I check my watch as I’m lacing up my trainers; one knee on the floor and an awkward upturn of the clock face tells me it’s 07.27. My stomach knots with angst, a flutter of angry butterflies that tell me I’m running late and I need to hurry. Downstairs my bag is packed and I know the only thing left to do is sling it over my shoulder and grab my coat on the way out of the door. I consider a last minute glug of tea but leave it emitting steam on the chest of drawers – no time for tea. I had told myself I would leave the house at 07.30 and I literally haven’t a minute to spare.
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I climb into the car and the dashboard clock says 07.32. As I turn on the windscreen de-misters my stomach churns again and I take deep breaths to stop the wave of angst from knocking me over. I break the speed limit driving to the station, angrily tailgating a Nissan Micra in my efforts to get to the train station on time. I arrive before quarter to 8 and finally allow myself to relax a little. My train isn’t until 8.15 and I have more than enough time to do everything I need to. In my head I make the calculations – five minutes to get the parking ticket, five minutes to check my ticket with the guard, five minutes to find the platform – plus I’ll want to be on the platform at least five minutes early. I allow myself five minutes to sit in the car and wait, watching the rain make trails across the windscreen and keeping my eye on the clock. I know I won’t be able to relax until I’m safely settled in on the train. I don’t allow myself to retrieve my Kindle from my backpack – I know it will be too stressful to then have to re-pack my bag a few minutes later, and I’ve strategically arranged my belongings in the order that I’ll need them; wallet at the top so I don’t have to fumble around at the ticket office.
Public transport timetables aren’t the only thing that make my heart race and my gut clench like some kind of awful stitch. Sometimes it’s even my own self-enforced timetables. A few weeks ago I played a football match in the evening, and planned to go for a quick drink with teammates after the match. It makes me feel stressed if I’m in bed much later than 11 as I know I’ll be tired the next day, but on this occasion we were still in the pub at last orders, and the pub is 45 minutes from my house. Again, I couldn’t relax and enjoy the time with my friends as I spent every minute watching the clock tick further towards certain tiredness. I raced home and walked through the front door just before midnight, and then could barely sleep due this impending feeling of lateness; keeping a constant calculation as to how many hours it was until my alarm chimed the following morning. I do this any time I’m out in the evening before work – constantly looking at the time, checking the traffic and calculating the time I need to leave to be home at a reasonable hour. Even on a day when you might imagine I could relax – a lazy Sunday or a Saturday with no plans – I still have a countdown running of what I need to do that day, and how many hours I think it will take. As my timer depletes, my stress levels increase, running through my to-do list in my head and feeling time run away with me. It feels like a total loss of control, like something I can’t put my hands around and hold close to my chest.
I wish I knew an easy way to counteract my ‘timexiety’ – a way to switch off the twist and turn of the metaphorical knife in my stomach, to stop my heartbeat speeding and my adrenaline rushing with every glance at the clock. I try and tell myself that there’s really no consequences to not meeting my allotted timetable – if I miss my train there’s plenty more, if I have to go to work on six hours’ sleep I’ll probably survive, if I’m late for an appointment it’s not a big deal. But it doesn’t make any difference. I try and slow down my breathing, take deep inhalations, but I can’t seem to stop it in its tracks. My anxiety about time slipping away, about lateness, missed trains, long to-do lists, late bedtimes – like time itself, seems to be something I just can’t control.