Category: memoirs

{ mutagene }

it’s one of those sundays, commuting.
it’s 6:30pm as i exit the subway train, and then hop onto the escalator, waiting for this massive metallic tongue to take me up to the trains platform. meanwhile my mind wanders…
the walls are filled with tile mosaics : slate-grey, blue and white dots running on the walls. thousands of them, maybe millions.
as i observe their patterns, i can’t help but ask myself : how many antidepressants did my mother and my grandmother, and all my other relatives took in their entire life ? thousands of them ? maybe millions ? could all of them fit onto those walls ? (probably not)
suddenly, i’m at the top of the escalator, and everybody’s rushing to their next destination. i walk among the crowd, still trying to figure out how it all began…
how depression fell in love with my personal history.

even though this has been a private joke between me & myself, i’ve always knew that dealing with anxiety & despair had been a family sport for as long as i can remember.
on my mother side, several generations of both strong & anxious women have passed this condition onto the next. on my father side, melancholy struck the ancestors tree like a silent lightning, quite a long time ago or so it seems.
a family legend even tells that madness used to knock on our (already) massive wooden door once or twice…
what DNA could not transfer onto the next branch, common family lore (or should i say dolor?) passed it on to the next branchlet. what a relief to know that our legacy was never to be lost !

ever since i was a kid, i got used to see our family medicine cupboard filled with pills, tabs, drops and stuff i knew the adults administrated themselves, on a more or less regular basis.
my grandma of my mother side was clearly addicted to benzodiazepines. and so, every time the doctor came to visit her (whether she was sick or pretended to be) the prescription of clorazepate he handed her clearly looked like the Holy Grail.

i remember, once, a bottle fell open on the floor and she hurried to get the pills all back together. she even counted them. she didn’t look like a mad woman to me, but rather like a gold panner whose rocks almost escaped the pan. even then, she cared after me and was cautious that i never swallow or (worse) hide the pills.
even as a kid, i never considered those pills as candies for grown-ups, but saw them for what they were: a relief for the anxiety, agoraphobia, and vertigo my grandma used to experience throughout her whole life.

my mother, on the other side, took them mostly to avoid being excessively edgy or angry, and skipping a pill for one day never seemed to be an option.
i figured it was all a dark family business: my grandma must have handed some pills to her in a desperate hour of need, and from that moment, my mom became addicted too, reassured i guessed, that having those kind of crutches would definitely help her out through all of the bad moments she’d pass through.
she has deliberately slowed down her consumption through the years, switching to a lesser shitty benzo 20 years ago, and she even managed to stop taking them for a while (for a while) and then, this comforting safety net called her back, in her darkest times of need.

on my father side, well… let’s say we also got a pretty nice panorama dealing with mood disorder, anxiety state… and that damned affection called melancholy by the ancient greeks and my dear romantic poets.
my dad went through some pretty nasty sh*tstorms throughout his life. most of them he could have avoided, but he didn’t. and thus he tried some antineurotic pills once or twice, to finally discover smoking pot seemed to be working for him. // fun fact: my dad always told me he’d kill me if i was to ever touch drugs. and so did my mother. //
as a matter of fact, i never took synthetic drugs. i tried mushrooms once, and usually smoked pot, like most of my friends. never touched LSD, MDMA, or sniffed cocaine and all the other synthetic drugs out there (tbh no regrets). even at parties, concerts and going on clubbing. and i’m able to count my dead-drunk nights on the fingers of one hand.
let’s say my brain seems to produce enough imagination trips, while fulling a high quota of energy for me to burn (how my cortex does what it does is still a mystery, even to myself).

when i was a teenager, i’d never thought DNA was responsible for my chronic insomnia nor the state of deep melancholy i’d experienced on a very regular basis.
with adolescence came the usual package after all : puberty, teenage angst, self-esteem crash, identity crisis, and so forth.
but no one ever tells you that melancholy-driven children will probably evolve into melancholic-passive-aggressive-teens, and later into hardcore-melancholic adults.
what may seems like a mere poetic mood to some, can drastically become way less simple to live with when you’re afflicted with it.

by the time i was 13, spleen & ideal weren’t just some random thoughts a french poet had written while being high on opium.
i felt there was more than just being under the influence of a tender schizophrenic sadness/happiness combo, always jumping from one quick emotional response to another (another way to spell violent mood swings).
with melancholy came creativity though. and when creativity was distant, then the introvert sadness came to sit with me, and if sadness & tears weren’t available, anger came to pay me a visit, rolling its thunder & waves when i least expected it.

of course, adolescence is all about those fierce and savage emotions you can barely control. but one day or another, on the path of self-construction, there comes the challenge of social interactions, and how you’ll evolve or not, through a clique/a band. that’s where (usually) some of these emotions begin to temper by themselves, or at least find an echo in other people (friends) who are struggling, just like you, to make their own way into this harsh reality called the world.
i became friends with teenagers who had badass personalities, and whom even endured some pretty hard emotional hiccups. some of them even had parents under the influence of antidepressants too.
but except 2 or 3 stray dogs, all became functional adults who did not let their emotions overwhelmed them anytime & anywhere. they became the responsible & balanced type of regular people (though we all know everybody’s at war inside themselves).

least i can say is that becoming an adult has been quite a ride, and still is, actually (do we ever get to that final stage anyway ? i guess some of us won’t ever. and maybe that’s not so bad, after all…)
most of my friends know me as a cheerful and fun person, and most of them enjoy my Peter-Pan syndrome : never seem to age, never cease to be curious, always trust your heart & guts, and never take things too seriously.
but most of them never got to see the rest, the not so funny side, the harsh irony, sourness, dark impulses, anger, sadness and all the palette of hardened emotions that lay inside me, crawled up in some shadow corners of mine.
most of us humans do not show that kind of things anyway, right ?
raw emotions are rarely worn as shields, they’re not welcome, almost unacceptable in our civilized society. all lies in measure, balance, and how well we can behave with others, wear nice social masks and play nice with our peers. it’s about how deep we can hide our flaws from everyone and appear sane & safe.
identity seems best packaged in a lovely quiet box, the less the oversharing of our personal hidden time bombs of raw emotions, the better.

i was diagnosed with hypomania a few months after coming back from my last trip to Japan. 3 months, including 5 weeks of backpacking doing the 88 temples of Shikoku pilgrimage. that’s how much it took me to finally get to know myself a bit better, to force myself to look into one direction : my own.
to begin to see me as i truly was : uncommonly energetic, imperfectly balanced, emotionally raw, sometimes bad-tempered, curious & guts-driven, impulsive AF, mystic, introvert/extrovert in a schizophrenic way, and prone to always choose adventure/risk over reason in 80% of the time, while looking like a total responsible person wearing her best smile.
my parents had a hard time dealing with all this, and so did my best friends and boyfriends through the years, though most of them thought: “well, she’s the artistic type so it must be normal stuff she’s going through after all, she’s just a natural-born entertainer.”
later on, i found out my mom was both the fatalist & optimistic type but the fierce introvert of the family, while my father was the melancholic/pro-active/impulsive/risk-taker type (DNA has sometimes a sick sense of humor, right ?).

oddly enough, being able to put a word on my “condition” was soothing, after having been categorized as sad AF/probably highly depressive/bipolar so many times through the years by others, but also by myself. hypomania may just sounds like a psychopathology concept, a not-so-gratifying term for some, but for me it was a multi-colored & multi-shaped box i could finally fit in (and usually i’m pretty much the “i hate labels” type).

year after yeay, it became clear that identifying the symptoms of what laid inside of me became my favorite scavenger hunt and theme of analysis. like peeling an extraterrestrial orange… skin after skin, after skin.
after all, there was more than enough to do with: the turbulences, the roughness, the high & lows, and all the positive aspects that came with it : the energy that seemed to increase tenfold, the days that felt “this so great !”, even the lesser ones. my boat rocked & rocked & jammed to a beat i never quite listened that close before. all the subtleties of this very fabric that composed me, a world i knew almost nothing about, except the edges.
i always felt some of my perceptions were better left unsaid, untouched, veiled. they felt more secure behind high walls (mine), the risk being that they’d be too much to handle, not for me, but for anyone around.
(and alas ! i tried 3 times and 3 times… well, let’s say nobody could understand or at least not categorized me as the looney bin type).
so my usual technique of workaround was to pretend i could contain everything inside of me, like a time bomb waiting to explode, and that i’d be strong enough not to impose the detonation to others but myself. i truly felt this was the best way to manage the “problem” (which i later learnt wasn’t a problem at all, just my identity).
my therapist once told me the only harm done was to myself, and myself only. took me long enough to admit that what she said was true. and besides, in my heart i knew right from the start i wasn’t the guardian of a time bomb, but more of an atomic weapon.

when our family doc diagnosed hypomania, it was one of my darkest moment. i had came back from Japan and the journey of the pilgrimage got me, for one year or so, in a very (very) euphoric mood. it really felt like i was barely touching the ground with my feet. i was feeling so high, so positive, everything seemed so easy ! i became eager to talk to everybody and to make new friendly connections. i was doing tons of stuff, imagining new projects and new ways to share the streams of my newfound fountain of happiness.
but sadly, that kind of elation never lasts. i felt high on emotions and after the wave of exhilaration passed, came the darkness, and she didn’t came alone, but with anger.
the bomb inside me wasn’t ticking anymore and i had no time to duck nor cover, i never heard the blast, it was a silent one.
atomic i was, and atomic were the consequences. i had been arguing with my family for weeks, had shown signs of irritability, mania, anger, i became delusional and crying curled up in my bed became a routine. i felt trapped, tired, misunderstood, hopeless, lonely as Hell , and stuck in a sad place where i thought i’d never get out. like a stranger on an alien planet, not fit for this world that could never understand nor nurse me ever again.

after a few rounds of self-inflicted mental knock-downs, i finally decided to consult my family doc. he knew me since i was a child, so he saw right away something was off with me. after we talked about what i was experiencing and the option of going back to therapy, he said depression was a long-running thing in my family and that i shouldn’t opt out the fact that i may need some crutches too, even for a little while. it also meant caring more after myself, and less about the people i loved and tried to protect all the time.

he was kind and very comforting, said i had been strong enough to overcome all sorts of things in my family history, but somehow i was probably exploding because i wasn’t listening to myself closely enough.
i wasn’t where i was supposed to be and this increased the spectrum of everything i could feel. being oversensitive makes you break sometimes and that’s ok, but hurting like that wasn’t the usual stuff, he said.
everything i felt was heightened because that’s how i was built, and that was ok to be that intense, but i should understand that intense personas won’t break like regular people: they break harder, usually hurting the ones they love most in the process.

after we went through all the symptoms i was experiencing, together once again, he became a bit emotional and told me he couldn’t do more than to give me a prescription for an antipsychotic drug that would relieve me effectively.

the year was 2009. a few weeks later, i moved to a new place and put some hundreds of kms between me and my family, and life began to slowly bloom again.

10 years later, i may sound like a megalomaniac, but i’m pretty happy i never used the antipsychotics pills he prescribed me back then.
it took me quite some years to finally look after myself, to realize nothing was wrong with me, just not heard enough, nothing was off-balanced, just not embraced like it should.

i won’t add my pills of pain & depression to the family walls.
i’ll paint them with my own kind of color, the blue and fire kind.
because that’s how i found my place and true nature among this legacy :
i may be driven by spleen & ideal, melancholy may be my war song, but i burn bright and intensely, because i’m born and born again each time the tides of my emotions swallow me.
i’m a phoenix, and that’s the bird i’m going to carve as a coat of arms, on my heavy family doors.

{ memoirs } Eux

“ça t’arrive de penser Les connaître au point de savoir exactement quel est le timbre de Leurs voix ? ou t’attendre à les croiser dans la rue à tout moment ?”

we were 13-14 yrs old, this girl was in my class and she had been writing stuff since she was 9, she told me later. i feared her a bit, and i guess all the other kids too: she was tall and foreign, and one of the best students of this year of junior high.
one day, she came by and asked me something about the previous literature lesson we had, we talked a lot and came to appreciate each other. she was writing scary stories, and so was i. that’s how we became friends.

she was the first to hand me some of her writings. so i could tell her what my thoughts were about it. least i can say is that she had quite a mature handwriting, very arabesque-like and kind of too much sophisticated for a young girl of 14yrs old. she told me her handwriting was good because she had taken calligraphy lessons, and was also participating in writings competition, where she used to live before moving to my town.

and so, she was the first to introduce me to anne rice’s novels.
we were both thrilled to be vampires fanatics.
she told me she wrote novels about them: loved stories beyond the grave, drowned in historical places. she had quite the references and the style. we had passionate chats about how we saw the vampire icon and why it fascinated us. i remember she told me she knew her characters by heart and even loved them like they were real.
i was re-reading bram stocker’s dracula, watching nosferatu and all the hammer black&white movies i could rent feverishly on vhs at that time.
she had seen much more movies about that stuff and read so many things about vampires that i felt like a real newbie compared to her.

before meeting her, i hadn’t wrote a lot of vampire stuff yet. just a few pages. and my character building was lacking a lot of substance.
i was just trying to get better at writing scary novels, while imitating as much as possible stephen king’s style. (yep, the sky was clearly the limit for me at that time. and still is, i guess ; )
i had read for the 20th time at least, “le horla” from guy de maupassant (which still stands as one of my fav story of all time) and had decided to write a sequel.
i dashed the short novel off in a few hours, a couple of years earlier, and that was what i first gave her to read.
i was both thrilled & scared when i handed her the copy. she told me she’d be very critical if she didn’t liked it and that i was warned. i smiled anxiously.
after a few days, at school, she told me that my story was good and that i had to keep up. she had corrected my typos and gave me some tips to re-write some of my paragraphs. what a relief !

her prose was (of course !) so much better than mine. real mature, very well thought of. indeed her writings sounded like rice’s a lot, and the descriptions of the macabre love scenes were very detailed… i clearly remember having blushed while reading them. though i was used to read/watch some sex & gore in books/movies already, somehow what she depicted was way more realistic and romantic than i expected. and that, i wasn’t used to read (haha).

anyways, i was amazed of how she wrote and i told her right away.
she smiled and said that i was just a good audience, but i saw in her eyes that my compliment had reached her ego.
i had found only 2 or 3 typos, one paragraph that was a bit tad long, but nothing else i could criticized. her story wasn’t finished yet, she was aiming for a long novel, at least 200 pages.
(i wonder if she ever finished it).

one day, just a few months before the year ended and she was to move away again elsewhere with her parents, we had this very conversation :

“des fois t’as pas l’impression qu’ils sont vivants ? qu’ils existent ?
– comment ça ? parce qu’on les a créés ou parce qu’ils existaient avant nous ?
– non, parce qu’on les a créés, justement !

ça t’arrive pas de penser Les connaître au point de savoir exactement quel pourrait être le timbre de Leurs voix ? ça serait pas marrant de les croiser dans la rue, un jour ? tu imagines ?”

we laughed and it was fun while it lasted. sadly, we never talked again after she moved on with her family. she wrote me a letter just once, before leaving. it looked more of one of her character talking to someone than to me, or like a strange scene of her book, she seemed to have dismissed.

years later, i experienced something that reminded me of this very chat we had. i could never talk about that special “something” that happened, but once, someone i knew very well asked me what i truly felt about those very characters i created through the years.
i smiled and said :

“- They’ve saved me a lot of times from myself, and from others.
but They also tend to torment me too.
– why’s that ?
– because sometimes i can hear them in my sleep. talking to me.
– you know all their voices ?
– it’s funny, i do actually.
it’s even easier to imagine Them walking on earth, appearing among the crowd, while i’m in some random bar or place at night.
– your imagination can go that far ?
– somehow, yes. and further more…”

i don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse, to have that kind of imagination, to be able to create & see things that probably don’t exist for anyone else.
believe it or not, sometimes when i see Them suddenly popping-up somewhere into the night, Their translucent eyes locking into mine, They seem to slightly nod at me, before disappearing into thin air…

(…) tu imagines ?…”

indeed, i can.
and my life has never felt safer since then.

{ memoirs } about poetry

the first poetry i wrote was around 5 or 6yrs old.
it was about a little bird that came to sing love through a window.
this poem was accompanied by a drawing with a bird and giant flowers.

my grandpa (on my mother side) taught me many a thing, and at first it was how to read aloud and how to write a little, before even going to grade school.
he was the one who first introduced me to many a book and among them La Fontaine fables, and was very proud i could recite so many of the famous rhymes by the age of 6.
i knew by heart “Le Renard et le Corbeau”, which was my favorite of all fables. mainly because i had changed the final verse with a joke, and my grandfather was laughing his heart out every time i recited the final verses in front of some public (either it was family or friends).

sadly my grandpa did not live long enough to see me recite or write more awkward things.
he left too early, taken away by a rabid cancer, just before i turned 7.
his desk in the dining room, became both a sacred place and a treasure den for me. each time my grandmother wasn’t looking, i went to write or draw at his desk and steal some yellow paper and pens it contained.
somehow, i still have memory glimpses about me watching him writing from time to time, when i was little. he used to be so focused on what he was doing. just like at his work as a linotypist. and before that as a young journalist whom had left Paris when he was 20yrs old to follow his dreams. i later learnt that he loved police and thriller books, and even write some novels too (of all the stuff and novels he had written through the years, i still own one of them).

after my grandpa passed away, my mom stepped up to the plate and we spent hours reading books together and soon it became a tradition between us, for we did this from elementary school to junior high. we shared what we loved or hated most in the books i had to read for school, and so we exchanged our views on how well written or not things we read were, and also the poems we loved too.
one day, my schoolmaster told her i was sometimes writing poetry in class. others kids too and he encouraged them to. and that’s how i began following an optional class with some others kids and this particular teacher (whom also hosted the film photography class, which i’d be following 2 years later, turning 8).

my mom kept some of the poetry i have written at that time, in a small box.
of course it’s not Rimbaud, Verlaine or even my dear Lord Byron’s kind of poetry.
it talks mostly about birds (and for anyone who knows me, it won’t come as a shocker ;).

i then took poetry classes from elementary, then junior high, and even through high school.
apart from elementary, the poetry classes were orchestrated by our french literature teachers. the other kids that were attending those classes, usually i didn’t knew them or never socialized with them at school. the class was about 6 or 8 kids, most of them were what you might call nerds : kids who didn’t fit anywhere, whom seemed most of time astray or lost in the school yard, whom did not catch the eye of any boy or girl, and who seemed to be quite transparent throughout the year though they usually got good marks.
those kids had only one space of expression for an hour or so, per week, and poetry brought them together.

after a short introduction to the class, and showing what poets and works you loved the most, the exercises weren’t that easy and laid back.
learning how rhymes and french poetry worked mainly : metaphors, anaphora, chiasmus, alexandrine and crossed rhymes; the idea that poetry was not only there to describe the beauty or love, but also criticize and even be an act of rebellion throughout the ages.
those poetry classes gave me a sense of belonging to my fellow humans. because there we were, without the pressure of grades or other kids, and we could exist more and be as awkward as needed to express ourselves, without being judged or laughed at.
once the class was dismissed, we returned to our normal lives at school, with our tribes and friends and act like nothing ever happened.

i was around 9 when i first touched Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal in my mother’s library. it was intense and at first i could not read many of the things he wrote. it was a harsh and beautiful world, dark intricated words i could not assimilate as a kid. for some poems, it felt like being licked by fire, some words pierced & haunted me for a long time…

“Elle éblouit comme l’Aurore
Et console comme la Nuit…”

and so i went through all of her poetry books feverishly. most of them were about love or romantic poems. i remember reading Rimbaud and Aragon, and felt submerged by mixed feelings: both a high sense of beauty and a deep melancholy.
throughout the years, i carried on reading poetry. whether it was classic or contemporary, whether it was about love, about history or nature, or even erotica. poetry written by well-known authors or major unknowns, whether through books, blogs or even out there, in the living world, on some street walls.

it soothes me to read poems, because it’s like returning to a well-known place, a place where you can feel, ache, be loved, be totally naked and free at the same time.
like entering a delicate warm coat where your feelings can curl up and lay bare without being judged.

i still write poetry in a rather awkward style and i forever will.
because no matter how bad it is, poetry sings what prose can’t.
the truth.

(in order to overcome my nevrotic anxiety, i have create a depository of poems and stuff i wrote in some earlier past lives. a small place for me and strangers passing by. i hope the ghosts of those previous lives will remain silent. i can torture myself whenever i want to, i don’t need a memento mori nor permission to do so.)