Air Birds

I feel the moisture in the air as I raise and drop my wings. I love flying. I look to my wing-tip and catch sight of the red sun on the horizon. The sky looks like a waterfall of colour, reflecting on my feathers and making them glow. It’s hard to turn away and join my wing-mates.

Wings back, 45degrees. Nose down, 70degrees. Slide into position, 20 degrees above Saskia on the left, 20 degrees below Dad on the right. The perfect family line of Airbirds.

Wings synchronised, we plunge through the cloud surface, fighting the density and throw our colour feather. As the feathers fall the rainbow forms, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. It sweeps towards Earth and I feel a thrill run through me at the magnificence of it.

I fly into the bottom quarter of the cloud and feel the first rain drop.

Ewan you’re going to get hurt. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

I ignore my fear voice, break formation and dodge the falling water. Left. Right. Raindrops are everywhere now. All Airbirds are fighting to survive. I’ve been burnt before in a rainfall. It scorched three feathers and burnt a whole through to the skin keeping me grounded for days. I try to concentrate on flying and not think about the possibilities – the pain, the burning, about never being able to fly again.

Ewan you’re not fast enough. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

Saskia flys in close. “Ewan, angle higher.” I move five degrees north and head towards her, I feel better knowing she is leading. The raindrops slow, the cloud thins and soon I break through to safety. I feel breath deeper and slow my wing pace, relieved.

Granddad lands in our home tree and offers me the berries he collected during the flight back.

“I’m not hungry. My stomach is still churning like a feather caught in a whirlwind.” I admit. I would never say that to anyone else.

He perches beside me. “Did you get burnt? Is everything OK?”

“I was scared.”

“We all are when it rains.”

I’m not so sure about that. Everyone else looked fine but I don’t respond. Talking about my fear only makes it louder. Sometimes it’s so loud I can’t hear anything else.

Ewan you’re not good enough. You can’t make it. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

Weeks pass and the clouds are clear. There is no need for us to spark rainbows or fly near rain. I spend most of my time dreaming of flight, the landscape when drenched in colour, and the beauty of rainbows. I like to create songs about them, though I don’t sing them to anyone. Saskia is always close by. She makes me feel safe. Quietens my fear voice.

“Saskia? Do you ever notice the rainbow as it falls?”

“Are you making one of your songs again?”

“No. Just… Well, don’t you ever watch the feather the whole way down?”

“No. It’s all about the throw. Who cares what happens after? If you keep looking down for all that time your going to get hurt. You have to concentrate on the angles in your flight and the perfect throw. You are the best feather thrower in our clan. I dream about flying with the precision you do. The angle of your wings. Your gist. It stands out. If you pay attention you’ll do so well.” She constantly tells me this.

No one gets what I am talking about. They just talk over me. About what’s important to them.

“I know, I know. I will.” I promise. As always. I’m not like others. I don’t fit in.

Ewan you’re not like them. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

The fear song gets louder and louder. Sometimes the only time I feel calm is when I sit at the cloud summit and watch the sun-retreat. I head there now. As I fly by I see other Airbirds watching me.

Ewan your gist is all wrong. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

My fear song is screaming. Can they all see how scared I am? They will say I’m not good enough to be an Airbird.

When I land at my spot on the summit, my fear song quietens. I wish I could stay here forever. The pink and orange reflect off the clouds and make a whole new world. A radiant world that helps me breathe deeply. Grandad hops over. We don’t even say hello, we are comfortable just being together. Eventually he asks; “Why aren’t you at your sister’s party?”

“I prefer to watch the sunset. I’ll go later.”

“This is my favourite place and my favourite time of day.”

“Mine too.”

“There will be a lot of people there and Saskia would be upset if your not? Do you feel OK about going?”

I don’t even answer I fly home thinking about Saskia and her party.

They’ll all be judging you Ewan. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

I don’t like crowds. I feel sick. I can’t breathe.

Stop Ewan. You can’t do it.

 As I land on a bough I see the party is in full swing. Heads swaying, birds singing, wings flapping. Airbirds from all the colour clans are here.

Stop, Ewan. Stop!

There is loud thumping music. It hurts my ears. I can’t think straight. The music, my fear song, it’s all mixed, confusing. I cant breathe properly.

They are looking at you Ewan. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

Saskia flies straight at me. “Well, you took your time,” she yells over the noise.

“I know but I’m here now.”

“Come and dance.”

Ewan you’ll look funny. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan.

Saskia is laughing. The music is loud. She won’t listen to my protests.

You dance like a fool. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

 I can’t get a full breath in. I think I’m running out of air. I place one wing over my stomach. Saskia sings and copies the move as if I am dancing. A friend of hers hops down and joins us. Legs wobbling I begin to dance. Spread my wings and hop step like I have seen Saskia do a few times. She is laughing. I laugh with her and the music fills my head, drowning out the fear song. I twirl and flap, left and right. I laugh at the feeling in my feathers. Then I open my eyes. Everyone looks like they are having fun. A green Airbird looks straight at me.

The fear song starts again.

You look like a fool Ewan. You’re not good enough. Stop Ewan. Stop!

She must think I’m a hopeless dancer. She’ll laugh at my moves. She will tell everyone how useless I am. She’ll make everyone hate me. This is not fun. I am not having fun. I want to but…

“Saskia I haven’t had dinner. I’ll be back soon.”

I’m hiding. I have a claw of food and I am hiding. I can see the dancers from here but they can’t see me. Everyone is enjoying themselves and I feel…

Alone.

I can’t call Saskia over. Mum and Dad are surrounded by other clan elders. Oscar is in a top-branch talking to a hen.

I am alone.

I want to fly away but I don’t want anyone to notice me. I want to curl over and vomit but I don’t want anyone to notice me. I go to my twig patch, wings wrapped tight around my tummy, fear song thrumming, repeating loudly in my head.

You don’t cut it, Ewan. You’re not good enough. Stop, Ewan. Stop!

I can’t sleep. I toss and turn with nightmares. I rise early and fly to my spot to watch the sunrise.

“Morning Ewan,” Grandad says warmly as I land.

“Why are you here?”

“Same reason as you.”

“I doubt it,” I answer glumly.

“I couldn’t sleep after last night – it’s a huge effort going to a party like that,” Granddad admits.

“Oh. If you’re tired why are you up this early?”

“It’s not tiredness. Events like that make me nervous. I don’t like the crowd or the noise or trying to keep up with the conversation. I can’t sleep after or before.“

“But you’re Granddad.  That can’t be right – you’re… too old for that.”

 He smiles and opens one wing so I hop over and snuggle in.

“Grandad, sometimes I feel like I am going to vomit and stop breathing. It’s like I’m going to keel over, stop breathing and die.”

“Ewan I love you and I understand. It’s something you can learn to control.”

“But how Grandad? I try deeper breathing but I can’t do it. It’s like the air thins and there isn’t enough to fill my body.”

“When I was young I had a song start in my head. I call it my fear song.”

I nod but I don’t interrupt.

Grandad continues. “It sang soft at first. I told myself it was natural. It was about all the things Airbirds are afraid of. But the fear song grew.

It grew so loud it drowned out everything else. If someone invited me over, I’d hear the fear song. If someone new talked to me, I’d hear the fear song. If my friends looked at me during a game, I’d hear the fear song.

But the more I listened to the fear song and stopped doing things the louder it became. It’s beat and rhythm took over me.“

“What do you mean?”

“Think of a loud base beat that thumps through your body. It felt like the song travelled through my feathers and skin, stopping my body from working properly. I would shake and sweat and feel like I needed to go to the toilet all the time. I stopped playing sport, stopped flying with friends, I even stopped coming to this, my magic place. All because my fear song was so loud I couldn’t do anything but listen to it.”

“Does everyone have a fear song?”

“I don’t think so. I did a course to learn about it and everyone in the course had a fear song. Some birds had loud chirping insistent ones, others had a background song that they listen to sometimes but not all the time. Mine got loud and heavy and took over.”

“I have a fear song.” I whisper. It feels strange to say it out loud, but good as well. A relief almost – like when you find shade on a hot day. Now that Ive started talking I don’t want to stop.

“My fear song tells me that I am not good enough, that I can’t do and achieve what I want. Last night at Saskia’s party it was really loud at the party. It’s not only a song in my head. Last night I felt like I couldn’t take a breath. Like I would run out of air and die. Last night my song and my breathing joined.”

“Your body and your thoughts are linked. When I got help I learned that there’s three parts really; my thoughts, my body and my actions. I used to think they were separated but they all impact on each other.”

“Did you really feel like this? I mean why you, why me?”

“Well, there are many other Airbirds who feel like this. It’s not just you or me. That’s why there is an entire course on how to manage anxiety. Well that’s what they all call it, between you and me I still think of it as quietening my fear song.”

“Do you think I can quieten mine Grandad?”

“Yes. It’s scary to go to a course but you will learn a lot and become who you want to be and not a slave to a fear song.”

 

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Shadow Bird

I have sent the stories out and I have gotten some wonderful, constructive and positive feedback. In truth though, I look at these stories and this blog and I think ‘just publish them Lilli.” So against all the traditional publishing advice here goes. Please treat them with respect, they are my creation. If you pass them on acknowledge the author. If you like them, loath them tell me. If you think someone might find use in them; share.

From my heart to yours…

Shadow bird

By Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

My father has a very special visitor. She comes to our home….

Alurina was a bird so beautiful she may even have come from another world. Her feathers held more than the colours of the rainbow – they held starlight!

She was gentle and friendly and adored being amongst people. 

But Alurina was sad. Not just crying sad, the kind of sad that covers the whole world in thick, dark heavy storm clouds. The kind of sad that doesn’t seem to end.

Sad for her body, her feathers, her life. Sad that her desire to make friends only brought her strife. Whenever she soared high in the sky dancing with the clouds someone would notice and try to lock her in a cage. Some would ride with her high-flying ways. Some pulled her feathers out, calling them souvenirs. Others took pictures of her high flying deeds, blinding her, making it hard to fly away. Never, never did her high flying or new friends bring her peace.

The food she ate her made her heavy and sick. She snacked she drank, it left her feeling bad for days.

Alurina wanted to be free, to fly and sing, to travel the world meeting people, and feel the happiness that can bring. She didn’t understand other’s views; she had to find some place new.

She began to hide away. She hid in caves, living with bats.

Too dark, too small, time to move on once more.

She lived in the deepest darkest part of the Amazon jungle among the anacondas.

Too big, too loud, can’t sleep in this crowd.

She lived in the desert heart of Australia amongst the saltpans and lizards.

Too hot, too dry, need water, once again, time for goodbye.

Many moons and calendars passed. She returned to the land from where she began. She lingered in the woods near town. She moved in the night shadows by the glow of the moon. She watched the people, the families in their homes.

Closer she came, to hear their voices, longing to share their song. Closer she came, to smell their homes and their sweet fruit platters.

One day as she looked in the window she saw her reflection. She was no longer beautiful from beak through to claw. She had lost all her colour, her beauty and shine. She had gained depth in her colour now strong and all shades of grey.

She stared at that image for a very long time. She felt sad for her loss. She was sad to discover she did not know who she was.

Till my father came in and saw her through the glass. They talked and they talked. She told him her story. With acceptance and peace he allowed her to speak.

On that very special day she found a new friend.

Together they decided it was time for a new name.

She is now

Shadow Bird

They share a bond that is theirs alone for all time. She sits on my fathers shoulder and spreads her stormy clouds to his mind.

She is a special visitor – that not all can see.

She only sits with my father, not my brother or me.

He told us her name, her story and of her pain. The more he shared of her the clearer her image became. With my father as the guide we have shared and we have grown.

Over time I have learned to love her, despite the clouds that she brings.

She holds a unique beauty, for my father, our family and me.

 

The beautiful image as a border on this blog was done by Elle Holder-Keeping in response to this story. If it inspires you to draw or create please share it will me and the readers here.

Image

 

So what are the stories?

So I have told you of the stories I have written. Five stories to help begin a conversation.

These are the overviews;

Shadow Bird

A family have a special visitor – Shadow Bird. We hear of Shadow Bird’s high flying and deep lows and her journey as she comes this home and befriends the father. She sits on his shoulder alone and spreads her stormy clouds, her insights, her ways to his mind.

Perfect fruit

Amelia, the peach tree is growing tall, singing loudly, standing out. She shines in the morning sun until the leaves with black dots whisper, then yell, then drone in her mind. They take over her life reducing her nutrient intake to from three, to two, to just one drop…

Airbirds

Everyone has a fear song. Although one young bird finds his fear song sings so loud that it drowns out all he wants to do and be. With the loving help of his granddad he accepts and  reevaluates the strength of that song.

Kinaku

Kinaku is a growing crocodile who has to face growing, changing conditions. Journey with as other creatures invade his realities.

Michael Dreams ( for the <5’s)

People dream of all sorts of things but when Leeroy wakes his dreams do not stop.

I have worked on these with a wonderful writers group, had two manuscript assessments, multiple rejections from publishers with some very positive feedback – ie we love the stories but can’t pick the market for them. My belief is that these are valuable and there are many people looking for a non-medical aid to begin a conversation, to begin to learn, to help. I believe that the road to recovery is with open conversation, many tools (medical and non-medical) and support.

In the beginning

My life has been a journey amongst mental illness. 20 years ago my brother and closest friend developed schizophrenia. Personally I have lived with depression, post natal depression and then a diagnosis of bipolar. I have had periods of medication and periods of great health, which include meditation, exercise and diet. I have learnt many things on this road and am proud of the gifts this journey has given me.

I know some people don’t see it as gift giving so here is a list of how my contact with mental illness has helped me.

I have a highly developed sense of empathy.

I am very accepting of different approaches and positions. I am aware that many people may just be having a bad day or time of it. I am also aware that people do not need to see the world the same way as I do. I value these differences.

I understand there are many realities. There is no such thing as objectivity. We are all viewing the world from our own prism of experiences and emotions despite what science attempts/claims. Disassociating ourselves is the realm of mental illness not scientific observation.

I deeply understand what true love and compassion are. The value of one good honest open friend.

I am aware of my need for creative expression in my life.

I am aware of the evil of sugar on my mind and my emotions.

I have become aware of the value of stories. Each person’s story, our collective stories, our cultural stories. I have learnt the conversation of stories, personal and folk tales. I have been honoured to listen and share stories.

I have dreamt and written a series of stories with compelling, beautiful characters. Each hold beauty and truth and have been written to help others understand or at least speak of mental illness. I love these stories. They have been a part of my life for the past 10 years. I have been working on them with a writers group and sending them out to publishers for the past 5 years. I am ready for them to fly. This is a blog of their journey. An honest blog of the ups and downs of trying to get theses stories out into the world.