Reasons to Stay Inside

Reasons to Stay Inside - Artwork by Clinton Cherry

Reasons to Stay Inside – Artwork by Clinton Cherry

The year I turned 13 was the year I started high school and the year anxiety moved on in.

We didn’t know it was anxiety. Mum and I. We had no idea what it was or even that it could, possibly, have a name. All we knew was that school drop-off became hell. For her and for me.

I couldn’t leave the car.

I really couldn’t.

It was like I was too heavy for my body and everything was in slow motion and I felt sick and exhausted and my heart was pounding– boom, boom, boom, boom – and I was hot and cold and empty and sweaty and red faced and cracked lipped and I was going to be sick or faint …

I couldn’t join that group of girls who met under the veranda by the library and greeted everyone with a hug as if they hadn’t seen each other for years. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I didn’t know how to arrange my face.

Of course, they wouldn’t know this. I would get there, eventually, or not. Some days, Mum would say let’s go home but not always, not everyday and on those days I would get there because I had to. I would join in. None of them would have known. None of them would have noticed the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat and the tremble in my hands.

I wasn’t good at the things you are meant to be good at high school; parties, talking on the phone, hanging out, sleepovers. That sort of thing. I think I may have been good at it, once, but something happened inside me and I would overthink it and worry and talk myself into not going. So I wouldn’t go. Unless I had to. And when I did, because I had to, I was fine, of course. I had the funny dance moves and the long hair and the silly accents and I could handle this and, most of the time, I did. No one noticed.

They didn’t notice and could not be expected to notice. Why would they? By the time I was in my final year of high school I was school captain and played Juliet in an angst-ridden performance of Romeo and Juliet and I was on the debating team and the school ball committee and the year book committee and carried a clipboard for you to please sign this petition against this and I was in the local newspaper and was probably going to be, like, an actor or something, you know …

But I was struggling. With anxiety.

I could get out of the car and I had figured out how to arrange myself and what to say but I still hadn’t mastered that other stuff. That important stuff. I made myself sick over having to call a friend after school because I didn’t think I would know what to say. I didn’t turn up to parties or just go and hang out on the weekends because I didn’t think I would know how to act. I played versions of these events in my mind, over and over again, until I felt sick and had a stomach ache and thank god I can’t go now.

Friends get annoyed at that sort of thing. Of course they do. You find yourself not invited. You find yourself waiting for them to pick you up for the Year 12 graduation dinner only to discover they’re not coming via your house now because this is payback high school style and of course they cannot understand. How could they?

Anxiety feels like such an issue of privilege … Part of you thinks, how dare I be anxious? It is really, quite ridiculous. But it is true. And it is there. And, my friends, it is the reason I sometimes stay inside and miss your party or the opening of your play or your phone call … and for that I am sorry. I hope you know that. I hope you notice.

***

I have written a play for young people, Reasons to Stay Inside, about a boy who becomes so anxious he builds a giant pillow fort and refuses to leave it. His best friend does all she can to get him out. Nothing works … But she doesn’t leave him. She stays. She waits.

Anxiety is awful. Having a friend with anxiety is awful. I have written the play I wish I had seen when I was 12 going on 13. I have written the best friend I wish I had had. I have written something I hope will get the conversation started and make it easier for young people to talk about anxiety. 

 

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In Praise of Love

 

Love Locks Paris

This is a true story.

I was in hiding. Or trying to disappear. Or both. Something like that. You get the idea.

I was eating 500 to 800 calories a day because that happens sometimes and I was running a lot and living alone and binging of Six Feet Under and I had given up on the idea of love. Romantic love. The kind of love people write about and sing about and commit crimes about.

There was one, once, that had been love until, I discovered, he loved a lot of women … at the same time … without them knowing. That could be love – it’s just not my kind of love. The one I thought might have been love wasn’t love. Not even close. He belittled my music choices and stole my washing machine and forgot my birthday. That isn’t love. I was done.

That was that.

I was staying in my mould-ridden studio apartment, doors locked and blinds closed because of the strange man who camped out on the balcony opposite and would look directly into my bedroom slash lounge room slash kitchen. He argued with his wife and liked to sing the national anthem. She would kick him out and he would create a tent, string up sheets and towels across the balcony and sit underneath it, crossed legged on a little cushion and shout “my life, my life” over and over like some sort of mantra. Some days I felt like doing the exact same thing.

I was OK.

And she said, as mothers do, someone will come along when you least expect it and it sounded like something she had heard in a rom-com starring Meg Ryan and I said I don’t need anyone –

I am totally fine with this –

I am a strong, independent woman –

I’m OK –

and I was offended even though I knew she meant well because she is my mother and she loves me and I love her. I know she loves me because she tells me. Growing up, she told all of us numerous times a day – I love you – just in case we died, tragically, bam, gone, just like that. She never would have forgiven herself if she hadn’t said it; if she didn’t know that we knew she loved us.

My family were across the desert and sent their love in pixelated Skype calls once every couple of weeks.

Love you, they would say at the end of the call because what can you say after that?

It was OK.

It really was …

I was writing and I loved writing. I was in Melbourne and I loved Melbourne. I was eating tomatoes and I loved tomatoes. I was performing and I loved performing and I was hanging out with the cast and I loved the cast and I loved the theatre and I loved running and I loved Sundays and loved Six Feet Under and I loved living alone and I loved being thirty two and I loved living so close to the tram line and I loved –

Not much, actually.

Not anything, really.

It was becoming difficult to leave the house. I turned up when I had to turn up. And I smiled and laughed and drank too much wine and would go home in taxis and tell the drivers my boyfriend was waiting for me at home because you have to do that sort of thing sometimes.

Here’s where I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I wasn’t lonely because I was divorced. I wasn’t empty because I hadn’t eaten.

This was just me back then. Disappearing.

Until someone saw me.

It was unexpected.

Like something my mother would say.

He had nice shoulders and wore great shirts and had a whole face smile and easy laugh and he was taking me on a date and I had no idea what that meant, not really, but I turned up late and we took it from there.

And then I started to fall in love with him and could only hope he was falling in love with me. Even though I knew I wasn’t meant to. Even though I knew the “timing was bad” and I should be “keeping my options open” and “seeing other people” and just being “chill”. Whatever that means. Falling in love makes you vulnerable and stupid and happy and distracted and it is awful and wonderful all at the same time.

I tried to hide the real me as I fell in love with him but I would trip upstairs and lock myself out of restaurants and collapse as elegantly as possible into the gutter and I was always late or changing my mind and he wondered why I wasn’t hungry again and he just kept on looking and watching and seeing me.

But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Instead, I tried to make myself as small as I could. Just small enough, you see, nothing crazy – I would know when it was getting crazy. I had this under control.

Except I didn’t.

There I was, watching myself from afar, being in love and going through all the crazy-crazy whirlwind romance stuff and feeling elated and hungry and fat and ugly and gross and anxious and miserable.

I wasn’t eating enough.

I was living alone.

I was turning up when I had to.

I was smiling too much and drinking too much and staying over at his place way too much.

I was holding my breath and waiting for him to run.

But he didn’t. He started cooking dinners. And put avocado on English muffins for breakfast. And made protein filled lunches.

Then he said he loved me … even though he could see me. The real me. I could no longer hide. He wouldn’t let me disappear. He wouldn’t let me become invisible.

Love found me. It noticed.

Love became doctor appointments and specialists and therapists and waiting rooms and The Age quiz and driving and feeding the parking metre and celebrating small victories with champagne and eating and swimming and saying you’re beautiful even if its not quite true and an old camera and space and time and listening, really listening.

It was being seen.

I got better, so much better and I’m always getting better because of him and that love. I would have disappeared without it.

As George Elliot wrote “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another” – love deserves its praise because that one true, loving soul can encourage us to grow and heal and get better – maybe even save us. Isn’t that what love is about? Maybe?

 

***

This monologue was presented at The School of Life’s Symposium: In Praise of Love. I spoke in praise of love and then posed my question to create conversation amongst the audience. It was exhilarating and terrifying – a bit like falling in love … 

Things I nearly wrote

You fail only if you stop writing.

Ray Bradbury

It’s been about 70 days since my last post.

These are things I have been writing and deleting:

1. Changing the dream.

2. Selling out: The reality of “changing the dream”.

3. Why am I here or: Casting directors who flirt with your audition partner.

4. Anxious Sunday nights.

5. Coconut flour.

6. The death penalty.

7. Andrew and Myuran.

8. Mercy.

9. Rehabilitation.

10. Is this really the world we live in?

11. Nauru.

12. Children in detention.

13. Australia needs more lectures from the UN, please.

14. Real Australians Say Welcome.

15. Is this really the world we live in? (part two)

16. 90s Hip Hop is the greatest Hip Hop.

17. Fake it till you make it.

18. Thoughts on being a 34 year old babysitter or: $20 an hour just doesn’t cut it anymore.

19. Walking home, alone.

20. Cats.

21. Itchy feet.

22. School Assemblies.

23. To the person who tried to steal our car.

24. How many cups of tea are too many cups of tea?

25. Writers Block – The Return.

26. What is the point of this blog anyway?

27. Finish something goddamn it.

28. Hit the publish button.

29. Something is better than nothing.

30. that’s what my psychologist said when I told her I was concerned about doing enough exercise in a day, you know, sometimes you just can’t fit it all in and she said, don’t be so hard on yourself, just think something is better than nothing so even if you just a walk around the block that’s great because that’s something but now I find it hard to even fit in a little something every single day and I worry because if something is better than nothing then what is nothing … nothing is … nothing is nothing and I need to worry about that … surely …

31. Nothing

32. my grandad said nothing is at the end and he seemed OK with all that until nanna died but you can’t truly change your mind when you’re an atheist unless, you know, someone from the “other side” comes over and tells you “hey, there is something” which then completely undoes all that need for faith upon which all this is (conveniently) built and you wouldn’t believe it anyway because you’re an atheist and you can’t truly change your mind on that sort of thing, can you? Besides, we have all seen City of Angels and know the awful consequences of those sort of “visits”.

32. City of Angels.

33. Where are you, Meg Ryan?

34. I’d rather be in New York.

35. I’m doing this wrong: 30 minutes and 20 drafts to create one tweet.

36. Being quiet.

37. Anxiety.

38. Nothing. Again.

39. …

Ugly Ducklings and Snow Queens: Thoughts on a New Year

Life is like a beautiful melody, only the lyrics are messed up.

Hans Christian Andersen

I chose the swan, and everyone laughed. Even the girl who was meant to be my friend – although I had had my doubts before this incident. The mean girl, whom I shall call Vanessa, because that was her name, had a tendency to rub her hands all over my face and chant “snow queen, snow queen” at me because, duh, I am quite pale. Yep. But still … Vanessa was meant to be a friend. And she laughed. At my swan.

It was the first year of high school. The well-meaning, socially awkward health teacher must have had some weird epiphany overnight and instead of the usual food pyramids and condoms on bananas, he asked us to draw a picture of the animal we’d most like to be.

I wanted to draw a human because, when you think about it, we have it pretty good compared to other animals. But I was studious and well-behaved and my rocking the boat stage wasn’t set to begin for another two years or so.

I had heard how swans mated for life and I thought there was something lovely about that, plus I thought they were elegant and I still secretly harboured a desire to be a ballerina despite my lack of coordination and, well, training. I had gone the route of many young women growing up in the early 90s; Jazz Dancing. There was nothing elegant about Jazz Dancing: Jazz Hands and Jazz Smiles and Jazz Leaps to The Shamen’s Ebenezer Goode. Anyway, regardless of my varied and weird reasons, I drew a swan.

If I had known we had to share our pictures with the class I may have gone for the lion or the eagle or the dolphin like everyone else. I said swan and they all laughed. Because they laughed, my well-meaning, socially awkward teacher thought I should be put through more humiliation and offer up an explanation for my choice. I wanted to tell him where to go but I was studious and well behaved and, as a result, provided much needed entertainment on that god-awful final period of the day.

I don’t know what the point of that story is to be honest … Maybe I still haven’t embraced my inner swan, maybe I’m still the ugly duckling, maybe I am a writer and read too much into things.

It happens every year; every time we click over to January 1 – I start to overanalyse and get anxious about goal setting and dream journalling and vision boards and what-am-I-doing-with-my-life and who-am-I and does Kiki-K have a range of items to help me plan for everything I think I need to achieve this year? (The answer is yes, yes they do. And no, I will not buy them all.)

I worry about the point of this blog, its raison d’être and the fact that I just popped in the phrase raison d’être because I love it even though I know it sounds completely pretentious, unless you happen to be French, of course. Nothing and everything sounds pretentious if you’re Parisian. What do I intend to do with this thing, this blog thing, this year? Why am I even keeping a blog? What is a blog really meant to be anyway? If my blog was an animal, what would it be? Blog is a weird word.

If I had the confidence and, let’s be honest, vanity and, let’s be even more honest, musical inclination, I might put it to music and become one of those on-trend cabaret performers who sing about their love-lives and embarrassing-but-oh-so-cute moments in witty, pithy songs whilst straddling the piano Delta Goodrem style. But this sort of vanity, let’s call it blog vanity, probably suits me better; I can hide in my “office” and assume no one has noticed, rather than looking out to the empty auditorium.

In the first serious show I wrote and performed in a friend whispered to me from the front row. We were about to begin. I started on stage. Very contemporary.

“Do you want to bother? No one is here,” he whispered – although he didn’t need to.

Despite his well intentioned warning, we went on. I couldn’t tell who was out there with the stage lights in my eyes, naivety in my heart. The three people in the audience, including the lighting / sound guy, clapped at the end and we all got a drink afterwards.

And that’s it … That is my big old plan for 2015. To perform for the three people in the room. To choose the swan when everyone else is the lion. To maintain a messy blog. To preserve. To create. To throw in French whenever I can, merci. And to try and read less into things …

Here’s to 2015.