“But I Can Still Cook!”

In Beastly & Beautiful, Cultural & Political by Louisa Leontiades

“If you’re sick,” she said, “that means you should be in bed.”

That sounded right. If I could get up, then I must be able to go to school. But that day, I was in a state of dizzy where I couldn’t walk. I rested, sucked on resentful orange segments cut up by my mother and sure enough, when I was able to get up, I went back to school. My mother forbade the television during illness. Magazines. Reading. And really anything that could be categorized entertainment because nothing was supposed to make sickness in any way pass easier. Which included sympathy. Sickness was horrible and unwanted, and by implication so were sick people. The sooner you were able to get up and get going, the better.

For a period of years this worked as I nodded to my mother’s favourite proverb ‘mind over matter’. It’s what she was taught, and what she taught me. Those without mind were weak and unfit for society. Moochers. Scroungers. My inculcated bigotry has lessened over time, notably as those I’ve loved have suffered from invisible illnesses–depression and anxiety. But whilst I was often anxious, I never had anxiety as a illness. Or at least that’s what I told myself. If I was walking, talking and cooking for my children, I could not be ill–by definition.

And then the doctor said, “I’m signing you off for four months. Depression and severe anxiety,” to which I stared blankly at him, shook my head and I replied,

“But I can still cook.”

I can also talk, run the household and write. What I can’t do, is work. And it was checked by the doctor with a cross… ‘completely impaired.’

There’s a relief that comes with such a diagnosis. But also a glimpse of the fatality that living in our society provides. It’s a label which means you can be put in the box, ‘no longer of any use to society’. And the purpose of getting well is to be of use to society because the machine, the machine must be fed. That is the way of things in the system we have built. And then I realised that my response was a plea. Don’t throw me out on the rubbish heap, I can still cook!

Afterwards I travelled back to my home. One bus, one tram, one ferry ride. See, I thought I can walk as well as cook. But I wondered how it had got to such a point that I felt my existence was only equated to whether I was able to move about enough to be able to assemble ingredients in a pan for other people.

I thought there were reasons why I felt a bit under the weather, as we used to call it. But during the appointment with a state funded therapist told me the next day–the election of a fascist misogynist in a foreign country, the racism in my own home country starkly revealed following Brexit, the fall world democracy as we know it and the increasing prevalence of narcissism and exploitation as a world order–are not valid reasons. He indicated that the real reason was that I should have better boundaries. I should not be affected by politics to the extent that I am. I should be impervious to the outpouring of pain slashing its way through our psyche. No righteous comeback on his male, white privilege sprung to my lips. But I know–if only validated by my small skewed sample of online friends–that I am not alone in my horror. The society that has been revealed by world events is not one which wants a person like me to survive.

This world built me without boundaries, brought me up to accept authority, to obey and to work in the system. I was preprogrammed to play my docile part because they had already a built in self-destruct button which would activate the moment I rebelled. At the moment I stopped tolerating the intolerable. At the moment I saw reality for what it really was. It was at this moment that I no longer became of use to our society. The moment I refused any longer to accept that my self-worth was equivalent to what I could contribute to the system. But the wheels which put me down, also keep me from rising in any other more glorious form.

“You need longer term rehabilitation than I can provide,” he said after an hour in which I talked to him. During which I told him of the horror. “I’ll refer you to the psychiatry department. They do treatment for PTSD which might help.”

I access the treatment as part of my privilege. They hope that I–a white woman–can be made to see sense, that I can take my place in society once more. But my various traumas are caused by trying to survive in this world. They have occured as I have been forced to tolerate the intolerable. They send red flags to my brain flashing danger, danger. I tried to warn others of the insanity and chaos that was coming. I saw the enormity of it, long before the election results were in. But those who were ensured continuity and riches by the system, didn’t listen. So I was left like Cassandra bleating horrific prophecies that no one save a few accept or even want to hear. Apparently that includes my therapist.

Many of the treatments I’ve read up so far include some sort of desensitization whether through medication or through therapy. They want to desensitize me to what’s going on. Presumably so that I can cope with the horror and still be able to function. To contribute to the world in the way they say is useful. They want to help me survive in a world which doesn’t want to hear my voice, which doesn’t want me to be fulfilled unless my fulfilment is earned through salary and taxes. I’ll take them up on the offer, but only because my survival is dependent on my ability to gain enough control over my pain to fight my way out.