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.