“When raccoons are too tired to make our nests livable, we don’t beat ourselves up. We get creative. You’d be amazed how much your husband will get done for the promise of sexual favours.” – Critter, on alternative home economics for depressed wives.
“I’m too tired to chat today, Critter;” I say to my imaginary raccoon.
She looks at me and nods.
“I understand,” she says. “Your eyebags have eyebags.”
“Can I just ramble a bit,” I ask; “and stroke your back while I try to untangle my thoughts?”
“Sure,” Critter says, then she smiles and leaps onto my lap. She turns in a circle and nestles herself into cosy ball like a cat, then closes her eyes and says,
I chuckle and bury my fingers in her dust-coloured coat, making little windrow trails along her back. Then I take a breath and begin putting my ache into words.
“I want to comfort myself about being depressed in the springtime,” I explain. “and encourage anyone else who is struggling with the fact that they’re struggling.”
“Mmm-hmm…” Critter hums, as she relaxes into listening mode. I scratch around her ears and let my thoughts trickle out.
“I’m beat-down right now,” I say; “and it hurts because I was counting on spring to perk me up. I had held my breath through the drear of winter and budgeted my blood oxygen to last exactly this long.
“I desperately need to inhale again, but I can’t, because spring didn’t bring relief.
“I’m still emotionally underwater, and to my intense frustration, I’ve sunk deeper than I was a month ago. My kids and I have been sick, my work has ground to a halt, and all of the goals that prop up my self-esteem have fallen into an overwhelming heap of pressure and failure.
“I just need some sleep. And a break. And a week of free nannying, housekeeping, and meal delivery. I just need the universe to line up in the most perfect way so I can write again, and move, and do all of the things that charge me up.
“I feel like the liquefied kiwis at the bottom of our fruit bowl. I watch myself from the outside as I yell at my kids, get stuck on my work, and smother in the filthy avalanche of dishes, laundry, and toys. I am disgusted. And deeply disappointed.
“My ears and brain are filled with my silent screams of rage, and everything seems more maddening than it can possibly be.
“I hate myself right now, and I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t hold off the voice in my head that says that I’m the laziest, weakest, least competent human being on the planet.”
Critter cracks an eye and appraises me.
“What would you say if someone told you they felt that way?” she asks.
I frown as I think about it.
“I would tell them I understand, ” I answer; “But honestly, I don’t know anyone who is this far behind the eight-ball. Everyone I know is a functional adult. It would be easy to point out how well they are doing and how strong they are.”
“Would it?” Critter asks. “I’m not so sure. I mean, a raccoon would have no trouble accepting your empathy and comfort. We’re practical and sage like that,” she says with a wink. “We don’t waste time on false modesty.”
“But humans are weird,” she continues. “You people seem to be magnetically drawn to extreme opinions of yourself; you either think you’re the best, or the worst, and you have trouble tolerating the states in between when you have to struggle without validation.”
I scratch the back of my head as I digest the observations of my guiding rodent.
“I think you’re right,” I say finally. “Other people probably do feel this way. And my shitty self-esteem is just another side of my insecure ego.
“I can picture that, but I’m not sure how to get around it. I’m choking on dismay about all the things I can’t win at right now. I want to let it go, but I can’t! I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do.” I sigh look away from Critter’s olive-green eyes to wipe a hopeless tear from mine.
Critter pats my hand with her dainty black paw.
“You don’t have to perform a feat of strength,” she says warmly. “But you DO need to do something. It can be anything, but it has to nourish the part of you that is starving.”
I smile and shake my head.
“Are you going to say I should eat some garbage?” I chuckle. “Or is this another talk about masturbation?”
“That’s up to you,” she says. “What do you need right now? Why are you so miserable?”
I breathe deep and sigh slowly as I try to feel the answer to Critter’s question.
What do I need right now?
I put my hand over my heart, where the depression aches like a slab of lead, and I listen.
After a minute or two, I look up at my furry friend.
“I need more time,” I state. “Somehow, I need to manufacture an easier schedule so I can do the jobs that make me feel good, and get help with the jobs that I hate.”
“Like what?” Critter asks.
“Well, for one thing, I need to push back my timelines for writing. My sick kids have thrown me so far off-schedule that I’m paralysed with shame.
“I need to chat with my editors and see if I can loosen the noose a bit. It would feel amazing to relax and pump out some sensical lines.”
“Good,” Critter says. “What else?”
“The other two things that are giving me heartburn are the filthy house and the landslide of clutter in every square foot. I desperately want to hire a housekeeper and a professional organiser.”
Critter tilts her head.
“That sounds fun,” she says, “but expensive.”
“Yeah, it’s not in the budget right now. I have to get working first. And I can’t scale up my work until I get a steady run with healthy kids so I can pawn them off at school and daycare.”
“If hiring a cleaner and organiser isn’t realistic, then how does it help you?” she asks.
I run my fingers through my hair.
“I guess it just feels good to know what I want,” I say. “There’s something about acknowledging my end-game that helps me feel more patient about working up to it.”
“And it helps me let go of the fact that I can’t do it all right now,” I add. “Until I come up with a few energetic hours, we’re going to have cope with the filth. We can cover the sticky spots on the floor with paper towels so our socks don’t get ripped off when we walk past.”
Critter crinkles her nose.
“Wow,” she says. “You really do need help with the housework.”
“I’m not even kidding,” I say. “But until I have the energy or the money to deal with it, I’m going to have to tolerate it.”
“You definitely need to practice living with the grubby stuff,” she says. “Don’t let it stick to your fur so bad.”
“Patience is not my strength,” I admit. “But I’m working on it.”
Critter looks at me and rests her cheek on her fist.
“You’re going to be okay,” she pronounces. “You just need to get through this part of your story when everything is going wrong. Take a few baby steps and hang onto faith that things will get better.”
Then she adds with a wicked grin;
“And it never hurts to offer your husband sexual favours for helping out around the house. That’s what raccoons call win-win home economics.”