I remember as a schoolgirl hearing a phrase I did not understand. It described a common complaint amongst the middle class North London mothers whose husbands had left them for the Au Pair, a younger model or in one case, a younger man. They had suffered, it was whispered in the playground between puffs of underage smoking, a Nervous Breakdown. Watching Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday all I could think of was straitjackets and cruel nurses, of women stuttering incomprehensive vowels rocking themselves to sleep, and of cartoon sized hyperdermic needles driven into unwilling flesh in order to calm them down. Not once did I have any idea of what it was like to feel this way. That is I until a few months ago, hence the silence. I did not wring my hands Ophelia- style in an amateur dramatics version of Hamlet. However I did sob until my voice was hoarse and my face pockmarked with the red blotches of too many tears, and not a name for any of them. I lost sight of who I was and the only relief I was able to achieve was from crying. There was no nurse with a syringe, instead the damage I did was to myself. When the pain inside became unbearable and when words could no longer describe what it was I was going through, I reached for the scissors on my desk. I slowly and deliberately drew the blade across my right thigh making a bloody grid with each mark. I sat and watched as the blood seeped out and the pain that had been howling and voiceless inside me found a home on the surface of my skin. I fantasised about hanging myself with the belt he had given me, from the door handle. I wanted to sleep forever, but dreams were no comfort. I flushed my prescribed valium down the toilet for fear of being seduced by my desire to end it all. I smoked heavily and stayed in doors. My thoughts were the enemy, they assaulted me each morning telling me how useless I was and that it was all my My Fault and that it would only get worse, why not end it now. I believed it all. I wept more and shivered and longed to be held. I was in hell, I had broken down.
It was only my admission of this fact that allowed me to turn away from the gutter and to look at the stars once more, that, and the persistence of my friends and family that allowed me access to the unbroken world again. And love too, a part of me was still alive enough to feel it. I still hug myself to sleep at nights but at last something in me has shifted. Last night I was lucky enough to go to a poetry festival where I met what can only be described of as my kindred writing spirits. New friends who not only spill over the sides, they actually turn their frayed edges in to an art form.
Walking back home past midnight along the bedtime streets of Highbury I realised that my madness, if that's the right term, was a calling in me to belong to something. Initially I was tempted to entitle this piece "If people evolved from apes why are there still apes ?". I am still angry you see, the sort of anger that paralyses me when I don't know who to blame first, when my body is a clenched fist looking for a fight.
There may be still be apes and for all I know I may be one of them. I do know, however, that my circus will be full of performers who fall from their horses, their make-up smudged, and yesterdays sequins littering the sawdust floor. In my circus the monkeys will out smart the men and clowns will make the straight man slip on the banana skin. Who knows the guy in the suit and tie may even cry in public, lose a button, lose face and not care. And in my circus, my nervous-breakdown-to-hell-with-it-we're-alive-circus, the applause will be all the louder for getting up.