This is a ritual.
I know that because this practice now transcends the routine and embodies life itself for me. I began this pilgrimage in a different life, but its continuation in this one sustains me. I approach these days with the sacredness of a priest, but I see no salvation in them like a non-believer.
Slowly, my eyes refocus on the surrounding room. It is dark in here, except, a faint luminosity trickles in from the nearby room that is separated from me by a pane of glass. The only other room that I know of which resembles this one has one way glass, and the police use it to interrogate suspects.
In a way, I guess that is why I am here too.
I begin to slide into a familiar cylindrical opening. I can see the words, “Do not stare directly into the laser aperture.”
I always think that aperture is too big of a word to use for such a small space.
But, I do not design these machines, in fact, I never want to see one ever again. Let them use a five-dollar word where a one-dollar word would do. It does not matter. Nothing really exists in here anyways. Suddenly, a light whirring noise cracks the façade of tranquility, and a rhythmic electronic beeping noise interjects itself between my thoughts. I settle into the paper lining beneath me, and I lie still, stiller than I have ever been, but not as still as I will ever be. Sometimes, I think that if I am quiet enough, I will be able to hear the radioactive tracer coursing through my veins, riding the superhighway of my blood vessels to the farthest reaches of my being. I know where the road ends. The tracer always coagulates into an unmistakable pattern before the radiologist’s eyes. It always shows cancer.
I used to arrive here brimming with the anxiety that inexactitude and uncertainty create, but not anymore. I have begun to enjoy, even relish, this ritual in my interrupted life. The more time that I spend in here, this coffin, this ark, the more I realize that this is the only place that I do not have cancer. I had cancer when I began to slide into this machine, and I may when I get out, but right now, until they see the scan, this precarious existence that I have temporarily carved out is a paradise of unpredictability. For the fifteen or twenty minutes that I am in here, I exist outside of five-year survival rates. I tower above the looks of pity that I receive soon after their eyes meet my smooth skull. I am not cured either, no, but while the machine works, I am at peace.
Afterwards, I sit waiting in an exam room while the radiologist maps out my existence. Absently, a half-paid attention to high school physics lesson floats into my mind. That day, my teacher told us to visualize a cat in a box. We were asked to imagine that there was a poisonous chemical in the box with the cat that had a fifty percent chance of killing it. The catch was, until someone opened the box, we could not know if the cat was alive or dead. Until that time, it was both. The lesson was designed to teach us something about quantum theory, but I never quite understood it. How could something be both alive and dead? As I sit in my chair, neither alive, nor dead, I understand perfectly well.
My doctor enters the room and stands before me holding the results of my scan in his hand like an ancient Roman emperor whose thumb hovers parallel to the ground before he decides if the gladiator should live or die.
He looks at the paper, pauses, and then looks up at me.
If formerly society was founded on a renunciation of enjoyment for the sake of social duty, then the only duty today consists in becoming oneself (to appropriate Todd McGowan). This piece posits that mental health discourse today only offers a new injunction for its subjects: to become self-identical, to self-actualize. We are increasingly told to “normalize talking about mental health”, but isn’t this declaration already anachronistic? Our mental health seems to be all that we can talk about, a new mode of narcissism only thinly veiled as somehow political, progressive, subversive. But if we have already absorbed the platitudes of liberal mental health discourse, then why is the mental health crisis worsening? The piece contends that it is in fact the presuppositions of mental health discourse that are the environment in which mental health issues form, that it is out of a dissatisfaction with an individual failure to achieve the imperatives foisted upon us by mental health discourse that mental health symptoms emerge. The solution is in fact the problem, and it is only when we challenge the notion of the individual undergirding mental health discourse that we can contend with the current mental health crisis, by positing an alternate model of the subject as relational, rather than as substantial entity, in which such a project of self-actualization becomes meaningless, and find meaning elsewhere (through collective emancipation).
About the Author
Will Moody graduated from the University of Denver in June 2020 with a degree in molecular biology and plans to apply to medical school in June 2021. In May 2020, Will was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and after undergoing treatment was informed his cancer had returned in November 2020. Writing has been a much needed creative outlet for him during this time. Will is currently working on his first book and spending time with his family while he continues treatment. His writing also appears in Pulse – Voices from the Hearts of Medicine, Aspiring Docs Diaries, and his blog, The Rest of Your Life.