Editor’s Note: Connie Kinsey’s essay is ekphrastic. It’s a vivid description of a work of art, its meaning expanded through her imagining. The art is the painting La Panthère Noire des Buttes-Chaumont, (The Black Panther of Buttes-Chaumont) by artist Kinga Katanics. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a Paris park.
I know that look. The look on the woman’s face. Part contentment and part ennui. Where the fear of missing out merges with the joy of missing out. I have been living in that state of cognitive dissonance. I haven’t been able to write. The Black Panther lays heavy on her lap. Her surroundings are more orderly than mine. Aesthetically pleasing. The stalks of wheat and the potted plant bring the outside into her world.
The days of COVID-19 have been hard on me. My psychiatrist, Stacy, says I’m depressed. I argue with her. I don’t feel depressed. I am not sad. I have spent periods of my life depressed. When it gets bad, I refer to it as The Pit. The Pit is awful. I will do anything to avoid it.
I have not been in The Pit. But Stacy gives me a list to check off, and I check the boxes: Never, Sometimes, Often, Always. There’s no point in seeing a shrink if you are not honest. For much of the criteria, I check “often” or “always.”
My therapist Tracy and I talk about things too: My filthy house. My shopping habits. My ability or inability to write. It’s a tell. As long as I can write about it all, I am coping. If I’m not writing, I’m not coping.
Tracy says, “What does Stacy say?”
I say, “Stacy says I’m depressed.”
I am not depressed. I am just inert, like the makeup I wear.
It is mineral makeup: ground-up rocks. I have sensitive skin, and most brand-name cosmetics irritate it—acne, rashes, hot red flushes, itching. I wear ground-up rocks because they are chemically inert. The makeup lays on my skin and melds with my skin’s oils. When I bother, I look pretty good.
I don’t bother much these days while I am working from home. It’s been days since I’ve even brushed my hair. Stacy says I’m depressed. I think I am just inert—ground up by life—and it’s wearing on me, settling on my easily-irritated psyche. I think I’m doing pretty well given all the circumstances. Maybe I just need to bring the outside world in.
I’ve always been honest about my mental illness. It runs in my family, and it ran all through me before I medicated it in the early 90s. Stacy has adjusted my medications—added two new ones.
I am dissatisfied with the state of my house and body. Like many, I am carrying COVID pounds. If I had small children, CPS would take them. My house is a disaster.
I had COVID, and then I had long COVID. For a year, I did little more than sleep. I was easily fatigued, and things like doing laundry and vacuuming fell away from my to-do list. I live alone and did only what was necessary. I wrote some, but less and less. It took energy I didn’t have.
But I was not dissatisfied at my core. I told myself I should be unhappy and fretted about not feeling what I should feel. I was sick but also content. Content to simply exist for a while. Almost exactly a year to the date of my diagnosis, it was over. I had energy. I could do things. I could walk more than a few feet without gasping for oxygen.
I started writing again. I look at the house in disgust. I vow to start a diet soon. But I don’t clean, and I continue to eat junk food at my desk as I write. Cheez-Its and chips. Chocolate.
It’s been a brutal decade for me—bad news upon bad news upon bad news. Stacy says I’m depressed. I think I have coped rather well. Oh sure, I have squandered money with online shopping and whatnot. My house is a mess. I haven’t brushed my hair in days, but I’m content in a way I don’t have words for. After not writing for most of the pandemic, not anything to speak of, these days, I am prolific.
There’s joy in creating content. Spinning and shaping words. Immersed in the pixels on my screen. This week I have submitted things for publication, and already the rejections are rolling in. I enjoy even the rejections. The comments have been kind and positive. “Just not a good fit for us.” If I begin to question my worth, I look at my framed rejection from The Paris Review. They wanted to see more of my work. Perhaps I will find the words.
That’s it: I’m just not a good fit for my world right now. Like the Black Panther, I am too big for my surroundings. After a year of nothing, this feels good.
I will get to the house. I will restore the garden. I will get the dogs to the groomer. I will get to the outside. I will tackle the daunting to-do list, but first, I will write some more. Maybe I’ll write a lot. My writing life needs flexibility right now. The Black Panther needs to sprawl.
On my next visit, I tell Stacy that I think she is wrong. Again. But she says, “You are writing again! Proof that the new meds are working.”
Perhaps. Perhaps I needed to be inert to protect myself.
The Black Panther is tamed and stretched out. The woman is calm. There is peace. This is not The Pit. I have been inert, but I am beginning to react. Soon, I will bring the outside in.