So. I’m going to walk the line between sharing and over-sharing, and tell you about yesterday evening.
Last night, the glorious Daisy Johnson had one of her short stories read at a Stories Aloud event in Blackwells Bookshop. Stories Aloud is what is says on the tin – stories read to an audience by actors. It was their third birthday and my first time at this event so I was extremely excited, and the fact Daisy had picked one of my favourite stories made it even better. But a not-so-funny thing happened on my way to the forum.
As I was crossing the road on my bike, a car came barrelling along at what felt like 60mph in a 30. I just got across, yelled that he was going too fast and righteously cycled on. Unbeknownst to me, he did a u-turn in the road behind, nearly hitting another car in the process, and came up alongside me. He began swerving into the cycle lane, and proceeded to shout abuse including (but not limited to) a very specific and detailed rape threat. As soon as the car he almost hit and Tom turned up, he drove away. The man who the crazy car almost hit told me to take his details so he could be a witness. Cue crying, the I-should-call-the-police-but-don’t-want to-deal-with-it guilt, and imminent anxiety.
But instead of heading home – a two-minute walk – we decided to carry on to the event. Now, if you don’t know me, this may be a fairly normal reaction. But I have struggled with PTSD, anxiety, and depression for years, and my usual reaction to stress/threat/unpleasantness/hunger is to find a small space and hide there until Tom has fed me/shown me enough cat pictures to get me out. So this was basically A Turning Point.
We just made it to the event in time, and I sat in a seat at the front and felt tears coming. Luckily, one of my very close friends was sitting next to me so I was able to sniffle into her shoulder and compose myself before the readings started.
The first was a short story by Tim Clare, a performance poet and writer whose first book The Honours is out now. I’m ashamed to say I was still so full of adrenaline I only followed vaguely, but the reaction from the audience was rapt and towards the end of the story I was lifted and caught up by its flow. My cheeks cooled, my fingernails un-dug. The next story, Goody Bags from ‘The Girl On The Fridge’ by Etgar Keret, took my breathing back to normal.
The break brought cake and prosecco and so much love from my friends, the knots between my ribs began to slip open. I want to pause again here to point out that this is Another Turning Point. Ever since anxiety arrived in my life, I have dealt with it in the way that many people do. I have been scared of and embarrassed by it. When something triggers me, I either hide as described above, or stay in bed until it fades, peaks, or passes. I never, ever go out in public. Yet there I was, being pulled back from the brink of an attack by other people. And prosecco. And cake.
The third story was another flash fiction from Etgar Keret called Crazy Glue. It was honestly one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time, and reading it confirms it as a favourite (you can do this on boo hiss Amazon). And then, Blood Rites by Daisy Johnson came swooping at us from Shelley Harris‘ mouth and filled the room with darkness and beauty and wit and strangeness. Her short-story collection FEN is out from Jonathon Cape next year, and I fully recommend keeping an eye on her website for updates. Then, the Q&A had me in stitches, ending with Tim Clare announcing ‘I need ATTENTION’.
After, I went for dinner with Tom and a friend. And aside from not wanting to cycle, I felt completely normal. When I got home, Tom and I read Dystopian YA tweets to each other for half an hour (click the link, it’s hi-larious), argued about politics, and drank whisky.
Essentially: the crazy car did not ruin my night.
I wanted to write this, and then share it, for a few reasons. Firstly, to have it as a record of The Turning Points. Secondly, because Stories Aloud is an amazing event and you should go. Thirdly, because I want to publicly say ‘thank you’ to everyone who hugged me, was angry for me, ate squid with me, and facebooked to check I was alright.
Fourthly, and finally, because I learned something. That my default reaction to anxiety would not have worked last night. Going home would only have led to an evening of crying and Netflix and guilt. There is no shame in this as a reaction – this is not about being strong or better or any of those words that manage to make people with mental illnesses feel like failures. The main difference is that last night, other people were not the enemy. Other people were the solution.
I felt angry, and scared. Normally, those feelings would have turned in and festered. But other people pulled the anger and fear out and directed where it needed to go – towards a horrible, pathetic man who did his best to make me feel small. Next time, I’ll think twice about bed and Netflix. But if I don’t, that’s ok too.
So. That was my night. And it turned out alright.