Dread lives with me like a ragged junk yard cat that wandered into my home one day and won’t leave. It’s there in the morning, on my drive into work–formless, forcing me to search for a reason I’m feeling this way. Is it a phone call I forgot to return, something left undone the previous day, an interaction I messed up? Dread is with me throughout the day, every time the phone rings, every time a conversation turns in a way I haven’t rehearsed. It’s with me on the way home, flicking its tail across my eyes every time a car pulls out, every time I take a blind turn, every time I hesitate at a stop sign. Dread curls up on my lap as I sit in front of the TV at night, prompting me to move when I’d rather be still. It curls sharp claws into my belly and asks “Is the door locked? Will that stop someone who wants to get in? Is that pain you feel from stress or stroke? Does an aneurysm give warning?” When it isn’t convincing me of mortal peril, soft purrs I try to ignore, “What do they actually think of you? What if tomorrow is the day it all falls apart?”

It is a presence I accept now. I’ve named it and no longer feel like I have to let dictate what I do and how I approach the world. But it has never left, and it is ugly and unwelcome and never not painful.