My oldest child pointed out in conversation the other day that she will be 15 this summer. While that in itself is a reason for pause, because clearly I’m now old, what really stopped me dead was the vision I suddenly had of myself at that age. I remember 15 far too clearly for comfort so I try not to think about it much. 15 was the year of the leaves. The year the leaves attacked.
Think Jaws the movie and you’ll be half way to understanding. I wasn’t Jaws by the way, that was the leaves. I was the daft girl on a rubber boat. With no paddle. I’m not sure what triggered the leaf terror. There was no horrific leaf experience but gradually over a period of a few weeks from September of that year and on past my 15th birthday I became utterly petrified of leaving the house when I knew I would have to walk past leaves on the ground. I was in Third Year in school and the path there and back was a leaf-lined Hell. Living in one of my city’s leafier suburbs had never been less attractive to me. I had to map every step of the route according to where I knew the enemy lay in wait. And if it rained just forget about it. I held on to walls. I clung to railings. I once hid in a phonebox. I HID FROM LEAVES IN A PHONEBOX. In January and February alone of that year, I missed 6 weeks of school and dozens more besides. I bunked off at every opportunity I could. I sneaked home to hide in bed or I hid in various corners of the town devoid of leaves or people who would know I should be at school. The graveyard was a good spot. The misery and pain of such an existence lead to my first suicide attempt. At 15. Only my Rasputin-esque stomach prevented me from dying or doing permanent damage to myself. I spent 24 hours vomiting from the tablets I took but at least the leaves hadn’t won. However it didn’t feel like a victory at the time.
Now, as an adult who has struggled with poor mental health for most of my life I still think of that year as one of the worst. I am shaking even writing about those bastard leaves. The nasty wet smelly puddles of weeks-old horsechestnut leaves outside the house at the traffic lights. The bouncy stacks of dry leaves piled up looking so gorgeously Autumnal outside the church across the road. But who knew what lay beneath them? How was I supposed to walk? When I think about how I felt that year I have no explanation but then you can’t rationalise mental illness. I wish I’d known I was unwell. I wish I’d known I was severely depressed and suffering from extreme levels of anxiety . I just thought I was weird. A freak . I cut myself off from all my friends at school and convinced myself they were all talking about me and laughing. I wonder now why nobody noticed that I was visibly in the throes of a breakdown. I blamed myself at the time of course. I told not a single soul so nobody offered to help me. But what did my parents think I was doing? Rebelling? My teachers, who would make sarcastic comments when I did show up in school, did they not notice an intelligent student slowly falling apart? I was a good girl, slowly dying, because of leaves. But nobody noticed. Things are different now I’m told. I really hope this is true.
The leaf madness arrived gradually but it left me overnight. One morning the following October I woke up and simply knew it was gone. The sky was blue outside my bedroom window and I got up and went to school.
Copyright 2016 Neev.ie and myindoorvoice.wordpress.com