Zk’ describes having anxiety as “like having a concrete box around you at all times”, and their game presents a pretty literal interpretation of that: you are a bird, in a box.
The introduction continues, describing how the person with anxiety locks themselves in the perceived safety of the box, “although you know it’s not the right thing to do”. I don’t have an anxiety disorder, but I presume we all experience the occasional desire to hide from the world. I definitely have moments in which my confidence seems to vanish. “Every joyful laugh becomes a knife thrusting into your gut,” Zk’ writes. Sometimes, when I’m in an overwhelming or unfamiliar environment, a stranger will laugh and some instinctive part of my subconscious will wonder why they’re laughing at me.
But as with Lisa Brown’s Meditation, I find myself more drawn to the “other” in this scenario. “People who don’t understand this problem can misconstrue your behavior as apathetic and rude,” writes Zk’, “Severing even the strongest of relationships and further impacting your mental health.”
I have had complicated relationships with people who have mental health problems. I find it difficult to judge at what point you are allowed to blame a person with mental health problems for behaviour that hurts other people. Where is the line between misconstruing understandable coping mechanisms as apathetic and rude, and excusing inexcusable behaviour?
I know that having a mental health problem doesn’t make a person totally inculpable, and I value the advice of friends who have more personal experience than I do who tell me that it’s possible to – for example – have depression and anxiety and yet not be abusive towards others. But I cannot help but feel as though I have some moral responsibility to struggle to maintain relationships with people whose behaviour reduces me to tears, because on the whole they probably cry more than I do. It’s like a penance, the price I have to pay for having the benefit of pretty good mental health myself.
And I’m grateful, obviously. I know that I’m lucky to be the person failing to maintain relationships with people with mental health problems, rather than this bird bashing its head against the sides of a box – losing its distinctive features as it does so – until it finally breaks free.