It’s that time of year when the promise of light is in the air. For those of us who have been sat in the darkness for too long – this one is for you.
Hacking through bracken, words are tar and feathers – dense. I don’t see the features on anyone’s faces. Words hang in rusted barbed wire around necks of the bodies they are attached to. Dragging themselves along pavements. Day after grey day.
Sharp edged arrow words. Put things away properly. Sit up straighter. Only wear clean clothes. Don’t get too dirty. Don’t swear. Quieten down. Don’t – just don’t. Words written on my face in spit stink – invisible ink. I’m stained on the inside with congealed blood that doesn’t flow quite right.
Don’t speak up. Keep the words in.
Don’t stand out.
Speak when you’re spoken too.
Keep your mouth shut.
Keep the lid on.
Don’t let anything out.
Don’t break things.
Makes me want to do things that I shouldn’t. Makes me want to shout and scream and tip things over, pour paint on the floor – rip my clothes, feel fear on purpose as a way of gaining some kind of control. Does that make sense? And when I can’t feel anything and I find myself in the company of strangers that want me to organise myself, have the right clip board, or a different face or proper hair, or a proper thing to say, or a quieter laugh, or just be quieter and don’t laugh. That’s when things get messy. In my head. That’s when I have to shrink in order to grow fast, it’s like I have to crouch down small in a pretend game of hide and seek and then build my energy, build it and build it and build it until I can hide no longer and everything just bursts out.
Rip and pour and create in a whirlwind of not knowing what comes next because there is no actual order. There is no supposed to and right and wrong in this crazy fucked up world that we live in. It just is. It just is. And without starting from a place of mess I don’t know how anything could actually begin. Rip up all instructions and burn them, stand in the glow of the fire and wait until I know what to do next. If nothing comes, I’ll draw with the ash from the embers and spit into the dirt on the ground and that will be my fresh start. Because anything else is a lie. And if nothing else on this else earth holds true, I know I can tell the truth and start at the beginning.
What will you do when the words you bear on your back begin to squash you flat?
What do you do?
Put the children in bed and cry? Drink until you forget?
What do you do?
Burn things, make fires, read yourself into another world, change your hair, your clothes, your food. Or does everything stay the same? Roll in soft cotton duvets and drink tea until you cannot contain any more liquid. Stare at screens until the scene in front of you sleeps.
All these things and more.
Put away sharp objects and dance in spilt ink, tracing your footsteps to the next place.
All these things and more.
These words will go and days will pass.
You just are. You will find your truth and begin. Begin again.
‘What’s In Your Bag?’ is a project funded by ‘Time To Change’, that will be launched in February 2016. A special selection of people have agreed to meet me for tea and cake and share what they carry around in their bag every day. I have decided to go first, with an exclusive, ‘What’s In Your Bag – extreme’. Extreme because I feel I’ve been unusually honest (for me) about how I perceive my mental health at the moment. I’ve been feeling vulnerable and small; that’s often a private thing.
The urge to share has been growing over the Christmas celebrations, as glamour spells are cast across the social media world. Photos of laden plates, rosy cheeks, happy families and drunken friends have ravaged my lap-top screen. The panto villain in me wants to re-balance all the twinkles and glossy perfectness in this virtual place and share a dollop of untainted reality.
All the gathered debris that I have carried around with me the last two months makes me want to puke onto my kitchen table. The retching sensation still resides at the back of my throat – extreme? Well yes, I agree. Ordering the sixteen pens I have in a circle in the centre of the table, I do know that sixteen is quite clearly more than I need. I also know, at least logically, that the amount of receipts and used theatre tickets need not be part of my every day life. These tickets are memory keepers, proof that I occasionally leave this house and join in with the life of this city. The real reason I hold on to them is less romantic, it’s the intention to add them to a growing pile of self-assessment tax evidence. In fact I must, I mean I will, decide on a ‘proper’ place for them to go.
In the midst of the unwinding chaos that is as obvious as a therapy session, is the fact that I have been tying myself up in knots over ‘doing enough’ and in that knottiness I have become so tight inside I have forgotten the very essence that makes my life work – stopping and breathing. Thankfully I see my saner self giving me poignant reminders, hand written notes that say
Q ‘what would you like to write about right now?’
A ‘Beauty and stillness. Unexpected pockets of peace in a complicated world’
Quotes from poetry performances that I have been to:
‘I need you like a novel needs a plot
‘I need you like the greedy need a lot.’
An affirmation from two months ago, encouraging me to lose weight – now over one stone lighter than the writer of the note – I can smile at it and let it go.
Pieces of writing that play with darkness, attempting to make sense of the sound of my raw screaming in the 3am and 4ams of the night. These scrawled notes attempt to unravel the night terrors that have been the cause of my disruption – the reason I haven’t got just one bag to sort through but two bags and a box. The box that I have been emptying my bag into when it all feels too overwhelming to look into or sort out. These notes leave a trail to a box of medication that I have been ignoring – in the way I might blank the eyes of an ex-lover who stares at me from the back of a crowded room.
I’ve put off looking at these static moments of my life, gathered into a mountain of paper memories. Yet, seeing them reduced to piles with virtual labels on, they’ve shrunk to small hills, some possibly even little pebbles – light enough to pick up and throw away.
Bernadette Russell is a writer, performer, comedian; she creates magic and naughtiness in equal measure. She is based in Deptford, London, so it’s cheating a bit to include her in my Bristol based research. However she does perform nationally and I am claiming Bernadette’s Bristol parts for this interview. Her most recent touring play was the internationally inspiring ‘366 days of Kindness’. Her company ‘White Rabbit’ is a creative powerhouse of performance, writing and innovative ideas. Bernadette inspires many people every day including myself.
I go to a gym, nothing wrong with that right? I have got to that age where frankly if I don’t exercise the many years of drinking and body abuse I have indulged in, starts to show. There were many obstacles for me to overcome before I could go regularly to a gym, the obvious being body image. I never, NEVER, expected that I would voluntarily go to a place to exercise.
Home is a place where I navigate un-chartered territory, hiding from my darkest dusty corners and celebrating my sparkliest eye catching glitters. It’s the place where I can safely go into my chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly, before sharing that self with the rest of the world. My home is an ocean that creates its own storms, and provides me with the calmest waters, from which to drink deep. All this is contained between my four walls, a seemingly ordinary place, in an unremarkable street. If you zoomed out on Google earth, my home is lost on the second click, gobbled up by bigger spaces or taller buildings. Just gone.