The Mean Voice in My Head

Usually the mean voice in my head shows up in the evening, when it's almost time for bed. And I start to despair and say really hopeless things, and Sam has to practice remembering that I don't actually think they're true, I'm just exhausted. And exhaustion manifests so much like sadness, for me.

But today she showed up much earlier, while I was getting dressed for the day. I went to get a dress from my wardrobe, and I told Sam, "The mean voice in my head came out early today."

"Did she? What's she saying?" he said.

"Do you really want to know? Like, what she's actually trying to tell me?"

"Sure," he said.

"In the last two minutes, she's said the following: My thighs are disgusting. I'm a worthless human because I haven't vacuumed yet. I should stop blogging because it doesn't matter anyway, it's not really writing. I have neglected to mail x and scan and email y and write to z, and I'll probably neglect to do those things again today, because that's the kind of person I am--flakey and stupid and lazy and bad."

"Wow," he said. And then he showed a picture of fleshy, bloody antelope thighs he found on the Internet. "These are disgusting thighs," he said.

All day I tried to fight the voice. And let me say up front that this ability to identify it as not me, but something aside from my true self that's intruding and telling me lies--this is progress. Saying what she's telling me out loud--that's also progress.

Throughout the day, Sam tried to help me battle by getting me to sing silly songs with him, and indulging me when I wanted to buy vegetables from the grocery store when all he wanted was Diet Coke, and getting me a treat, and kissing the back of my head while I was making dinner and he was watching Baby. But I kept hearing this negative talk: when I put away my groceries, she said, "You have enough to feed an army, now. Who do you think you are, buying all this food? And do you really think you'll roast all these vegetables tomorrow? Yeah. Right."

While I was making dinner, she told me how foolish I was to try to make kale saag paneer on a weeknight, that it was taking too long, that it wouldn't be any good, that I should make a salad to go with it if I really cared about my family's health, on and on.

(I'm interrupting myself to say the kale saag paneer turned out beautifully. My sister Kira, who has awesome taste in recipes, recommended it. I homemade the paneer, and used kale instead of spinach, since we had frozen kale on hand and we're obsessed. The voice in my head was right in saying it was a little ambitious for a weeknight with a four-month-old, but golly it was good.)

After dinner, there was this perfect moment when we'd finished the saag, and I held Henrietta and tried to keep her from reaching for everything on the table. She's just recently gotten coordinated and wise enough to realize she can grab whatever she wants, and dinnertime is absolutely not a moment when she permits us to set her down, so I've abandoned placemats, and I'm constantly moving my bowl and my glass and spoon and everything else that looks shiny and exciting.

I bounced her on my knee, and we distracted her by counting, which we've never really done before, and we took turns counting loudly and slowly, and then Sam counted quickly, like he was counting out the beats of a song, and the baby looked between us with wide wide eyes, taking it in, almost as if she'd repeat the numbers back to us any minute. I sang her the alphabet song, and then "Twinkle, Twinkle," and blew Sam's mind that they were the same tune. Soon I'd feel bad again, and worry about this and that, and begin to despair like I always do before bed, but for just a moment that voice was so far in the background it didn't exist. There wasn't anything I was doing wrong, or anything I needed to be doing differently. There was just my little family around the dinner table, counting loud and slow and smiling.

Tell me, is there a mean voice in your head? Do you have a name for her? I'm thinking maybe I ought to name mine--really establish that distance, you know? Do you have name suggestions? Better still, do you have ways to keep her quiet? What do you do when yours is chattering away? I'd love to hear.


Russanne said…
I'm so glad you blogged about a mean voice. Because quite frankly, up until I just read this, I thought that my mean voice was actually just me. And that I was awful. And my mean voice is SUCH A BITCH. And seriously, I can't tell you how much better it feels to know that I can just coin her as that annoying girl that tries to ruin my day. And that makes me feel a whole lot better.

So thank you, cause really this was an answer to about one million prayers.
Run Big said…
Catherine Davis once taught me a trick (I think, technically, it's used for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, but I think it's really helpful for anyone who lives) called HALT. Basically the "trick" is, when the wrongthink (thank Ms. Didion for that little gem) starts you stop and evaluate how Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired you are. They recommend that addicts never let themselves get too much of any of those and if they feel like the balance is tipping, to fix it (by eating, breathing, socializing, or sleeping, respectively). It also helps for food cravings!! Other than that, I have no advice, just empathy. My inner voice is a bitch too :)
Run Big said…
My inner voice's favorite thing to do is ridicule me over how stupid I sound in emails I've already sent, voice mails I've left, and things I've said to people I care to impress. Good times! See? Like right now she's on me about not including this in my original message. (And if you come up for a name for yours, please share :) Oh, and my inner voice thinks smiley face emoticons are stupid :( No pleasing her.
Run Big said…
Oh, and this is the artist formerly known as Lindsay Walker ;)
Unknown said…
This was great. We would never speak to someone else like we permit our brain to. Glad you liked the paneer :)
Sam Ruddick said…
i named the mean voice in my head "the truth."
Deja said…
Russanne, you should punch that mean voice in the nose, for sure!! I'm glad this helped.

And Lindsay, I sure adore you. Thanks for reading and commenting. That HALT business is wise. What about Bertha the Barbarian for a name?
Elise said…
Deja. Wow this sounds familiar. If the description af a mean voice can be lovely, you nailed it.

My mean voice is disappearing. After three kids I finally started a multivitamin and taking vitamin D. And basically, that is my Zoloft. Run Big isn't kidding about the whole hungry/angry/lonely/tired thing. For me it's tired. I get crazy when I'm tired.
Jamie said…
My mean voice is like Run Big's. Reading your post, I thought I didn't have a mean voice and could maybe use one so my dishes would get done someday. (My last grocery store run included buying paper plates. For those rare times when the take-out I buy can't be eaten out of the container it came in.)

But mine makes fun of me after I interact with people. I'm getting better at ignoring it. But sometimes, I'll have a sudden vivd memory of something I did or said to someone YEARS ago, and will be intensely embarrassed. It's always some random moment that I know no one else remembers at all. But my brain has got it in some evil archive, ready to pull up at any moment. I'll be watching Survivor, thinking about what to eat for dinner, and BAM! Remember that time in 9th grade when you lied to that janitor about not throwing your cup in the garbage and he knew you were lying and made a mean face at you? THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A WHILE.
Reba said…
I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a mean voice that comes out after basically every human interaction that I've ever had.

And you made your own paneer? That is completely awesome. I'm in awe.
Deja said…
Elise, it seems like this most recent baby has just healed something in you. I hope you write about it.

Jamie, I'm sort of embarrassed because all of my interactions with you are fan-girl-esque, but that comment had me laughing really hard, and I basically think you're one of the funniest/wittiest/cleverest people on the planet. I wish your mean voice let you talk/write more. The world needs more of you.

And Reba, I'm both pleased and sad to find myself in such company with all these folks and their mean voices. But you should look at the recipe and then you'll be less impressed. It's way easy. The people who seek to charge big bucks for paneer are jokers. And we're suckers.
Annie said…
I know this voice well. Lately she's been trying to tell me my stretch marks are disgusting and my chest is too small so my husband must be disappointed in me. Then I realize how idiotic she is and I tell her to shut up and go away. She doesn't go away unless I decide I want her to, though. And that has taken many, many years for me to figure out.

I love that you point out that it isn't you. This is so true! I never really thought of it like that.
Erika said…
I remember when my oldest was a new baby who never slept, and I was a new stay at home mom trying to find my way. I hated the night, it felt so desperate to me dark and alone. I got to the point where before I fell asleep I would mentally tick off all the small successes of my day like getting my teeth brushed, or showering and putting on real clothes. Getting the grocery shopping done however small the chore I counted it. As for body image issues strangely becoming a mom somehow cured that, it didn't happen overnight but it changed my way of looking at my body. I saw how strong and amazing my body was and now that bitchy voice rarely visits.
Deja said…
Annie, if you're undesirable, we're all in big trouble. You're one of the loveliest girls I know. And how smart to say the voice leaves only when we decide we want her to. What is it in us that wants to keep her around?

Erika, thanks for commenting! and yes, wow, those small successes as a new mom are huge. I'm totally going to start counting teeth brushing. My body image issues have eased up some (disgusting thighs is the nice version ...). Here's hoping they continue to ebb away.
Jeanette said…
Does Sam realize that "Bah, bah black sheep" also has the same melody as the ABC's?

When you have an infant, you get to count EVERYTHING as a success. First and foremost, taking care of the baby. Planning a meal, going shopping, and preparing a meal? Off the charts success. Brushing teeth, taking a shower? Of course. Whatever you do, it counts. If the baby isn't sleeping through the night, you get triple points. Like those red triple word squares in Scrabble. You tell that voice that you have much better ways to spend your energy than addressing flat-out manipulative lies.
Amara said…
I love Jamie's "think about that for a while" all in caps. Awesome. That's what my mean voice does too! Always when I'm tired she is freaking there to stay. Jeff has had to learn the same thing. After 10:00, nothing i say is going to be cheerful, probably dismal. Sometimes she comes early, and then there is usually something that has flipped her switch to on: a distorted mirror in the studio, someone else's diet talk, something. Man I could write a post on this. Sometimes she says all I doo is eat and sleep. I sleep too much. I'm selfish and cold and sloppy and socially awkward. Sigh. Screw her!
Amara said…
Crap. Now I'm out of posts to read. Time for you to write again!
akansha said…
Hi deja...i am from india and found your blog while scrolling...u jus spoke ryt to my heart..i go thrgh exactly d sm thng and when i read ur post it was like hey she is talking abt me...i gotta similar inner voice and it has no particular time of cmg. it jus surfaces whenever it wants..and has the capability to suck out the goodness of any moment of my lyf. How do i get rid of it?? well its a hard battle but i keep repeating to myself dat God loves me and i don't need to listen to dese eventually subsides or i tottaly ignore it and continue to carry on..i even smtimes fight it off...
Jenna Wilt said…
I have one. She's really mean to me. Sometimes she even makes me cry. She never told me her name. But she always tells me to do things like cut myself and jump off cliffs. I never listen to her. Sometimes I just wish she would go away. SHe tells me to kill animals and it just frustrates me because I love animals. SHe makes me feel so aggravated and I hate it. I hate her.

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