Absolute truths, “Flirtations with Evidence”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Depression, disconnectedness, Jane Eyre, Marilyn Monroe, Mental Health, multiple truths, Nigeria, nostalgia, Sylvia Plath, The danger of the single story, Vincent Van Gogh, Walid Raad
“I stayed in bed this morning cowering as I thought about the disconnectedness. The clock kept me under the covers. The messy stuff was swimming in my head, and I had no place to put it.”
This is the first entry from the journal that I started just over a year ago. I will admit to being particularly frightened as I contemplate posting that entry and the ones below. I wrote them all, late at night, when I was in bed “alone”(my sleeping husband doesn’t count). I scribbled them down in my messy handwriting believing that no one—and I mean no one—would ever lay eyes on these words. And no one has seen them, until today.
These journal excerpts represent part of my experience and they are mostly unedited, but I worry that they will become a stand-in for the whole me. And yet, as I calmed and collected my thoughts about the risks in exposing my raw self, I kept hearing Chimamanda Adichie‘s soothing, Nigerian English–accented voice in my head warning me about The Danger of a Single Story. I could remember the gist of what she had said in her TED talk about this danger, but when I went back this morning to listen to her again, something funny happened.
I wanted to make sure to quote her accurately, and, as I was pausing the video to quickly take notes, I looked up and smiled at the strange image in front of me. Adichie is not only a gifted novelist and speaker, she is also quite beautiful. The frozen image of her mid-sentence on my computer screen, though, was bizarre looking and awkward. I had stopped the video in a spot where her eyes were only half open and her lips were pursing, it looked like, to form an o. The still I was seeing was a photograph of her, but it didn’t fit my image of her at all. It was representative of just a fraction of a second from a series of thousands. Adichie was in the midst of saying that “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but…incomplete. They make one story the only story.” Adichie’s voice in my head and the video still were both reminding me that not only is it impossible to have a complete picture of someone, any one picture can only be of a piece.
One of my goals in starting this blog was to present multiple experiences and stories about mental illness (hopefully, not just mine). Frequently, the most famous stories about depression are told (or, perhaps more accurately, interpreted) hyperbolically and two-dimensionally. Think about Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe, or Bertha—the most famous “madwoman in the attic”—from Jane Eyre. Of course, not all the literary and real world representations of depression are as extreme as the aforementioned, but dramatic stories have a staying power that bowls us over. Those stories make it hard to remember that there are always multiple sides to any person or any experience.
Conveying the impossibility of an absolute truth has been an underlying principle in almost all of my artwork. And I guess that is still incredibly important to me in my writing. The artist Walid Raad says “history is unstable…the elements of which it is construed are malleable, fungible, and open to interpretative invention.” As I think about showing myself unedited, I hold this idea close.
I cannot represent a full picture of who I was a year ago or, for that matter, who I am now. I, like you, am made up of many stories. Still, I wanted to share my journal excerpts to give you a small piece of what my illness looks like. Adichie maintains that, “the consequence of the single story is this…It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
Please feel free to interpret my journal entries through your own lens and in any way that you want. All I ask is that when you are holding my thoughts gingerly in your hands, know that they are just fleeting images. If you do that for me, I will not feel “robbed” or “unequal in my humanity.”
(scroll down to see the other journal entries)
A drawing at its very worst was a hideous work of art that proved my incompetence, but it was almost never a self-inflicted wound that was just embarrassing and pathetic. The compulsion to be self-destructive is only noticeable in retrospect.
I’m sinking. The housewife-thing is like a pox. I am her because I made choices that only prepared me for her life. Find something positive—anything will do. My eyes are closing. I am aching for security. The smooth of his belly on the tip of my nose, and the smell in my nose from the scent of his skin.
I am always on the dark side. Not just an Interpreter of Maladies, I am an established sorrow collector driving out all sense of awe and beauty. Any admiration or appreciation that remains just sits there very superficially on the surface, mostly unintegrated and barely brushing against the real me—like the oil that floats to the top of salad dressing. If I could combine them, then I might think things were alright.
At least once a day, I catch myself wishing that I would die suddenly and quickly. I don’t understand why we choose to live. I mean, aside from taking care of or not wanting to hurt the people you love, the daily grind, the hassle, and the lack of assurance weigh heavily. This is the dark side in me, I know. But, in a way, acknowledging the darkness is more rational than the “life’s-a-gift” crap.
Just yuck. I feel defeated or maybe…Honestly, I don’t know what it is. It’s me. It’s always me. Everything I do is wrong. Who am I exactly? When I think about that I cringe. I am a mother who nags, lectures, and, tonight, I yelled. For what? So that I would have less to clean up.
Sometimes, I feel that the real me will always be hidden, with an occasional appearance in my journal when I am so tired that the writing itself requires all of my energy and attention, leaving me with no ability to censor. I want something. I want a silky, ribbon-covered edge of a blankie to rub between my fingers. I want that to be enough. When I think about this, I feel…nostalgic (that might not be quite the right word). I think it’s actually envy. I’m jealous of the little girl in that moment. Maybe nostalgia is just a euphemism for envy.
There isn’t enough of me to surround the emptiness. I always feel like the negative space around myself. Like I make it look like there is a whole person standing in front of you, but it’s all an illusion. I can make the outline, but it’s empty beyond that.