First published by Cricket Online Review, 2013
First thing, I log into Psyche Assistant.
In a query form I write: Bad night, no sleep, suggestions?
Seconds later I get a chat box reply from a Mental Health Sentinel called Melissa. Her avatar is cute, Disneyish. It reads: How about a smiling exercise to start the day?
So, I smile for fifteen seconds. Anything less than fifteen seconds and the endorphins don’t release. When I stop smiling the webcam takes my photo. The analysis comes back – I’m .002% happier than the same time yesterday. I check a graph. Everyday, for the last month, I’ve been getting incrementally happier, which is odd, because if anything I thought it was the opposite. But who am I to argue? You can’t argue with a graph.
At the office, everyone is playing bingo. It’s a new thing on Monday mornings – half an hour of bingo to put everyone in the right frame of mind for the week. My take is, all it does is put you in a bingo state of mind, that is, where you listen for numbers and cross then off with a big red marker. But who am I to argue? So, I don’t argue. Instead I go to the bathroom and sit in a cubicle with a pencil between my teeth. Keeping a pencil between your teeth is a great way to make sure you hold a smile, because just smiling by yourself is hard to maintain, and without the smiling there are no endorphins, and without those endorphins there’s no way I’m going to be happy.
When I come of the cubicle, Pepperman is washing his hands. He says to me, “I now have a minor addiction to bingo.”
I reply, “How’d you get to be such an addict?” which I know, straight away, is a big mistake, because Pepperman is a gambling addict, who, due to said addiction, now lives in a rat-infested bedsit in Moss Side next door to a Yardie crack house. Pepperman just smiles at me. I picture all the endorphins in his head like tiny cartoon love hearts.
At my desk, I log onto Psyche Assistant. In my journal I write that I feel like screaming and send it off for analysis.
Seconds later I get a reply from a Mental Health Sentinel called Bobby whose avatar depicts a geeky guy cradling an armful of books. He suggests a visualisation exercise – think of the person you love the most and imagine the two of you strolling hand in hand down a beautiful beach beside a sparkling sea.
So, I sit back in my chair, close my eyes, and visualise the beach, the sea, the sun, but when I get to the person I love the most, I get nothing. No ex-girlfriends. No movie stars. No models. Not even a friend. Then I hear these sirens in my mind and the beach swarms with police brandishing batons. I open my eyes. I see Pepperman talking to Jenkins. And then both Pepperman and Jenkins are looking at me.
Later, Jenkins calls me over. After explaining why he has to fire me, for the Pepperman episode, on top of being late most days and generally unproductive, he says, “Don’t think of this as losing a job so much as gaining an opportunity.”
I ask, “An opportunity for what?”
“Well,” says Jenkins, trying to frown and smile at the same time. “Life is full of opportunities.”
“Can’t you just let me keep my job?”
“I’m sorry,” says Jenkins. “You can’t go around mocking people’s addictions.”
Back home, I log into Psyche Assistant and ask what I should do.
Seconds later I get a reply from Ian whose avatar of a happy gnome sitting on a giant mushroom with his legs kicking out makes me want to punch the wall until my knuckles break. He suggests I write a gratitude list.
I reply that I have nothing to be grateful for.
Ian writes in his chat box, “Sure you do. Everyone has things to be grateful for.”
I ask for examples. He says I have food in the fridge, and friends on the phone. I tell him all my friends are smug bastards – and as for food, seeing as I’ve lost my job the fridge will soon be empty.
The chat box pauses. I stare at the flickering cursor, the gnome avatar, and pray that the next words to appear will give me something, anything, because right now I really need something.
The following words appear: How about a smiling exercise?
I flip. I hammer out on the keyboard that I’m sick of fucking smiling exercises. Smiling won’t get me my job back. Smiling won’t pay the bills. Smiling won’t make the hair grow back on my bald spot. Smiling won’t make the woman of my dreams sashay into the lounge, take me by the hand, and whisper to me that it’s okay, everything is okay, because we’re in love. Smiling won’t help me see my life as anything other than one huge, fucking disappointment.
I hurl the laptop across the room. It cracks off the wall and lands face down. I sit there, glaring at it. I can’t move. I look at the blank space where my laptop used to be and the blank space looks back.
What am I supposed to do now?
What the fuck am I supposed to do?
I already know the answer.
Fifteen seconds, I tell myself. That’s all it takes for the endorphins to release…