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.”
“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…
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.”