I call it ‘the fizz’, because that’s the closest I can get to describing how it feels: a literal tingling in my arms, in my heart, down my spine. It’s not all the time, or even most of the time. But lately, it’s been much too much of the time.
It happens in Pret A Manger, with its bafflingly vague queuing system that everyone else seems just fine with. It happens at work, when I put off reading an email for ten minutes, for an hour, until tomorrow morning, until next week, because I’m terrified of what will be in it. It happens at home, when I’m frantically running through a list of incomplete domestic tasks in my head: painting, washing, taking the bins out, booking a doctor’s appointment, even reading, even watching TV, because things that are supposed to be relaxing can still be things I’m behind with, things I need to tick off, like when everyone else has moved on to season 7 of Game Of Thrones and I’m mired in season 4 and all the characters are just wandering about in the woods endlessly and I want it to end but at the same time I feel like I’m missing out on this great cultural moment and I know I should press on through it but Jesus Christ where do you all find the time?
The fizz comes and goes. Sometimes, I can control it: I can read a book or listen to music or go for a run, and feel still. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes, the bottle is so shaken up that no matter how cold it is, how gently you open it, it comes rushing out.
I haven’t used the word ‘anxiety’ because I don’t think of it as anxiety: I think of it as me. I’ve sought medical attention for more various mental health problems in the past, but not this one. In my head, anxiety is panic attacks and insomnia and time off work. The fizz is more gentle: I’ve lived with it for as long as I can remember. I’m anxious, but I don’t have anxiety. I don’t deserve the label. (Yes, I see the irony in being anxious about saying that I have anxiety.)
Anyway. Lately, I’ve found a way of diffusing the fizz, just a little. And that’s what this blog is about.
This is a blog about plants.
Blackberries are an autumn fruit. You shouldn’t be picking them in July. You certainly shouldn’t already have a freezer full of them in July. When I was a kid, we always went blackberry picking on my dad’s birthday: 11th September. September is the correct time for picking blackberries.
But in London, in 2017, to borrow a phrase, life comes at you fast. This year, you could eat blackberries that didn’t make you suck in your cheeks in from late June. Blame climate change. Blame London. Blame a Great British Summer that, for once, can be called that without irony.
I held off picking blackberries for as long as I could this year – as though picking them this early would somehow be giving in. Then I began to panic about missing out. The blackberries, plump and blue-black and everywhere, didn’t give a damn about my nostalgia. Nor did the blackbirds giddily filling their craws.
So, last week, I took as many Tupperwares as I could to work with me, and on my cycle home, I stopped and picked blackberries.
And I felt still.
I stopped on the Lee Navigation, alongside the canal, because it’s nice there, but I could have stopped pretty much anywhere. Brambles are the foxes of the plant world: they look upon the clean, sterile cities we build ourselves and said, “I don’t think so, mate.” I like their chutzpah very much.
At the end of my garden, there’s a little triangle of land that doesn’t belong to anyone, as far as I can tell: the sort of Tetris snafu you sometimes find on the tight terraces of London. It’s full of brambles, and those brambles want to get out.
To say the brambles at the end of my garden grow vigorously is to say that Serena Williams is alright at tennis. They are triffids. They are the Mongol horde. They attack from multiple points, using the cover of my shed to render my counterattacks hopeless; they send small detachments to the left while the main force flees right. Sometimes, I’m sure, they grow right through solid concrete.
For the past few months, I’ve spent a great deal of time at the bottom of my garden, hacking at brambles, dousing them with chemicals, so as to give various other plants a fighting chance.
Oddly enough, that’s made me feel still, too. Sometimes, doing something tangible and practical, however tedious it may be, is nothing short of therapy.
I’m glad those brambles are there. I’m glad that, right now, there are blackberries everywhere, and kids can go up and pick them, and learn the connection between the things growing all around them and food – even if, this year, they came much too soon, and made me fizz a little.
That’s just how it works. I worry about picking blackberries too soon, and not picking them soon enough. I worry about brambles overrunning my garden, and I worry about using weedkiller on them, because it might kill everything else. You can’t square all the worries. But sometimes, when your hands are covered in dirt and thorn pricks and your fingertips are bright purple, you can forget about them for a while.
This isn’t a gardening blog. Plenty of others already write them, and do a better job than I could ever hope to. This is a blog about plants, and what they do for me, and what I do for them. It’s a blog about fizzing, and stillness, and looking after ourselves in small, unlikely ways while we look after the things around us.
Bear with me.