Victoria Jelinek


XXIII: Blue Dog Day

Depression is melancholy minus its charms – the animation, the fits. Susan Sontag

depression long roadMy mind has been playing tricks on me all day. I almost convinced myself that my bad liver was a result of my candy intake. Seriously. For a moment, it seemed real. So real, that it almost justified my drinking at 9am. The rest of the day, I’ve been thinking that I’ll try to make it through fifteen more years. That’s the goal. Ten to see my son off to university, then five more years to have fun, do what I want, potentially decimate my body. Then, like a cat when its ready to die, I’ll quietly go off somewhere by myself. These morbid thoughts give me comfort. I think, “I can make it through today…” Then, “I can make it through the next year…” Then, “I can make it for ten more…I think…” “That’s all, that’s all…” But that “all” is everything.

It’s horrible to feel this way. It’s heavy and dark and bitter and mean and uncomfortable. I want to escape me. Barring that, I want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head and just pass time. The day, the year, the ten years, the fifteen. However, there are always people around me. My husband would interrupt this. Not because he would be concerned, but because it would annoy him that I was in bed ‘lolling about’ while he was taking care of our child, our house, and ‘business.’ Then, of course, there’s my son. My precocious, sweet, talkative boy who hums and sings to himself as he skips up the stairs, heads out the door, or plays by himself. He zones in on me like I’m a beacon whenever he’s home and demands I engage with him. Not in a pushy, aggressive manner, but because he likes me and wants to show me things, talk to me about what he has seen or done, and to hear what I have to say about it. He’s still cuddly, even as I can see the man that he will become, and he’s way too big for me to lift up. I try to engage with him. To pay attention to what he’s saying. I try to put a smile on my face. I try to pretend not to be me for him.

It’s entirely for him that I’m not drinking and inhaling to my heart’s desire. Or staying in bed all day. Or running away to somewhere else more suited to my real self. Somewhere dirty, large, and anonymous. He’s the reason I stay. He’s the reason I try at all. He’s the reason I will make myself go to the grocery store to get food, even as I absolutely dread the inevitable prospect of running into someone I know. He’s also the reason that we have any semblance of a social life. As an only child, or a “unique” as the French say, he wants playmates. As a naturally curious and social boy, he wants company and activity around him. As he’s still very young, he can’t arrange them or go by himself, and his father is unconcerned with having a social life, happy, instead, to be a homebody. So, I must arrange ‘play dates’ and social plans. Then, I must stay for a “hello,” and a “how are you?” and sometimes a cup or glass of something to be friendly. However, I find these interactions very hard. I feel as though I am perpetually masquerading as a ‘normal’ person, and consequently, am such a fraud. I don’t know how to have small talk when I’m sober, and I know people don’t want me to launch into “serious” talk, which is a “downer.” Having to interact with adults and children alike is painful and anxiety provoking for me. And now there’s no reprieve from the stress of it all.

Moreover, ‘the slings and arrows’ of children and their parents’ politics are very hard for me to observe, digest, and remain calm about. ‘Cookie cutter’ type kids and their parents are popular. They’re confident about asserting themselves. The kids spot the ‘Achilles heel’ of any child and exploit it cruelly. The other kids gravitate to these types. Prompting me to wonder if there isn’t some truth to the idea that people, in general, do like dictators – someone to tell them what to do and how to be. Tennessee Williams notes in “Night of the Iguana” that humans are the only creatures that won’t do anything to get out of a trap, such as bite off a foot or an arm. The kids ‘fisty cuffs’ are generally all forgotten relatively quickly, but it’s terrible to watch when you consider that these human propensities begin early. Ugh, and the little clusters of cliques, with those who are the ‘henchmen’ to the popular kids often being the meanest. Girls seem to be the worst. Or the best, depending on how you look at it. I think of the film “Mean Girls” frequently. Even among the hierarchies of adults. I hate observing these dynamics. It ‘winds me up.’ It makes me feel like I’m in grade school or high school all over again. I hated those years. I felt like a captive.

I keep looking for justice and signs of human thoughtfulness: to notice the person who picks up after himself when leaving the cinema. Or notice the car that uses only one parking space. Or notice the person who lets someone in front of them in the line at the grocery ‘cause they only have three items and the other person a trolley full of goods. Or see ‘the chancer’ get fired summarily. But it’s so hard to do when I feel so fucking bad. And, it often makes things worse ‘cause I don’t see these things everyday and then I’m angry. Then, like the masochist I am, I sling abuse at myself for being “so negative.” I tell myself that it’s MY fault that I see the ‘bad’ things about people in the world! I’m sending out that ‘energy’ and it’s causing a reverb by bringing negativity to me!” “If I could only change my perspective then it would all be fine. All would be different.” “It’s how I see things that’s the problem.” “It’s me. I suck. I’m horrible, beastly, angry, critical, and judgmental.” “I should relax and not think “too” much.” Problem is, the only way I don’t think too much is to ingest a mind-altering substance. If I’m to make it another fifteen years, I can’t. It’s already ‘dicey’ that I’ll make it that far with what I’ve already done to myself.

And that’s when I want to spend my day in bed. It’s then that I see little point in venturing out into the world. It’s then that I return to the idea that I’ve had a good run and I’m eager to be done with it. I’m tired of watching imposters get ahead. I’m tired of bullies dominating society – both on a micro and macro level. Of mediocrity reigning. Of the rise of pride in ignorance and the consequent disdain of intellect. Of no one really giving a shit about anything. I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of me.

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The Pregnancy Diaries – 6

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. Lily Tomlin

I read somewhere once that stress is the most debilitating thing that you can do your body. This week, I’m suffering panic attacks because while I love living in France in theory, in practice, I don’t love living here and I’m not convinced it’s the best place for my unborn child.

In theory, I appreciate the history of France: The French Revolution, the Belle Époque, the French Resistance during WWII, the fact that it was a safe haven for misanthropes and those that ‘belonged’ nowhere else in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; I love the literature, Flaubert, Balzac, Colette and those that flocked here, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald; I admire the great philosophers, such as Barthes and Foucault; I love the Cinema du Cahiers’ work, their concept of the ‘auteur’ film, made popular by the likes of Truffaut and Godard; I appreciate that in a world that’s faster and busier, more materialistic and greedy, more individualistic rather than collectively oriented, that the French fight staunchly for their right to long lunches, many holidays, and a work week that does not exceed 35 hours; I love that healthcare has incorporated the best elements of the UK health system (Socialist) with the US health system (privatised attention and one must contribute in order to receive it); I love the cheese; I love the weather (mostly).

However, in practice, I do not like living here. The French are the worst consumers: mobile phone service, utilities, products for the home, for the baby, such as prams, beds, car seats, clothes, televisions, furniture, office supplies, you name it, it’s three times as expensive in France as in the UK or the U.S.A.; and service, the possibility of a return, is practically non existent. Closures at lunch, early in the evening and on Sunday, mean that there is a finite time to run necessary errands and conduct necessary business, particularly the loads of paperwork required for most ‘official’ activities here. The international DVD’s (I love Korean and Argentinian films) are either dubbed or sub titled in French; the French movies don’t have English subtitles; and the English films are usually dubbed, even in the cinema. I miss being able to go into a bookstore and get a book that I want, or into a library. The libraries here have strange hours, are closed on Wednesdays when the kids are out of school, and, locally, they are filled with books about mountains and mountaineering. I miss having restaurants that serve food out of the established lunch or dinner hours, and here in Chamonix, many of the restaurants and cafes are only open in the winter and the summer. The concept of ‘joyeux de vivre’ is ironic: there doesn’t seem to be much laughter or ‘letting go’ at a bar when they sip their tiny glass of vin rouge all afternoon; the French are mean, not only to foreigners, but even to each other. The stories that I’ve been told by other mothers regarding the schooling system – that it’s very negative, very rigid (‘colour in the lines’ sort-of-thing) – raises the hair on the back of my neck, even as I think there are other problems elsewhere. Ah, and the weirdest thing, no matter how big the parking lot or how empty it is, the French always seem to park right next to each other, meaning you often have to sidle in sideways to get into your car. So this week I wonder how I can live here ‘forever’ and bring up a child who will be a Frenchman for all intents and purposes.

All this said, I also read somewhere that with the demise of ‘big’ diseases – small pox, rubella, the plague – that allergies and neurosis developed…