Initially delivered as a reading by the author on Tuesday Feb 20 in Limerick at a public meeting entitled ‘Wrecking Your Head: Capitalism and Mental Health’
I wake up at 5am sharp with a dry mouth and a head full of arithmetic. My room is cosy, but its just that heat that causes my mind to sweat with the humidity of a clogging calculus. I’ve left the heater on overnight and I come close to grinding my teeth at the thought of how the bill is going to look. I check the headlines. The Dow Jones has dropped 1000 points while my radiator spat out warm air I can’t afford and so my mind heads for a bear market of its own. Shouting bodies crowd the surface of my brain. “Sell! Sell! Sell!” My sense of self worth is junk stock and a mistimed ATM withdrawal could collapse real estate bubbles in Shanghai.
My mental health market performs a gloomy overcorrection as I draw myself from bed. Brokers predict that the three sausage rolls I would normally consume at 11 in the morning, my first break in the day, are a luxury for better times. We shouldn’t have partied the experts say. We lost the run of ourselves trying to keep the winter cold at bay, they opine on the evening news of my thrumming frontal cortex. I pick a banana from the blackening bunch atop my fridge and pop it into my coat. After five hours of work I will impose my own personal austerity, imprisoned by the troika of my mind, hands and bank balance.
I walk to work and the cold world stirs slowly into the first tremors of life around me, a corpse arising out of a cryogenic freeze. The doors of the supermarket in sight I squeeze the last drops of freedom from my morning like a vampire holding a limp, pale body. The doors to hell have the words ‘Thanks for Shopping with Us’ emblazoned on them; Cerberus has automatic sensors and a rolling track and needs to be oiled and maintained every couple of months. My rheumy eyes take in the prison sentence laid out on a roster taped to the wall and appended with a smiley face in gel pen, . The forecasts are in for the morning, dopamine and serotonin are no longer being hauled out of the mines, happiness production is falling through the floor and the stock brokers of my mental state have one foot on the windowsill. The marbles-on-a-mirror sound of a thousand imaginary tie clips falling onto a footpath at the same time.
Marx spoke about the ‘instrumentalisation’ of labour, but today it’s not so much in the sense of being used as it is in the feeling of being played. Today I’m all high tension strings ready to snap and sluicing spit valves and bum notes as I put my little stock of mental energy into making sure the boutique shampoo is straight on the shelf. Cruelty free it says in floral lettering. It’s almost enough to make you laugh. From six in the morning to four in the afternoon I am instrumentalised; hands wringing around my neck, scratch plate gauged with gashes an inch deep, viciously out of time with the worlds metronome. Hell is a room full of people that could have made symphonies being carefully reminded that “Well the Organisation of Working Time Act is more of a suggestion really.
Even when its all over I only have a headache grey sliver of sunlight to snatch from the hands of my boss before I have to rest my body in preparation for my next early bird special of barked orders before sunrise. A quick browse in the ‘fees’ portion of counsellingdirectory.ie tells me once again that mental health services are not for the riff raff who squeeze the own brand toothpaste with a pliers to really get their money’s worth. The throbbing clickbait headlines offer me the solution of self care. Bath bombs? Guided meditations? I’ll take off brand nutella by the spoonful with an aperitif of all consuming shame if you wouldn’t mind. Might be more my speed.
I don’t need self-care. I need solidarity. I don’t need a winning customer service smile. I need autonomy and respect in the workplace. I need the labour movement and the factory council and the Black Panther’s free school breakfast. I need the mental health mass movement that storms the floors of the stock markets of our minds, grabs the financiers of fear and the angel investors of anxiety, strings them up, rifles through their pockets and brings the spoils to the common table. To get back on our feet, we need to stop going hand to mouth, and instead go hand in hand.