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Home News I scrawl \”things can get better\” on a chalkboard in my freezing house while feeling terrified for my safety, Marin
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I scrawl \”things can get better\” on a chalkboard in my freezing house while feeling terrified for my safety, Marin

Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

I have a visitor that stops me sleeping, wakes me early in the morning and hangs around most days uninvited and unwanted: I am living with fear.

Each day when I open my eyes, there’s a few seconds of semiconscious calm before my heart sets off to sprint in this race without end. Sometimes I try to calm myself down with deep breathing, but mostly I simply flee from my bed, the cold biting deep as I descend the stairs to make tea and talk myself down. Breakfast is impossible with adrenaline coursing through my body at max strength.

I have a chalkboard in the kitchen where I used to write shopping reminders. Now I use it to self-medicate, with greetings card therapy written in my scrawly hand: “Things can get better” and “Nothing lasts for ever”. I repeat them out loud to try to will them to be true.

I feel constantly vulnerable from the insecurity that has invaded my life: the rented roof over my head, precarious freelance work, the cost of living now I’m in my early 60s. I’m not the only one going through tough times, but when I close my front door, I am alone.

I share about my predicament, up to a point. I recently house-sat for a friend, who left a note beside the central heating thermostat: “Don’t be cold.” The pure joy of hot radiators and oven-roasted vegetables was a great respite. But I tend not to talk about the darker stuff around losing work and having no safety net, because I am embarrassed and ashamed.

Friends’ lives are neat and orderly. Mine is a cold mess. Seated at a friend’s dining table, in their warm house, I prefer to savour every minute rather than dredge up the fears that are following me. And the thought that perhaps I could end up homeless.

I play a game of sliding doors in my head and wonder how it must feel to live their lives. How close I came to being them. Everyone has demons, I decide. We’re all human.

When I was little, my mum took Valium from the doctor “to control her nerves”. Back then, mental illness was stigmatised. You were told to pull yourself together, to get on with it.

When things improved, Mum still kept a single Valium in her purse, a red and green torpedo to neutralise whatever threatened to spiral out of control. It got gnarled and squashed, and eventually she threw it away. I assume that was the day she no longer felt afraid.

I long for a time when fear is no longer my shadow.

These days, I can access mental health support with the click of a computer mouse, but it is harder to solve the systemic inequality that pervades some of our lives: the NHS on its knees, social care in tatters, food banks barely keeping working families afloat.

Talking therapies help to dampen anxiety, but what is there to do about the cold, hunger and poverty that perpetuates the terror in the first place?

There’s a bigger fear too.

In 1980, the Protect and Survive leaflet dropped through our letterbox, advising families on how to protect themselves in the event of nuclear attack. I was 19 and took the advice seriously, determined to do what I could to face off the threat of nuclear war. My dad had been in Hiroshima after the bomb dropped, and I’d grown up knowing it must never happen again.

When the leaflet arrived, I felt angry that the world was on the brink, yet resilient enough to believe my generation could save it. Forty years on, the war in Ukraine has turned the world upside down again. And I am in a different position. This world, my world, is scary. My only hope is to protect myself, to survive. Each day I work hard to shore up my mental health. I resist thinking about the future too much and try to believe those in charge will see sense, before it’s too late. For the world. And me.

Marin lives in the south-west of England and is in her 60s. Her name has been changed

The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that campaigns to end the need for food banks. Show your support at: trusselltrust.org/guardian

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