Depression allows you to live in the past; in happiness one is always drowning, striving for some grotesque fabricated future. ‘
‘’Eliza,” A voice announced from some indecipherable point in the waiting room, not even gracing the recipient with the honour of a last name – only the empty syllables of femininity.
Eliza felt empty as she stood, artificial and awkward in her shined shoes, motioned towards the doctor’s room by some impatient nurse with seemingly unfeeling features. It was a common occurrence which bothered her. Her hands felt dirty with the vague staring print of magazines, skin burning beneath the stares of the nervous eyes always bound to decorate waiting rooms in some series or another.
The corridor she was directed along was hot and tight, like a fatty artery. She felt sick as her fist slid feebly against the only door, and there appeared to be a indicatory guttural response from the other side. She went in.
She was immediately stricken with the consideration that it was, most certainly, the tidiest doctor’s office she had seen. Instead of the usual furniture of pens and frayed papers beneath the tired eyes of some long-past professional, the doctor appeared almost synchronised with his surroundings - a clean face apparently ageless beneath a frame of hair slicked back over the temples in suburban beige. He touched the desk in front of him as if he was responsible for keeping it upright – his body angled in an expression of mild apathy towards Eliza as she took the opposite seat, automatically.
The suddenness of his voice yet the certainty of his syllables struck her, especially when she had not yet spoken. Over the years, she had begun to associate doctors as feeding faces poised blankly in a kind of anticipation, doctors waiting like long white candles to be ignited.
But he continued.
“I can tell just by the way you sat down in that chair that you are unhappy. You took that chair as if it was expected of you; just submitting to the emptiness of all that has gone before.”
Eliza sensed that his statements were more declarative than imperative, thus continuing to stare at him in silence through the layer of cold beneath her clothes – an aversion she felt often to these types of situation. An ornate cactus appeared to have adopted a position of half-torture against the opposite wall.
It had been countless times she had sat across from doctors, her body restless upon the nervous threadwork of her legs, and felt utterly insignificant. So many times she had tried to tell them of the empty hours, the cracking pain beneath the ribs, the resistance in her very sinew, only to be met with long-repressed sighs in an apparent exhaustion with the human condition which seemed common to the professional world. One prescribed drugs. Another indicated towards the escapism of alcohol.
Eliza knew, after all, they were desperate people in a desperate job – attempting to salvage the sick minds from those who seemed not to live, but vaguely exist – as some number, some record in the journal, some triumph or failure in the files of the psychiatric hospital. Perhaps everyone was mad here, to some degree.
She had been at the hospital – in and out like an airwave, an overused memory – for as long as she could remember, and yet she had never seen this doctor before, his office. It fascinated her. He himself had eyes which seemed to savour the act of blinking, the sharp shock of eyelashes against the cheek revealing an ever-darker iris. By the time he had thumbed through medical records, each pupil seemed to sear a hot and stubborn black like a pebble.
He spoke over a line of apparently artificial teeth, musing at first, then direct.
“Personality issues… chronic fatigue... fading self-esteem – yes, yes, as I thought. “He leant closer to her on one elbow, a layer of beguilement in his tone. “ I have something for that…”
The suggestion of a possible object of relief seemed to shrill uneasily through her mind, mincing her words and thoughts until she told herself his words seemed to drip with the desire of some kind of sexual acquaintance –
“No, No, I’m… ‘’ She began, toying nervously with the creased base of her blouse.
“That’s the problem,” He continued, with an almost theatrical profusion, one hand slightly suspended in the air and eyes cast upwards in apparent unawareness of Eliza’s embarrassment. “You try to say ‘I am’. So desperate, so self-searching. It is a pattern, which, over time, becomes both dangerous and destructive.”
He seemed to roll his tongue over the final alliteration with apparent mirth, yet a mirth which still maintained an uncomfortable kind of medicinal control about it.
“You need to feed on happiness, not feed others with it,” He continued, pushing a small yellow box across the desk towards her with apparent force. She took it.
“New on the market,” He announced, as if expecting applause. The almost gushing rapidity in how she was talking seemed to make his shirt collar press upon his neck so Eliza could see the flesh mottle slightly, colouring more urgently as he continued “Antidepressants. American. Not been making ‘em long – a new sort of what you could call… contained contentment.”
He smiled thickly as if pleased with himself, the closed blinds and the enhanced halogen lights seeming to give the muscles a sickly elasticity, the jaw working as if executing a task independent from everything. His body seemed like one machine designed with the objective of her leaving quiet and uncomplaining, allowing a voice to emerge which undulated as if aware of a constantly looming time-limit.
“Incredibly fast-acting, apparently, and taken as deemed fit, rather than at set times.”
“How do I know when I am sad enough to take them?” She ventured, thinking of the languorous hours of spoiled sleep and the strange sensations of a clammy hysteria. Indefinable.
“When you are not happy.”
The last words were executed by his tongue in clear inference that she had all instruction necessary to leave, and yet there was something about the induction of the argument that made her uneasy – how could she identify a lack of happiness when she lonely knew what she beloved to be defined as sadness? A vague panic seemed to pulse in her veins and she stood up as if presenting the necessary component for the conversation to close, though his voice continued -
“You are the first person to try these – you have to come back to me daily.”
She nodded, pulling the door closed as she went – obedient, sharp and straight in her shoes like a sterile instrument. She knew what it was to be obedient, as for all these years she had been prescribed multitudes of little pills, usually administered by the nurses - pills of yellows, and reds, and greens which glowered from the palm in an array of faces. Yet, and her body thrilled as she thought, she had these pills to herself. For some on the ward – that would have been a fantasy, the fixed ideology of many a sedated night - in which the ill still reached out for the ecstasy of their own deaths, hands open and swollen like the many roses which adorned the hospital walls with their swollen regalia. It was a beautiful building, Eliza thought, as she passed through the tangled glass of the morning room, the light lacquered in perfect beams as it was immersed by colour. The utter radiance of each ray – as sharp as a knife, as close as death. Sometimes she would could sit and sift the spiracles of heat against her tongue, and yet now, it was pills.
She let just one fall against her tongue.
Her mouth seemed to stop. It was if a kite caught in flames was unfurled through her body, hot in her abdomen, the ever-empty cavity beneath the ribs, suddenly unstrung. There was quick motion of realisation, as if tension was melting and she gazed up at the ceiling which what felt like an alarming speed – her body suddenly the dextrous instrument she had ever known. Light, whether artificial or real – she had no urge to identify – warmed her cheek and she smiled. Grabbing the handrail leading to the patients dining room, she attempted to acquaint herself with sense. Yet her body did not respond to such control, flickering outwardly like an image caught in flame. She thought she would be consumed.
But for who could she tell? Consciously, she felt stricken with nervous energy as she entered the dining room, the colour scheme of suburban beige and burned toffee somehow pleasing to her. She was aware of the enormity of contrast – how vaguely human bodies littered the tables with expressions of confusion. A young man was perched uncertainly at the table nearest to her, a thick red weal apparently navigating the circumference of his throat above the regulation uniform, swimming like a self-destructive gun over a parapet, a throat which convulsed with the horrified motions of eating to exist. Quavering, his pale eyes met the mirth of her gaze with evident fear, fluttering in his face like insects.
A buxom nurse collecting the trays fussed in a cool sweet voice that Eliza might be better in her own room, and Eliza felt an unusual submission in her limbs which seemed to consent. She retreated.
The individual inpatient rooms were distributed about the thread-work of Eighteenth Century staircases and carpets inches-thick with experience. She unlaced her shoes, almost religiously, before lying on the bed – the so-common sacrificial slab to her own mind. Now, the dirty cream of the walls seemed to grin in a profusion of white. The medication was certainly having some effect. Yet as she looked at her paintings, the scribbled leaves of poetry despondent upon the sheets as if cast from a dying plant – she felt a certain indifference, for never had she felt the prescribed happiness at these objects before. The tablets which wired her limbs with a caressing electricity seemed to suggest all she had done before was insignificant. She had never known happiness, only attempted to squeeze its extract desperately from words and the hot toils of artistry. It was an odd thing to reflect upon - that she had failed.
The happiness the tablets gave her – never had she felt such with friends, never had she found even a derivative dwelling in the eyes of some companion. Here body felt heavy with realisation against the bed sheets, as if with both arms extended she had suddenly realised the point of life and was grasping it with greased fingers.
Sighing, she had another tablet, let the chalky dust trip to acid beneath her tongue.
More and more.
Taking the tablets became familial action and every time she went to see the doctor, he permitted it with a slightly peculiar nod, so why not? The simple manoeuvre of medication and water seemed to substitute comfortably for everything – instead of painting, writing, even conversing - for they were all tasks which would threaten to interrupt her individual ecstasy. The watery smiles of the others as they were given the solace of silence or the empty words of a television seemed insulting to her.
“I have these tablets, I don’t have to watch television,” She declared, non-apologetically to Mina – a girl who had been inside almost as long as Eliza had. Mina had just returned from the outing to the local park, she described with apparent relish how members of the public had surveyed her body with a kind of artistic appreciation. Her thin blue wrists with their marblework of white scars crossed and uncrossed nervously as she spoke –
“You know, there’s something in humanity that does not want us to be happy. We strive instead to make others happy in our unhappiness. That’s what places like this are for – we make the people on the outside feel normal.”
Eliza had just taken a tablet, her body bathed in a kind of liquid heat as Mina sidled bedside her. She felt the vague flicker of irritation that Mina was always coming into her room these days, experiencing a dull fear of her rapturous philosophies. Crushed by the desperation of other people, Eliza shrunk back against the bed covers. A tablet usually lay in her palm like a point of reassurance, a bullet-flicker against the dry lips.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Eliza breathed, unfurling the air from her lips as if the whole room lay doused in a kind of narcotic smoke.
Mina stood up to leave. Eliza grinned – people were finally understanding her inferences! Visits to her room became less and less – not that she was much conscious of it at first, for she knew a tablet would deal with that. The walls spun empty in front of her eyes, devoid of trouble and toil.
And yet, still beneath her ribs crept a curiosity, the wonder of why she had never been able to produce such happiness in her own life – not even in all those arms which had enclosed her so many years ago, not in her writing or her education. The people of her past appeared suddenly empty.
The happiness stole meaning from all that had gone before.
For she could only look forward to the tablets which tripped her tongue with a kind of nausea – the happiness not exhausted, but the body was. She aimed for no end, for she only knew the source, the beginning. Having planned the end for so long, everything was suddenly stunted. It was difficult to believe that she had once thought of death, envied the air between the bridge and floor as if it was the ideal environ for her single human body. Now she thought of life – the emptiness of life which lay no touch upon her glassy eyes, a life which expected nothing.
For, all the time she was ill, she expected life to anticipate something of her – that she had to make a mark within the endlessness. So many of them in the hospital had looked to suicide as the medium; the medium which always fascinates, which reflects a past in old scars and broken bones, deformed bodies crouched in the communal garden, convincing themselves they are waiting for something.
Eliza on the other hand, waited for nothing. She consumed tablets with no necessary sense of time, only bathed in the absence of any kind of distress. Sometimes she felt no need to eat, and sleep haunted her like a fiend – for it was entrapment away from this continued ecstasy.
She said something similar to the doctor when she was a week into taking the tablets.
His voice fell bluntly as if a careering suddenly down a flight of stairs. It was not what she anticipated.
“I expected this to be the case.”
She countered him defensively.
“ But I feel happy, surely that is the case?”
Her voice strived as if happiness was a mutation she was attempting to defend against the analytical eye of the doctor. He smiled grimly.
“But Eliza, don’t you see you are closer to death than any other of the patients in here?”
She stared at him blankly.
“But I’m happy.” Her words wavered like a kind of excuse “Everything is so much brighter, I feel only ecstasy and want for nothing. I see the failures of my past, I smile now, I tell you. Finally, I’ve found a point…”
“You’ve found the point to living,” The doctor mused almost by confirmation, stroking the sinewy structure of his neck “Yes, grasping the point of life which makes ones fingers bleed. I can tell just by the way you sat in that chair – there’s nothing left of you. ”
Knitting his fingers together, as if marking solidity against any movement or persuasion, he adopted his usual medicinal tone.
“And that’s the point Eliza. That happiness is the substance of death, sadness the substance of life.”
She stared at him blankly.
“Have you not wondered why everyone else isn’t taking these tablets if they are a fast-track to happiness?”
She carried on staring, and he carried on talking, perhaps making inferences from the vague shake of both or her body and head.
“For if we all had containers of contentment, why would we live? We fight suffering, we don’t find happiness. There’s no such thing as contained contentment.”
He took the box of tablets from her still hands and tossed them into the paper bin beside him.
“And you,” He said “All your time you have been fighting suffering in life, at a considerable degree, I do think –“
“But I’d found happiness in those tablets –“ She managed, weakly.
“No, You’re talking about yourself in the past tense” He corrected her, smiling sadly “You’ve found happiness in death. They were placebos, nothing more.”