Ringwood East, Melbourne, Australia
Late February, 2020
I live in a tiny 1930s worker’s cottage. The doors and floors and windows and walls shift according to the seasons: in the dry heat of summer we can open the front door but not the bathroom window; when it rains for days we can’t close our bedroom door, but at least the floors stop creaking.
There are cracks in the walls in my bedroom. All the way around the edges of the cornicing and in the corners of the room. Cracks from ceiling to floor down the centre of the wall. Tiny spider-web cracks fanning out from the light fixture.
There are cracks everywhere.
I notice them properly for perhaps the first time when I’m in isolation. Voluntarily isolated, long before the rest of the world has followed me down the path to madness. I notice the cracks as I lay in my bed. I trace them with my eyes, willing myself to get up, get dressed, get outside. Get better.
But the anxiety and dread that have been my constant companions for two years have, in the last few months, morphed into the kind of panic that grips me around the throat; a black leather hand of fear that has me in a choke-hold and won’t let up.
The decrepit grey hand of depression has followed after, as the panic robs me – again and again – of any future I could possibly cling onto.
My youngest knows that “mum’s brain’s gone a bit funny”, but the older one sees and understands this battle. Whether nature or nurture, he’s got it from me. They ask before they come and give me cuddles; they write letters and draw pictures and slip them under my door.
I haven’t left my room in days for more than trips to the bathroom. My husband is trying to work at the kitchen table, while the kids create chaos around him. Breadwinner, engineer, teacher, entertainer, chef, cleaner. Carer. Some days he spends half the day sitting on the bed next to me, not allowed to leave my side, while I alternate between sobs of “I’m sorry” and silence.
Every morning he switches on the radio to my favourite station. He hopes it will help. Most of the time I barely notice it.
On this morning, I’ve let him open the blind. Just a crack. A streak of light across my bed, another line for my eyes to follow. The radio is playing, the music no more than an irritation that I can’t make myself care enough about to turn off.
But then it starts. And it’s … familiar.
The birds they sang, at the break of day,
Start again, I heard them say,
Don’t dwell on what has passed away,
Or what is yet to be.
I feel an unexpected sob form without warning; grow and expand and push against my throat, trying to force its way out. I shove it back down.
But I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten how this song can reach me. How it makes me feel, even when – perhaps especially when – I don’t want to. It was crucial in my recovery from my last bout of depression – post-natal – four years ago. But I’d forgotten. And even if I had remembered, the grip of anxiety and depression rarely loosens long enough for me to seek out those things I know could help.
I guess the song has sought me out instead.
I have always found there to be an aching sadness to the chords and melody, which resonates deeply within me. But buried in that sadness is … hope. Somehow, on this terrible, awful, no-good day I think I can hear the faintest sound of hope.
The lyrics speak of imperfection and redemption. I am all too familiar with the first, and in great need of the second. But even more, they speak of the power of acceptance, and it is this message that I need to hear the most.
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything –
That’s how the light gets in.
I am not religious, but this song feels like a prayer. I close my eyes without meaning to, and the words and music rush through me, over me. A prayer, for acceptance and relief; for a feeling other than fear, or despair. Or emptiness.
The sob I pushed down pushes back up. And listening to Perla and Julie fiercely and soothingly sing Cohen’s timeless words, I crack.
When the song finishes and the tears subside, I reach for the phone, and ask for help.
And – eventually – that is how the light gets in.
Stereo Story #557
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