A sign of anxiety? Ordering 30 cacti online and forgetting you did it

It was during a time of especially bad stress lasting a few months and reaching a crescendo in recent weeks

Anxiety, as a complex set of sensations and attendant thoughts, is familiar to everyone. What may not be familiar to everyone is buying arbitrary plants online in your sleep as a way of articulating that anxiety. This happened to me recently (by which I suppose I mean my sleeping self breached the trust of my waking self by humiliating me in this way).

It was during a time of especially bad stress lasting a few months and reaching a crescendo in recent weeks. While working upstairs at home one afternoon, tamping down the panic of an impending deadline and the mundane loneliness of prolonged solitary work, there was a knock at the door.

Now, anyone who has become lonely through self-imposed isolation will understand, as others may not, that a knock at the door during such a time does not give rise to thoughts of “hurrah! A human to befriend!” Rather, it turns you into your own mother during your childhood, when someone would knock and she would dive behind the sofa and angrily whisper at you, aged eight, something like ‘Who’s that knocking on the door at three on a Saturday afternoon? The cheek!’

Spooked by the confirmation that I had not socially disengaged myself into a solipsistic simulation in which everyone else is a figment of my imagination, and I am the only real, if boring, person alive, I went to answer the door, the whites of my eyes showing like a pony being shod. It was a delivery man bearing an enormous, coffin-shaped cardboard box, which did nothing at all to ease my anxiety.


“Lo”, he roared, loudly enough to blast a layer of skin from my face. He appeared to be one of those persons who speaks very quickly, and only at the decibel level of an active bin truck. Sweating at this point from the sight of another person, the screaming and the death-box, I queried the contents of the package, suggesting that it could not be for me. He read the name and address. They were accurate. I asked where it was from. Something inside the box thunked about as the man shoved it disinterestedly into my face. It was from a garden centre. I confirmed that it was not for me.

The man became irritated. I prickled at being disbelieved. “Listen”, I said with a cracked voice, a puff of dust churning out from my hitherto unused larynx as though I had been mummified aeons ago, “I think I would know if I ordered a box of plants, okay sir?” My features arranged themselves into an insufferably smug collection of shapes, as though the matter was settled.

Each bizarre, unnecessary object seemed to embody my alien worries and fear

It turned out I had ordered the box of plants. Thirty cacti, to be precise, and I had the email receipt to prove it. Thirty cacti. I had placed the order at three o’clock one morning the previous week. I was spooked, to say the least, and had to find somewhere to put 30 succulents. Yes, they are trendy, but 30 is pushing it. The delivery man’s justified smugness was also difficult to deal with. When he delivered a new toilet for my cat a few days later, I accepted it quietly, with as much dignity as one can muster while holding a feline lavatory made of plastic.

The plants weren’t the end of it. There was also a highly distasteful Mr T tea cosy and a very disturbing shirt patterned with zebras wearing red stilettos on each of their four hooves. Over the course of two weeks, these items, spawned by the arbitrary malevolence of my sleeping brain and the universe, appeared at my door. I began to fear the arrival of the post.

Each bizarre, completely unnecessary object seemed to embody my alien worries and fears. “You’re losing it for sure”, the zebra shirt seemed to say. “J’accuse!” shouted the Mr T tea cosy. “There’s no room for 30 of us here,” the cacti pointed out, unhelpfully.

When the deadline arrived last week, and the worst of the stress abated, the mysterious orders stopped arriving. It may have helped that I locked my phone and laptop in the bathroom at night. Anxiety will express itself somehow, I suppose.