The Appointment

A Victorian Young Writers Award 2014 shortlisted entry, by James Noonan

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‘Is it cancer?’

It seemed only natural to bring up. He’d wanted to break the silence somehow, and when your pants were by your ankles and there was another man’s hand fondling your testicles, small talk was kind of out of the question.

Phil had expected to be shot down, waved off, even laughed at. But when he got no immediate response, a shiver of unease spread through him and he felt his balls contract even further, like pupils to bright light.

‘Well, there is something there—possibly a tumour,’ the radiologist finally said, and then as if to allay Phil’s mounting apprehensions, he added, ‘but there’s no way of knowing yet whether it’s malignant.’

Phil swallowed. ‘I see. So what’s next?’

‘Your urologist will want to discuss the results with you. He may want you to have some blood tests done.’

‘And if it’s …’

The man breathed and hooked the transducer back to the machine. ‘I’m really not at liberty to say. But, look, your lymph nodes are normal. Which means, worst case, if it is, at least it hasn’t spread. And this particular type is nearly always treatable.’

With the air of a man who had said too much, he got up and retrieved some paper towels from a tray. ‘I’ll leave these here for you to clean up. Take this form out to reception when you’re done. Take care.’

Phil lay there, not really knowing what to think. Minutes passed, perhaps hours. The slimy stuff on his groin had seemed to numb most of his body. Eventually he wiped himself and pulled up his jeans. Then he looked at his watch.

He was running late.

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The cold, grey streets of North Melbourne drifted by in fragments. Inside the train, figures fit for a funeral struggled to shake off their morning fatigue. Gulls circled idly above the entrance to Southern Cross Station, which appeared cavernous and swollen like the carcass of a giant whale. Phil wondered whether this was how he’d view the world from now on: his mortality externalised like a glaring, inalienable truth.

He felt ill. A hollow ache had settled in his stomach. He didn’t want to think about treatment. He wasn’t sure if he could go through with it. If it were anyone else, he wouldn’t hesitate in throwing his support behind it. But about his own welfare he was largely apathetic, in the way he felt most men were about their health. He was content with being alive; he just didn’t know how hard he’d fight to stay that way.

When he considered the possible months ahead, Phil thought of the colour yellow. The look and feel of it, whatever the fuck that meant. It was as if in his mind it were linked inextricably with images of sickness, of chemotherapy, sore nuts and no hair. He remembered what his mother used to say about him, how he’d come out the colour of piss. Extreme case of newborn jaundice, the doctors had said. Phil couldn’t imagine loving something like that, something so sick-looking.

He re-read the text from Dana, confirming the location of the café. He hadn’t seen his daughter in nearly a year. In that time she’d got a new job, or had had something published. Anyway, she’d moved out of her mum’s place and was living in the city with a friend, starting a new life. One in which her father should probably play more of a part.

Phil got off at Flinders and walked down a tiny side alley called Degraves. He couldn’t remember the last time he was in town, despite living so close by. He already felt out of place here. This was just the type of scene Dana would feel at home in: young, lively, European. Neon signs and smoky garage cafes gave the impression of tiny opium dens, and it felt like he’d stumbled upon an unknown inner world. Waitresses no older than Dana were dressed in frumpy sweaters and beanies, some sporting nose-rings, others luridly inked. Among this crowd, he spotted her, huddled in the front corner of a café or a soup kitchen—he couldn’t tell which—her wave possessive of the same qualities of her mother’s greetings: cool, calm and aloof.

He stepped inside, sucking in his gut as he passed the coffee machine.

‘Sorry I’m late.’

She smiled, as if wincing of pain. ‘This is Andrea.’

Phil hadn’t noticed the girl sitting beside his daughter. Her hair looked like someone had taken a pair of shears to it, hacking at random. She was wrapped in what appeared to be a rug, like what Phil had seen those Mexicans wear. She appraised Phil, taking in his entire form before turning sweetly to Dana. It dawned on Phil that his daughter could be a dyke for all he knew.

‘I thought it would just be the two of us.’

He knew he’d said the wrong thing, had started wrecking this already. He braced himself for a row, in which Dana would list all the things she thought would be different. But his initial fear that she had recruited a back-up of sorts in Andrea, a witness to the proceedings, quickly dissolved; Dana, he realised, would not want to cause a scene, not here. She wasn’t sixteen anymore—she was a young woman with greater things to occupy herself. Perhaps that’s why she’d brought her friend along, to keep the conversation light and impersonal. Regardless, Phil was grateful on some level for Andrea’s presence.

A waitress arrived, half of her head shaved. She smiled at Dana and Andrea, and looked expectantly at Phil.

‘Ah, I’ll have a flat white. What do you guys want?’

‘We’ve ordered,’ Dana stated, and sure enough two half-drunk lattes sat before them.

‘I like your glasses,’ he said, wondering why the rims were so thick. He didn’t think they suited her. ‘Since when have you needed specs?’

‘Oh, they’re not prescription. They’re only frames.’

Phil didn’t know what that meant, or what to add. He became conscious of his hands, and where to place them.

‘Here’s the book I was telling you about.’ Dana had produced a slim publication, and she handed it to Phil. Its cover was a black-and-white photograph of an empty room save for a rocking horse, its shadow extending up the wall. The title ‘Blank Canvas’ looked to have been inscribed graffiti-style, much like the alley walls around them, above the words ‘A Scrapbook for Emerging Melbourne Artists’.

‘It’s our inaugural edition, the launch was last week.’

‘Yeah, this looks great.’

‘Andrea covers all the editorial and online production, I do the design and marketing.’

Phil flipped through the book and stared at the back, a continuation of the front image, a cracked concrete floor. ‘Always knew you had a knack for this stuff.’

Andrea finally spoke, her voice the texture of silk. She’d launched into a spiel about injecting life into the moribund marketplace, saying words like ‘reconceptualise’ and ‘avant-garde’. Phil found her insufferable.

‘How’s James?’ he asked, turning to Dana and sampling the coffee that had just been laid down.

‘Good. Almost finished his apprenticeship. Booked a trip to Europe with Jess in September.’

Jess … He’d heard his son talk about her before. Dana, as if reading his mind, her eyes on the coffee in his hands, said, ‘Jesse. His best mate?’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

Now came what he had been fearing most, arriving a lot sooner than anticipated. They’d both sensed it, both tried to avoid acknowledging it. It was the kind of silence that felt dimensional, like a solid presence had joined them with all the weight of the past.

Phil cleared his throat. ‘And your mum?’

Now Andrea shifted in her seat, finally sensing, Phil thought, a terrain in which she wasn’t welcome. She stood and announced she needed to use the bathroom. Dana smiled after her.

‘Works too damn hard, same old Mum. I worry about her.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘She just looks haggard all the time, like she’s aged twenty years. She’s gone grey, did you know? The only day she’s away from the office she’s tied down with Grandpa—you know what a handful he can be.’

Phil did. Julie’s father, a former academic, had progressed to late-stage Alzheimer’s, and in recent months had grown increasingly unpleasant. He now loathed his own daughter, whom he blamed for incarcerating him in the prison that was his nursing home. Phil had gotten snippets from Julie via texts, believing she wasn’t telling him the full story.

‘You should hear some of the stuff he calls her. It’s vile. Things like “cunt” and “whore”. I feel so sorry for her.’

Phil winced, holding up a hand—but what right did he have to be spared such obscenities, such realities? When he and Julie had split, the role of caretaker had fallen solely to her—even though he offered numerous times to help out, to be present. She’d mentioned that it would just make things worse. That worn-out, defeated sigh of someone too old to be perpetuating a lie. He grimaced at the memory of him telling her she needed to get out more, meet some people, get laid. For some reason he thought it’d be that easy, to go from a thirteen-year marriage to mere buds exchanging tipsy banter over each other’s sex lives. She hadn’t spoken to him since.

‘So, how are things with you?’ Dana said, rather earnest.

‘Good, yep.’ He drained his coffee. His daughter stared at him.

‘And Michelle?’

‘Nah,’ was all he said, a stiff shake of the head, holding the cup up for any more foam to slip down.

Dana’s friend returned—he’d already forgotten her name—and remained standing.

‘Well, we should get to the office,’ Dana said, reaching for her bag. ‘Hard at work on the next issue. You can keep that one.’

Phil felt the queasiness in his stomach return. ‘You sure you don’t want to have another?’ But even as he spoke he knew the answer.

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‘It was nice seeing you, Phil.’

Dana had always called him that, a habit James picked up in his mid-teens too. They said it was from The Simpsons, that the son—Bart?—referred to his dad as “Homer”. It felt borrowed when they were younger, adopted, but he was able to accept it as he did any other fad they’d taken to at the time. This one had stuck, though, and he wondered whether he was always destined to become who he now was, known to them not as Dad, but a man named Phil.

‘You too, kid. Listen, I’ll get this.’

‘Nah, it’s all taken care of.’

‘I insist.’

‘Phil, they’re friends of ours. It’s on the house. Relax.’

‘Well, at least … take this.’

He stood, fishing for his wallet. He withdrew a fifty, paused and then took out one more. He cursed himself. He’d wanted it to be a quick, seamless exchange—the kind of familial gesture for which it wasn’t necessary to state a reason, but where she would simply extend her hand and accept the offering. A single, fluid motion. But it was clumsy, an act clanging with inexperience, and it seemed all eyes in the café were now fixed on the image of a man trying not to make it look like he was paying for his daughter’s time.

Dana hesitated, her mouth half-open, then enclosed a hand around the notes.

‘Thanks.’

Phil stepped forward and put an arm around her. She reciprocated in part, patting his side, and at the last second, just as she was pulling away, he kissed her hair and heard her say something like ‘Yeah’.

He watched them leave. What’s-her-name stopped to peck the ponytailed barista on the cheek; Dana brushed a loose strand behind her cheek, now a light crimson. Then they walked up the narrow lane, lost almost among the bustling crowd. For a moment he thought they’d gone, but then he saw her again, camera out, focusing on the art-washed wall that led back to him. Phil leaned away from the opening, thinking how odd it would be to see someone like him, Dana’s father, distantly in that shot, sitting alone looking lost. Maybe she’d wanted him in it, who knew? By the time he looked back out, they had gone.

He considered ordering another coffee, but his presence here seemed bloated, alien, and he had no reason to remain.

The day had fined up, but in that ambiguous way of Melbourne’s. It was only a matter of time before that bright ball of yellow in the sky was snuffed out by gathering cloud. Knowing it wouldn’t last, he savoured the sliver of sunlight, the momentary warmth it provided as he emerged from the laneway. It was then, walking up Flinders St, that he spotted the pub on the corner, Young & Jacksons, his old watering hole. He went there nearly every Friday before picking the kids up from school for the weekend, sometimes spending hours putting away the drink. Absentmindedly he fiddled in his pockets, but then remembered he’d given the last of his cash to Dana. All his loose change was gone too, spent on his train pass. And so, as he waited on the curb for the lights to change, to cross over to the station, he peered inside the pub, at the sleek, restored furnishings, the gilded mirrors, the silent laughter and clinking of glasses. He stared long enough to notice his reflection in the window, a solitary figure around which other shapes and shadows passed with purpose.

The lights turned amber and then, languidly, to red. The walk signal flashed. He guessed he was headed back the way he had come.

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Ignorance is Piss (Weak)

The suburban Southport share house did not, theoretically, offer ideal living conditions for someone of my disposition.  My name was the only one on the lease, when I first moved there in order to take up a geographically convenient position as president of a political group not officially engaged in domestic Australian operations; but whose main focus was to raise financial and in-kind support for our colleagues in Greece.  The rotting, rusting, overgrown backyarded Queenslander had three other bedrooms I wished to fill mainly for financial, but also socio-studious purposes.  The housemate wanted ad I put on Gumtree requested only a passport-sized photo, and answers to three questions: what is your sexual orientation, what is your political affiliation, and of what denomination is your faith?  I well knew the questions alone risked legal action.  But it was a risk I needed to take.

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Shaima arrived slightly smiling of bright white teeth for our lunch interview at noon on a summer’s day, her high-cheek-boned face encircled by a green hijab highlighting lighter coloured, feline-shaped eyes.  After placing a bowl of tofu salad between two plates facing each other across my dining table, I asked her to sit, then took my place opposite.  Follow-up questions elicited these responses: Shaima was 23, the general manager of a local women’s shelter, single, attended the Arundel Islamic Society of Gold Coast mosque once a week, and on special occasions, and was able to provide the house with a fridge.  I had been using a large camping esky, and was eager to cease walking to the local service station for ice every morning.  When I asked what brought her to Australia, she said she was an Afghani Hazara who’d paid people smugglers for a three month journey to Australia that ended by boat.  An ordeal her husband and one-year-old girl did not survive.  I gave her a set of keys and she responded with promise of a month’s rent in advance and an equal amount of bond money.  Then she thanked me for lunch, bowed slightly and left to immediately start organising moving in.

My second housemate-to-be arrived by bike in the mid-afternoon, wearing bright yellow Lycra and a broad, reassuring grin.  Tim vigorously shook my hand while never losing contact between his blue and my brown eyes, profusely thanked me for the cup of black coffee, and we settled in for an interview on the cooling front balcony.  We – or, more accurately, he – talked for two hours.  The highlights were that he worked at a bike shop.  Which made sense.  He was also studying a graphic design diploma at TAFE.  And a good hour of our exchange involved hearing about his partner Matthew, to whom he said he was openly devoted but wished not to live with yet as they’d been together only two months.  Plus, neither of their parents were entirely supportive.  Tim was 19, and said since moving out of his parents’ home he’d lived at only one sharehouse – whose other occupants he described, simply, as misguided.  But, and with a wink I interpreted as indicative of a healthy sense-of-humour, he reassured me that he was mature for his age.  He also said without prompting that he’d paint the aging Queenslander’s peeling interior.  I welcomed him to his new home.

Janelle was candid with me, as we started talking in the local park after a tour of the house in which she’d remained almost totally silent.  She looked up at the tree branches dancing in the wind, smiled, levelled her now serious gaze at me and said she’d just been released from prison.  It had been a one-month sentence after an arrest for protesting logging in her native Tasmania.  I responded that the only crime, in my eyes, was that she had been persecuted for her beliefs and convictions.  Her smile returned.  Janelle absent-mindedly played with her dirty-blonde dreadlocks as she went on to tell me she was recently 21, had secured part-time work tutoring environmental engineering at Griffith University, and was looking for a more full-time role in the local construction industry.  When I joked that our backyard was overgrown enough to be deemed a national park, she promised to turn a section of it into a vegetable garden she would maintain and we could all enjoy.  I said her tenancy had my “green thumbs up”, she laughed, said thank you and left.  I remained in the park long enough to enjoy a cigarette, savouring the prospect of returning to a house that would not for much longer be so empty.

‘I’m president of Golden Dawn Australia – an organisation which does not officially exist in this country,’ I replied when queried as to my employment, during our first dinner together as a full house.  Naturally, a period of stunned silence followed during which I took a bite out my taco.  Tim, being the one who asked about my job, was the first to enquire further.

‘So,’ he started, slight creases forming between his eyebrows, ‘what are your principles?’

‘Well, I’m anti-homosexuality,’ I replied, looking directly into his wide-eyes width-ways across the rectangular table.  ‘I’m anti-immigration and multiculturalism,’ I said looking left toward Shaima, who avoided my gaze.  ‘And I’m all but militantly socially and financially conservative, pro-development and anti-conservationist,’ I concluded while shifting my gaze right toward Janelle, whose relaxed expression, to her credit, did not falter.

‘Do you not . . . I mean, do you think that I fully deserved, sacrificed for and have since earned my new life in this wonderful country,’ Shaima said, and from whom I was shocked to hear first.

‘I do, now, since meeting and living with you.’

‘Do you think we should wipe out every tree on this planet, every animal, every living thing except those other humans who share your, and I won’t apologise because they are, hateful views?’ Janelle chimed in.  ‘What will you eat when there’s nothing but buildings, roads and money?’

‘I’ve learned much from what you’ve told me.  About what we’re, by which I mean humanity, doing to the world.  And that much of it is needlessly destructive.’

Tim then coughed, and attracted my attention.  ‘Go on,’ I encouraged.

‘I love Matt.  Deeply.  And, within a romantic context, exclusively.  You don’t respect that?’

‘I don’t share your sexuality.  But yes, I do respect your relationship.’

‘Well how can you not just belong to, but be the president of a national chapter of a far-right and, to any reasonable mind, neo-Nazi and fascist group?’

‘Well’, I began, before rising, collecting our empty plates and heading for the sink, ‘I’m going to write a letter to my Greek colleagues tomorrow.  Within it, I will tell them your stories.  And also tender my resignation.’

My Top Ten Books

I was nominated by Kristy Muir to list my top 10 books.  Figured I might as well blog it.  Below is the list, and a short justification for each of them (to those that didn’t make it; you’re still awesome):

1. 1984 – George Orwell

It fostered in me a deep disrespect for and suspicion of all authority. And has allowed me with greater clarity to observe quite helplessly the cynical Orwellianisation of Australia through such phenomena as xenophobia, cultural superficiality, permanent war, educational elitism, hyper-surveillance, heavy-handed policing focused on the lower classes (or the proles, if you will) and a concentration of media power in the hands of right-wing elitists.  Of course now I will soon be dead for expressing such a heinous thought crime.

2. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez

In my less cynical moments, I’m a romantic. This book is the pinnacle of romance. It makes Shakespeare look like a self-fellator.

3. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

I tried reading it as a kid but found it too advanced. Such is the genius of Tolkien at creating worlds that seem more real in their complexity than this one. Then I read it several times as an adult until, alas, I left it at an ex-girlfriend’s place. Based on my recollections of her, she’s more likely to have read Twilight (not that there’s anything wrong with that 😉 ) than that gorgeous hardbound limited edition I shall never enjoy again.

4. Welcome to Camp Nightmare – R.L. Stine

The first of the more than 50 from the Goosebumps series I read as an early-teen. (Although it’s actually number 9 in the series.) I read it again within the past couple of years and, if it’s not still as terrifying, it certainly brings back some fearful memories.

5. The Iliad – Homer

It says something staggeringly depressing about Western society, when a book written some 800 years before Christ details a war of staggering barbarism and pointlessness which takes place in ancient Troy – just south across the Dardanelles from Anzac Cove, where thousands of Australians died a little over a hundred years ago in an equally barbaric and pointless feud.

1984, equally quality but very different Marquez book One Hundred Years of Solitude (a mate lost my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera), The Lord of the Rings instead of The Hobbit, Welcome to Camp Nightmare, The Iliad and Odyssey, In Cold Blood, because my copy of On the Road is electronic, For Whom the Bell Tolls, because I borrowed Fear and Loathing and Hemingway was one of Thompson's greatest idols, to Kill a Mockingbird, and The Starlight Crystal

1984; equally quality but very different Marquez book One Hundred Years of Solitude (a mate lost my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera); The Lord of the Rings instead of The Hobbit; Welcome to Camp Nightmare; The Iliad and Odyssey; In Cold Blood, because my copy of On the Road is electronic and Capote apparently didn’t enjoy it; For Whom the Bell Tolls, because I borrowed Fear and Loathing and Hemingway was one of Thompson’s greatest idols; to Kill a Mockingbird; and The Starlight Crystal

6. The Odyssey – Homer

Then things get plain weird.

7. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

There’s freedom on the road. Think I might have inadvertently plagiarised old Jack there. Oh well, he’s gone to the big road in the sky so I doubt he cares. Heavily criticised by both Hunter S. Thompson and Truman Capote, Kerouac’s modern classic nonetheless sucked me gleefully into its pleasurably atavistic and anarchistic ramblings.

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson

I watched the film first. Drunk. Over several occasions in which we’d always pass out before the end. Finally finished watching it at a beach shack a mate of mine once had, at which we one night got so drunk we woke up covered in paint and with vague memories of sitting on the beach good-naturedly screaming abuse at early morning sand joggers and walkers. I read the book in more subdued circumstances.  And only once.  Re-reading it would be both unnecessary and dangerous.

9. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

I despise prejudice. If you’re reading this and you know deep in your heart that you’re prejudiced, please cut yourself off from me as totally as you possibly can. Although, is that prejudiced of me? Human existence sure is complex.

10. The Starlight Crystal – Christopher Pike

Figured I’d end on a romantic note. And the story of a young woman who falls in love, only to then go on a mission far into space where some dubious law of physics means her beau ages much faster than her and inevitably dies (but it doesn’t end there) is certainly an epic romance.

I now nominate the following people: anyone who wants to, and who will be sure that I’m made aware of their list.

My Silent Captor

By James Noonan, currently Melbourne-based writer

59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

It was like a sucker punch, hard and fast. One minute I was sitting there calmly on the subway train hurtling beneath Manhattan, the next like I was fighting for my life. I felt like I’d been dumped in icy water, my skin tingling, my lungs reeling for air. In those dizzying moments that seemed to stretch endlessly, I became convinced I was going to die.

As the train came to its next stop, I leapt up and jumped out, even though my friend and I were nowhere near our destination. I may have mumbled something at her, I wasn’t sure. I was focused on only one thing: getting to street level. Racing up the stairs, I felt I had only seconds to reach the surface, to safety. My senses were dulling; the world around me grew vague and fuzzy.

When I finally made it out onto the sidewalk, I doubled over and heaved in lungfuls of air. My heart was still pounding and that cold pressing dread had yet to lift. I tried to imagine that I was on a beach, the warm ocean breeze washing over me—somewhere far removed from the garish lights of Times Square, the ceaseless bleat of traffic. The streets seemed to be closing in on me and I needed to escape—but from what exactly I didn’t know.

My friend was suddenly beside me, asking what on earth was happening. I kept saying, with a growing anger, that I had no idea. I knew it wasn’t simply a bout of queasiness or a migraine. I thought for a moment it could be a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism (I have a history of blood clots), but in a matter of seconds my mind had jumped to a hundred other fatal conclusions—poison, accidental drug intake—all of which somehow seemed feasible.

I walked around Midtown that night for hours, unable to be indoors or to take the subway any further. My friend and I ended up getting a taxi back to my apartment, the windows fully down and my head between my legs the whole time. I just didn’t think I’d ever stop feeling this way. I’d forgotten what it was like not to feel this way.

I returned home shortly after that frightening episode, having grown increasingly unhappy in New York. Things weren’t much better here though—I couldn’t find work, I had no money or place to live (other than with my parents), and I felt terribly alone. I felt, in all senses of the word, a failure. And I slid into a major depression. I completely withdrew into myself and stopped going out to see friends, frequently making up excuses as to why I couldn’t hang out. I’d lie in bed all day, just staring up at the ceiling, not wanting to face the world.

New York's Central Park Wollman ice rink, backgrounded by mid-town

New York’s Central Park Wollman ice rink, backgrounded by mid-town

I knew this lifestyle—or lack thereof— was bad for me, but I didn’t have the motivation to do anything about it. In a weird way, I felt almost comforted by the absence of activity and excitement in my life. I frequently found myself wishing to sleep, or ‘turn off’ for a month—maybe more. Depression was my warm bed in the dark. It was my morphine, coursing relentlessly through me, numbing my senses. And I was entirely under its command.

It was this other strange phenomenon, these frequent overwhelming feelings of acute and disabling fear, that really shook me. I’d been robbed of my sense of self, of all my confidence. I was no longer in control. There came a period when I couldn’t even leave the house for fear of public judgement, of attracting unwanted stares. I was assailed constantly by a voice which questioned everything I did and thought. Why are they looking at me like that? Was it something I said? Whenever I heard laughter, I assumed—however irrationally—that I was the focus of such amusement. There was a stain on me, my fly was unzipped, or countless other humiliating scenarios…

It was only after I cancelled a job interview on account of not being able to enter the office building that I sought help. My family were worried about me—they could sense something was wrong, however well I’d tried to hide it. So I booked in to see my GP, who diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder. He explained to me that what I’d been experiencing were panic attacks. He prescribed me some meds for my depression and referred me to a psychologist for treatment of my anxiety. I found it initially nonsensical. I didn’t consider myself a stressful person; I went with the flow. I didn’t let things get to me. Why, then, was I suddenly struggling under the weight of everything?

In the six months following my diagnosis, I had regular therapy sessions, and read up on a lot of material, particularly online—some of which I found incredibly helpful, e.g. Beyond Blue and Man Therapy. I felt less alone knowing how common anxiety is among men and women. In many ways I learned how to be myself again, step by baby step. I focused all my energies on getting better, not on trying to live up to the perceived expectations of others. I learned to challenge my negative thinking, assuring myself that I was in control of my life, despite what that sinister voice kept trying to tell me.

Anxiety is often grouped with depression, but while many people suffer from both (as I did) and the treatments that work best for one may very well combat the other, they aren’t, I would argue, two sides of the same coin. Anxiety is still heavily misunderstood, and is often used interchangeably with stress. But whereas stress is a rational response to daily pressures, one that carries certain benefits relating to performance and decision-making, anxiety is a mental disorder, and does not usually have a readily identifiable root cause.

It’s also very difficult to open up about—especially with those that haven’t ‘been there’. Comparatively, depression—its causes, its effects—is quite a prevalent topic in today’s world. If one hasn’t personally experienced it, they usually know somebody who has—whether it’s a close friend of theirs, their favourite film star or musician, or a character on a popular T.V. drama. But anxiety is an affliction that still isn’t widely talked about, in its own right, even though it can be just as debilitating to one’s health (it certainly was for me). I remember I’d say to my friends whenever I was feeling anxious that I was just crook. On one occasion when it led to my being physically sick on the pavement outside a café, I said that I was simply nursing a chronic hangover from the night before. And we all laughed it off.

Eventually, however, I was able to be honest with those close to me. And I’m so glad of that, and often wish I’d done so sooner. Trying to bottle up such an intense internal struggle is poisonous to one’s health, and sadly does often end in tragic circumstances. For me, battling my anxiety remains an uphill battle. There are no quick fixes—contrary to enduring belief, one cannot simply ‘snap out of it’, much like with depression. Mostly I’m grateful for the people in my life who have supported me, even when I’d practically given up on myself. For it has been they who have reminded me when I’ve needed it most that there is a light at the end of even the longest and blackest of tunnels.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below  Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan