For me, it looks like this:
I stood in the central community building of my university, a tall airy structure of glass and concrete, open all the way to its ceiling several stories up. Classes had let out, and swarms of students poured in from connecting hallways and outer doors, passing through, stopping for conversation, yelling across the floor. A cacophony of noise and movement and people.
Something in my brain shut off, or turned on; but either way the chaos around me drowned out all conscious thought and words. My skin prickled with the realization of feathers beneath it, the roof of my mouth seemed to hollow and harden into a beak, tongue turned stubby and inflexible, lips motionless. I found myself hunching, wide-eyed, arm-wings held just apart from my sides, fingers splaying spasmodically.
A panic flooded my head. Noise / danger / loud / out! Despite the wideness and height of the building, I felt claustrophobic. Suffocating. I grasped blindly for conscious thought, words, humanity, but my pulse raced and my beak gaped. Overwhelmed.
Out out out out out out out
I shook from the effort of keeping control, walked faster than was seemly but I didn’t run and I didn’t shove anyone in my haste to get outside.
Fly flee escape fly
I pushed through the double doors and into the open air, blue above me, breeze in my feathers/hair, concrete below. There were people here too, and cars, but nothing for the noise to echo off of, and far more space. I drew in deep breaths of air, my heart rate slowing, my mind stilling. I focused on fingers, hands, words, the boundaries of my skin.
That was six years ago, and I still remember it so vividly.
I didn’t have this problem for the first couple years after consciously identifying as bird. It wasn’t until I started suppressing it, trying to deny parts of it, that I began experiencing intrusive shifts and increasing difficulty with control.
When something affects you, ignoring it or denying it doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it just affects you more adversely because you’re not being mindful of it and not taking steps to manage it. I don’t know what really causes the experiences I identify as “bird”, but trying to suppress those experiences or rationalize them away has more ill effects than not.
So I suppose the first step to balance, for me, was accepting that yes, I am avian in some way; and yes, it impacts my life.
I found some effective short-term tricks for controlling my shifting. The main one is shifting towards “human”. If birdness becomes sharply prominent in an environment where I can’t afford to indulge it, like at work, I focus on words, sentences, speaking; I focus on fingers, manual dexterity, things impossible with wings or claws; I focus on where my physical skin begins and ends, reminding myself that I am here and now and human. I imagine pulling my feathers in, pushing bird-mind down beneath the surface.
But this is a temporary solution, resorting to hard control and suppression. When that’s all I do, birdness comes clawing/flapping up more often, more harshly, harder to suppress each time – until it gets to be as difficult to control as in the above description. There are longer-term solutions.
I mentioned acceptance. That’s the first step. Then: striving for balance. For me, that means finding safe times and places to immerse myself in bird-thoughts, bird-awareness, feathers and beak. That might mean taking a walk in a park, or standing on a balcony and feeling the wind, or even – weirdly – dancing, at a club or around a fire (depending on your preference – I like goth clubs for this, myself; I don’t get bothered, everyone dances in their own space, and I can lose myself in music and movement, fly inside my mind while my body goes through the motions of it all).
Finding ways to express my birdness also helps. This doesn’t mean wearing birds on t-shirts or jewelry – no, what I mean is engaging in activities that are soothing or comfortable to rough-legged buzzard. Hiking at the intersection of cliffs and prairie, buzzard’s preferred habitat. Scavenging, in my own way; whereas hawk might go for roadkill meat, I scavenge the other leavings of deceased animals: bones, game-bird feathers, and the like. Perching in high places where I can get a good view of the ground below.
When I express my birdness regularly, in places and times of my choosing, I manage to find a better balance between human fingers and avian pinions. After a while, I stop needing to consciously make time to be “bird”, because the divide between human-mind and bird-mind blurs to nearly nothing, until I am at a stable constant state of bird-and-human-at-once, aware of both.
It took a while to get there. There were three years between the birdpanic experience detailed above and the following journal post, in 2008. This is what balance feels like, for me:
I have been comfortably, constantly aware of my birdness these past few months. There have been very few shifts; it’s been an ever-present thing instead. Not just frazzled pin-plucked feathers during times of anxiety or stress, I’ve not just experienced birdness in skittering frightened flapping-panic, but in contentment as well. This is rare, and it’s wonderful, and I’m really liking the constant sense of feathers.
Not prickling and itching under my skin like I sometimes perceive the feathers, but just there, everywhere, fluffing with cold or pleasure or happiness, standing on end with threat or irritability, slicking back in fear or worry or miserableness.
I have felt more fully bird than I ever have, and it is day to day and everpresent. My feet are bird feet, long and clenching-opening-curling; my mouth is also a beak, hollow palate, nibbling-tasting-testing everything (pens, necklaces, the edge of my shirt collar or sleeves); I am aware of movement and my own movements and the strangeness of my eyes.
It hasn’t felt unusual at all, though. It took me a few months to realize how constant my awareness of my birdness has become, because it feels so natural.