By Jessica Dawn
All the TikToks they sent in the group chat talked about hyperfixation, about all the things to hyperfixate on like games and fun facts and books and history.
“I think these are all just about spending too much time on TikTok,” I texted a friend.
“Do you wear your watch anymore?” my mom asked. She bought it so I could see that my heart was beating fine, that I was sleeping okay, that all the graphs looked the way they should so my body must be working right.
“Sometimes,” I lied. The last time I wore it was weeks before, back when I couldn’t stop watching my heart rate, couldn’t look away from it rising and falling. Kept trying to figure out how the numbers compared to the day before, to the week before, to an average healthy person, to an average unhealthy person. Which one was I closest to, how far away was I from normal, how far away from normal could I get before it was dangerous, how far away from normal could I get before I died.
People started noticing. Looked like I was bored, I guess, distracted.
“Are you waiting for something?” my coworker asked as I checked my watch again. “No,” I lied, but I was waiting for it to happen, stroke or heart attack maybe, whatever was going to kill me, sure to arrive any second.
“When someone asks me how my hyperfixation from three weeks ago is going but I’m already four crafts past that” the meme said, and in the group chat they could all relate.
“How often do you think about dying?” my therapist asks.
“I don’t know if I ever stop thinking about it,” I tell him.
Too fast a heart rate can mean a heart attack. Too slow a heart rate can mean a heart attack. That’s what the internet told me, anyway. I looked it up again, all the links already purple. Clicked them again because maybe this time I could find the thing that would let me relax, see the note that said “look Jessica, you’re okay” that I missed before.
“Me talking about my latest hyperfixation to anyone who will listen,” the meme says, picture of Charlie Kelly waving his arms in front of a wall plastered with papers, all of them connected with red string.
I googled chest pain and arm tingling.
blood clot symptoms
blood clot leg pain
what does pulmonary embolism feel like
symptoms pulmonary embolism
lips numb stroke
heart palpitations dizzy
heart palpitations dizzy fatigue
how to prevent blood clot
how to prevent stroke
how to know if I’m dying
how to know when I’ll die
“I think we should take your phone out of the equation when you’re starting to spin,” my therapist says. “Put it out of reach. How does that sound?”
“That sounds good,” I say even though it sounds terrible. If my brain does not want it, it is probably the right thing.
I have a recording of myself to listen to when the feeling hits, when I want to start looking things up, when I want answers that are not out there to find. One little voice recorder lives on my coffee table, another gets carried around with me. Recorders because I can’t use my phone for this, because my phone is part of the problem. Because what I need is to hear myself say that it’s fine not to know, that I can’t know everything, because what I need is nowhere on the internet.
“It’s okay to feel uncertain, it’s okay to be anxious about it,” the recording starts. The rest is just for me.
“Are hyperfixation and obsession different things?” I asked the group chat. No one knew, no one could answer.
“My dad died of a pulmonary embolism,” I tell my therapist.
“Well, no wonder you’re afraid,” he says.
The recordings are just one part. We are doing ERP, which stands for exposure and response prevention, which means that sometimes we talk about dying and I cry. “There’s so many things I wouldn’t get to see if I die now, like my nieces and nephew growing up,” I tell my therapist.
“That’s the thing about being dead, though,” he says. “You won’t know what you’re missing. You’ll be gone.”
Maybe hyperfixation is just about crafts. A lot of the memes are about crafts.
I’ve been checking the ages in obituaries, in the articles they write when someone famous dies. Sometimes the age is in the headline, which is weird but maybe part of why it’s news. Sometimes I have to click the link, scroll until I find it, but it’s always in there somewhere. Don’t know exactly what number I’m looking for, just that numbers close to my age feel bad, and smaller than my age feel worse.
There is a part of my brain that wants to collect all these ages and causes of death into a spreadsheet, wants to graph them, and see the ages where the dots cluster like this will tell me something about myself. Doesn’t matter that it only comes from articles that I see on Twitter or that all kinds of numbers and graphs about death are already out there, and I just need to look up the right combination of words to see them. No, if I make the graphs, they will tell me something different, a statistical version of reading tarot cards, doing my own astrological chart, using data to divine how many years I have left.
If I’m being honest, I figured I’d always get a say in how and when I go. I am surprised to learn that might not be true, that there are other ways I could die, that I do not have the control I want.
“What scares you the most about dying?” my therapist asks.
It’s the negative space, not what will happen but what won’t. Feelings left unspoken, things left undone.
It’s not what others will remember but that they won’t remember at all. Books never published, nothing of me left behind.
It’s time spent in the wrong ways, ways I’ll never get to make up.
“I feel like I have to hurry up and do things while I have a chance.”
“Sounds like a lot of pressure to put on yourself,” my therapist says.
Jessica Dawn lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay with a failed farm dog. She writes fiction and non-fiction, she is querying her first novel, she is trying her best. Her work is in HAD, Rejection Letters, Autofocus, Pidgeonholes, and more. Find her on Twitter @JuskaJames