‘I look underneath my desk and think I might sit there’
Melancholia: a female figure contemplating a skull, D. Fetti, via Wellcome Collection
I can’t pick up the clothes. I can’t explain the granite of that “can’t” to anyone else, the way it feels impossible to beat. Look at me looking at the pile and you will think, Just pick it up. For fuck’s sake. But I don’t. I look at it, and the thought of accomplishing anything makes my fear and despair grow. Every thought brings on another and that prospect is frightening. All those thoughts. I write that down and I feel stupid and maudlin and dramatic. A privileged freelance writer who does not have a full-time job that requires her presence in an office and can be indulgent of what the medical profession calls “low moods.” In fact, plenty of menopausal women leave their jobs, endure wrecked relationships, suffer, and cope. Or don’t. But I don’t feel maudlin and dramatic in the bathroom, or on any other of a hundred occasions over the past two years. I feel terrified. I have no reason to feel fear. But my body acts as though I do: the blood rushing from my gut to my limbs in case I need to flee, leaving the fluttering emptiness that is called “butterflies,” though that is too pretty a description.
Still, I set off on my bicycle to my writing studio. I hope I can overcome the day. I always hope, and I am always wrong. A few hours later, I find myself cowering in my workspace, a studio I rent in a complex of artists’ studios, scared to go downstairs to the kitchen because I can’t bear to talk to anyone I might find there. I have done nothing of use all day. Every now and then, I stop doing nothing and put my head in my hands because it feels safe and comfortable, like a refuge. I look underneath my desk and think I might sit there. There is no logic to this except that it is out of sight of the door and no one will find me.
Even so, when the phone rings I answer it. I shouldn’t, but I am hopeful that I can manage it and mask it, and I haven’t spoken to my mother for a few days and would like to. It goes well for a few minutes, because I’m not doing the talking. Then she asks me whether I want to accompany her to a posh dinner, several weeks hence. She doesn’t understand when I ask to be given some time to think about it. “Why can’t you decide now?” I say it’s one of the bad days, but I know this is a mixed message: If it’s that bad, how am I talking on the phone and sounding all right? Because I am a duck: talking serenely above, churning below, the weight on my chest, the catch in my throat, the inexplicable distress. I try to explain but I’m also trying hard not to weep, and so I explain it badly.
She doesn’t understand. This is not her fault. She is a compassionate woman, but she had an easy menopause, so easy that she can say, “Oh, I barely remember it.” One of those women: the lucky ones. She doesn’t understand depression, though both her children experience it, because she has never had it.