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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A Thank You Note or: Happy Mother’s Day

It’s raining here but not there where you are – at home. I checked. I always check. It will be sunny with an expected maximum of 25 degrees and clear blue skies. OK. I don’t know about the clear blue skies. I’m assuming that. It’s probably a fair assumption, right?

It’s raining here and it’s sunny there. The rain made me remember a day, many, many years ago. I’m not sure you remember it. I’m not sure it’s even true. But it’s a memory, a moment, that often comes to me on rainy, miserable days like today. We were in primary school, us four girls, and getting ready for it when you said, “let’s not go to school today”. Just like that. Unexpected. Unprecedented. Magical. The rain was heavy, at least in my memory, and the lights were on even though it was morning. You thought it would be a perfect day to sit in front of the heater and drink hot Milo. And so we did. On that rainy, miserable day, much like the day I’m having here, now, without you.

My memory has added a soft filter to the image of us sitting by the heater with our mugs of Milo. In my memory, we echo the illustrated cover of our battered copy of Little Women. That’s all I remember about that day. I push my memory to squeeze out a little more and all I can conjure up is that old heater. Maybe. Or maybe I am just able to remember the heater because we had it for such a long time. A dark brown, heavy thing; you had to hold down one button and click the other to get it going and it took longer and longer to start as it got older and older. Like we all do, I suppose.

I am sure there is more to that day than Milo and a heater and no school.

I can’t remember the details.

But I can remember the feeling. The feeling of possibility and safety and warmth and love. And that is worth so much. What a gift! How lucky am I, to have a mother who gave us that? And you have continued, always, to give us those gifts; possibility, safety, warmth and love.

I hope you know how much that means to me. I hope you know how much that day meant: No school, hot Milo and a heater.

Thank you, Mum.

 

Mum, Me and the very early 80s.

Mum, Me and the very early 80s.

 

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.

Thursday morning

I am doing that thing where you drink a glass of warm water with lemon every morning. Someone told me about it. No, she didn’t just tell me about it, she raved about it. She told me how it Changed Her Life, or at least her mornings, and threw in the word “amazing” a bit. I hate to admit, but I can be very susceptible to that sort of thing; I’m influenced greatly by people’s ravings. It’s why I started watching Game of Thrones. And I have not regretted that. Well, except maybe for the terrible nightmares I have afterwards because, well, the violence … but, you know, it’s worth it – it’s Peter Dinklage and dragons and Peter Dinklage.

Anyway, I am doing this lemon thing. I have managed to remember to do it every morning for a week and I feel good. I don’t know if it is due to the lemon or due to what my mind believes is happening because of the lemon … I also don’t know if that matters.

The thing is though, whenever I smell the lemon I get this craving for the pancakes Mum used to make us when we were kids. English pancakes. They were sort of like crepes. She would throw them on our plates, straight from the pan, and we would add lemon and sugar and wish it would never end. Seriously. You could eat those things forever …

I don’t think that is quite the point of the lemon drink thing. I mean it is all about digestion and detoxing … not sugar and butter and flour and more sugar. Right? I mean, surely the Pancake is the antithesis of the Lemon Water. The Lemon Water is Obi Wan and the Pancake is Darth Vader (or would that be the other way around). Lemon in water is what we are meant to do; lemon on pancakes …

But I drink my lukewarm lemon water and remember the pancakes my food intolerance will no longer let me eat. That little memory alone makes for a nice start to the day – even if you are left craving pancakes and childhood.

 

when life gives you lemons - @jesswheatys

when life gives you lemons – @jesswheatys

 

New memories in old places

My sister, Claire, and Grandad fishing at our piece of beach (circa 1987)My sister (Claire) and Grandad fishing from our piece of beach – circa 1987

We all headed to the spot we thought was the spot where, as children, we played on the beach for a week in February. It looked different but Dad worked out a path from the tree he remembered which I said I remembered but I don’t really know if I did.

The asbestos chalets and caravan sites were gone, replaced by two-storey mansions with balconies and timber decks and six-burner stainless steel barbecues and expensive cars in double-garages and signs warning people not to enter beyond this point because this is an exclusive resort for the people who can afford it.

We squinted as we tried to look through the mansions; superimposing over their imposing structures with the little green asbestos chalet we’d call home for week in February. It was hard to imagine but I desperately wanted to get it back. That’s when Dad said that tree was the tree that was once in front of the chalet we’d called home for a week in February, and that’s why I said I remembered it when maybe I didn’t …

We traced a path from the tree Dad recognised to the beach and all agreed that this was the spot; our little plot of sand and sea that was our beach for a week in February. The beach looked smaller now, the sand not as white, water not as clear. But it was the spot. We all agreed. It was too cold to swim so we stood in the water and I sang that stupid song that we made up one holiday which we all found hilarious back when we were four and five and eight and ten but now it simply made my 12-year old niece look at me with that funny eyebrow thing she does when I make a joke.

We weren’t all there, my brother had plans and one of my sisters had just had a baby, but it was still a good turn-out. We were all staying in this new two-storey holiday house which lacked both character and enough bathrooms. I wanted it to be the same as it was back then but it wasn’t; we couldn’t hear the waves as we fell asleep, there were no bunk beds, no early morning runs along the beach with Grandad, no card-games, no jelly-fish stings, no straining our ears to hear what the adults were talking about when we reluctantly went off to bed. We are older. We are adults. My sisters now have their own families to bring here or somewhere like here and make new memories.

On our last morning I went out for a run to retrace the steps we would take with Grandad on his morning jogs during these annual family holidays. He would jog, or attempt to jog, whilst we got distracted by the treasures that had washed up on the shore overnight; shells and sea jelly and cuttlebone and seaweed.

I ran to the point he would run to. It seemed a lot further out when I was eight. I walked out onto the rocks and waited for a sign. For something. A vision. A rainbow. A dolphin leaping into the sky. Even just a slightly different wave to break up the tempo a bit. I breathed in the fresh, sea air and waited … But the waves kept on in their hypnotic rhythm, the sky was clear and the dolphins weren’t playing along.

I had desperately wanted a new memory, a significant moment, to sit alongside all the memories I had of this place. I wanted something that would reinforce the importance of our time spent here all those years ago. I wanted to feel as if they hadn’t gone; my Nan, my Grandad, those childhood memories.

I ran back to the house to find my niece waiting for me. Everyone else was asleep. She was up. And dressed. And waiting.

“Want to go the beach?” I asked her.

We went back to that piece of beach which was our piece of beach. We threw our shoes off and walked on the sandbars. They still felt like they could go on forever, into the horizon. We marvelled at the flat sea and the colours of the sky. She drew her name in the sand. We collected handfuls of shells. We walked in the freezing cold water until our feet ached, and then went back for more. We talked and laughed and told stories. We watched old men walk their old dogs. We walked and walked without getting anywhere in particular. There were no dolphins or rainbows or visions but it didn’t matter; I loved that morning spent with my niece.

I couldn’t recapture the childhood memories of that place but I did get a new memory – something that will now sit alongside those older memories.

That simple morning beach walk – I hope that will become a memory for my niece and one day, in twenty years time, she revisits this place that was hers for three days in December and builds another, new memory to sit alongside it … and so it continues.