The morning after the night before.
You tentatively open one eye against the piercing drill of natural light, pat yourself down, checking that all limbs and digital extensions of yourself are intact, and then you wait. Slowly and carefully, your brain collates the full extent of the damage, your body anticipating the full force of two bottles of wine to crack you around the back of the head any minute now, there you float in hangover limbo, awaiting the imminent self-inflicted punishment like a soldier before the firing squad.
And then it hits, in all manner of physical attacks, depending on the particular poison on which you’ve overindulged: headache, dry-mouth, unexplained bruises, dodgy tummy, or if you’re very lucky, just an insatiable hunger to consume every carbohydrate this side of the M1.
But there is another hangover symptom which seems more and more common as we creep ever-closer to our mid-twenties, it is perhaps the most dreaded symptom of all, The Fear.
Like the calm before the stomach-churning storm when you first wake, while your body realises the full extent of the hang, The Fear is an emotional and psychological manifestation of that dread which lurks in the recesses of your mind for hours, sometimes days, long after the cement-mixer in your stomach and the pneumatic drill in your head have been laid to rest.
Urban Dictionary, perhaps the most important and relevant reference database of our era, defines The Fear as:
– a sense that people or organisations are out to get you;
– angst that you may have offended, inappropriately touched or physically attacked someone the night before;
– foreboding about the next time you meet those people or return to the bar where you degraded yourself the previous night;
– and a feeling that you are going to die.
And that is it in a nutshell, you find yourself shoulder deep in a black panic and paranoia that you have embarrassed yourself or offended another beyond repair, that you will have to face up to consequences of your own dishonourable behaviour. You scour through sent messages and dialled numbers, social media streams, awaiting the dreaded tags on Facebook photos, the well-humoured text messages from friends teasing you, mocking your pitiful state, torturing you with what you can only hope are exaggerated tales of your own self-disgrace.
As the day progresses, slipping past you, out of reach from where you lie on the sofa in the foetal position, you suffer palpitations and anxiety attacks as flashbacks of dance moves and tumbles out of taxis come flooding back at unpredictable intervals during the day.
You desperately try to fill in those Desperado induced gaps in the memory, reassuring yourself that the reality couldn’t be half as bad as the eventualities you’ve cooked up in your infested mind.
Unless it is.
In which case it might be better not to know.
And nothing is sacred when you’re hanging with The Fear, areas of your well-balanced and fulfilling life which had never caused you a second’s concern before now are suddenly bearing down on you with heavy, urgent, self-reproach.
Look at the state of yourself!
What are you doing with your life?
Call yourself a writer?!
Even the cat looks disgusted by your mere existence.
You are Peter Pan, plummeting ever-closer to earth as Hook picks away at all the happy thoughts which have kept you afloat all these years. You are doomed, destined to fail, to fall, to plummet to earth with no one there to catch you.
When this happens, you should have a bacon sandwich and immerse yourself in something suitably warm and fuzzy, anything Disney, although you may need to fast-forward through the first fifteen minutes of UP! That romantic sad story is surefire suicide when you’re grappling with The Fear.
This is the only advice I can give you.
Lock the windows and doors, turn off your phone and settle down with your calorie-heavy food of choice and enough sugar-coated romantic comedies to suffocate even the most hard-hearted pessimist. Talk to no one that you do not trust beyond doubt, who in your present state, will be no one, not even the cat. Do not dwell on the possible sins of the night before, but repent anyway for anything you might have ever done wrong.
You will feel like you might actually die, but this state is temporary, do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask anyone to phone an ambulance/priest/your mum for you – you will be ridiculed both by your friends, and whichever caregiver you have chosen to bother with your heightened ideas of mortality.
This too shall pass.