It's 8pm. I'm revising for my driving theory test. My chest starts beating loudly, but I ignore it, and continue assessing where the one or more potential hazards are in this 1 minute film clip of Swansea high street. Turns out it's the subtle old lady at the zebra crossing. Bitch.
I check my emails. Write a list of tasks to be performed tomorrow evening when I get in from work. I re-check my emails. I listen to Are You Satisfied? by Marina & the Diamonds, and silently concur that creative success is more important than meaningful human connections. I sneeze. My heart begins to thud. I think how I have to be up in six hours to do the test before I go to work. I add 'Email Magazine?' to the list. I clutch at my chest as the heartbeats become irregular and painful.
I consider my career moves for the next five years. I make a 'things to achieve by 30' list. Learn Spanish seems a conceivable NO: 3 after Publish Novel and Live In Various Countries As Successful Author/Journalist. I glance at the clock. It's 12.30. I rub my hand across the left side of my chest where it is starting to tense up. I try and sleep for two hours.
Around 3 AM I wake and think I am having a heart attack. I wander around the house for a while. Take deep breathes. Stroke the cat. That kind of calming shit. I don't ring for an ambulance because I need to go back to sleep to be ready for my theory test in three hours.
At the test centre, I feel as if I'm going to black out. But I continue clicking NEXT QUESTION. When I leave with a Fail, I get into my parent's car and say, 'I think I need to see a doctor.' Several hours in A & E later, a stern thin female Soviet Block doctor informs me that the blood tests have come back fine, the heart X-ray shows no anomalies, the scans reveal no distinct disorders, but that, yes, I am indeed experiencing severe heart palpitations. Her eyes soften as she witnesses my smoking and drug-taking admissions in front of a nurse and both my parents. (Incidentally, they didn't disown me). She leans in and tells me that the most likely cause is a prolonged period of stress topped off by a catalyst that has caused my body to freak the fuck out as it JUST CAN'T TAKE ANYMORE. She advices me to calm down, stop smoking, drink less coffee, and hopefully the erratic beats will gradually desist. I tell her I have a deadline this afternoon.
This is not a new conundrum. Only this morning I read an article in The Guardian about author Al Kennedy's continual over-work/illness relationship. And obviously we know Marina's thoughts on the subject of career progression. Is in surprising, then, that creative people infamously are workaholics/stress-heads/depressives/psychopaths? Is trying so hard to push your work, your career, fuck, your vocation, really worth it for a heart murmur and a failed driving test?
Obviously my answer is yes.
But it's about pushing it in the right way. Making manageable goals instead of freaking THE FUCK OUT that you haven't nailed your life list by thirty (I'm twenty-five, so I've still got a while before the inevitable realisation). When you want something so badly, as the Olympics may well have taught us, you work hard at it and will do anything to get it, and then, perhaps, it will be yours. Just as long as you don't have a heart attack before the starting gun goes off.
What I have learnt and you can learn without adversely affecting your health:
Chill out. Stop beating yourself up. Work hard. Be committed if this is what you really want. But don't go overboard. You are not a (work) robot (ha ha).
DO: Work hard.
DON'T: Work too hard. Your heart might be in it - which is where you want it to stay.
Now, I'm off to drink green tea and listen to whale music.