Mental health’s a work in progress for most of us. Tougher for some, easier for others, yet there must be few this pandemic hasn’t wobbled. Years of therapy have killed off some of my demons, and given shape to those that will dog me to my dying days. Normally that dog will walk to heel, chase a ball and even raise a smile. Alas, it’s recently escaped the leash and is running rabid, baring bloody fangs. Everything’s harder with that monster circling me yet, while defeated by a trip to the supermarket, I can still, intermittently, report to my laptop and write.
How do I know it’s going well? I don’t, of course, until it’s exposed to other eyes. Its origins in mental turmoil should make me wary of assuming I’ll get something worth publishing out of this, but – my nasty self-critic aside – I think it’s quite good. If that’s a delusion, and this project is simply a distraction from painful reality, it’s a healthy one. A receptacle for my grief and anger that won’t do me, or anyone else, any harm.
It would be different if I were in a responsible position – say, Prime Minister of a small European country – and my displacement project were – picking an example out of the air – splitting that country from the protective embrace of its neighbours and stomping out onto the windswept moors in flip-flops, holding up a battered umbrella. If that were the case, I’d have to attend to the voices that said I was leading the troops on a mission that would be folly in less turbulent times, criminally insane in the midst of a pandemic.
To do that, I’d need to be in touch with my vulnerabilities, a quality many of our leaders lack, having had it bullied out of them at boarding school and not had the therapy to put it back. Naïvely, at the beginning of the pandemic, I listed acknowledging our interdependency as one of covid’s silver linings, but I’m wiser now. (I even included the government accepted its responsibility to govern!) A brush with mortality hasn’t dented our PM’s delusional optimism. Recent communion with depression’s dog reminds me how painful that vulnerability can be. Little wonder we’re driven to avoid it: flouting social-distance guidelines to congregate on beaches; getting lost in a shiny new novel; the Tory government’s displacement project of getting Brexit done.
In the couple of hours I’ve spent on this and the 99-word story that follows, I’ve discovered I’m no longer as low as yesterday: is that the result of writing or was the dog already tamed? That state of mind already seems alien yet, each time I’m in it, I try to capture a whiff of its essence to inform my fiction, but depression’s coded in another language that doesn’t automatically translate. Here’s today’s attempt, in response to another flash fiction prompt from Charli Mills.
First the sting, then smothering, then slugging down, then stopped. Gaze turned inside out to pick the marrow from my bones. Mouth a Munchian scream until the lava swallows that and blands it over in Mona Lisa smile. “How are you?” “Fine, thanks, you?” Frozen, glued to nothing, brain reboots itself to factory settings, erasing hours of therapy. Erasing the adult.
Barbs can pierce the carapace. Kindness can’t. Shelled in ineffective armour, identity fragments. Dissolves. Only I can save me. But I’s in exile, I’s abandoned me. Depression’s being washed in molten lava. Transforming flesh and faculties to stone.