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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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.