When my friends were taking their Corporate Law final exam, I started taking anxiety medication. I was sitting in the Doctor’s waiting room after my third severe panic attack in two days. I looked at my phone, 1:50pm; reading time had officially commenced. I still couldn’t properly move or speak after my attack, but I looked around the waiting room for something to read and the only thing that was in reach was a diabetes cookbook from the 90s: Ten Fun Ways to Reinvent Chicken.
The Doctor asked me questions about whether I’d experienced any abuse (no, true), whether I’d ever thought about or tried killing myself before this (no, true again), or why I did it this time (I don’t remember, a lie). My anxiety was so bad that I hadn’t slept for six days. A symptom of my anxiety is shaking; tremors. I hadn’t stopped shaking for two days. After getting another revision question wrong, I remember standing up and grabbing a pair of old scissors from my room. I walked into the toilet, pulled my pants down and sat and cut my upper right forearm and my left shoulder. I remember watching myself press the blunt blades into my arm and seeing the blood trickle out and not feeling a single thing. I remember thinking that it was enough and that I’d finish the job later. I also remember questioning the precise reason why I took my pants off. Even at the time that seemed like a mistake.
The Doctor prescribed me medication that she said would make me nauseous, but that was the only side-effect (a lie). There was one side effect that was very real and long lasting that she neglected to mention: my dick wouldn’t work.
The thing about anxiety is that it’s all about control, namely the complete absence of it. A panic attack is an exercise in separation; it so often feels like your body is breaking, being pulled apart. Like your brain is being sliced up and pulled apart in forty different directions. One of the few things that you can do to combat this is to ground yourself in bodily feeling: to masturbate.
I wanted to feel normal again, I wanted to be the one guiding my decisions and feelings and I wanted to use my dick as the rudder. I lay on my bed, laptop open, porn on and started jacking off. Nothing happened, I couldn’t even get hard. Three hours and four arm switches later, I finally came and had the most ridiculous orgasm I’ve ever had. I lay there twitching for a while, twitching and out of breath. It felt like a panic attack. I quickly passed out and woke up a few hours later splayed out on my bed with a pool of half-dried semen lingering between the pulled down waistband of my pyjamas and my stomach. I looked down and wondered what the fuck my problem with pants was.
Masturbation, like milk, is better when it’s condensed. I don’t have time to spend four hours a day jacking off (don’t judge me)… I can’t think of anyone who does. Everyone who masturbates should have a ‘fast version’. Sure you could make it languid and beautiful, but beauty takes time, and taking time takes patience and patience is a virtue that anxiety robs you of completely. No one has four hours a day for masturbation. I spent the next few days trying and failing to do the fast version, any version that was quicker than four hours. Nothing. My pants were on.
I remember walking around my house feeling hazy and dressing for comfort, making extra sure to be okay so that I wouldn’t bother anyone. That’s the thing about cutting yourself; it comes with a certain amount of guilt, and you feel like you’re cutting into everyone’s time with your Hollywood drama. So I did my best to be okay because I didn’t want it to build to a moment where I’d sit in a bath with my knees pressed against my chest and my mum would be washing me with a washcloth while I sobbed.
I didn’t want it to come to that because I didn’t want anyone to see my scars or that my body hair runs in an unbroken circle from my navel up to my chest and shoulders, down my back and ass crack and back through my legs to my navel. I didn’t want to have a bath because we’re shower people and baths are disgusting. I took a bath alone one night because I read that they were relaxing and they are, if relaxation equals looking at your flaccid penis bounce up and down in the water and every now and then seeing your foreskin peel back slightly like a mouth that’s whispering you’re broken over and over again.
But I wasn’t broken then and I’m not broken now.
One thing anxiety teaches you is that everything eventually ends. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I passed my exam, and the side-effects of the meds have more or less worn off. My dick works now, mostly like it used to. It’s less enthusiastic about things, sure… but so am I. I can get hard and I can reach orgasm. And repeated visits to the doctor have meant that I’ve learnt some great chicken recipes.
Eventually, so will you.