Silly Putty

In Life in Berlin by Louisa Leontiades

Five weeks after my boyfriend moves in with me, I discover that I am impossible to live with. Or rather that I cannot live possibly, comfortably with many people, especially not a romantic partner. I’m attracted to power, to strong personality, but can only be near it for small doses before it overpowers me. This is a problem because I’m also pregnant by him, and ideally we would need to live together in order to raise a child. I’m not saying it can’t be done in any other way, just that I’d rather not.

I am attracted to his nature, as he is to mine. But it has become increasingly clear that I cannot be myself when I am in constant proximity to others. Or rather that the self I am is so fluid that it adapts and changes to its surroundings. As the daughter of a narcissistic woman, and simply a woman in our oppressive society, I have been built and molded to please others, rather like silly putty whose purpose in life is to be squeezed to relieve others’ anxiety.

Silly putty is a solid liquid, you can bounce it, you can pull it, and under stress you can even break it. But when it’s left alone over long timescales it oozes. It relaxes into its liquid form. I need the time to ooze when I’ve been pulled, bounced and broken. I need to time to relax when I’ve been moulded or moulded myself to support others. I don’t think there is anyway I can change this now, only recognise what and who I am. And therefore what I need to do to relax–the only way is to be apart from all people. Only then can silly putty take the form it needs, to obtain respite.

Being pregnant means that my life is rather sober. Fun nights out are on hiatus, my hips wheeze their way through the day and the world is apart from me, bustling busily on a forwards trajectory whilst I sit still and watch it in a time lapse around me. I can fleetingly touch those who whistle past me. As I sit quietly, I can see a world in pain, people are angry and hurting, and lashing out. Because I am silly putty I can feel it, more acutely than ever before and what I want to do is to be myself–absorb it, revel in it, connect with it. Let it be what it is and let me be who I am, without denying it.

People don’t like that. Somehow they need other people to be happy if only not to be reminded of their own pain. Me, I want to ooze alone and let it wash over me, let it pickle my innards and become it. I want to lie in a darkened room listening to Portishead like I did when I was younger and just be my sad self. But I’m not allowed to do that. I am pulled to wear the mask, bounced to entertain guests, pushsed to socialise with parents and answer my children’s questions, cook their meals. I have to talk to my boyfriend about how we are to live with one another. How we are to cope with a new baby. And give each other space before the lack of it sinks me, and us with it.

Depression is known as a selfish disease. Certainly, I am not nearly as malleable as I have been in the past. I am not as attentive to my boyfriend, not as assiduous in my meal preparation, not as kind and patient as my family is used to me being. The shell which included social etiquette, consideration and interest in the outer world is broken.  I feel a desperate need to be intensely focused on being sad and I resent any attempt to pull me out of my business of being so. Still, I will go through the motions, but I will not be happy. I do not want to be happy because that is just another attempt to invalidate what I’m feeling. Being positive is not for me right now. It’s a strain which prevents me oozing. Even so for hours at a time, I show people a bright smile, I even laugh forgetting for seconds at a time how unhappy I am in my core. Because there’s no point in showing them my true self even if I could. They cannot fix it, they can only be unhappy that I am unhappy. So I am not selfish, rather it is the strain of being selfless which causes me more and more pain as I try to resist what I really feel.

Right now I’m sitting alone in a cafe where the young waitress meets my eyes with recognisable pain from the futility of life, from one woman to another. Our smiles don’t reach our eyes and I am grateful that she sees me for who I am. Brubeck plays on the soundtrack, and the old once glorious mirrored bar once chic now shabby comforts me. It has been allowed to crumble and is newly appreciated for what it is. It is a place I can be sad for a few hours until I return to reality where my concerned family, will ask me brightly whether I feel better now. I will answer yes because it’s in my nature and in part because it is true, but the betterness lies in the fact that I have found a place where I can be myself, where I can ooze my sadness in peace and away from them.