The big day is here. I stagger out of bed. I’m already one down as I didn’t fall asleep until sunrise. I open my wardrobe crammed with clothes. Some drop to the ground as the doors open. It makes no sense that I have so many clothes as I never go out. Most days I never get dressed. I guess I just see the potential in every single item. Whether that makes me a hoarder or an artist depends on who you ask. It’s important for me to keep my options open, to know each item is there if I ever need it. But my options are anything but open now. I cannot find what I want and the task of getting dressed is completely overwhelming. It is overwhelming just being in my room, a physical replica of the turmoil within, as though my mind has been turned inside out.
I pair a black, gothic dress with an effervescent pink unicorn hoddie. I step over the obstacle course of mess which bleeds from my room like a burst main. I tell my angry mother, last minute, that I need a lift to the station. She drives me to the station. I jump out with my bag and box of zines in one hand and my red, industrial-grade earmuffs in the other. The earmuffs are as essential as my wallet when going out for I hear the world doubly as loud as most people. I squeeze them over my head one-handed; I am now prepared for any bellowing honks or screeching wheels which come my way. I run up the ramp to the train which is pulling into the platform.
I get off the train half an hour later to travel the rest of the way with a friend. I have not seen this friend for two years. Seeing people has become too much, and over the course of eight years I have retreated further and further into myself. I sit in the passenger seat. The smell of hash and tobacco makes my body tighten. We start talking. I attempt to share some of the inner struggle I go through with him and how my mind races. He tells me I seem fine. I am reminded, once again, how invisible this fight is. How my screams are but bubbles in murky water. Screams of a drowning swimmer who cannot be heard over the wind and crashing of waves. Whose waving hand, if seen before it is engulfed, may be interpreted as a friendly wave rather than a desperate cry for help. As I learnt two years ago when I nearly drowned at Point Leo, it is possible to die even with people around you.
I thought a lift would help make the trip a little easier, but as we approach the city, the traffic begins to build. We can barely move. My friend begins telling me about his latest heartbreak. I struggle to listen to him and figure out where we’re going. We end up passing our destination.
“Why didn’t you tell me it was in the Melbourne Town Hall?” he asks me, exasperated, “I used to go there all the time for socialist events.”
My feet are getting restless. His talking, his company, it’s all becoming too much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell at which point we begin to unravel. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where a ball of string begins.
Finally we reach the zine market. My friend can’t find a park and hovers near the entrance. I jump out and leave him to find a park; secretly I am relieved to part ways for a bit. But the incessant talking is only replaced by the endless roar of traffic outside, or the din of the crowds in the hall. I find my table which I am sharing with a group I met through Arts Access Victoria. I leave my zines with them and go look at the other tables. We are well into the afternoon now and I wonder how I’m going to squeeze everything in: enjoying the market, helping at the table, and seeing my spiritual group who are also meeting this afternoon. It’s Sunday the 10th of February and everything is happening it seems. Sunday is usually my favourite day as it’s the quietest, but not this Sunday. I wish I could have come in earlier.
I get caught up in the market. My obsessive compulsive nature kicks in and I can’t stop until I have seen everyone’s table. Meanwhile my friend is calling me as he cannot find a park.
“If I can’t find a parking I go home !” he texts, “Can’t just drive around forever !”
I am also acutely aware that my friends from my spiritual group would be wondering where I am.
I finally manage to stop and look at my phone. I have many messages and missed calls. My battery is also down to 3%.
I find my friend at the entrance. I shamefully tell the table that I can’t help them today. The guilt swallows my entire being. I pack up my zines and leave, heavy hearted, with my disgruntled friend.
We get in the car.
“Sorry, it’s a really stressful day for both of us.” I tell my friend.
We then drive through the city towards Fed Square where my spiritual group said they are. My friend keeps talking, stopping only to swear at the traffic. Twenty minutes pass. We are still in the car. Inside, I gasp for silence like an asthmatic gasps for air. I feel painfully lonely even with another human’s company. But I realise what is draining me most is not his talking but how he keeps expecting a response out of me when I have nothing left to give. I feel his eyes on me, I feel how uncomfortable silence is to him, how he wants some kind of validation from me. It is pulling at me, sucking me dry like a leech. My phone’s battery then carks it, and the phone switches itself off (guess it was feeling the same way). I gaze out the window and see a homeless man lying on the pavement. My heart breaks in two.
We reach Fed Square, and my friend decides he’s just going to go home. He says he’s hungry. I tell him I will shout him. He then says he doesn’t want to look for another carpark. I say goodbye and get out of the car with my dead phone. I enter one of the restaurants and ask the waiter if this is “The Chocolate Buddha”. He directs me to another nearby restaurant. By this point, a fog is starting to close in… my mind’s attempt to “switch off” like my phone, perhaps.
I wander into the next restaurant as though I am on drugs. I am still wearing my unicorn hoodie. I wish I could just disappear into it.
“Hello,” says the man at the door.
I ignore him. I cannot deal with anything else.
“Can I help you?” I hear him ask through the fog.
“Can I help you?” he repeats.
I scan the restaurant for my friends, but they are no where in sight.
“I’m looking for my friends,” I manage to articulate to the workers.
The funny thing about this foggy state, I find, is that while you’re detached, on one level, you are also more connected on another. Your walls are down, people see the real you, you see the real them and it’s as though you are communicating on a deeper level. I tell the kind-hearted Japanese waitress that I am having a crap day and my phone’s died.
“I know what that’s like,” she consoles, and she offers to charge it for me.
I sit at a table outside, but I can’t stand the chatter and laughter of some nearby customers. I get up, trip on the table, and take off.
“Wait, you forgot your phone!” calls the waitress.
The phone has regained 4% of its charge. I call my friend from my spiritual group as I take off towards the yarra. I can barely hear her over a festival on my end and a crowded train on her’s. She is on her way home. I have missed the gathering. I sob on the phone about homeless people and how sad this world is. There is something delirious about my sobbing which starts to sound like laughter. I repeat the same phrase over and over. My phone’s battery then dies again.
I get on a train at Flinders Street and begin my frantic escape from the city. Unfortunately it is going around the loop. I get to Southern Cross, the next station, and there are already no seats left. People are standing in front of me. The doors are about to close and I make a snap decision to get out before the train goes underground. I know in the state I’m in I will have a panic attack. I could close my eyes and reason with myself but it would not be enough to stop the sense of suffocation that descends upon me… the way the world around me darkens and I’m convinced something very bad is happening.
“I have to get out,” I exclaim, as I push through the crowds with my box of zines.
“Sorry,” I catch a woman saying on my way out.
I slip out just in the nick of time and the whole carriage watch me bold up the escalator. From there I stumble into a healthfood shop.
“Can you charge my phone?” I ask the man at the counter.
“I’m sorry we can’t charge people’s phones in here,” he tells me.
I then break down in his store.
“I have to get out,” I cry. “I have to get out.”
I disappear into the back of the store and fall to the floor behind the herb rack, metal hangers jutting into my head, back and shoulders. I am aware that I could be shuffled off to a hospital given the state I’m in, but I don’t mind at all; an ambulance ride out of the city would be much appreciated. The shop manager brings me a glass of water and offers to call somebody for me on their phone.
Some time passes, and finally he gets through to somebody. He hands me the phone as I lie curled up on their cold, stone floor. I find the floor strangely soothing; it helps chill out my mind and body. I have lost my normal sense of self-consciousness. This all seems like a dream, and in a dream you can do anything right?
I speak with a stranger on the phone. I feel the stress gradually release from me as though deflating a floatie. It is only towards the end of our conversation I realise it is Lifeline. This makes today the first day I speak with Lifeline; I have always been too afraid to call, even though I have been suicidal countless times before.
I manage to rise from the floor. The shop calls a man in a bright yellow vest and he takes me to a room called Travellors Aid to charge my phone. The room reminds me of an airport waiting room. I wait just enough for my phone to regain some charge and then use it to call a taxi. But I cannot hear the operator as there is nowhere quiet to speak. Every store has music playing, as though we have a mass fear of stillness. What monsters lurk in the silence, I wonder. Our own mortality? The emptiness within, a wound none us living in this capitalist world can escape? I begin to lose the stability I regained talking to Lifeline. This time a rage the ferocity of wildfire rises within. Why does everything have to be so hard? I just want to get out, but I can’t even call a taxi. I manage to catch a sentence or two from the woman on the other end of the phone: she tells me there will be an additional $40 charge for the taxi. I’m in a toilet cubical now talking and swearing to myself it seems.
I return to the Travellors Aid and ask if they have a quiet room I could use. They direct me to their single-room toilet. I shut the door. Silence at last. I call another taxi company, but am told they cannot send a taxi to Southern Cross as the area is closed off.
It takes me a long time to realise I don’t have to call for a taxi because there is a taxi bay outside the station. I jump into one of the taxis, and ask the driver to take me to Richmond station. We stop at the lights, and a person dressed up as a grim reaper taps on my window with his cane.
By the time I get home, I know that will be my last trip to the city for some time. The only reason I’d go in there again is if I have to pass through there on my way out of Melbourne. I don’t know if the world has become more and more overbearing the last decade, or I have become less and less able to deal with it. I find myself reaching a point these days where even speaking is too much. Getting my vocal chords to produce a “hello” back to my mum when I get in the door depletes me.