Crowd Control

Crowd Control

It’s been difficult to write; all this talk of #metoo – of course I wrote a blog on that. Then deleted the whole thing. I wrote another one about different ways I’ve lost weight over the years. That’s hanging on my desktop to be revamped for when it’s appropriate. (In other words, for the next time I actually lose weight.) The one I wanted to write was the #metoo one. There are so many reasons for hanging back, for not suddenly coming out with it years later – as many reasons as there are for speaking about it. I’ve been asked about this blog in the same vein: why now? Didn’t you get it all out of your system when you did the TV programme? Here’s my answer: I’ve done my time. I’ve spent 30 years in the prison of my own secrecy. I’m fifty goddamn years old. I’ll talk about whatever the fuck I want.

I can remember my mind when I was a little girl. I floated through my life with an automatic filter on the bad stuff. It was like I had been pre-programmed to see only the good. I thought the best of you until the bad parts of you revealed themselves. And you had to work really hard to get it through to me that you didn’t like me, if that was what you felt. Most of the time – and this is still true – the signals went over my head.

I did, at age ten or eleven, however, find my first nemesis. We were too alike in our sense of our own importance, although in my defense, that didn’t necessarily mean that I considered anyone else less important. We were confident sassy girls and the clash was bound to happen. The energy between us had been dirty for some time and we tolerated each other only because of our mutual friends. One day, I decided to press all her buttons. It was fun, I won’t lie; she was brilliant in ways I could never hope to be, but I wasn’t jealous. Jesus, I didn’t want to be LIKE her; I couldn’t stand her. We were in her house. Every time she told me not to do something, I did it. If she told me not to pick up an ornament, I’d pick it up and look at her and say,
“What, this?”
I stayed calm. She went crazy. And eventually she screamed at me until her mother suggested she ask me nicely to leave her home. I left, smirking, and waited in the laneway nearby for my friends to join me. I waited long enough to realize they weren’t coming.
Life lesson: loyalty is complicated.
Soon after, we clashed again. I can’t remember how or why; it happened regularly. This time, we were in school. This time, she pressed all my buttons. She went to the bathroom and left me fuming. There was a song out at the time called ‘Gordon is a Moron’ (we may have grown up in the 70’s and 80’s, an unfortunate era for fashion and hair, but that was when Punk evolved, so yah.) I was so mad with this girl, I started singing ‘(Her Name) is a Moron’ and jumping up and down in the fashionable way of the punk rockers of our time. Some girls joined in. Within seconds, the entire class was jumping up and down singing ‘(Her Name) is a Moron’ gleefully, while I was in one part of my mind concerned that the prefab would collapse, such was the pounding and shaking of 40 pre pubescent girls acting like punks, and in the other part I was thinking,
“What have I created? I didn’t mean for this to happen. I didn’t ask anyone to join in and now the entire class is in on this. (This Girl) will be back from the loo any second and how the fuck am I going to get this monster back into its cage?”
Except I didn’t say ‘fuck’ because I was eleven. I don’t know if she did come back. I don’t know if she stood outside the door and cried. I can’t remember. No one in the class hated her. They had no reason to join me, other than the fact that they knew the song and it didn’t matter that I had changed the words to include her name. It didn’t occur to anyone (I think) other than me that this was an awful situation.
That story has bothered me for years. Right from the moment it happened it has bothered me. I didn’t want it and I didn’t mean to instigate it. I reacted and the mob went along with me. I didn’t know how to control it.
Life Lesson: Mob mentality isn’t just about the French Revolution; it’s here and now and far too easy to stoke.

I work with the energy of people; as a drama teacher I read it in order to adjust the class I’ve prepared. The energy of one person can affect the whole group, doesn’t matter if it’s giddiness or depression. It’s my job to get everyone on the same level; bring some up, bring some down. It’s not my business what’s going on in your head, it’s my business to bring you back into the moment of the lesson and keep you there, focused and connected with your group. That’s what warm ups are all about; shake off the trials of your day – don’t bring your problems in here and smudge everyone else with them: get over it now for the sake of the group. That said, drama class is a very comfortable place to share your worries and your woes, but later on in the session, and not from an un-tethered mind. I love that drama disciplines people so. I love that we become unselfish, that we understand inherently that we are held by the group, that there is support, but that we can’t come in all crumbly and messy; we must first bring the best of us to the circle we stand in: we spend time centering ourselves physically and mentally for a reason. Improvisational exercises force us to step outside of our comfort zones and sets us on the edge, all the better to give and take whatever occurs during our time together. I love that studying a character puts you in the mind of another life in another situation; a new and heretofore unconsidered perspective.

I was asked yesterday if I like people. I love people. If you plopped me into a room full of strangers I’d have no issue working my way through them, fascinated by their ways – endearing or odd, it wouldn’t matter, and I’d make friends. I might come out of a room of a hundred people with just one new friend but the value I’d put on that would be huge. I’d still miss it if you were genuinely dissing me – my own theory is that I simply wouldn’t want to see it – things still go over my head. I still have filters but I am perceptive: I can read a room in a nanosecond and I’ll spot my future friend in the next moment.

I can do all these things but I can’t tell you about my #metoo stories. Why? It’s complicated. Do you need to know them? Haven’t you got enough of your own? I will say this: it takes years to read people, to understand a situation and how say something without words. My God, if I knew then what I know now, I’d slay! But then there would be no evolvement of mind, or spirit or even body. However, here’s the rub: I believe we can use our stories – told or untold – to help our society to evolve. Some will be swayed without even thinking about it. It’s up to us, as thinkers, to help the majority to sway in the right direction. It may go over your head, but if you decide, one day, to focus and tune in, it’s very easy to find support and control the crowd.

The visions are mostly beautiful

The visions are mostly beautiful

At some point, about half way through my happy pregnancy; the one where I carried my daughter, four and a half years after my wedding, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I wasn’t me: it was as if some imposter had taken over my personality. I still resided within the recesses of my own mind, but I had taken up an observatory role; the tasks I carried out, the way I spoke, these were not driven by me. I remember trying to explain it to my sister, as I sat there in my dungarees (who, please; WHO said it was ok to wear dungarees when one is eight months pregnant?)
“I feel like I’m trapped inside a cage, and I can’t speak and I can’t let anyone know I’m actually in here.”
She nodded like she understood. Maybe she did. She knew I wasn’t myself but like me, she didn’t know why.
My energy was at a chronic low; I had been told it would be this way, but I had nothing to measure it off; I didn’t know what too low was. Geoff took care of me, fed me, ensured I ate well and all I had to do was heave my bulk off the sofa to bring the empty plate to the dishwasher, but I couldn’t even manage that. It occurred to me at the time that this couldn’t be normal; how do people keep going if they have zero energy?
She was born on a foggy day in January. It wasn’t an easy birth and Geoff saved her life by cutting the cord that threatened to strangle her.
“It’s a girl,” someone said. A team of perhaps ten attended my birth; it might have been any one of them.
“Aisling, so.” Said Geoff.
The name I had chosen if he had been a girl. Before. I fell in love with Aisling, the name; the baby that might some day be her. The Irish word for a dream, a vision of Ireland. It was romantic, tribal; it gave me joy when times were dark. We hadn’t discussed it, not really, but Geoff knew what the name meant to me.
“Aisling.” I said. And that was that.
The light of my child was the only thing that kept me going; it had been a difficult birth, I couldn’t feed her, everything was sore. My ward was like a war zone; too many women cramped into too small a space; nurses over worked and unavailable to just sit and listen. My last time in this hospital had been in a private room, just me and the baby. This time it was too loud and too bright. I couldn’t feed and she was understandably upset. I kept the curtains around my bed for the full horrible five days. I didn’t sleep at all. I could not get out of there fast enough. There was though, the day she was born, a moment of sheer brilliant joy, when Geoff came back with clothes and food and our clunky old fashioned video camera; he showed me some footage he took of the snowdrops that were growing in the park beside our home. They were and still are my favourite flower, their lives so short and so delicate that it would be a sin to pick them. He knew that but he wanted me to see them. That memory smells sweeter still than any flowers he could have brought me.
Snowdrops in the fog; that is Aisling’s birth. Her sister brought a wild wind. And my first born; he showed me my first sunrise.
There was another moment of joy leaving the Coombe; the knowing beyond all knowing that as we passed out the door, the three of us, that I was exorcising the ghost of the lonely heartbroken girl, the me of twelve years earlier, waiting in the foyer to go home, alone.
“She’s free now.” I thought.
And we went home, where I sat and cried and cried; irrational thoughts that I would never be able to protect my daughter from the world; what if she pulled a pot of hot water all over her two years from now? What if she got knocked down? The dangers of the world were psychedelic and I didn’t think I could manage to keep her safe. It went on like this for six months. It was early summer and my friend had invited us to her house for a barbecue. By this time, I was two stone overweight, ugly in the extreme and just repulsive to look at. Or so I thought. Walking down the road was torturous; I could feel the silent catcalls of every driver going past me. I was worthless – I couldn’t even reach my own self – that vague idea of me, so suppressed and worn down. We got to the house and I couldn’t get out of the car. I was frozen, a bizarre feeling of helplessness. I was cajoled somehow and we went in. I was happy to see my friend but it was immensely difficult for me; there were wasps everywhere and what if one of them stung Aisling? And then, the most awful thing happened: neighbours called in. I was thrown into silent turmoil; they would have to look at my awful face and it would disgust them. I tried to hide behind Aisling as she sat on my lap but the wasps! I literally broke down. Came inside. We all decided it was best if I went home. I said to Geoff,
“I think I have post natal depression.”
I thought he would laugh and say nonsense.
He nodded. He agreed.
I had been grasping at straws; I didn’t really think I was depressed – I mean, I was living happily ever after, right? This was a joyous pregnancy and birth. This was the baby I got to keep. Why in the name of God would I be depressed?
And yet.
I was.
I had been, I realized, depressed the whole way through my pregnancy; ante natal depression as well as post natal. It’s a thing. It’s real. I told my sister. She also nodded and said it made sense. When I look back now, it’s as clear as day, but back then, it was murky and sticky. But naming it helped. I went to my doctor. We talked. She asked if I wanted to take anything. I said I didn’t think so. Now that I knew what my monster was, I could deal with it.
Fucking monsters.
It helps to visualize them.
When I finally gave up smoking a couple of years earlier, I imagined my addiction as a long tentacled alien type monster. Every time I had a craving and I didn’t give in, half a tentacle would disappear, just like that. I carried the knowledge of that monster all through the two weeks of weaning myself off nicotine, knowing he was there, but reveling in the power I had over him, every time I stood up to a craving.
Depression was another monster.
I knew his name. I could see him now. I walked my way out of his life.
Every day, I put Aisling in her buggy and I walked, fast as I could, pushing into my pain. I walked and walked. One day, I stopped mid walk. I literally couldn’t go on: I wasn’t tired, I was just…well the fucking monster had a grip on me. It’s all visuals with me: I was at the bottom of a pit. There was only one thing I could do, and that was crawl my way out. I had to. The only way was up. That was what taking a step forward was like that day. But I took it. And another and another. I walked and I walked until the weight fell off me and I left the monster behind.
It always amazes me. I should have been happier than I ever was. I should have been powerful. But depression doesn’t need a reason. We need to remember that; there might be nothing wrong, but everything can be wrong. I was living happily ever after but the monster came anyway. He came, but he didn’t stay. Monsters come, but I’m less afraid of them the older I get. They don’t scare me so much anymore, as piss me off. I try to tell my children that if something goes wrong; don’t worry about me, I have the hide of a hippo. Thick skinned, tough, a warrior woman with fifty years of shit I no longer take. But I won’t stop dreaming; the visions are mostly beautiful.

You’ve kind of got to make your own…

You make your own

For a start, I was still afraid of the dark. And of myself. And of being on my own. I’d suffered from anxiety since I was seventeen or eighteen and I understood completely what it was to be left alone with your own mind. I’m not sure how it began; I know I was anemic, underweight, over tired, uninspired and no doubt aware on some deep level that I was wasting my life away. Being dramatic, and with no creative outlet, I assumed I would die young, like Keats, and I often visualized my own funeral which would reach a crescendo with, of all things, the opening choral number from Carmina Burana. Could you imagine?

There were events that tethered me to the life I was supposed to be living; my parents were in a choir. I went to hear them sing in the National Concert Hall, which was a fairly new building back in those days. Have you heard the opening of Carmina Burana? It blew my tiny unexploring mind and elicited tears that appalled me, because I was cool. Add to that the emotion of seeing my actual parents up there on the stage, contributing to that sound. I can say, honestly, it was one of the moments that changed me forever; right there, right then; from the performance to the foyer to the chit chat and energy afterward. I hadn’t explored the theatre during my school years – which was bizarre and a reflection of the massive distance I had travelled from my true path. I adore any opportunity to be back in the Concert Hall; I feel like I’m one of the founding members because I know the best time to order interval drinks or where to sit depending on what’s on.

Back on an ordinary school night, things were very different. Invariably, I’d find that I was the last to go to bed and so the only awake person in the house. I think I know what happened the first time; I was lying there in my bed, thinking God knows what – the worst possible scenario in whatever drama I was playing out in my head. I was wearing a white nylon nightie – because (sigh) it was the eighties folks and Penneys hadn’t got with the groove; we wore what our mothers bought us. In my case, a spinster’s nightdress. It was the first time I ever got palpitations – a truly awful sensation – and then, suddenly – sparks flew out of me. It was as if there was a faulty light bulb under my nightdress and it was flashing on and off. I was terrified. I thought,
“I’m being abducted by aliens!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Emer.’
“It’s a fucking poltergeist.”
It made sense. I was the right age, and wasn’t it something to do with hormones?  Whatever it was, it was a horror story; I was alone. My family was asleep. I was being possessed and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I sat, in the top bunk, crying, terrified, and believing that I was being slowly fried to death. Either that or that I would come to in a room with bright lights and probes. I had a wild imagination, but the sparks did happen. I still don’t know to this day what they were, but I imagine, hormones, nylon and fear mixed together in a cocktail of energy. No monster appeared and I suppose I fell asleep eventually. But I was left with ANXIETY and FEAR OF BEING ALONE. It developed, quite frankly, into a phobia of some kind. I never got professional help so it never got a label, but I did once speak to a friend who’d had agoraphobia and it seemed so very similar. Except my fear didn’t come from open spaces or going outside; it blew up when I was truly alone – in the house during the day or at night, when everyone was asleep. My sister would wake up in the middle of the night to find me tucked in beside her in her small bed, and bless her; she’d let me be. At three in the morning my mother would get up with me and make hot milk. I wouldn’t even go into my own head for fear I’d find a monster there. I wanted distraction in any form.

When I got pregnant I told myself to continue this way would be bad for the baby. It stopped. Almost just like that. Of course anxiety will rear its ugly head every now and then, but I had the measure of it, I discovered, without counseling; I simply knew I must get on top of it. And so I did. I took to drawing again; I’d a talent for drawing. I was and still am, good at faces and hands; it’s my handiwork on the life drawing compositions of quite a few of my fellow students’ exam pieces. Supervisors of art exams are dreamy, stare out the window types you know. Cheating was exceptionally easy and I liked that I could help my friends, just by drawing a hand. Drawing calmed me. Brought me back into my own mind in a serene sort of way. I remember thinking: I quite like being with myself. It helped me and settled me and the baby was safe.

These were the difficulties; the things I worried about when I was working out if I could keep my baby, you see. It wasn’t a simple case of, could I afford to support the two of us? Where would we live, how would I manage? It was also: will I be scared? Who will I climb in to bed beside when I’m beside myself with fear? Who will make me hot milk? I worked it out of course, and as I travelled the road of my pregnancy and as I matured and calmed and settled, I knew I could do these things. I knew I could manage. None of these matters had any bearing on my decision in the end. None; not me, not the child, our lives, or that of my parents or my sisters. Not my job, not my plans; not even the vague idea that the father might ever be interested; nor his family nor any part of my life, past, present or future.

The idea that I would die young went away. I felt myself grow stronger. The fears and anxieties were gone. It was just me – my mind and my spirit: I had felt the truth of that before when I had been a very young girl, climbing my garden wall to find a quiet space; rare times when I sat with myself. My decision, when it came, came from that deep sacred place of absolute raw truth. You need to sweep away a lot of debris and shit to find it, but when you do, you know that every single thing that stems from that central place is true. Believe me: my decision to give my child up for adoption comes from that true place. I do not look back and say, it is the single biggest regret of my life; when I do look back, I say, it is the single biggest truth of my life.