Sometimes, life creates a perfect storm and all your chickens come home to roost. In some cases, particularly for those one in three of us who struggle with mental health, they’re demon-chickens. Of course when these demon-chickens burst into the house and start flapping all over your furniture and scratching the rug, you want them to fuck off! You’re scared of them, you make feeble attempts to shoo them away but eventually you give up, let them take over and watch them shit all over your living room.
You understand that these are now your demon-chickens. You resign yourself to living with them for the rest of your life. You start to observe them with a kind of disgusted curiosity. From their behaviour you can tell one of them should be given the name Shame; it likes to roost next to its buddies Self-Loathing and Unworthiness. You notice that these three usually take over a roosting spot from Anger. Anger paces up and down the prime perch screeching at everyone and attacking anyone who comes near, all because it thinks that will make its injured wing feel better, before it runs out of steam and hides behind the curtains.
You can’t help but notice a toxic pair – the Obsessive Compulsive Hen and the Catastrophising Rooster, who start off by trying to groom each other carefully and wind up plucking all the feathers off each other’s backs. One of the most horrible, ugly demon-chickens is Paranoia, who broods under the coffee table and watches the other chickens, misinterpreting all of their signals for signs of attack and lashing out unpredictably. But the hugest and most destructive of all these demon-chickens is the Avian Prince Panic Attack. This anxious fowl sleeps for days and nights at a time, hiding away in the shadows of the room. You and all the demon-chickens know he’s there, and you know that if you can keep the others under control just enough so that he doesn’t wake up, you will be able to go about your every day life, working around these unwelcome house guests.
For a while after they first arrive, you wake up each day and hate the fact you have these assholes living with you. You think, what did I do to deserve this? If these chickens have come to roost in my house, then I must have done something wrong…all the other houses must have looked too nice and too normal to have chickens from hell take over. They must have been giving out free chicken-wire on your street one day and you were out doing something bad, and didn’t get any. You are too embarrassed to admit to your friends, family or work colleagues that you can’t do something as simple as shooing some birds from your home. You try to cover up the signs, but sometimes you turn up with a telltale feather stuck in your hair. Once or twice you try to storm the room, swinging wildly while the demon-chickens cluck and scurry but do not leave.
As time passes, you realise something has to be done. From your observations you understand that the more you glare at the chickens and feel bitter about them being in your house, the bigger and nastier they seem to grow. You realise that you have been unconsciously feeding them, on autopilot, every single day. No wonder they don’t want to leave!
You start to see these demon-chickens, these unwanted, unloved house guests in a different light. Instead of letting Shame, Self-Loathing and Unworthiness take over Anger’s perch when he’s finished screeching at everyone, you pick him up gently and put him back in the spotlight. Why does his wing still hurt? How did it get injured in the first place? It takes a while, but you commit to making sure he won’t be in so much pain. Shame, Self-Loathing and Unworthiness start getting fed a different diet made up of little pellets of compassion and forgiveness, and they start to look a bit less demonic and more sad and in need of a hug. Eventually these four fowl decide it might be better to have a wander around the back garden rather than making a mess in the living room all day and all night. Sometimes they still saunter back in, but they are greeted, fed some healthy food and gently sent back out, where they are happiest.
There are still some chickens roosting in your living room. That fucker in the shadows is still there, and sometimes you walk out of the house with a feather caught up in your hair. But somehow, you know that one day you will be able to enjoy yourself in your clean living room, with a back yard full of happy chickens.
Happy World Mental Health Day!