The Big Issue : Edition 477
THEBIGISSUE6–19FEB2015 13 conversation and activities that involve filling in a form with a pen. I avoid growing difficult vegetables, reality TV programs and full-length mirrors. And supermarkets. And railway stations with names I am unsure how to pronounce. And. Well. In short – and not to overburden you with the very tedious litany of stimuli that turn me into an old zygote who wants nothing more than to hardly exist in a balled-up state of dark motionless cell reproduction – I am often unfit for grown-up life. As anyone with ‘nerves’ knows, this is not as terrible as its description might indicate. One even learns to turn one’s worst reactions to peculiar advantage. It is fear, for example, that turned me into a distance runner, and it is paranoia that makes me a fairly exemplary medical subject. If a doctor suggests a test or a lifestyle shift, I never question it. I simply convince myself that I will die if I don’t run or have regular cervical smear checks. Although I may be in poor mental health, with the kind of social life that a hermit might pity, I am otherwise well maintained. I am also fortunate enough to have been able to evolve the kind of professional life that involves very limited human interaction. I work long hours, but these are nearly all undertaken on my very own sofa in utter silence save for the muffled ‘blip’ of my email. This way, my work speaks for itself to others, which is much better than me speaking for myself, because I am bound to say things like “eff off”. Keyboard Helen is far more pleasant. It all works, more or less, and is rarely tested. But when it is, it usually involves an aeroplane. Every so often, a professional writer of books and articles is required to fly to another city and every time I am forced into this hell, I have two thoughts. The first is “I know I am going to die” and the second is “I hope I don’t poop myself before I die”. Being the sort of privileged human who has never known war, I can barely imagine its rhythms. But, I suspect they are like those I experience on an intercity flight: I am overwhelmed by boredom and the irritation of confinement with others for most of the time, until BOOM! I am overcome with the fear of death. And, of course, public defecation. I look around at my fellows and I do not see panic on their faces. And although my shrivelled rational self knows that most people don’t fear flying (or birthday parties or filling out forms for that matter), my bloated anxious self wants to shake them and scream DON’T YOU KNOW WE’RE GOING TO DIE? Minus the tiny ration of salsa one receives on airlines, and the terrible pre-flight music, I imagine this solitary struggle with a cycle of paralysing fear and paralysing irritation is just like war. But I know it’s not. And I tell myself that. And when the anxiety ebbs, all that fills the space is gratitude that I live a life that is overwhelmingly safe. “I avoid growing difficult vegetables, reality television programs and full- length mirrors. And supermarkets. And railway stations with names I am unsure how to pronounce.” RAZER A Nervous System PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND AS ONE OF the few lucky winners in the Global Devastation Lotto, I have grown up in a climate of peace and affluence. I have, unlike much of the world’s population, never been in fear for my life due to conflict. Really, I have nothing about which to complain. Try telling that to my actual brain, though, whose mechanisms are always whining about something and convincing me I am on the verge of death. As one of many losers in the First World Panic Sweepstakes, I have what doctors call ‘generalised anxiety’, and my Nan called ‘nerves’. I manage this by (a) reminding myself of my great fortune in the Global Devastation Lotto and (b) taking as few risks as possible. I avoid conversation, work that involves » Helen Razer is a writer and peace activist, best known for her invention of the Why Don’t You Shut It app – which allows users to lower the volume of anything within a five-kilometre radius.