High Alert


Pressing anxious paws against my lower arm,
she marks my skin,
3kg of stiletto feet.

Easily startled, nerves like gum,
she twitches like a bird:
permanent fight or flight.

Even asleep, she is awake
and I worry:
what does this do to her?

by Rebecca L. Atherton


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Sleeping Dogs

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Today, the vertigo is back
and my energy is flying around
like rabbits.

Gravity has become my enemy
and I cannot lie still enough.

by Rebecca L. Atherton
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Inhabited

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Anxiety
sits in my shoulders

like a bird
without wings

watching
the approach of winter.

by Rebecca L. Atherton
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The things that stare at me

Huddled amongst dust bunnies and cobwebs, I claw at the things that stare at me and shy away from those that bite. It’s cold and I wish that there were others: spirits, perhaps; and fairies and angels. But the part of me that believed, that believes, is struggling to reach out, bereft of clarity and energy. Behind closed eyes lights dance, colours come and go and I know it won’t be long now until I am ready.

The days pass and October dwindles. Soon it will be November and then the end – of fast, of angry, of sad, of lonely, of cold and damp and grey and black… of disrespected and disconnected and struggling to keep up… of tension tight in my neck and belly and not being able to relax… of constant traffic and constant people always rushing past… of feet above and feet below never letting up… of grimy windows and oily floors, slamming doors… of pushing and shoving and phones that swallow, umbrellas in the way… and tomorrow a carbon copy of today.

The page grows heavy, the uncomfortable inside climbing out. A hand finds my arm, a head my neck, thighs grip my abdomen and press. The baby in my belly complains. As usual it is unhappy.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Uneven sides

imageWhatever way you look at it: my life is a triangle with uneven sides; wonky, like a tower that is crumbling or a cake that’s not right; a pack of cards stacked, tumbling. And as I attempt to navigate the landscape of my life: traveling across terrain that is uneven, bumpy; brushing up against, crashing into, obstacles that bar the way; incurring wounds and injuries… I am increasingly aware that, with time, instead of better, it gets less and less right.

Good days, bad days; happy days, sad days. Fast days, slow days; high days, low days. Days that are nice and days that are mean. Days that are concealed and days that are seen. Days that smile and days that weep. Days that wake and days that sleep. Days that talk and days that think. Days that lift and days that sink. Days that expand and days that contract. Days that add and days that subtract. Days that love and days that hate. Days that embrace and days that escape. Days that do and days that don’t. Days that will and days that won’t. Days that are days and days that are years. Days that are friends and days that are fears. There are a million ways for a day to play out… A mere traveller on an expansive back, I am fed up with being their victim.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Stone in my shoe


Feeling antsy;
finding it hard to write.
Sitting down’s a mission,
but standing up’s worse.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The Clucking of Hens

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“There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains. So if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens.” Alan Watts

It’s my last day. My flight leaves tomorrow. I’m packed, the boxes have gone, the dog has been to the vets for pre-flight jabs. And I’ve tidied, washed, ironed and cleaned, to the extent that the house feels empty. I am no longer here.

I am lying in bed beneath a blanket writing by candlelight. In the main room, a fire burns. Outside, its raining. It has been for hours. The shift I had hoped to avoid caught me unawares, materialising without warning. It’s winter now, properly; not sometimes or some days… Still, at least I will be better prepared when I land, which is something.

I’m not sure how I feel, as I’m doing my best to avoid thinking and feeling is strictly banned. I’m scared that if I pause for long enough for it to sink in, the everything that’s happening around me (which is pretty scary and big) will rise up causing me to drown. I have a tendency to suffer from overwhelm at the best of times.

To keep the monster at bay, I drink lots of camomile tea and dose up on sedatives – all herbal, mind. I move a lot, too – all nervous energy atop impatient feet.

Looking after my dog is helping; tending her agitation, aiding my own dis-ease. What she is suffering is bad enough: she sees boxes, cases; knows something is happening to her environment, chipping away at it, but she can’t quite explain what it is. Is mummy leaving? Is daddy going on a trip? Has she done something to anger or upset? Why are things disappearing: her blanket, her bowl, her bed? I know where she is. Being in limbo is uncomfortable.

I wish I knew what was on the other side, whether I will love or loathe it. I wish I knew how long it will take, the exact length of this interlude. I wish I could have a guarantee that if I hate it, if I am unhappy, I don’t have to stay that long. I wish someone could promise me that the temperature will be favourable, that there won’t be much rain and that the sun will always shine. I wish there were answers. In their absence, I have no idea where I am, how I feel, what is happening. Like my dog, I am confused.

I reach out my hand to those around me, looking to them for comfort, only to realise too late that they are only interested in subtracting. I lend my shoulders, my arms, my breasts… while my heart endures a battering. I need to widen my circuit, balancing the flow between to and from.

Tired, drained, I shrink back, taking refuge in the one place only I can find. It’s quiet and dark. Even in a busy cafe, nothing reaches in. Safe within the void, held by the flow, I find comfort. For now, it works.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Morning has broken

imageLast night’s dinner covered in ants.
The metal contraption that cooks in various shades of black.
Dirty plates, empty cups.
A girl with broken eggshells in her lap.

The snake of uncertainty.
A spider without legs.
A dust mote, a cockroach,
a senile cat.

The hive of a head.
The blue beneath.
Paper birds.
Hide and seek.

Tripping over objects.
Impatient feet.
The man in the photograph.
A final receipt.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Empty cups

imageUncertainty wakes, rises, puts on a dress, washes her face and administers makeup; moves from the bathroom into the hallway, on to the kitchen, where she is blinded by light. Last night’s dinner sits in the sink, stale and menacing, covered in ants: creatures that smell a meal on washed-up plates, dine for hours on empty cups.

Indecision joins her, filling the kettle with tepid water, placing it on the hob to boil, taking four slices of factory bread from the artificial sheath that contains them, slipping them – slowly, carefully, ever so securely – into the metal contraption that cooks, painting their surfaces caramel brown and various shades of black.

The light flickers, the kettle whistles, the toaster clicks. There is comfort in action, reassurance in order.

Anxiety enters on impatient feet, circling, pacing, crying out in tones are far from dulcet, bereft of endearing; although her mother might love them, perhaps?

Uncertainty sighs and moves to the cupboard, extracting a plate and a bowl; taking a packet of something vaguely meaty, pouring it in; filling the empty hollow with dried-up balls that chime as they connect.

Setting it down with a tap like the rapping of fingers, the patter of rain, she begs a window of space from the creature that hounds her. The air, however, has other ideas. It hisses and cracks.

As she searches for purpose and meaning inside a present that is deceptively labelled, longing for a destination which manages to be both familiar and exciting at the same time; Indecision deliberates the tangle of life, feeling bitter and cheated, freshly abandoned.

Meanwhile, Anxiety circles, carving rivers of worry into the floor.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A creature of habit

IMG_6520-0I suffer from chronic anxiety. I’m not sure when it started, if I have always had it, or if it is only recently that I have become affected, like in the last 15 years. I do know that it plays an influential role in my day-to-day life and that it occurs with enough regularity to have become frustrating and annoying.

When I was at university I had a boyfriend who experienced panic attacks. They were a mystery to both of us, neither one of us understanding the shortness of breath, the hot flushes, the dizziness, the nausea, the blacking out, the vomiting and the lack of consciousness. He lived in fear of a repeat attack and this fear dominated our evenings. With the understanding I have now, I look back and feel guilty: I could have been a lot more compassionate and helpful if I had known what it was he was going through, if I had understood it. As it was, a part of me thought he was doing it to sabotage our evenings (it only ever happened when we were out with my friends). If we had kept in touch, I would have phoned him long ago to apologise. I would have also explained to him what they were, if he hadn’t already arrived at his own discovery, and recommended possible avenues of treatment. A rough analysis attributes them to the state of flux he was experiencing as a result of his recent uncertainty about the future and the pressures from his family. Several months later, he dropped out of a law placement and switched to teacher training. A dramatic shift in direction (provoking disappointment and anger from his parents) which helped him profoundly.

Anyway, regardless of when my attacks started (at a guess, I would place them at 8 years), the reasons were similar and the results pretty much the same. And ever since, each time there is a significant shift in circumstance: a sudden change, an enforced situation, a necessary transition from A (where I am comfortable) to B (where I have no idea), an extended journey resulting in a separation from everything known, etc., I start to unravel, my inner peace disappearing. If I fail to act, attempting to ignore the emotions and run from the reasons, the anxiety escalates until it reaches a level that incapacitates me. And even then – housebound, bedridden – there is no relief. The only solution is to turn around and face and to attempt to address.

Over the years, I have learnt that there are things that I can do. And they are things that, on the whole, are fairly successful. The challenge is becoming aware of the spike before it is too late and getting my mind to agree to accompany me on the necessary journey to solution and recovery.

Things that work are:

• self-hypnosis for anxiety, worry and stress
• meditation, ideally with a mantra
• gentle exercise (yoga or a walk with music)
• verbal expression (either by talking to someone I trust or writing in my diary)
• a solid daily routine
• safe places where I can go to relax or work
• an emergency plan (i.e. someone who can talk me down or come and collect me should the need arise)

Practiced regularly, I can keep the anxiety to a minimum and the attacks at bay. There are periods of time when I forget about them completely. It is only when the circumstances are such that I have no power to affect them that I struggle to arrive upon a cure. In these times the above list is key to my survival and, while it might not remove or solve, it does deliver a situation that is manageable.

These days I am a creature of habit. I have a routine, essentially a timetable, which I follow without complaint. At a certain time I will always be in a set type of place going about a specific activity. And, while it could be viewed as small and limiting and perhaps a little sad, sequestering my life and its experiences to the confines of a box: for me, it has actually been the opposite, allowing me to travel the world, live in different places, experiment with different things.

more information on panic and anxiety
Broken Light: photography for mental health
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