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I Prefer Not To Live

(But My Shrink Says I’m Stable)

I don’t want to participate in life anymore.

Not in a suicidal way, although it should be mentioned that I have bipolar disorder and an intimate knowledge of suicidal ideation. But I’m on meds and my shrink considers me “stable” (two years with no episodes! and counting!)

No, my unwillingness to participate is more like the problem of Herman Melville’s main character in Bartleby the Scrivener. At every turn, when asked to do anything at all, Bartleby would reply, “I prefer not to.”

And that’s basically it. Only I’m self-employed, whereas Bartleby had a boss. So nobody orders me around. It’s just life that demands normal, everyday life-things of me. For instance, my phone rings, I look at whoever’s calling, and I prefer not to answer. Getting out of bed in the morning? I prefer not to. I slept till noon today.

Should I fix myself something to eat, or should I go without? I prefer not to on both accounts, a stand-off my stomach eventually resolves: I will be having cheese and crackers again. What about paying bills? I prefer not to do that either. Go outside, or stay in? I open the door and a blast of heat hits my face like a sauna. I stay in, wishing I were out, but in cooler weather. I avoid the dog’s eyes. I prefer not to feel his guilt-laden stare.

Am I depressed? I prefer not to think so, but I probably am. I can’t feel my feelings, and this is what it’s like to be bipolar, but “stable” due to medication. The meds won’t let me drop into that canyon from which there is no return. So I hang on the edge of it but I prefer not to look down. I close my eyes, nothing to see here. It’ll go away soon, or I’ll find the ability to go away from it. Something will shift and I’ll get back on solid ground. Maybe soon, maybe not soon. But it will shift.

Meanwhile I prefer not to wonder how long I will hang here, in limbo, on the edge of the canyon not looking down.

In Bartleby’s case, I prefer not to spread like a bloodstain from a few tasks at his work to every single request his boss made. Then he moved into the office and refused to leave, preferring to do nothing at all. Eventually, everyone else had to move out because he became such a disturbing, insufferable bore. The last we see of him is in a prison cell, where he prefers not to eat. He dies of starvation, staring at the blank walls of an imprisonment chosen by his own refusal to act.

That book was required reading in my high school English class. I resonated oddly with strange, stupid, irritating Bartleby, although I had not yet experienced my first clinical depression. Why doesn’t he just do something? Why doesn’t he say yes? Or just leave? I wondered all these things but at the bottom of it, I got him. He was an immovable object, and only death would budge him. (I wonder now: did that make him stable?)

Is this how stability becomes immobility? How sometimes I’m forced to stop, to move in no direction? Not forward nor backward, so that gravity doesn’t exert too much force and hurl me into the canyon or, conversely, stop exerting force and send me sky-high? Is this the meds or is it me? Was I on the way down or on the way up when I got stuck here?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I prefer not to think about it because thinking is exhausting. I obey the brain’s directive to freeze: a stupid mammal clinging to the wicked edge of sanity. I will do this until I get a different directive.

Update: I made a move, just a few hours ago. Shifting my grip on the cliff-face of “I prefer not to,” I did a small thing anyway. I put on my shoes and clipped the dog’s leash to his collar. I opened the door and walked out of it. The weather app on my phone warned me it was going to rain: thunderstorms probable, it said; flash flooding possible. I went out anyway. Indeed, I went out because of it. Nothing energizes me more than snakes of lightning and crashing thunder.

Dark clouds gathered to the east and south. I shut off the phone and the voice that said I prefer not to. I felt electricity in the air, the hair on my arms lifted and began to tingle. I thought about shock treatment for depression and wondered wryly if a bolt of lightning would do the trick. But nothing calamitous happened; I merely walked the dog and then came back inside, where my brief burst of energy dissipated into the walls and corners. I prefer not to wonder why. I am going to resist the urge to lie down on the couch for as long as possible.

But I decided this: I am not going to die in a dungeon of my own making. My obit should be headlined, Struck By Lightning: she died playing in a rainstorm. Why?

Because she preferred to.

Photo by nour c on Unsplash