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.