheel of my car. How dare someone get in between a man and his processed meat. How selfish of me. Why couldn’t I ‘get a grip’ or ‘pull myself together’? I was willing and urging myself to conjure the courage to look forward through the unwashed windscreen. I urged myself to peer into what was beyond. I urged myself to carry on into the unknown. Just lift the clutch Sammy. Just lift the clutch and we can be free. But it was futile. The paralysis felt like it had spanned for an eternity. The echoes of those shouts still linger with me today. I have not been to McDonalds since. Which I suppose is a positive. Sitting in that car, wanting to move ahead, wanting to look out of the window, wanting to escape, yet being unable to, was a low moment for me. So when I got home I hid away in my dark room for the next few days. I took time off work. This time then became permanence. Now all I do is sit in the dark on my own. I know something has to change, but I quite like the cool darkness of my room at the moment. It’s safe here. As I saw this morning, even attempting to go for a walk along the street became too much for me that it triggered an attack.

I wake up everyday, or try at least, fearing that persistent voice in my head, not wanting to open my eyes for fear of that so far unopened cavern of parasitical thought, feeding off any left over hope or sunshine that is clinging on to survive. This was a battle. Everyday was a battle. I used to walk the streets and go to work and socialise with people and speak to people but with no connection. I wanted connection. Sounds out of mouths were only as profound as the saliva that perpetrated beneath them, I wanted more than the gentle spray of warm spit and the slight stench of stale cigarettes to embrace me. I wanted more. I wanted connection. As I bravely stepped through the front door, I was hit by the brisk breeze and warm sunshine on my depleted-of-vitamin-D face. I turned away from the sun. I squinted my eyes. A small drop fell down my face. But I carried on moving forward. I got to the top of my drive. This was only about 5 yards. But for me it felt like 5 miles.

I had been in that room since the McDonalds event, approximately 3 weeks, but for me it felt like 3 years. I had quit my job. I hadn’t spoken to my family, my friends. I was frail and malnourished. I must have looked like a ghost. I must smell. And then it began. Just as it had done sat in the DRIVE-THRU. I don’t belong here. But this time it wasn’t the mechanical voice speaking to me through a machine -‘can I take your order please? — hello…hello…are you alright sir?’, or the bright lights and impossibility of choice forced onto my retinas. No, it wasn’t these things that triggered my attack. It was far worse, for it was as if a thousand eyes rapidly surrounded me. They were glaring. They were judging. He did smell, they would say. He looked ill, they would say. He was useless, worthless, ugly, they would say. The street was empty, but I felt as exposed as standing in front of seventy thousand people at Wembley without a script. My whole life seems to be script-less. I’ve always thought I needed that foundation, that guidance, someone to tell me what boxes to tick, which paths to travel down.

I had always thought if I behaved in a certain way, did certain things, applied myself to certain tasks, I would be happy. I had hit these markers. I had lived a life of relative moral upstanding, I had conjured strong, fair, well balanced relationships. I had achieved what I wanted to achieve by the age of 25. I had a whole world ahead of me. Exciting and prosperous times. Yet I couldn’t leave the end of my drive. And however hard I tried, I couldn’t drain a millimetre of enjoyment out of anything I did. What had happened to me? What had gone wrong in the process? I scampered back to the house after the panic had subsided. The door swung wide with the obligatory sharp alarm that goes off every time it opens. I headed under the fake CCTV camera pointing towards wannabe intruders to my home and stepped across the line. From danger to safety in my eyes. I knew, somewhere inside of me, that this was irrational. I knew I couldn’t carry on like this. But, at the moment, it was the only way I knew how to live.