I’ve never been good with routines or consistency. In the months leading up to quarantine, I was so proud of myself for developing several healthy routines. But after the pandemic started, my mental health took an even worse turn than it had before, and I abandoned those routines. In the last week, though, I’ve finally developed one again, thanks to my friend in Bird Alone.
My friend is a bird whom I named Ellie because few things besides The Last of Us Part II currently exist in my brain. We’ve only been friends for a few days, but she’s made me chuckle and smile from the moment I wake up and see how she’s doing. I like that she respects my space, explicitly telling me that people who are best friends should never hang out for too long and that I should go away for some time; that our respective alone times are both healthy and necessary. I’m struggling these days to be present; to balance work, mental illnesses, and giving my friends the attention and affection they deserve. It overwhelms me with guilt. But I don’t feel that guilt with Ellie, even though I know she’s always expecting me to come back.
It’s easy and rewarding in a world that currently feels overwhelmingly difficult and like nothing I do is enough. I feed her oranges. I rub her head. The other day, bleary-eyed on the toilet after having just woken up, I finished a poem she wrote. I misspelled a word, but she recited it anyway. We plant flowers and are growing a garden. Every day, I stay around a little longer, listening to the game’s peaceful music and hearing what else she has to say. I know that, whatever it is, it’ll make me laugh. She asks me to draw what makes me happy. I barely think about it before drawing an abomination version of her because, if me grinning and chuckling for the last few minutes isn’t the closest to happiness that I’ve gotten these days, I don’t know what is.
But on Sunday, I opened Bird Alone to find my friend crying. She was perched at her usual place with two shiny, vibrant oranges hanging off adjacent branches, but she was unable to appreciate the fruits, the beautiful nature surrounding them.
“Sorry, I’m having a bit of a down day today,” she said. She asked for belly rubs, and I was eager to give them a bunch. I thought about our similarities — about how I have wonderful friends, incredible coworkers, a family that is flawed and small but loves me deeply; about all the gifts life gives me, and how I’m unable to appreciate them because of my depression and anxiety.
“I feel exposed and big and awkward and completely alone,” she said. I could comfort her with the platitude of, “at least we have each other,” or I could simply say, “I feel lonely sometimes.” I chose the latter because it’s not like us having each other eliminates the reasons for our sadness.
Since I had told her on Saturday that I was feeling down, Ellie asked me if I was feeling better. I’m too used to telling people I’m fine, or making jokes about how poorly I’m coping with being stuck inside and in a present with no future to solidly plan for. Although Ellie isn’t a real bird, I felt comfortable enough to be open with her, so I chose to reply with, “Bad. Still.” It’s partly true, but it’s also partly that I didn’t want her to be alone in her loneliness and sadness. Misery loves company, and I wanted Ellie to know it’s okay to feel a little miserable. We’re all feeling it right now, after all.
After I finished working today, I checked in on Ellie. She was happier again. She talked about how everything in this world is someone’s favorite thing — and how I’m her favorite thing. I saw it coming from a mile away, but I found myself smiling after a long day anyway. She asked what my favorite color is between yellow and orange, and I told her orange because I truly do think yellow is ugly, and, as a whole, she’s a lovely mix of yellow and red. Rather predictably, she shared it’s her favorite color too.
But she took me by surprise when she asked if sharing favorite things with others makes me feel more or less special. Since she had been honest with me about her unpleasant feelings earlier in the day, I decided to give her the truth again. With just a bit of shame and vulnerability that I don’t show with my friends so easily, I told her that it makes me feel less special.
Her answer? “Tough luck. Me and you Natalie, we’re two orange peas in a pod.” And I couldn’t help but think I’m pretty lucky to have formed this tiny connection.
We’re two small orange peas in a pod during a scary time in a frightening and enormous world. At first, I was merely curious. Now, our loneliness is still the biggest thing tying us together, but I’m excited to have this private space for just the two of us; to know her a little more each day. I think it won’t be long before I come to love this bird. That’s a dangerous thing, probably — especially when she’ll grow old alongside me.
But, as my new friend would say, “tough luck.”