I haven't always been this way. Lonely. Anxious. Nervous. Feeling at times like I can't face the world. No, it's more like I don't want to face the world. It's loud, it's busy, it's tight. Where can I be alone when there are people everywhere? Even for ten blissful, solitary minutes?
A familiar rumble in my pocket. Dread. Annoyance. Resentment. It's James. It's Friday. That means he probably wants to go to the pub. He does.
What do I say? Thanks, but no thanks? I'm ill? Got that bug going around, you know. I'm getting my hair cut. No, that means I might have to talk to someone. The dog needs a walk. Yes, dogs don't talk, I won't need to make conversation. Just walk. Only problem is I don't have a dog.
Should I just ignore it? Leave him on read like a discarded fling? No, that would be rude. I may have changed, but I will not be rude.
Come on, he replies to my non-committal answer, just come for one, stressful week. Smiley face. Now I feel pressured. Matt's coming too, a new message tells me. Relief. Partly. At least this way I won't be required to always engage in conversation. I can sit back and listen, partake if I feel brave enough to do something that used to come so easily to me: chat. Now it feels like pushing a tree-trunk through a slurry of mud. Not that I really know how that feels, but it looks heavy and arduous and exhausting.
But do I still even want to go? I'd rather sit in at my computer, play some games, read a book, bake some cookies, share stories with a wall.
Sweet, see you at 7pm. As if the pm was necessary. I cave because I'm weak and now I'm scared. I let out a long sigh not realising I had been holding my breath, hoping that something had come up in the five minutes it took for that exchange to finish that cancels the night. I lock my phone, close my eyes, breathe deeply. Calm. Peace. Tranquility. I can do this. I can go out. I can chat.
I have an hour, still enough time for James to realise he's got an avalanche of soap orders to make and needs to be up at 6am tomorrow. Wishful thinking.
I sniff my armpit - inoffensive - check my hair in the mirror - the wax is holding stronger than my nerves - and I still look tired. I always look tired now. I feel slightly better, though. Is that excitement I can touch? It is there, yes, hidden away like the filling of a worry donut, but no buyers want to part with their hard-earned cash when all they can see is stale dough.
Time to go. Phone, wallet, keys. I close the door. My key rattles against the lock and it takes three attempts to slide it in where my hands are shaking. It's not too late to go back inside. Hole up in bed, Netflix and Cipramil. I check my phone but there are no messages cancelling, saying Matt's pulled out and can we rearrange, Jennipurr needs cat-sitting, it's an emergency after all.
There is nothing. Phone back in my pocket. Keys, wallet. Good to go. I can do this, I tell myself, fighting the doubt, pushing it down into a barrel. I slide the lid over. There's a crack, but it'll do for now.
I turn and walk.