content warning: mental health
It’s spring. There’s a sweetness in the air and a gentle breeze drifting past the lockers. She’s on the cusp of high school popularity, her status affirmed by her school skirt hitched up three folds around the waist. After biology, she’s walking down the stairs with her friends when a group of popular boys enclose them. The ringleader is Kit. His backpack hangs low, almost scraping the back of his knees, so he’s the real deal. He asks all the girls for their numbers. Phones are passed around the circle; she offers hers forward.
“Oh,” he says, sticking his tongue in his cheek. “I’m not sure I want her to have my number”.
I’ll link her arm in mine and whisper this. Kit will end up a full-time stoner posting photos of cars captioned #godzilla #2fast #boosted. One day ,she’ll be walking beside him to the bus stop after not seeing him for five years. She’ll be entirely disinterested, even rude. He’ll probably wonder what he ever did to her. She’ll laugh at her own pettiness on the ride home, feeling smug nonetheless.
I’ll tell her all this gently, as the hot flush creeps down the back of her neck.
It’s spring. The night before her final school exams. Books are stacked up in piles over the floor. No amount of deep breathing, reading or scrolling will lull her to sleep. She’ll end up tossing and turning until sunrise. Then she’ll lace up her runners in a daze and hit the pavement, hoping the endorphins will fight the exhaustion. I’ll add some Kanye to her running playlist. She refuses to listen to his music at this time; she’s too loyal to Taylor Swift. But she won’t be able to resist ‘Stronger’ on no sleep. And she needs it.
Summer comes like a rush; she and her friends have the hot taste of freedom in their mouths. They’re never going back to school. They spend a summer of bliss cruising down the freeway blasting Lorde and Glass Animals and Dope Lemon. They eat watermelon flesh beside a sparkling sea. They relish the heavy tiredness that only a long day at the beach brings. Dozing in the back of the car, sand-encrusted. One night, she’s partying. Bodies are moving through the house, dancing, snacking on mi-goreng, kissing in the sink. I won’t stay long, I just want to pull her into a quiet room and tell her to breathe this all in. There are difficult years ahead, where she’ll spend months inside her house, allowed outside for only an hour a day. I want her to know she deserves to feel free.
Now autumn burns the leaves red and gold. She has moved out of home and finished her degree. She starts to find it hard to breathe and feels her heart missing beats ad hoc. She gets dizzy and can’t follow a conversation with her brother over a bowl of pasta shared on Lygon. The days get harder, and every morning she wakes up with thick dread pinning her to the bedsheets. When the panic attacks start they devastate her body and her peace. She’s waking up now, every night, five, six, seven times. Spent on exhaustion, sick with fear. She gets diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Google and her well-meaning loved ones tell her to practice yoga, to meditate. But deep breathing only alerts her to the ragged hollowness of her breath, and when the yoga studio’s walls close in she breaks downward dog for a mad dash home.
Things get much worse before they get better.
On one of those long nights, I’ll hold her. I’ll climb into bed and intertwine my legs with hers. Fear has her paralysed now, and only time and treatment will get her out. But I’ll explain anyway what’s happening in her body and her brain. I’ll tell her there is medication that will help, and that she won’t have to fight alone soon. Many others have experienced severe anxiety, and their stories will soothe and fortify her in the coming months. I’ll tell her that surviving this will be the bravest thing she has ever done. I think it will be the bravest thing I will ever do.
When the winter comes, I begin to recover. I imagine the faint outline of myself in the future, holding myself now. Listening to my heart rate and slowing my breathing. She’s here now, in infinite forms. Every temporal version of myself fusing in kaleidoscopic light. And as the patterns in a kaleidoscope repeat to infinity, so do I. Holding myself in the past, present and future, for all time to come and for all time past.