Woolf speaks generally about the women of her time in A Room of One’s Own, but still the personal circumstances of her own inner experiences, the illnesses that linger, the madness. Mrs Dalloway, after all, is hardly an affirmation of the bourgeois life, in which all women may take a small amount of charge and choose to buy the flowers themselves. Septimus Smith has far more existential decisions to make, but still this man and this woman share the same city, the same world, if not the same rooms. Reading biographical details into the work is perhaps too easily done, but Dalloway and Smith nonetheless feel like two sides of the same coin, with Woolf an embodied synthesis of the two. Both of the characters’ lives are defined by politics, dramas of the heart and mind, each predisposed to falls from grace. But one is protected, the other traumatised and more acutely at risk. Their lives are set against each other. The truth for so many, particularly Woolf herself, is that these dialectically opposed experiences are more often than not intensely entwined.
Kate Zambreno on Mrs Dalloway:
all the characters are at risk of slipping on the surface of sanity, some are able to prevent the fall, to keep themselves upright. The most privileged characters of the novel are less likely to be viewed as mad, even if they have dark nights of the soul. The traditional wife and the solider of the lower class are the most susceptible to being pathologized.
Later, a further aside:
… shell shock (the masculine term for hysteria, soldiers coming home from WWI and jumping out of windows, like Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway).
I’m struggling to care about writing anymore, or anything for that matter. I’m doing this to myself no doubt, drinking too much. I want the feeling that the zopiclone gives me constantly.
I’m also isolating myself. I don’t know how to feel, and this unknowing has led to a real breakdown in communication. I feel like I am constantly disparaging myself for this and giving into a feeling that no one would want to spend time with someone so reckless and volatile, so impulsive and unstable; someone so prone to fluctuations in mood. “It’s not your fault.” That’s true; it’s not. But I have a hard enough time spending time with myself, forced to perpetually play The Generation Game with a revolving conveyor belt of alter-egos. I am loved, but I love in return, and wish not to put loved ones through the strain of my own instability.
I flick absentmindedly through A Thousand Plateaus, eventually turning to the index to look up the various sections on becoming. Woolf remains on my mind.
It is perhaps the special situation of women in relation to the man-standard that accounts for the fact that becomings, being minoritarian, always pass through a becoming-woman.
Mrs Dalloway may be the perfect encapsulation of Deleuzoguattarian becoming in this regard; the two sides of the coin of madness. Becoming, they write, implies “two simultaneous movements, one by which a term (the subject) is withdrawn from the majority, and another by which a term (the medium or agent) rises up from the minority.” Dalloway as agent; Smith as subject.
Every time the nurses visit they ask me how the last few days have been and, more often than not, I struggle to string together a narrative from memory alone. Something is happening, changes are occurring, but I’m not remembering them, I’m not dreaming them, I am not sorting them within the ruinous architecture of my own fractured unconscious.
“Becoming is an antimemory“, Deleuze and Guattari write.
I take another cocktail of substances I know I shouldn’t mix. A zopiclone and Nytol and alcohol high, all on an empty stomach, is appropriately dreamy. Pissing makes me laugh. But the next day I learn that Nytol is no substitute for zopiclone, which is legally a controlled substance, not an over-the-counter herbal remedy. (The active ingredient in Nytol being dry Valerian root extract.)
Like many herbal remedies, overdose achieves little other than nausea. In a sickly daze, I bail on a conversation with friends bumped into at a local bar, knocking my drink over as I go, and disappear to another friend’s house, a safer haven. I feel like giving into the lure of sleep and lie down on their couch, then almost immediately get up to vomit. Back to the couch, then back to the bathroom. I vomit mostly cheap whiskey but feel better for it. A sobering expulsion.
We talk, laugh; I forget, go home. I sleep poorly despite the cocktail of sleeping aids, prescribed and otherwise, in my system. I wake up feeling like my stomach is full of rocks. I’m unsure if this is a purely physical nausea or an emotional one also. In bed, a frank and painful conversation over WhatsApp with someone I am sleeping with, only just beginning to get to know, trying to do what’s right but feels wrong, insisting on a flailing grasp at reason over desire.
I feel like I am in no place to get to know anyone right now. Not really. I feel newly capable of being liked, being loved, but an emotional instability makes for a cruel and malformed reciprocity. Who can hope to love another whilst feeling incapable of loving oneself? A cliche made abject as my life resolves around the wrong kinds of sleep: sleeping around, abusing sleep meds, struggling to get any of the actual sleep my body needs.
Today I would like to propose the principle explanation for a divergent attitude: I’m afraid… My approach is that of a sick man, or at least of a breathless, exhausted man…
The search for truth is not my strong suit (above all, I mean the phraseology that represents it). And I should put this forward: more than truth, it is fear that I want and that I am seeking: that which opens a dizzying fall, that which attains the unlimited possibility of thought.
It’s been a few years since I read Bataille’s Summa Atheologica, but it resonates today in a new way, perhaps more profoundly than when I first read the third volume, On Nietzsche, in late 2016.
Today I turn to the second volume, Guilty, its title turning over and around in my mind for some time. My depressions have often manifested as guilt, projected onto one person or another, as if I feel I must compulsively confess crimes not committed, eaten alive by an impulse to tell a truth I do not know. “This is how I feel, this is my inner experience. If I let you into it, would you punish me? Hate me? Leave me?”
I feel like I must turn away from this guilt, irrational and self-deprecating, but in turn find myself turning away from confession, from communication. I try to comprehend a new sexual hunger and its jarring with my complete lack of any other kind of appetite. Bataille: “I laugh at my own hunger, I don’t want to eat anything, I would rather be eaten.”
There is a dreadful truth found in the relationships that have blossomed and wilted with breakneck speed in recent weeks. I stagger into intense connections, and within each there is a breaking point, a point of fracture, where the other person experiences the deep pain and shock of attempts on my own life, made when it seems everyone is having a nice time. Each attempt is botched or interrupted. I feel more and more guilt as relationships break apart on the rocks of a jagged sense of self, as if I am spreading my own sickness, but each time the response is always the same: what terrifies is that they see something of themselves in me. (Past selves, thankfully.)
“Communication demands a defect, a ‘fault'”, Bataille writes. “It enters, like death, through a chink in the armour. It demands a coincidence of lacerations, in myself and in the other.” Wounds attract, congeal in intensity, but to lay one over the other is both the most affirming thrill and the most reckless violence. It is always combustive; the mixture of bodily fluids into a highly reactive compound. The love between two people, in this sense, can signify “that they do not see their being in one another, but their wound, and the need to be lost: there is no greater desire than that of a wounded person for another wound.” No truth, only fear.
I start reading Durrell’s The Black Book, wondering about the black book I am now writing in, having already filled one bound in green. I bought two packs of paracetamol before coming here, to the Tyne Bar, and take four. Eight seems to be the danger point. Some websites say ten. I take sixteen. I feel calm as I begin this game of chicken with myself, not so much full of despair as impulsive and exhausted. There is a poetry to taking so much pain medication, as if I must take enough to numb the insurmountable. There is so much work left to do and I feel depleted of all energy to engage with it. Just this pen, this notebook, and the idea of fading away with Durrell echoing around my head like a linguistic fever.
After the overdose on paracetamol, I stagger and answer a call from a concerned friend, having turned my phone off for a few hours, for no reason other than to disappear into a world without connection. We spend six hours in A&E at the RVI. After a barrage of tests, good news: liver undamaged. I have another conversation with the psychiatric liaison team that feels somewhat productive, if harrowing. “Paracetamol overdose isn’t quick, you know,” the nurse says. “I’ve seen it. It takes days and it is excruciating. It is no way to go.” In my ignorance, I presumed I’d just fade away. Not so.
A conversation is had about the possibility of bipolar disorder but I am not present for it.