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Mental Health – We All Have It!

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness week (18th – 24th May) I wanted to share my own experience and why it is important to continue actively spreading mental health awareness outside of this week.  

Small Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional and my viewpoints are purely based on my own experiences.  If you feel you need help with your mental health and are concerned that you are suffering from any form of mental illness then please contact a health professional who will be able to advise you on the best treatment advice for YOU!  Everyone is different and what works for some may not work for others.

I have spent my entire life being exposed to the negative effects that poor mental health can have on both the individual and those around them.  From seeing those close to me being admitted to hospital, supporting friends through panic attacks and self-harm relapses, and myself being on and off anti-depressants since I was 15, it has been near impossible for me to be unaware of the concept of mental illness.  This is why when people disregard the need for mental health awareness it both baffles and infuriates me.  One of my colleagues once asked me what we should classify time off for mental illness, stating that it isn’t ‘really sickness’.  I explained to them that mental illness is sickness all the same.  If someone phones in sick to work because they are feeling anxious, stressed, panicked, depressed and so on, they are not ‘bunking off’, they are unwell.  This question made me realize that many people do not understand and are under-informed when it comes to the subject of mental health.

So what is mental health?  Well let’s first look at something that everyone is well aware of: physical health.  Throughout your lifetime you will have been made aware of your physical health in some form.  From headaches, flu, scraped knees, shortness of breath, food poisoning, rashes and so on, you will have experienced some kind of ailment that has affected your physical health and you would have been very much aware of it, not just because of how you feel but also because you will have most likely had some kind of visible symptom telling you that your body was not at its peak.

Deterioration of your mental health differs as you are not able to visually see the symptoms.  You may start losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, find yourself unable to concentrate, struggle to sleep, find yourself tearful in everyday settings, maybe you all of a sudden feel overwhelmed by your everyday life.  These are all signs that your mental health is suffering and could even be symptoms of a mental illness such as depression.  All of us will feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious and ‘blue’ throughout our lifetime, the question is how do you look after yourself when you feel this way?

Well, the first step is accepting that you don’t feel right, much like how you wouldn’t ignore if you had the flu, if you ignore that you do not feel mentally sound then you are unable to help treat the symptoms.  You can look after your mental health similarly to your physical health, eating well and exercising, giving yourself a break, and taking a rest every now and then will all help towards your mental wellbeing.  I have been recognizing my own personal mental health needs for the past 10 years and am now able to identify, for the most part, when it is deteriorating.  To try and keep my mental wellbeing healthy I dedicate time for ‘self-care’ at least once a week this involves anything from painting my nails, putting a facemask on, giving my hair some much needed TLC with a deep conditioning treatment, reading a book, writing down my feelings, doing crafts, baking, getting in touch with friends or even rewatching one of my ‘comfort’ shows or films.  Of course even with my self-care routines I can sometimes still find myself feeling anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed.  When these feelings stick around that’s when I go back to my doctors and seek help, usually in the form of going back on anti-anxiety meds, but ideally it would be in the form of therapy.

I am comfortable talking about my mental health struggles because it is normal for me, but I understand that others may not have been as exposed to mental illness as I have and therefore may not see it as normal.  So let’s look at the statistics.  Did you know that throughout a year the average adult will have a common cold between two to four times?  There is a reason it’s called common.  Well did you also know that one in four adults will experience some kind of mental health problem within a year?  It could be depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, panic disorder, OCD, the list goes on and on.  That seems pretty common to me.  So why the hell do people not talk about it?  Embarrassment?  Scared no one will understand?  Worried they’re not normal?  You know the best way to take away all that anxiety surrounding it?  Talk about it!

Talking about how you feel is not only proven to help, there is a reason why therapy is so heavily recommended when it comes to anything and everything regarding mental health, but sharing your experiences normalises them.  You sharing with a friend that when your baby was born you suffered from postpartum depression, helps her feel more comfortable to talk to you about it when she finds herself crying every day after her baby is born.  

Mental Health awareness week allows us to open up the conversation around mental health and educates people, helping them identify their feelings and encouraging them to discuss with friends, family, and even their employer.  If someone opens up to you about their mental health, be kind to them, and listen.  I truly believe that a problem shared is a problem halved and you never know, you might even learn something about yourself at the same time.

If you would like to learn more about mental health then please check out these links:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

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Lock-down.

“To our dear nation, we applaud and thank you for your efforts over the last 18 months to contain and eradicate this virus.  The day has finally come where we can swing open our doors, visit our families and our friends and begin the rebuilding of what we once knew as ‘normality’.  This joyous news is tainted with a deep sorrow that humanity will never forget.  The many lives that have been lost over the past two years, lost in our battle against this incurable virus, too many to mourn and enough grief for a lifetime.  Let us remember that they did not die in vain and hope that on some level, be it divine or spiritual, that they can know that we have won the war against this ultimate foe.”

*********************

She couldn’t believe it.  The day was finally here.  She ran to her door, no longer caring about her straggly hair that she had been forced to cut herself for the past year, not thinking about her now rounded, vitamin D deficient body.  No thoughts of what her neighbours would think of her ragged joggers and worn slippers.  She swung open her front door and was hit by the blinding white light forcing her eyes shut, no longer accustomed to the bright sunshine.  The eerie silence was broken by a deafening bang, and though she could not see, she knew it to be the slamming of car doors in unison, as her neighbours desperately scrambled to get away, the destination was not important, they just needed to escape from the four walls that had held them prisoner for so long.

She took in a deep breath, the air was sweet and sharp and stung her nostrils and her lungs as she inhaled.  Her senses now unfamiliar with the varied palette that the outdoors offered.  She would happily take the pain if it meant no longer having to breathe in the stuffy artificially scented aroma of her home, the scent of sweat, despair and ‘cotton fresh’ air freshener.  Tipping her head back and stretching her arms, the hot weather warmed her extremities and seeped into her very core.  The warmth rose quickly into a blistering hot heat as she felt her melanin deprived skin begin to burn taking her back to holidays, beaches and days out in the park.  Pure bliss.

*********************

“I’m sure many of you would have heard about the 2020 Global Pandemic from your parents and your grandparents.  The virus that turned the world upside down and changed everything that the people of the day knew.  The virus rampaged for just over two years and the world went into lock-down with borders being shut, events being cancelled, restaurants and shops closed their doors and humanity was instructed to remain in their homes for the foreseeable future.  Many of you would have been born during this time and your parents will surely tell you of how they were separated at the hospital, unable to hold you for two weeks as they tested your resilience against the virus in an effort to build up global immunity.

Eventually the virus began to subside, immune systems had evolved now able to fight the infection, however unfortunately the most vulnerable had fallen to the effects of the virus; however the government’s were unable to reduce the pace of the infection in the world’s capital cities and the death rates were continuing to rise.  City hospitals were unable to cope with the demand and neighbouring towns were reluctant to accept patients for fear of the infection spreading further.  This left the world’s leaders in a difficult decision and so ‘project sacrifice’ was put into effect.  It was agreed that an atomic bomb would be dropped onto each of the world’s major cities, destroying the virus but also wiping out the inhabitants  The act is noted as one of the most traitorous actions of the world’s government’s and was hidden by the public for a mere six months after the drop until a group of teenagers snuck through the controlled perimeter surrounding what was once known as Central London and saw the devastating ruins.

The decision to hide the actions from the public was greatly criticised, however now in a ‘post lock-down’ society humanity understood the need for the forced sacrifice of their fellow humans.  Monuments were erected in each country in order to pay tribute to the lives that were lost due to these bombings.  

Now I know what you must all be thinking, ‘how could they do that?’, I too was shocked and appalled when I learnt about the events, but you need to understand that without ‘project sacrifice’ then humanity could have been lost forever.  Please can you all now bow your heads whilst we have 1 minute of silence as a way of thanking those individuals for giving their lives for the greater good.”

The children bowed their heads, the only sound was the faint whirr of the air conditioner and the gentle breath of each individual.  The teacher finally dismissed the children, her eyes were red and sparkling with tears.  The children were used to seeing adults weep when ‘the sacrifice’ was mentioned so were unphased by their teacher’s reaction to the retelling of history. 

Out in the playground a group of children gathered to discuss the lesson.

“I heard that the whole explosion would have taken seconds, they wouldn’t have been known it happened!” 

“Yeh well I heard that they would have seen a flash of light before they died, how confusing would that be!”  

“Not as confusing as the loud bang that they would have heard from the impact, like they must have known that was a bomb!” 

“My dad told me that the air would have been thick with the sickly sweet and acidic smell from the destruction.”  

“Yeh and you can’t tell me that they wouldn’t have felt their skin burn up before they basically disintegrated.”

“I wonder if they got to go outside one last time before they died…”

“Whether they saw it, heard it, felt it or even realised what was happening at all, I don’t care, without them we wouldn’t be standing here today!”

“Yeh true, oh well, you’re probably right anyway, I doubt they experienced anything at all.  Who wants to atomic tag?

The Changeling (2013)

The following was another one of my early University submissions, written in 2013. TRIGGER WARNING. This story features themes of child abuse and may be disturbing for some readers.

The Changeling

I looked at the crying lump in the crib.  It was such an ugly thing with its face all scrunched up like that.  Why wouldn’t it stop crying?  That ear piercing, instant headache screeching.  It was infuriating.  I went to pick up the wailing infant.  I held it wearily away from me unsure what to do.  It carried on with its tuneless song, kicking and punching the air, trying to smack some sense into me.  I stared at it, my mind blank.  Wasn’t all this nurturing stuff meant to come naturally?  I gave the baby a half-hearted jiggle, muttering incoherent noises to its face. 

         “Coochie coochie coo.”  My voice screamed insecurity.

         “Please stop.”  The baby continued, not understanding, or simply ignoring, my simple plea.

         “Please…stop…c-c-crying.”  The infant continued, giving no sign of stopping.  The tears began flowing down my cheeks.  My breathing jagged.  I continued to jiggle the baby, trying to gently rock it at the same time.  The room was bursting with sounds of anguish.  It was a stalemate, the louder I got the louder the baby got.  The harder the baby screamed, the harder I screamed.  The noise was ricocheting off the walls.  Chaos.

         “What is going on in here?!”  John pushed through the door, his face dropped when he saw the scene in front of him.

         “Amy? AMY! What are you doing!?”  He grabbed the unfamiliar child from my arms and held it to his chest.  He did the jumpy rocking motion that I’d tried to achieve but he was calmer.  Gentler.  Kinder.  The baby’s crying stopped.

         “He w-wouldn’t stop c-crying.  I t-tried to s-settle him but it w-wouldn’t s-stop c-c-crying.”  I wailed at my partner.

         “Well I’m not surprised!  The poor child’s probably traumatised, what the hell do you think you were doing?  Why didn’t you try to feed the poor thing?  Or check his nappy!?  Honestly Amy you’re meant to be his mother!”  He turned his back on me,abandoning me in the empty room.  I could hear him cooing and comforting the baby whilst he moved down the hall, away from the chaos he’d witnessed.  Away from me.  What about me?  He should be comforting me!  He was right though.  I was meant to be the child’s mother.  I was meant to know exactly what was wrong with him and how to sooth him.  So why didn’t I?  During the pregnancy I had tried so hard to protect him, to give him what he needed.  I’d loved him, but it seems as soon as that umbilical cord was cut the bond that held us together was torn.  He didn’t feel like my child.  I didn’t even find him beautiful.  Aren’t mothers meant to find their children beautiful?

         I’d spoken to my parents about how I was feeling and they said I was just suffering from ‘postnatal depression’.  They advised me to visit my doctor to get some help. Some medication and some therapy.  It would help get that bond back.  Mother and son.  There was one issue though, John didn’t believe in mental illness.  He didn’t believe in depression, he saw it as being weak and that you should just ‘man up’ and get on with life.  He’d never allow me to visit the doctor about such matters; that would be considered shameful.  I’d just have to get on with it.  I went over to the bed and curled up in the foetal position and cried myself to sleep.

         I woke up to the baby crying.  I rolled over, trying to escape the sound.  Maybe if I ignored it, it would just go away.

         “It’s your turn to deal with him” John grunted in my face and rolled away from me.  I stared at him in the darkness, resentment bubbling up inside of me.  He didn’t understand.  He didn’t care.

         I stared at the squirming baby again.  I can do this, I told myself.  I picked the child up and checked its nappy.  The disgusting brown mush was smudged all up the infant’s back.  I grimaced and got to work, it continued to kick pushing the mush all over its feet.  It was purposely making this harder for me.  I was sure of it.  I cleaned up the shit then stared at the child again.  Its face twisting into that hideous scrunched up expression.  I picked it up before it started to bellow, what else could it want?  Food?  I took it downstairs and made a bottle of formula.  Checking the temperature like the mothers did on T.V.  Of course John hated the fact that I didn’t breastfeed the thing.  “No wonder he crys, you’re not giving him what he needs.”  He would tell me.  Going against nature, natural immunity, yadda yadda yadda.  I plunged the bottle into the baby’s mouth and it began greedily sucking.  I had tried breastfeeding but it hadn’t worked, like everything else I had failed.  He had refused to latch and although he had no teeth the pain had been unbearable.   Once the bottle was empty I held the baby in front of me again.  It looked reasonably happy, surely it was happy now.  Still its face began to twist and contort again, transforming into that all too familiar grimace and the screaming began.  I didn’t know what to do, I had done everything I was meant to.  There was nothing else left.  I started to shake the bundle in frustration, gently at first then harder and harder.  I couldn’t stop.  The tears were running down my face as I violently shook the child.  For just a second the baby stopped crying, but its face didn’t go back.  The grimace got worse.  The face was wrinkled and old.  The hair on its head was grey and thin.  Its mouth was pursed as if sucking a lemon.  I stopped shaking the child and stared at it in shock.  But it was no longer that old wrinkled face, instead it was fresh and plump.  A baby.  I was going mad; but I know what I’d seen and I also knew that shaking it that hard should have ended with tragedy.  Yet it hadn’t.  This thing wasn’t my baby.  

         I put the infant down on its play mat and stared at it as it kicked and pulled at the toys around it.  I remember my grandmother telling me stories of fairies and pixies and little people that lived in the hills.  I vaguely recalled a particular story that she had told me once.  Something about how the little people in the hills would steal a newborn born child from its mother and replace it with an old wrinkled gremlin-esque creature.  They’d get the fairies to cast a spell upon, so it resembled the original child; but this creature wasn’t a child.  It was old and grim.  It would cause mischief and bring trouble to the family.  There were only two ways to tell if your child was a changeling and that was to roast the infant or to stick a red hot iron poker down its throat, revealing its true form.  Both would kill the thing.  I had been plagued with nightmares for months after she’d told me that tale.  She’d never mentioned it ever again after that.

         Whether it was the lack of sleep or the confusion from what I’d just seen, I couldn’t explain what possessed me to do what I did.  I picked up the child and undressed it whilst it punched me with its small hammer like fists.  I went into the kitchen and placed the wriggling lump into a roasting dish.  It flinched from the change of temperature.  The cold hard dish coming into contact with its warm soft skin.  I opened the oven door and placed the dish inside.  I turned the heat up to high and watched through the glass, watching the small lump kick and squirm inside the oven.  Waiting for the thing to reveal its true form.  Watching and waiting…waiting….  There was a flash of bright white light.  Something hard and cold came in contact with my head and everything went dark.  I woke up to John nudging my shoulder.

         “Amy?  You okay?  What are you doing down here?  Did you try and cook something, the oven was left on high, that’s quite dangerous dear.  I’m glad you and little Daniel are finally getting along though, look how calm he looks in his mother’s arms.”  I lifted myself up.  I was laying on the sofa with the baby in my arms.  I looked down at him, terrified that the ugly wrinkled lump would be there, but instead there was a chubby little baby boy sleeping calmly.  My baby boy.  My Daniel.

The Darkness (2013)

As I am currently experiencing a ‘creative block’ I thought I would try to inspire myself by going through my older pieces of writing.  The following was one of my first University submissions, written in 2013.  The assignment was to write an alternative ‘myth’ so below is my take on the story of creation.

The Darkness

At the start there was darkness.  The universe was not empty, but the beings that inhabited its depths were creatures of the night.  They were the stuff of nightmares.  The stories you tell young children so that they don’t snoop in the cupboards; the instinctive fear of under the bed, of dark rooms.  You’re scared for a reason.  We should be afraid.

         However at some point in the endless darkness light was born.  It’s unsure as to why, but one of the dark creatures brawled with another and the chaos it caused created a blast of light.  The light ripped through the darkness creating stars and moons, illuminating the planets that the creatures had been oblivious to for so long.  The creatures did not embrace this light.  Some tried to fight it, some fought each other, and others just died.  Many fled into the remaining dark patches but a handful remained. They were curious about the light and the planets, they wanted to explore, so they allowed the light to bore into them until they were left with only their core.  Faint shadows wandering.  They tapped, prodded, and dug into their surroundings.  Some discovered water; great rivers and seas, others discovered flowers and trees.  Yet the dark days were not over.  The light began to recede, darkness crawling back, engulfing the discovered land.  The few creatures that had ventured out into the light did not regain their darkness, instead, they faint glowed ever so slightly, as if the light had stained their cores.

         Each day the light would return and the transformed creatures would continue exploring, fuelled by their curiosity.  New creatures were discovered: birds, fish, lizards, and warm-blooded beasts.  Each night the creatures would glow brighter than before, growing bigger and stronger till eventually, they had taken a new form.  Two legs, two arms, five fingers, five toes, one head, and the source of their glow. A heart.  They were human.

         The dark ones that had hidden at the very beginning still remained.  They roamed the land at night and traveled in the shadows by day, hiding their grotesque fearsome form.  They watched the humans, a deep hunger filled them, desperate to go back to their eternal night.  They wanted their world back.  However, they were weakened by the light and so they began to stockpile the slivers of the night; waiting for the day that it could be released and darkness would be restored.

                                                                      *****

It was found in the chapel.  The chapel which was rarely visited these days.  No one cared about the carefully crafted porcelain walls, made from broken plates, cups, and various other ornamental treasures.  The chapel itself seemed to have lost interest, the walls were faded and the tiled shards had begun to fall, leaving ugly patches of murky concrete.  For a while teenagers had visited, using the miniature building as a hangout for sexual and substance experimentation.  Even those days had passed and the chapel just stood old and neglected no longer considered as a thing of beauty.

         It was found by a girl.  A young, petite, plain girl.  She had come across the chapel whilst absentmindedly walking, lost in her own little world.  Whilst she explored the forgotten building she came across it.  Most people wouldn’t have noticed the small black box hidden just behind the crumbling, unstable altar, but this girl was different.  This girl could notice the things that others could not.

         The box was small, something you’d store earrings or a delicate bracelet.  It was a slightly scuffed plain black velvet, quite old and travelled.  It had a dull silver clasp on the front, that would quite easily fit a small padlock if you desired, but no such security was present.  It didn’t seem valuable or important and anyone else would have assumed someone had just lost it, not concerned enough to search for it. The girl thought differently though.  The box had a strange atmosphere about it.  The area around it seemed to be darker as if the velvet was leaking into the atmosphere.  The girl picked it up carefully.  It was heavier then she’d have thought.  She looked down to where it had been and saw no darkness, no sign it had been there apart from a small dustless patch of porcelain.  She examined it closely, it seemed perfectly normal, just a small trinket box aside from its weight.  It was too heavy.  She considered what could inside, a solid gold pocket watch perhaps?  The box was surely too small for that, and would someone not have come looking for it if that were the case?  She wanted to open it, but something was stopping her.  Something wasn’t right.  She considered putting it back, it wasn’t hers to take, but she couldn’t seem to put it down.  It was as if there were magnets in both the box and her hands.  Placing it into her pocket she left the chapel.

         Outside in the bright, open area she again examined the box.  It still gave off that darker atmosphere around it clearer in the light of day.   She twiddled the clasp with her petite fingers, toying with the idea of opening it. She chose not to.  She headed back home and placed the box on her shelf above her desk.  The shelf was filled with old toys, long-forgotten books, and inherited ornaments.  The box would soon be forgotten.  

A week later she opened it.  

Darkness fell.

Pandora 2020

They’d told her not to open it.

It was the day of her 18th birthday when it first came into her possession.  Like any 18-year-old she had celebrated with a party filled with friends, music, and of course, booze.  Her friends brought her presents and she promised to open them all the next day, placing them carefully in her bedroom safe and sound from the festivities.  She spent the night drinking and dancing, singing loudly (and badly) to the songs of her childhood, and ended the evening vomiting into a bowl whilst her friends held her hair back and tidied away the bottles and cans.

The next morning she awoke with all the symptoms you and I dread after a night of overindulgence, a queasy stomach, a throbbing head, and a dry mouth.  Her young age was on her side though and after a quick shower and a bacon butty, courtesy of her ‘we were young once’ parents, she was merely left with the mild presence of grogginess.  A blessing considering the continued celebrations that would take place later that afternoon on the actual date of her birth.  It was a family tradition, her aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, siblings and any other relative one could think of would come around, bringing with them gifts and food dishes.  They would spend the evening sharing stories of the celebrated individual and feast into the night.  There would be dancing and drinking and loud out of tune singing, except unlike her party from the night before, it was unlikely that anyone would end up having their hair held back by the end of the night.

So she did it all again, she accepted the gifts, once again placing them carefully in her bedroom away from the bodies that filled her home.  She laughed with her cousins and blushed when her aunties and uncles shared stories of her childhood.  She played along whilst her parents teased her about moving out and paying rent and she ended the night wrapped up in bed, listening to the mumbles of the older generation still chattering away into the early hours of the morning.

It wasn’t until the next day that she noticed it.  She was sifting through the pile of gifts, ensuring to match them up with the corresponding card so she could personally thank the gift giver at a later date, when she spotted the curious object.  It had somehow blended in despite the lack of shiny wrapping paper.  It was small, no bigger than a ring box and it was made out of a darkened aged wood.  At first glance, it seemed quite plain but on closer inspection, she noticed the intricate swirls that were engraved into it, they were almost tribal.    It was stunning. Picking it up carefully, she noticed it was lighter than expected yet somehow still felt sturdy.  She looked around trying to identify which card could match up with it, but nothing seemed to go together with the unique gift, so she placed it aside not wanting to open it until she knew who to thank.

It was evening when she spotted the note. It could have been so easily missed, tucked between her mattress and her bed frame.  The paper was yellowed and creased, so she knew straight away that it belonged with the box.  Whoever the gift giver was they had really stayed true to the ‘aged’ aesthetic.

“Do not open the box.  The hum will grow louder, but you must refrain.  Your intrigue will grow stronger, but you must resist.  Its presence will grow larger, but you must persevere.  Do not open the box.”

She flipped the note around checking to see if there were more words, confused by the message and not understanding its meaning.  Surely whoever had given her this would want her to open it, and what did they mean by humming.  Shrugging, she placed the note on her desk with the box and continued with her evening activities, thinking no more of the cryptic note.

That night she couldn’t sleep.  It was as if her bedroom was emitting a sound akin to white noise.  Each time she was on the brink of dozing off the pitch changed causing her mind to go back on alert mode.  ‘Time for a hearing test’ she thought to herself as she popped her headphones on, trying to drown the strange sound with acoustic guitar and melodic piano.  It was no surprise to her the next morning when she found herself struggling to concentrate on her coursework.  Her un-rested mind kept drifting to the box.  What secrets did the small container contain?  A ring?  Earrings?  What if it was something with an expiration date like chocolate or miniature cake.  She rotated it in her hand, her fingers assessing the engravings.  Shaking her head she placed it in her desk drawer, ‘out of sight out of mind’ she thought to herself.

The insomnia continued for weeks and turned into months.  Her grades were beginning to deteriorate and her lecturers were expressing concern on a daily basis about her lack of concentration.  Her parents commented on her dull complexion and dark eyes, their face’s filled with concern when they caught her staring into the distance with a glazed over look. She knew something was wrong.  She had never had an issue with sleep and had always been rather smug of her ability to motivate herself.  The exhausted unfocussed person she had become was alien to her.  Each night her head was filled with the indistinguishable humming, growing louder and louder.  Each day she found her mind drifting to the unknown contents of the box, unable to concentrate on anything else.  She had never seen herself as superstitious however she had removed the box from her room, convinced that it was the cause of her problems.  Slowly she moved it further and further away from her until it was locked in the shed at the end of her garden, but no matter how far she sent it was still in her head.

It was New Year’s Eve when she cracked.  The family celebrations were subdued that year.  The whole evening her relations had expressed their concern to her when she walked into a room hushed voices fell silent.  She knew they were talking about her.  She had lost her appetite a few months back and her bones jutted from her skin.  She was failing at school and had stopped seeing her friends.  Her parents had tried sending her to therapy but the therapist had told them she was refusing to engage.  Her doctor had prescribed her sleeping tablets and antidepressants but they did nothing to relieve her foggy mind.

When the clock struck 12 and her family were consumed with setting out their new years resolutions she snuck out to the garden.  She carefully opened the shed, not wanting for anyone to come to hear her.  None of them would understand, they would just think she was even more insane for locking up the seemingly normal object. She retrieved it from its hiding place, hidden in a container filled with old garden toys from when she was younger.  The words of the note flashed in her mind ‘Do not open…’.  ‘What harm could it do?’ she asked herself, ‘its just some silly stupid box.’  She slowly lifted the lid, it was harder then she had thought as if there was a force pulling it down.  It must be magnetised she thought to herself, yet the logical explanation felt weak.  The inside was lined with a deep red velvet and she thought once again that it was the perfect place for a precious ring, but it was empty.  There was nothing more than the velvet lining.

She shook her head in disbelief, it couldn’t be empty not after all the hours she had spent wondering what was inside.  She pulled at the velvet hoping to discover a secret compartment but there was nothing.  She turned the box over in her hands, frantically trying to look for some kind of clasp or seem that would lead her to the true contents of the box.  Tears streamed down her cheeks as she scraped at the engravings on the box.  She threw it away from her against the shed wall.  Crying on the floor she looked at the once beautiful object.  The velvet inside was torn from her searching, the outside was cracked from it hitting the shed wall, the lid was misaligned from her prodding for hidden openings.  The beauty was gone and all that was left was a broken girl and an old broken trinket box.

That year started off with tragedy.  Bushfires blazed in Australia endangering species and leaving nothing but scorched ground.  Next came the virus, the world was forced to hide behind closed doors unable to say goodbye to the thousands of lives lost.  Then came the protests, they marched to the streets with peaceful intention and were met with bullets and smoke.  The world was crumbling.  Fanatic’s blamed humanity, claiming these tragedies were brought on by greed, wrath and pride.  The logical blamed society, stating that centuries of abuse to our cultures and our planet had caused such unrest.  The leaders blamed each other using accusations as a way to deflect from their own neglect.

She watched it all from the common room, ignoring the words and the tears of the patients around her.  They had admitted her to the hospital on New Year’s Day.  Her parents had found her at noon.  She was lying on the floor of the shed, her skin blue from the cold.  They’d asked her what she was doing and she’d stayed silent.  She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t drink and she wouldn’t speak.  So they drove her to the hospital and they’d placed her on observation.  Her doctor called it a psychotic break but no one could figure out what had triggered it.  As she watched the world go up in flames only she knew the truth.  She had brought these horrors to the world.  She was the one who had started the beginning of the end.  Each night as she slept the voices whispered to her, thanking her for freeing them, divulging their plans of destruction.  During the day they forced her mouth shut refusing her the opportunity to speak, she knew it would make no difference though.  No one would believe her all they would do is label her with a new diagnosis and place her on a new batch of medication.

The world was ending and it was all her fault.

The Commute

She stumbled out of the rusty vehicle and followed the others.  All around her were grey faces, blank and emotionless as they joined the crowd all on their way towards their own personal tragedies.   She reached the platform and stood uncomfortably close to the greys surrounding her.  She daren’t look up for the fear of making eye contact, she had grown up knowing that it was safer to be solitary, you didn’t want to end up with accidental allegiances when things went south – that’s how you ended up feeling guilty.

It arrived, a jailhouse on tracks  The windows on her carriage had been spray-painted by some creative rebel, a futile attempt to add some colour into the dull weary world they resided in, but she could still see the emotionless greys staring into nothingness behind the make-believe stain glass windows.    The doors had barely opened before the pushing began, each person being cramped into the already full chamber.  In any normal situation, someone would have said something, requested people to move up, argued that there was room for everyone, exaggerated tuts, and murmured apologies, but not here.  She stopped her mind before it fell deeper into the memories.  This was her normal now.  Thinking back to the past would only bring grief.

The doors strained to close, too many bodies pushed up against it.  One of the guards appeared and with all his body against the door, slamming it closed causing a rogue elbow to sharply jab her in the ribs.  Yet she stayed silent just like her fellow greys.  The train moved on, speeding through empty stations and sleepy suburbs.  They were twenty minutes into the journey when the woman collapsed.  She looked across at her for a brief second. A condensed and crumpled heap on the floor, not dislike laundry waiting to be washed.  She turned away.  There were too many other people in between her and the woman, her assistance would be more of a hindrance than a help.

It felt like hours had passed by the time the driver announced that the destination had been reached.  The doors opened and she was pushed out of the carriage, just another blank face in the sea of greys.  Her expedition was far from over though.  The crowd was being moved down the stairs into the great open hall where an ocean of greys was moving as one.  Waves pulsating.  Like a river joining the sea, she weaved through the grey shadows, desperately trying to keep her head above water as she fought the current towards the tunnel.  She slipped into what she thought was a river but instead was caught up in the race of the rapids.  Fiercer and faster than before, she struggled to keep up as she charged towards the end but there was no light waiting for her at the end of this tunnel, just another wall of grey.

They pushed her from behind into the back of the person in front of her.  The continuous stream of people was neverending and she continued to get pushed forward, inch by inch.  She tried not to think about those in front, telling herself that there must be an opening ahead and that they weren’t just piling bodies onto bodies.  The pushing continued.  The back of her neck was wet with sweat and each breath felt sharp in her constricted chest.  Eventually, she was pushed into a small clearing.  Greys buzzed around frantically and without direction.  She had made it to the hive.

Arches presented on each side of the wall, each leading to a separate tunnel.  She took her chances and rushed for the far-right, not knowing what would be on the other side.  She threw herself through yet another set of doors, wedging her small body between the people.  No one said anything and she bowed her head, embarrassed that she was the one who had caused yet more discomfort for those around her.  The train started to move and they were plunged into darkness.  The noise was unbearable.  The smell of sweat, dirt, and stale air clogged her airways.  The feel of hot unfamiliar bodies surrounded her.  Her head started to spin, unable to cope with the attack on her senses.  She tried to control herself, slowed her breathing, counted to 10 under her breath.  She thought of the crumpled woman and saw herself, lying in a heap of bodies fifty meters underground.  The train came to a sudden halt, flinging the dark thoughts from her head and she fell hard onto the man behind her.

When they finally arrived at the destination she was weary and tired.  She followed the crowd up the stairs and out into the light, the cool air was a small blessing from the stuffy claustrophobia from below but their journey wasn’t over just yet.  She marched with the other greys towards the tall building, watching as her crowd became smaller and smaller as they were sucked into the buildings that towered over her.  Eventually, she arrived.  She looked up at the overbearing building in front of her and she walked through the door.  A calmness washed over her as she walked up to her nest and she sat in her chair, grounding herself with deep breaths.

“Did you have a good weekend?”  A bright cheery face asked her as she got ready to start another week at work.