The coward’s thoughts on self-nullification

“Good morning,” I say, when I am at work.

“How are you?” my customers sometimes reply.

“A swirling void of worthlessness and angry depression, overlaid with somewhat effective anti-anxiety drugs, so long as I keep up with my schedule,” is not how I reply.

I smile and say “Fine, thank you, and you?”

They don’t want to know. I don’t, either. The state of denial is very appealing—its brochures are the glossiest, shiniest, perkiest ever, like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. (Doesn’t everyone want to be like Glinda, the Good Witch? With apologies to Gregory Maguire, Stephen Schwartz and Idina Menzel, the answer is no—I do not want to have green skin. I want to be happy.)

The state of reality, with its capital, Facing the Facts? It’s all black and white, like Oklahoma in John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath,, ability to reach out to others and expressing your feelings turned to dust in your mouth also included.

If I do it, it’s got to be right. (No, wait, that’s the perfectionist talking.) And that requires research, not just the taking of all the pills in the bathroom—because that might just fuck up my liver, requiring more pills, a lifetime of pills and more pills, different ones that require even more keeping track (as if the ones in the cabinet aren’t enough, all the –idines and –epams a cluster of endings numbing my nerves and my brain). Isn’t the up and down of that regimen, that vigilance, that need for constant attention and reporting to doctors at the slightest change in one’s mood, one’s mental health, hell, one’s body odor, the very thing I’m trying to avoid? No. I don’t want to do research. (That’s the procrastinator butting in, too.)

Then there are all these sharp objects, a plethora of knives and multiple sharpeners. The electrical one, bought by the husband who loves the electrical gadgets, the one he mostly uses because the noise sets my teeth on edge, a thousand nails on a million-ty blackboards. The handheld device, swipe the blade through one side, the other– voila, an edge. It’s okay— not my fave. That’s the steel— that’s what I like to use, a gift from my father— its wielding requires some skill, since you’ve got to get the angle just right in order to get the sharp on the blade. You flick-test with your thumb until– ahh there it is, enough that serrated edges for slicing tomatoes? Those are for wusses. I want an edge on my knife to match the edge on my tongue. It’d be a shame to use one of my knives to that end—my end. So– maybe one of the utility knives except—ugh. They’re dirty from all of the tape on all the boxes I’ve cut through, opening boxes, as if flesh and blood through wrists (vertically, not crosswise, people always get that part wrong, and would my hands be steady enough after that first slash, I wonder?) would be any cleaner. Would I be strong enough, fast enough, bold enough, to cut down to bone? My high school biology teacher said my work on my fetal pig showed I had hands like a surgeon, and I can butcher a chicken like nobody’s business. The snap-crack of the thigh bone under my hands, no hesitation as I slice through the sternum and peel the meat from the ribs. Would that getting at the heart of myself was nearly so simple. Each week in therapy, I stutter and start as I try to talk with my therapist, a well-meaning woman I like and with whom I’ve yet to really connect. She keeps asking me “How are you,” you see. Perhaps I should print out this essay.

Step in front of a bus? The ones in convenient locations where I wouldn’t have to go out of my way (see, this is the problem with being depressed, getting someplace where the busses get up enough speed takes so much energy, damnit) are just pulling out of the station—there’s not enough speed to do the full job, and the perfectionist in me wants it all done. At most, I’d get a broken arm, broken leg, maybe some ribs. It’d just garner questions, that and an increased dose on my antidepressant– more fucking pills, when after eight years of this round, I’m feeling done with the psychopharmaceutical game. The rest of my life, Plus, I’ve always joked with folks that I document steps at work, keep accurate records “in case I get hit by a bus.” I might hurt their feelings if I actually did it that way. They’d wonder if I was leaving them clues. I wouldn’t want them to feel guilty.

Letting go of the wheel of the car is out of the question. Aside from the fact that I might lose my nerve—might not get up enough speed to do it right, make it final, all of that stuff—fact is, the insurance won’t pay for suicide, and then my husband will be out of a car, since it’s the only one that we’ve got and we haven’t got enough saved for him to just go buy another. I can’t do that to him, especially since we’ve only just paid the thing off and wouldn’t that be a waste? Plus, I just got the oil changed, had it serviced, all of that rot. It’d be a terrible shame to undo all of that work, especially since it’s running so nicely and they even vacuumed the rugs.

And then there’s the whole mess in the back bedroom. All that paper abyss from the job that I left (panicked–fled, gasping for air on that third thrash to the surface, my arms so exhausted as I struck for the shore that sometimes I’m still amazed that I didn’t drown), all the personal mail I just couldn’t stand to look at or open, all those clothes that are too big or too small (I really should clean and Craigslist the cashmere and suits, they’re in good shape and we sure as hell could use the money, it’s not like I’m going to wear most of them anytime soon). There’s so much that needs cleaning and sorting and I think back to every death or familial psychotic break or elderly move I’ve ever lived through— my breath catches in hurt for the people who’d have to do all that cleaning. (The shame and panic I feel at all the secrets I still think I’m keeping of how messed up I am and how all that would be revealed if I left it for others? It’s some small deterrent.)

So perhaps I’m a coward. Perhaps I am brave—this week, I sorted some mail and threw some away, keeping the topmost of some old, piled bills. I even made plans to call, to perhaps figure out—well, I’m not sure, exactly, but I can at least ask some questions rather than avoid the whole in blind panic. And then I swiffered. Washed dishes. Made an appointment with my primary physician, because I’d hate to make my poor husband have to go through my calendar, cancelling appointments, much less explain why.

I choose to think that despite my bad choices, despite my bad moments, despite what may seem here as what aren’t quite what the shrinks might call “passive ideation,” and what I prefer to think of as this.

“She was always a nervous child,” my grandmother once told my dad.

Nervous. Fine. It’s a better term than some others I could apply to myself.

“How are you?” someone will ask me tomorrow, because of all the decisions I’ve made, I’ve at least stuck to this—get out of bed, go to work, don’t burst into tears out in public.

“Fine, thank you,” I’ll answer, then smile. I’ll even smile like I mean it. Maybe I will.

(Ed. for those concerned. This is a … condensation of feelings I have had in the last few weeks or so. Nothing necessarily current.)


5 thoughts on “The coward’s thoughts on self-nullification

  1. Jenn @ Juggling Life

    Concerned is close, but I think worried is a better word. I’ve been coming here for what, a couple of years, and I’ve never heard you sound like this. I assumed the silent times were the worst times, but this . . .

    If it helps at all to know that there are people “out there” who think you are an amazingly talented writer and a courageous woman, please know I do. Beyond that, I don’t know what to say except spout cliches. I hope things look up for you soon.
    .-= Jenn @ Juggling Life´s last blog ..My Brother Charlie: A Book Giveaway =-.

  2. Prof. J

    I am with Jenn, here. I want you to know that you are wonderful and courageous and a great addition to the world. Please keep writing to us. Please keep up the fight. You are worth it.
    .-= Prof. J´s last blog ..Portraits of Tanith =-.

  3. Allison

    What a strange relief, to read this post and be grateful that the ongoing relatively rational consideration of ‘options’ is not unique to the voices in my head. Even in less-depressed moments, I’ve found myself weighing the pros and cons of certain choices that by intent alone can be considered somewhat like ‘exit strategies’.

    I understand that what you write about in this post may not be the primary mode of thought for you at this time, but rest assured that when those musings come back ’round, they are very much the norm for many people. It sounds as though you have an excellent (and terribly responsible) perspective even while considering the worst – I hope your humor and and beautifully expressed perspective will continue to carry you through!

    p.s. Just one of many such thoughts that has kept my wandering mind in check : “Often the test of courage is not to die but to live.”
    Vittorio Alfieri – cliche, but too true for too many.


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