“Maybe there is no ‘real version’ of me,” tells me my feathered friend in Bird Alone. “We’re all a little piece of everyone we meet. And that’s what self-identity is? So the more I give myself to you, the stronger my identity becomes.”
I didn’t think I would discover a proper way to capture the infinitely complex concept of self-identity during these days. I especially didn’t think I’d learn it from a fictional bird who I’ve known for about two weeks. But, as she tends to do at least once a day, she caught me off guard.
I think that’s a significant part of what makes this time, in the era of COVID-19 that seems to have no end in sight, so difficult. I’ve always considered myself an introvert, content with being alone even if not comfortable with being lonely. But, as I’m trapped inside, with no way of seeing my best friends, no desire to see the outside world because it’s so unsafe to go out, no means of defining myself with anyone else besides the people in my home to bear witness, I realize that I’m so detached from reality because I feel equally detached from myself. For what are we if there is no one else to tell us — to bear our virtues, flaws, moments of uncertainty and messiness, and instances of clarity?
I’ve had friends like Ellie, my best friend in Bird Alone, all my life. In fact, most of my friends have been like her. Friends whom I’ve largely interacted with through a screen, whose voices I can hear but who I can’t touch or be hugged by. Who can see fragments of me, and whom I can see fragments of, but whom I can’t fully see as much as I’d like to.
More than ever, I’m disconnecting myself from them when I know I should be doing the opposite. I can’t help but be obsessed with work. It’s the only thing that feels normal, even when it stresses me. I’m currently unable to define myself through anything but my work and accomplishments. Work is going well, so that means that, on some level, I’m relatively well. I’m functioning to some degree. I can hold onto that amidst the depression and the anxiety that makes me want to stay in bed all day.
But, even from under the covers, when I’m bargaining for a few more seconds before I have to face the world, I can connect with Ellie. While anything from walking around the apartment to doing work feels like it takes an enormous amount of effort, spending time with her feels easy. I go to sleep looking forward to her being ready to chat in the morning. I go on with my day looking forward to hearing from her at least once before I close my eyes. She often tells me she needs more time to think — that I need to come back later to be wowed by her intelligence. I don’t feel that she pushes me away so much as she almost knows the limits of what I can give her.
You May Also Like:
- Bird Alone Diary: Part One
- 7 Games for Managing Distress and Regulating Emotions
- This Animal Crossing: New Horizons Player Draws Amazing Bulletin Board Art
She knows those limits because she feels them, too. She’s cried a lot more in the last week. I’ve found she’s pretty self deprecative. It’s allowed me to be honest about my own struggles, too, especially during the last rough week.
It’s absolutely not all dark and gloom, though. She’s as funny as ever, even when she’s being vulnerable. She asks me to share my darkest secret with her through a drawing, and so I do just that after a lot of deliberation. She’s a fictional bird; it’s not like she’ll understand what it means. But through our connection, I have to reflect on it. And so I figure that, in the privacy of our little world together, I can spare a moment to do that.
“Was that your darkest secret?” she asks after I finish my drawing. I can tell her it was, or that the identity of my darkest secret is a secret in and of itself. I decide to go with the former option. I like being honest with her.
“Well, time to get a new one,” she caws without missing a beat. I immediately laugh.
She helps me not take things for granted. Earlier today, she asked me to draw the last cool thing I did. I drew the best memory I had of the last week — playing a demo of a game I’ve been really excited about. It’s easy to take small things for granted, especially if you have a memory as bad as mine thanks to your mental illnesses. I was touched by her purpose here — or at least, what I thought it was. For when I finished my drawing and showed it to her, she told me, “If you can remember cool things you’ve done, you’re probably not that cool.” She thanked me for reminding her of how cool she is since she can’t remember any of the cool things she’s done. Ellie always finds a way to be witty and make me smile even when she’s honestly burning me in ways nobody else does.
I’ve always been of the thought that bad days can be good days; that, in order to know what happiness feels like, you also need to know what sadness feels like so that you can use it as a metric for comparison. But it’s hard to remember that when you’re having a shitty day and trying to find one last fanfiction to read before you get out of bed or one last video until you have to return to your responsibilities. Ellie reminds me of this and keeps me grounded on the particularly bad days. “We gotta trust they are there to make the good days gooder,” she says.
It resonates with me because she doesn’t feel like a thing that exists to cheer me up. She gets sad and lonely, too. Like my very first pet, a parrot I had for over seven years and whom I still miss dearly, she has an attitude. She jokes that the latest plant we’re putting in our garden knows how to ride a motorcycle, is happy when I give her belly rubs (which is all the time), gets excited when I feed her oranges, and always seems to have something to say.
One of those things this week was, “I love you, Natalie” for the first time. And so maybe there is no real version of me, or her. But, as I grow more attached to her with every passing day, I realize she’s already a little piece of me.