Right I’ve had me morning coffee and I intended to start writing this immediately after – because when I’m all mad post-caffeine tends to be when I write the best – but I got distracted going through old photos for about an hour and the rush is wearing off, so you will have to forgive me if every single word henceforth is fucking crap.
Now then. I’ve been in Melbourne two weeks and, as has become the norm over the course of my twenties, I have gone a bit insane. Not like properly, alarmingly bonkers, but that low-key loopy that is a little bit uncomfortable but still allows a decent degree of life-going-about.
I’ve settled in nicely to my new place. I’m lucky, my flatmates are all very friendly and laid back. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Julia (pronounced Yulia because she’s Spanish), having cigarettes on the doorstep with her, talking about our lives and careers and interests and old flames. It’s nice to have someone my own age who I get along well with living with me. Staves off what would otherwise be a very glum loneliness.
I’ll be frank, when I first arrived in this city I didn’t like it. I read once that the most dangerous thing in the world for an idealist is getting what they want – nothing is ever as perfect as the romantic mise-en-scene they knock together in their head. Or rather, my head. That was the case with this city. During my time in the bush, and even as far back as Berlin, I’d imagined Melbourne to be similar to the Teutonic capital except with better weather and a beach. Hogwash. They’re nothing alike. Melbourne is great in many ways, but it’s only after two weeks here that I’ve started to appreciate it. Before that I was just stropping around frowning and muttering to myself.
It is a cool place, Melbs, but I was expecting Berlin 2.0. Imagine you’re in a restaurant and you’ve ordered the Thai green curry, only for the waiter to present you with a big juicy burger. Still delicious, but it’s not what you thought you were getting.
I spent my weekend drinking with friends and meandering around the city, and I’m starting to understand its ebbing and flowing a little better. Thurdsay night I had drinks with a couple of girls I met at a house viewing last week – we swapped details and stayed in touch. They’re both young as hell, only 18, and I felt a bit awkward and paternal hearing them chat about their university courses, but I guess part of travelling is meeting a wide variety of people.
Friday I drank wine by myself and lay on the sofa and watched Harry Potter because whatever.
Saturday I met up with Nicola, an Aussie girl I met in Tokyo back in June; we hung out for a few nights in Shibuya and along with our group of hostel buds we tackled the bars of Golden Gai on multiple blurry evenings. It was great to see her again. In this giant city she somehow lives only ten minutes away, and we caught up in a fancy bar she recommended. After our second drink (which she paid for because I am broke as shit), I suggested we head back to mine instead, which was a hundred metres away and laden with booze and a sofa and a TV. We finished my 4 litre box of goon (delicious), watched half a crap film and talked over the entire thing, then when my flatmate asked us to keep it down at midnight we went and sat in the alley outside, lurching willy nilly from one topic to the next until the early hours. I think we’re going to be good friends. I’m hanging out with her again on Halloween to watch scary movies, and I’m looking forward to that.
On Sunday I woke up at 9am still absolutely hammered; I didn’t realise how leathered we had got. I ate a quick breakfast, skipped showering, and lighted out into the city, in what proved to be a monumentally bad decision. I suppose I’d had five or six hours sleep, which isn’t enough for the fragile ecosystem of my body. Lack of sleep, drugs, pollen, whatever – I have a notoriously low tolerance for any foreign substance or strange stimulus at all (save for alcohol, which somehow complements my chemistry in a charming way).
I crossed the road and headed to the Victoria Market, and wandered between rows of tomatoes and bell peppers and leather jackets and faux-silver necklaces and beeping spinning glowing sword things. Something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was wrong. I put it down to still being a little bit drunk.
I had walked about six blocks before I realised I’d not checked a map at all prior to leaving and had no real idea where I was, or where I was heading. Normally this wouldn’t matter a jot, however for reasons unknown I felt the world lurch fearfully at this realisation, as if Atlas had sneezed. I shook my head and blinked myself back to normal, and carried on. The sun was shining and I walked over five miles in the space of about two hours, idling through green parks, floating through graffiti’d laneways. No matter what I did, everything around me took on an odd surreal quality, as if nothing I was seeing was quite real – or perhaps I wasn’t real. I looked at my reflection in a silver bin. I certainly looked real. I turned down an alley in the CBD and waded through a throng of young adults playing Pokemon Go on their phones, all tapping and swiping to capture whatever invisible digital creature lurked nearby.
I got lost for a while in the Botanical Gardens and had to climb a fence to get back onto the road. I’d drank a Coke and had perked up a little, but still had the strange sensation of being somehow distant from my surroundings. By the time I reached St Kilda, after passing through a laneway cheese festival and, further on, a Mustang car show, my mind was frayed and all but spent. I walked down the promenade and along the boardwalk to the end of the pier, where I found a small nest of penguins with twenty tourists crowded around taking photos of the bewildered animals. I felt disgust, and disgust gave way to panic, and I wasn’t sure why.
The sun was playing on my mind. I’d forgotten to wear sun cream, and had been out under a blue sky for two hours – with no ozone layer to protect me. But my skin was okay; thanks to the farm I’m already maxed-out as far as tanning is concerned. A cold wind was blowing out on the pier, and the hairs on my arms were on end. I went to take my headphones out and found my fingers weren’t responding very well, moving clumsily and slowly, and that panicked me further – I suppose it was just the cold, but coupled with the sun and the strange unreal quality of the day, I began to freak out.
I walked into a bar, saw hundreds of squawking people, shook my head, left the bar, and walked along the beach but there were still too many people. I touched my arm and found the sensation was distant and dull, as though it had gone to sleep. This scared me more. It was as though I was unravelling, sinking out of existence like the photos of Marty McFly’s family in Back to the Future. I passed the Luna Park funfair with the big scary clown face with tombstone teeth gleaming at the entrance, and I drifted through a blinding sunny park with groups of backpackers drinking and playing music. I found a bar and sat alone inside, drinking a beer on a green leather sofa that had stuffing coming out. I watched an old man reading the newspaper and meditated on the unfortunate fact that I was absolutely insane now, apparently.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on in my head. I tried in vain to diagnose myself – was I sleepy? Hungover? Getting sick? A ghost? Everything felt laminated, plastic, miles off, like viewing the world through eyes made of backwards telescopes. My mind was fogged and I couldn’t remember too easily the details of my walk only an hour before. I sat alone, frustrated, wandering what the hell was wrong with me.
It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s that sensation you get when you’re been awake far too long, like after a festival or a heavy session, and you wander around like a vampire and get spooked by otherwise innocuous things – a car driving past slowly, a bird looking at you, somebody smiling with their teeth. Everything takes on this eerie sheen like in those 90’s grunge music videos with low-fi CGI faces warping and weird pastel colour correction – think Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ video. I wasn’t drunk, I quit smoking, I haven’t done any drugs in almost two months. So what the hell? Why did everything feel abject, macabre, stagnant, oppressive? I was sitting on a sunny beach in a backpacker paradise drinking a cool beer and watching happy young people dance in the park over the road, so why the fuck did it feel like some previously untapped sixth sense had come alive and starting screeching warnings of impending doom.
Well, Berlin taught me a thing or two. On those long marches home at 3pm after 16 hours of partying in some of the most depraved clubs on the planet, you learn to keep it together. You’re on your last legs but panic solves nothing. In Berlin, no matter how weird things got, no matter how loopy I went, I kept my head screwed on and took myself home. So yesterday I rallied; I took my consciousness by the lapels and gave it a slap. Then I called Vic, bought a sandwich, and took the tram back to the Botanical Gardens to meet her and Rob. We sat together and watched the mossy-backed turtles swimming around in the lake and made friends with an eel that floated happily to and fro beneath our dangling feet, and I felt reality ease back in. Things were normal, things were fine, I was safe, I was happy.
That night I went home and called lovely Jeanne for a catch up, and later on I made a stir fry and relaxed on my bed until I fell asleep. This morning I did a little Googling and it turns out that the feeling I’ve been attempting to describe is a classic symptom of an anxiety attack, and can occur for any number of reasons. I mean, I thought anxiety was worrying about a lot of things – which I do every day, but not, like, attack level. But apparently an attack can also mean losing all grip on what is real and freaking the fuck out on a windswept boardwalk as happy children rollerblade past and polo-shirted men extend selfie sticks. Cool, cool. Didn’t know that was something that happened to me, but whatever. I get random anxiety attacks now. Wickedddd. Love that. Fucking ace.
And what is it with beaches? Last time I went to the beach was when Ben slit his wrist, and this time I get slapped in the face with a horrifying anxiety attack for no reason at all. At this rate I’ll be paddling in the shallows in a couple of weeks’ time and some monstrous kraken arm will loom up out of the briny deep and whip-crack me to death as attractive Melbournian sunbathers look on with mild interest.
So, what can we learn from this horrible, horrible day? Dunno. Not much, probably. I suppose in the future I’ll make sure I’m well slept and sober before skipping merrily out of the front door and into the depths of a foreign city. That’s about it really, isn’t it? Drink less alcohol, drink less caffeine, eat green veggies, get more sleep. Do not smoke. Be healthy, be good. Be altogether less mad.