In this city, near the hospitals and sirens and the sickly glow of streetlights, I walked down a path I’d never been down before, at dusk, the dog tapping quietly along beside me. Everything was in shades of blue – the clouds smeared, inky, across a paler sky, and the birds silhouetted in winter’s naked trees. The planks of the boardwalk shone in the first hesitant moonlight, an imaginary river leading to the woods. The traffic roar was muted in that dark blue hollow, and the bird song clutched at my throat and eyes with a painful squeeze of hope. In the thick, oily water gathered around the reeds, the moon hung small and determined, and the trees seemed to lean in to add their reflection.
The air had the smell of approaching spring, intensifying with the darkness as it gathered around me - telling me, gently, to go home. I turned, heading back along the boardwalk with its gathering dew, chased by the reassuring sound of the dog huffing in the cold, biting air. The fuzzy orange of the street got closer, light seeping down and touching the edges of the valley, and I slowed my steps. In front of me, a fox darted into my path, then stopped, appraising me, before walking calmly on. The dog stood beside me, interested, then followed me back to the street.
I wrote this piece three years ago. I scribbled it in a notebook while hiding from everyone at an event I should have loved. I felt guilty; I was in a new, happy relationship; I was in Indonesia, surrounded by like-minded people and incredible wildlife; when I went home, it would be to a loving family and kind, supportive friends. That's the thing with mental health, though - it defies reason, and it can expose its fractures when you least expect it.
I've never shared the below in public before. Now, for Mental Health Awareness Week, I'm posting it in the hope that it might make even one other person feel less alone.
Anxiety is the companion nobody wants. It is feeling self-conscious in your own company, or looking at photos full of laughter and having the strange sense that it is someone else you're seeing. It is the feeling that everything you have ever known - from simple truths to facts painstakingly learnt - is lost, buried underneath a layer of grey. It is the feeling of panic and the lump in your throat when everyone around you suddenly seems to be speaking a language you can never hope to understand. It is the disgust you feel when your voice seems to come from someone else - someone you've never met - and your eyes in the mirror are hollow and blank.
Anxiety is being bullied relentlessly by people inside you that you don't know how to reason with, and their voices are always louder than yours. You never know when they will decide that today is a good day to cut you down to size.
Anxiety is looking at something beautiful and seeing only your own failure to feel anything. It is having everything you want and hating yourself anyway. It is the creeping doubt that you are worthy of the people around you, and the thought that if you loosen your grip, even for a second, you will find yourself alone. It is trying to gauge how you affect them until you feel small enough to disappear, and the vivid imagining of their disapproval and derision before they have a chance to think of it themselves. It is safer to be prepared, after all.
Anxiety is picturing the funerals of the ones you love every week - sometimes every day - because in your mind they are not just busy or preoccupied or late, and the fear of the worst is a sickening lump in your throat. The relief when they are still okay is powerful enough to reduce you to tears, but still there is the dread of the next time they are busy; the next time your fears can take hold.
Anxiety, at its worst, is not wanting to be here, there or anywhere. It is being so imprisoned in your own consciousness that every word and movement is a superhuman effort. It is the fear that one day, this shroud of feeling will be too heavy to lift off; that you will have to wear it forever.
On a day of undecided weather, the wind and sun competed to disturb the water, ruffling and reflecting as clouds cast ever-changing shadows. In the sandy, crunching earth, I tiptoed loudly, plants nodding heavy heads as I skirted them, brushing against their leaves. Near the water's edge, I became a heron, and the frogs leapt away from reach, breaking the surface with a satisfying pebble splash. They became visible, then, in the dark water, pale green legs awkward in shape, but graceful in speed. A few stayed, bravely, in the mud, watching me with black and yellow spheres as we all listened to the trees shimmering with birdsong and the seaside rush of the wind in the grass. In a moment of sunlight, a turtle pushed through the water, a comical curmudgeon blinking sudden brightness away. Everything seemed still, then; resting in the warmth and the chaos of bird, frog, insect noise. Crouching, I breathed it in as my legs began to ache, then slowly stood, and walked, and crunched the sandy earth as I moved away.
I stare at blank pages
my mind full,
but everything in it wrong.
not today, then
how should I write
about green and blue,
snow flashes on hot, dark mountains?
how should I write
about the sky settling
into the broad stripes
of a calm sunset?
I used to love this game
putting my mind in grey words
on white paper, and
making them colourful
when it didn't matter
about making sense,
what others want to read
my realisation is,
I stopped writing
because I love it, but
that should still be enough