Or, rather--here I am. I am in Rome, and I am in trouble. The goons of Depression and Loneliness have barged into my life again, and I just took my last Wellbutrin three days ago. There are more pills in my bottom drawer, but I don't want them. I want to be free of them forever. But I don't want Depression or Loneliness around, either, so I don't know what to do, and I'm spiraling in panic, like I always spiral when I don't know what to do. So what I do for tonight is reach for my most private notebook, which I keep next to my bed in case I'm ever in emergency trouble. I open it up. I find the first blank page. I write: "I need your help."
Then I wait. After a little while, a response comes, in my own handwriting:
I'm right here. What can I do for you?
And here recommences my strangest and most secret conversation.
Here, in this most private notebook, is where I talk to myself. I talk to that same voice I met that night on my bathroom floor when I first prayed to God in tears for help, when something (or somebody) had said, "Go back to bed, Liz." In the years since then, I've found that voice again in times of code-orange distress, and have learned that the best way for me to reach it is written conversation. I've been surprised to find that I can almost always access that voice, too, no matter how black my anguish may be. Even during the worst of suffering, that calm, compassionate, affectionate and infinitely wise voice (who is maybe me, or maybe not exactly me) is always available for a conversation on paper at any time of day or night.
I've decided to let myself off the hook from worrying that conversing with myself on paper means I'm a schizo. Maybe the voice I am reaching for is God, or maybe it's my Guru speaking through me, or maybe it's the angel who was assigned to my case, or maybe it's my Highest Self, or maybe it is indeed just a construct of my subconscious, invented in order to protect me from my own torment. Saint Teresa called such divine internal voices "locutions"--words from the supernatural that enter the mind spontaneously, translated into your own language and offering you heavenly consolation. I do know what Freud would have said about such spiritual consolations, of course--that they are irrational and "deserve no trust. Experience teaches us that the world is no nursery." I agree--the world isn't a nursery. But the very fact that this world is so challenging is exactly why you sometimes must reach out of its jurisdiction for help, appealing to a higher authority in order to find your comfort.
At the beginning of my spiritual experiment, I didn't always have such faith in this internal voice of wisdom. I remember once reaching for my private notebook in a bitter fury of rage and sorrow, and scrawling a message to my inner voice--to my divine interior comfort--that took up an entire page of capital letters:
"I DO NOT FUCKING BELIEVE IN YOU!!!!!!!!"
After a moment, still breathing heavily, I felt a clear pinpoint of light ignite within me, and then I found myself writing this amused and ever-calm reply:
Who are you talking to, then?
I haven't doubted its existence again since. So tonight I reach for that voice again. This is the first time I've done this since I came to Italy. What I write in my journal tonight is that I am weak and full of fear. I explain that Depression and Loneliness have shown up, and
I'm scared they will never leave. I say that I don't want to take the drugs anymore, but I'm frightened I will have to. I'm terrified that I will never really pull my life together.
In response, somewhere from within me, rises a now-familiar presence, offering me all the certainties I have always wished another person would say to me when I was troubled. This is what I find myself writing to myself on the page:
I'm here. I love you. I don't care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it--I will love you through that, as well. If you don't need the medication, I will love you, too. There's nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.
Tonight, this strange interior gesture of friendship--the lending of a hand from me to myself when nobody else is around to offer solace--reminds me of something that happened to me once in New York City. I walked into an office building one afternoon in hurry, dashed into the waiting elevator. As I rushed in, I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in a security mirror's reflection. In that moment my brain did an odd thing--it fired off this split-second message: "Hey! You know her! That's a friend of yours!" And I actually ran forward toward my own reflection with a smile, ready to welcome that girl whose name I had lost but whose face was so familiar. In a flash instant, of course, I realized my mistake and laughed in embarrassment at my almost doglike confusion over how a mirror works. But for some reason that incident comes to mind again tonight during my sadness in Rome, and I find myself writing this comforting reminder at the bottom of the page:
Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.
I fall asleep holding my notebook pressed against my chest, open to this most recent
assurance. In the morning when I wake up, I can still smell a faint trace of Depression's lingering smoke, but he himself is nowhere to be seen. Somewhere during the night, he got up and left. And his buddy Loneliness beat it, too.