Recently, I have been afraid of leaving my house. Outside is as wide as suffocation and as narrow as a birdcage. Whenever I pluck up the courage to step outside, I stand holding the wall for those moments of dizziness and wait for the nausea to pass, and I look up.
In the tree opposite our flat, there are red kites nesting. I see them flying over the buildings without beating their wings, their forked rudder tails twitching. I remember that scene from Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence where Molly Craig’s mother points up at the sky, and tells her in their native language, ‘do you see that eagle? He is our guardian. He will protect you’. Later in the film, when Molly Craig has nearly walked the 1200 miles in the intense heat of the desert, trying to find her way home and escape her kidnappers, she sees the eagle again and manages to carry her little sister all the way home.
Whenever I am afraid of the outside, I think of Molly Craig, the real Molly. Because I have never been stolen from my mother and my language. Because I have never had to walk 1200 miles to get home. Because she must have been afraid, and that’s what I am a lot of the time, but she was stronger than her fear and far stronger than I am.
I’m writing this while listening to a new playlist I have just called ‘Writing and Optimism’, and felt it only right that these two things translate into this post. I am trying to write about optimism because recently I have been afraid of leaving my house. Even though it’s getting better, I still thought about walking down to a café to write this post today, and decided I’d rather sit in my study, looking out on the kites’ nesting tree, with my crazy little mini-lop rabbit cavorting about my feet. Currently she is chewing my toes. It’s a little strange, but even if I kick her off, she comes back again a second later so I’ve given up. I’ll let her chew for a bit. It doesn’t hurt.
So far there are two animals in this post: the kites floating like ships out there in the sky, and a little rabbit eating my feet. The animals seem to help. My little rabbit’s name is Cleopatra (we used to have three, all girls, and had a ‘strong woman’ theme with their names. The other two were Boedicea and Godiva. It worked.) They are a bit like a pacemaker on my fear, these creatures. They keep it beating, but they don’t let it run away with itself. Cleo is a particularly potent remedy for panic. I am at least ten times her size. I am an omnivore (and probably smell like one), I stomp about doing whatever I like. I could crush her in an instant if I wanted, which I don’t. But when I walk into her room—yes, she has commandeered a whole one for herself—she comes lolloping over to me to say hello. She is not afraid. She will sit between us on the sofa through a whole film, snuggled up like a baby between two creatures that could kill her, cook her and eat her. And she is not afraid. She has never had any reason to be. Not only is she not afraid, but she’s a proper little madam. She chews, stomps, tantrums and nips when she wants food or a cuddle. She escapes frequently and tears around the whole flat, fully aware that she’s not allowed out of ‘her room’, but seems to delight in the attention that being unruly affords her. To all intents and purposes, she is an eight-year-old tugging at its mother’s shirt until its mother pays attention. It’s a diversion from the fear.
The birds are different. They don’t care if I’m there or not. Birds have become a motif of mine recently. I have been reading Jeanann Verlee’s collecting of poetry, Racing Hummingbirds, and also attended a recent poetry workshop called Birds, not Birdcages, taken from Dean Young’s The Art of Recklessness, in which he says of poets, “we are making birds, not birdcages”.
I don’t know about that.
Often, I feel I am inside a birdcage, rattling to get out, and then remembering I can’t fly and wondering what the point is. The other night, I dreamed I kept an eagle in my attic, and that it did nothing but stare out of the window, up into the sky.
It helps to remember that birds have their own problems; an insatiable metabolism, a brain with intense problem-solving capability that is almost entirely geared towards food-finding and breeding, and an almost certain inability to understand or empathise with the insane jealousy that humans seem to harbour towards them. Birds don’t care that they are birds. Flight is not beautiful to them, it is a fact of being. They do not philosophise. They just are.
Depression is a fact of my life. When I was younger (about five), there were nights I couldn’t sleep because my head was too loud. It felt like a Russian Doll and a Strongman were wrestling up there, and I’d clutch my temples and try not to panic. It was very hard to explain to your parents without sounding completely insane. I still don’t really understand it.
But it IS interesting that the more open I am about my illness, particularly during recurrences, the quicker I get better and the more of my friends admit that they suffer from similar things. Here are five things that helped me this time, and some places to find them.
- Jeanann Verlee’s Racing Hummingbirds: http://writebloody.com/shop/products/racing-hummingbirds/
- Eugenia Leigh’s Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows, (particularly the poem ‘This Malfunctioning Wing’, the line: I am neither saviour nor prey, but a plane. The one they jump from.): http://fourwaybooks.com/site/blood-sparrows-sparrows/
- Alanis Morrissette’s Not As We: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pOjcAiMZO4
- Clean Bandit’s Up Again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJqKEhWXaMA
- A Pet. Get one. And listen to it being unafraid. Animals are an elixir for a fractured soul:
We need to talk more about the epidemic that is mental illness. With the expectations that are put on us at school, the paradox that we ‘get where we deserve to be’, but that privilege breeds privilege and poverty breeds poverty, and a society in which the loudest voice is the one with the fullest bank account, it is no wonder so many of us have heavy weather settling inside us.
Recently, I have been afraid of leaving my house. I admit it. I am not ashamed of it. But I will fight it.