Anxiety is this dark, vague, lurking presence in my chest. I smell a hanging malodor in the air around me, try to ignore it till the sense of looming decay pervades every inhalation, until finally I’m upturning piles of laundry, sifting through the kitchen garbage and looking under the bed for the source of the poison.
Finally I realize it’s the dread inside me that is urging me onto this external scavenger hunt.
A scavenger is literally “an animal that feeds on carrion, dead plant material, or refuse.”
The dread inside me is feeding and growing such a beast. It constantly hungers for my humiliation and loneliness. It can’t survive on connection and sunlight, so it isolates me in the dark where the dread can spread, infecting my breath, my thoughts, my dreams.
I can’t listen to a podcast or read an article for the past few weeks without the word shame appearing in the center of it. Shame is a secret keeper. Shame is the reason people reenact their traumas. Shame is the source of all human violence. I’ve been nodding my head in agreement as I hear these declarations, listening to the Ted Talkers and Spiritual Leaders and Research Purveyors unpack these concepts. Yes, I avow! No more keeping my truths to myself, for fear of being discovered a fraud. The contamination thrives in the dark and spreads, so it’s time to shine light on everything, I affirm.
Then I find myself crumpled in a dark corner of the couch at the end of the day, haunted and hunted by my monster. “See what you’ve done?” it asks me, as it parades memories of the past week before my eyes. “So much failure, stinking and rotting! What a feast you make of yourself for me!”
I’d like to shine light on it and shrivel it up; I really would. But I’m an exhausted captive at this point. All the energy I can muster goes into swallowing some sips of wine along with the disgust I feel for myself. Neither is good medicine, it turns out. So eventually I give up fighting and surrender to torpor and the night. But the monster pursues me in my sleep. My dreams are a jumble of recrimination, doubt, and inadequacy.
The battle is a private one, so no one on the outside knows about my epic defeat, or that I have turned to carrion on the battlefield.
In the morning, my husband persuades me outside for a walk in the cold first hints of Spring. The sun is shining – I’m not responsible for shining this light. It just is here. The plants in the garden from last year look fully brown and dead, and I look at them doubtfully; apparently something is happening down where I can’t see. The sun is working some magic, despite this cold, because I know from past experience that these plants will be thriving and green in another month or two.
I think about the cold, hard ground. The brown plants. The light doing its work, unasked for. I think about the rotting leaves spread across the soil; that death and ruin are somehow nourishing the rebellion of green to come. The sun is an accomplice, plotting the return of so much color and life.
Maybe carrion is the wrong word. Last night was long and dark, and my head hurts from the war I waged all through it. If the morning found me spread out like so many decomposing dead leaves, maybe it wasn’t to feed the monster, but to feed something I can’t yet detect.
There are two other old definitions of scavenger: “a person who searches for and collects lost items. a person employed to clean the streets.”
Maybe coming apart is how I collect and clean.