I get to work and see a small, white envelope on my chair. My brain attempts to find the worst-case scenario, before I wrestle it under control and prevent it going down the road of P45s and notices of redundancy. I approach it, reaching out a hand earlier than I would normally, and pick the envelope up. It’s matte and smooth against my finger tips.
It is as if my happiness in 2012 followed by my sadness at my relapse/new illness in 2013 was too much for me. Somewhere buried deep in all of those events – those things I still have flashbacks to; the nosebleeds at my desk, feeling as though the road was moving when it wasn’t, taking painkillers every two hours in Paris just to cope with walking around – was the message: happiness is finite. And something in me – the part that likes rules and facts and figures – took that message on board and ran with it.
If my happiness was a tangible thing, it would be something finite. Maybe a crop I have to harvest every year. It could not possibly go on and on, my happiness, growing like weeds or grasses, unchecked, with no investments made in return. I spend my days refinancing properties, and I believe my happiness will be refinanced, too, soon: a downpayment of some sort must be made. I’ll go into my happiness overdraft, soon, and I will have to pay it back. Happiness doesn’t come for nothing, I seem to believe. In the meantime, I pay interest in worry. It’s a high rate.
I open the envelope in my office and see that it’s just my post, sorted carefully by my secretary. My secretary in my job which is now full-time, for the first time since glandular fever, and pays me twice the amount of money that I have ever earned in my entire life. Phew, I think, putting the post aside. I know exactly what to do with it, but still fail to believe I am a good lawyer. I do however work bloody hard. I would not deserve a P45. What a crazy thought that was.
My phone beeps later, at lunchtime, and I look at it, fearful. It could be the bank denying us a mortgage on the house we are buying. Or a friend, angry at me. Or any other host of worst-case scenarios which I run through as though reading an autocue. There is no way, my brain believes in this moment that I will go home tonight, on a Friday night, after a full-time week, order a takeaway and go to bed happy, having avoided disaster again. No way.
“Billygean,” a wise woman said to me a few months ago. “You’ve stored those memories somewhere traumatic. Those memories of illness mean something different to you than…”
“Than what?” I said.
“Than what they really are.”
I frowned, then, not understanding.
But now I see. I got ill and I got better again. Doctors may speak of remission and relapses, but I don’t have to. I wasn’t too happy and then punished. It didn’t happen because I didn’t worry enough. There is no overlord in my universe overseeing my happiness levels and deciding to roll the illness dice. And living a half life, in fear of phones and envelopes and sickness bugs and car crashes and all the other myriad disasters I can foresee won’t help anybody.
I read the text. A friend wants to meet up next week, for lunch. That’s all. I text them back immediately.
I stare to my right, out of the window in the high-rise building I now work in. Plenty of people have careers they enjoy, boyfriends they love, literary agents who represent them, hobbies they like, enough money to buy frivolous face serums, friends who make them laugh and console them when they cry, houses they are about to buy, cats they are obsessed with, without quite this level of angst, this self-sabotage. And the thing is, when people say to you things like you’re a lawyer with a literary agent and you write novels how do you have time for it all you must be knackered! and you see yourself as a resounding failure, just qualified at 30 years old, with a chequered history of illness, a switch in your brain is flicked because of the dichotomy. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, but I know, I’ll pay it back in disaster. I don’t mean to say I’ve achieved my life ambitions and look! but more: I am so happy it sometimes physically hurts. But maybe I can unflick it. Maybe I’m somewhere in the middle.
“Can I have a quick word?” someone says, approaching my desk.
I feel the thought tap turn on, but I stop it. Enough now. Enough.
“Sure,” I say.