'You're all so relentlessly positive. I can't bear it.'
Mal, the appropriately named subject of William Sutton's short story, made an immediate impression on with the judges in this year's SMHAF Writing Awards...
“You,” said Mal, with a weary hatred, “are a prick. A bollock-faced arsewipe.” He picked his teeth, wiped a linseed on the mirror, and pointed. “Freak.” He gave a tight smile to his reflection. “That concludes the affirmations for today.”
Mal’s friends called him depressive. He belittled his achievements and minimised his abilities. He maligned life.
His friend Martha sighed. “You turn all the joys of life into shit.”
“No,” Mal insisted, “everything just is shit.”
“Why not embrace life? Approach every day as if it were your last. Rejoice in every gift today brings you: rain in your face, chance encounters in the street.”
“I don’t want to encounter anyone,” said Mal.
“Just try it,” she said. “Try for a month. If you don’t like it you can go back to your depressive ways.”
Mal got so sick of everyone’s positivity that he gave in and signed up for CBT. The only thing he found cheering in this cognitive behaviour therapy was Susi the therapist whom he fancied.
“Concentrate on something that’s disturbing you, right now,” she murmured, her voice velvet soft in the dimly lit clinic.
He concentrated on her cleavage, thrown into shadow by the doctor’s coat, which he found depressingly erotic.
“Let positive thoughts flow all around the problem.”
He shifted in his seat. By the third session, she advised him to try elsewhere. She found him creepy, he was sure of it. Just proved what a cunt he was. Reminded him of Nicola Jarvis in the playground at school, who’d told him to surprise her; when he lifted up her skirt at breaktime, she never spoke to him again.
He gave up CBT. They made him try NLP, EMDR, gestalt, ELO, ACDC, an alphabet of therapies. Every single one drove it home: he was a prick and an arsehole and nobody could like him.
When he reported this, his friends laughed as it were a joke. Maybe it was better if they took it that way. Halfway through his month of shame, as he liked to call it, he was running out of options. He rang round his friends to check on their latest ways of buoying themselves up. Penny was off to yoga class on a green tea high. Dave was in training to raise money for Malian orphans. Theresa was on her way to the loony bin – sorry, mental hospital – where she mentored a schizophrenic inmate. Charlotte was baking for a kids’ party; Charlie at Shiatsu massage class; Des helping his elderly grandmother to shop at the fucking farmers’ market.
“What’s up?” Martha gasped. She was in the middle of her singing class for single mothers.
“You’re all so relentlessly positive,” said Mal. “I can’t bear it.”
“Don’t be silly.” She laughed. In the background he could see hear a dissonant chorus of ‘Climb Every Mountain’ soldiering on without her. What a shit he was, distracting her from her work. “You’ve got your friends. You can’t be that bad a person if you got us.”
He snorted. His friends stuck by him, it was true, but probably because they had never managed to shrug him off since their days drinking cheap ale in the college bar, where he was barman and gave them free drinks after closing time, stirring vodka in the Boddingtons (Sweaty Bodies ™), gin into the lemonade (Gin Genie ®) and droplets of acid into the orange juice (Magic Johnsons ©). “That’s because I make you feel better about your own lives,” he said. “Because you know mine is always worse.”
There was no denying it. All his hippy happy friends, with their Yogaaa and Pilaaates, achieving equilibrium of body, mind and soul through Tai Xi Kung Zumba Boxercism, always telling themselves that every day in every way they became better and better. Mal, on the other hand, kept telling himself he was a cunt. Every day he lived it. He is a cunt. All this meditation, relaxation, analysation and fructification only prove to him that he is right to call himself a cunt because he:
– doesn’t answer his mother’s phone calls, or else puts her on speakerphone, plays solitaire and goes “Mmm-hmm” every five minutes
– watches daytime TV on his stinky sofa mainly to see if he fancies the weather girl
– keeps calling his ex-girlfriend not to harass her but because he has two Rebeccas in his phonebook
– has breath stinking of coffee or curry
– doesn’t do pillowcases
– never gives to Comic Relief
When the month was over, Mal breathed a sigh of relief and went back to his old ways. The only thing he kept up with the affirmations which he got off Susi, the therapist he fancied; only now he no longer had to make them nice, he changed them, to reflect his true feelings.
“Mal? You’re a cunt.”
He felt at home. Indeed his home, with its stinking pillows and plaque-smeared mirror, with the phone that made him cringe and the stove scarred with chicken madras, suited him fine. If that wasn’t counting your cunting blessings, what was?
By the end of the year, Penny was divorced. Dave went bankrupt. Theresa was in the loony bin herself. Charlotte was strung out on painkillers; Charlie was undergoing fertility treatments; Des had cancer. And Martha was dead: fell down in singing class, heart stopped, couldn’t be revived.
Mal stood in the bathroom. “You are a true dyed-in-the-wool fuckwit.”
When his friends told him of these dreadful unforeseen tribulations, what could he do but say nothing. Which was the right thing to say. After all, nothing could cheer them up, sick to death of their other friends being so relentlessly positive.
At least Mal had no need to change, nor to say, I told you so. No, Mal just went on with his sofa and curry and TV. Every morning he repeated his affirmations to himself. “You,” he said, warming up, “are a spawny-eyed spunkjob.”
“That’s right,” called Susi, rolling over on the fresh new pillow cases. “But I love you.”
70 Stories is an online project curated by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to mark the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation. The project connects stories from our Writing Competition, stories from SMHAF participants, and more in a compelling portrait of mental health in 2019.