It’s become increasingly clear that my life is not … okay. I’m not okay. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been okay.
The why is a question I obsess over, analyze, organize, and attempt to resolve. My pursuit of financial freedom, my education, and much more are all aimed – to one degree or another – at making things better. But do they? Simply put, they don’t. These minor course corrections don’t and haven’t helped except in minor ways.
But there have been times in my life when I’ve been very happy. In fact, right at the core, I’m an amazingly happy, generous, creative, caring person. Something interferes with that. Life breaks me.
The times in my life when I’ve been very happy have been the times in my life when I’ve suffered real tragedy. The immense pain of having something I care about deeply being lost to me has been sufficient to break down my assumptions, my behaviors, my beliefs, and even my concerns. The process of rebuilding – making radical shifts in my life – has made me feel more healthy and whole. I’ve described myself as an orchid; I thrive in the rain.
Perhaps my anachronistic soul was simply not meant for a life in the modern world. Certainly, each radical shift has decayed in the face of “grown-up worries,” and my reversion to more status quo resolutions results in the status quo effect for my life.
That status quo is comprised of a lot of things that sound melodramatic on paper. Pain, misery, self-loathing, lethargy, anxiety, deep depression – these are the things we put in bad poetry and rough drafts, not in confessions and self-summaries. But there it is, and I don’t know what to do about it.
It’s clear that I need a radical shift in my life. Looking at my self-destructive behavior, I wonder if that’s what it’s all aimed at: breaking my life enough that I’m forced to make fundamental shifts and re-evaluations. Well, I think I may be there now. I hurt, deeply, and it’s killing my career, my personal relationships, and any chance at happiness. So it’s time for a change.
I choose a radical shift. I choose impossible things that will be unsustainable. I choose a temporary vision of myself as someone worthwhile. I’ll figure out balance later – but this sort of emotional, lifestyle moderation just isn’t in my skillset. I’m good at abstaining or binging, but I seem to fail at anything between. And if that’s the case, I might as well go to the extreme that makes me happiest.
When we began modeling our universe, we first assumed that our lonely planet was at the center of it all. This approach fell prey to one of the most popular and seemingly rational fallacies; it’s easy to forget our own bias. But the view of the universe where mere perspective justifies being center is now outdated. We’ve moved forward. But to what?
On a regular basis, we as humans place something at the center of our universe, and we try to live our lives accordingly. Appropriate placement is so important to us that we’ve lost friends over it. We’ve created countries. We’ve fought wars.
To some, God is the rightful center of the universe, and all else is subservient to Him (or Her). To others, it’s nature, happiness, integrity, productivity, kindness, creation, truth, progress, or any number of other very lovely and smoke-wisp concepts. The issue really comes in defining how that center is reached.
If the purpose of life is to seek meaning, then what is meaning? Is meaning perhaps fulfilling a destiny? Then what is destiny, if not our purpose? Have we routed back to the beginning? Or could our meaning be contributing in a positive way to society? If so, then how do we define “positive”? Is it in a rational, economic way? If so, then what are those economic resources for? Or is “positive” the merely subjective “happiness”? If so, then how do we resolve happiness that comes at the expense of others? Or do we try to make a utilitarian model wherein the most happiness for the most people is the ideal? Or do we just route the concept of “positive,” or of “meaning,” or even of “happiness” to an entirely different location?
In almost all models of purpose in the universe, we see a self-defining term. If the purpose of life is to serve God, we are still permitted to ask why. However, the answer to that question is, “Because God says so.” God is then the self-defining truth. If the purpose of life is to seek beauty, then we can ask why, and learn that beauty is good because it’s beauty. Like God, it is defined as valuable because it is itself, and nothing else is required – if you accept this model of the universe. We can go through the same exercise with “truth” or “justice” or “beauty,” each bringing forward impenetrable questions and finding center only in self-definition. But could self-definition be the very source of centrality?
I have gone through several variations of where I can find purpose in the universe. It began with God, who tasted bad on my tongue, and who I started rejecting when I was 11 years old. I tried to find purpose in happiness, but happiness was tone-deaf. I tried to find purpose in peace, but peace fractured and fell hollow. I tried to find purpose in other people, but others betrayed me and used me. I tried to find purpose in love, but love failed. And what was left?
Everything in our struggles comes to the question of “What is all this for?” And this question is, in almost every way, the hardest and most crucial question of the human experience. It is not that there is a single overriding purpose to which we must all adhere, at the behest of God and with the alternative of hellfire. It’s that a life without purpose, without direction, without center, lacks gravity. We wander through limbo inside our own minds and (dare I say it?) souls, feeling decay at our fingertips. Without that reference point, without that defined marker of importance (be it God, virtue, happiness, glory, truth, or anything else), all other variables remain lost in the equation.
The reference point is important, perhaps even vital. I would argue that more scientists are atheists, not because they have a more rational position to disbelieve God, but the exploration of the universe and its functions provides an alternative center. But is seeking purpose an act of exploration and discovery? Is it an act of testing? Or is it merely an act of creation and determination?
My rational mind and its calculations have led me to a conclusion: A gambit is worthwhile. Rather than trying to discover a self-defining purpose (for which no other tests or proof, by definition, can exist), I should select one. But it becomes very sticky at this point, because even rationality, without gravity to bind it to something, loses all its gunpowder. There’s no way to reason which center is best, what purpose should be selected, because “best” itself is a concept that only appears when the center has been defined.
So I’m choosing happiness. It was a common theme of my childhood, of my first religion, of the philosophical studies I have pursued, and it works as a justification for most of my passions. I can center activism around happiness, calling out that it is all happiness that we must defend, and that our framework should be designed to maximize these opportunities. I can align my fitness, education, profession, adventurism, and even romance around this. Most importantly, for a man who struggles with depression almost every day, it’s one of the most functional centers.
Finding the center is about defining a hierarchy, but it’s all fluid. We make one decision, and let everything else fall into place, examining the consequences and revising as needed – but even here, in the context of our already defined meaning.
When we began modeling our universe, we first assumed that our lonely planet was at the center of it all. Ironically, this is true by technicality. Start at any point in the universe and draw a line out in every direction. Science tells us that the universe is infinite, so each line will be infinite, and, by the nature of infinity, will each be equally infinite.
The plurality of centers provides an especially boggling reality when you see how different the consequences of each will be, and when the subjective bias – that fallacy to which we all so easily fall prey – tells us to judge other possibilities by the one we have selected. “Superior” itself is defined on a level of pre-definition, preventing us from finding an objective superiority or inferiority in our belief or in any others. We all have different values, some very discordant; who’s to say those attacking the World Trade Center were wrong, and we were right?
You can see that this sort of pluralism has a false implication that the fluidity of value discredits all judgment. Consequences are real – but without objective value, how can we condemn them? Can values, if so subjective, be worth fighting for? We judge through our own lens, and we’re willing to call others “evil” because they defy out values. But is a tiger evil, for following its nature and adhering to its environment? Can human self-awareness and rationality really break this border, when objective values are so phantasmic? How can things objectively matter, when the source of that matter is so immaterial?
These are difficult questions, and I don’t pretend to know the answers. Anyone who believes in a solitary, objective universe of truth does so because they assume a truth that precedes perspective. But if I select happiness as my value, happiness for myself and happiness for those around me, then I am satisfied with the consequences of that choice. I am satisfied with the opportunity to love and care and hurt that it brings. I am relieved because the mere decision has the power to lift me out of purgatory and make it so my eyes absorb light and see the deep saturation of color. I am willing to fight for these values. They are worth fighting for, subjective or not.
Is happiness the center of everything, the meaning, the self-creating deity? Perhaps nothing is. But happiness is sufficient. For me, for this life, for what I want, it’s good enough. And I’m okay with that. If only this once, for this stretch of days or weeks or years, I’m okay with embracing happiness as the bright spot at the core of my infinity.
It’s been bad recently.
This is something like . . . should we call it day nineteen? Two, maybe three weeks into severe depression.
I’m cornered. Trying to get myself out of depression, I hype up on energy drinks and start having panic episodes that last three to ten hours. Trying to get myself out of anxiety, I avoid work or I drink, triggering depression. In both states I overeat, and feel ashamed for it. My psycho-semantic worries (oh no, is my heart rate going up? am I freaking out? Well, if I wasn’t before!) surround me like jail-keepers.
It all roots back to not knowing what I’m doing any of this for. Yes, I’m fighting, I’m struggling, and I’m even capable – but why? So I can live a standard life in the status quo of this society?
Does this – can this – all be simplified to a desire to tell stories? It’s the one thing where my passion and desire haven’t disappeared completely. I can still see a peace in telling stories, a peace that’s been robbed in everything else. But is it enough? It doesn’t feel like it some days.
Day nineteen. My professional and school-oriented work have stacked up and now cage me in. My fitness has gone out the window. My apartment is a mess. My friends have come and spent time with me here recently, it’s been a boon, but I still feel this desperate, hollow loneliness. I want to be touched, loved, held; I want to get lost in an obsession as high and persistent as a daily SSRI.
“Do you think about hurting yourself?” asks the doctor. Constantly, I think. But instead I say, “Self-mutilation is part of my history, and it’s certainly associated with depression. But no, I’m not afraid I’ll hurt myself in any substantial way. I’m certainly not concerned that I’ll kill myself.”
Every time the train comes, I envision myself toppling in front of it. The free-fall sensation that turns to a sudden infinity of noise, dissolving into embracing silence. We call this suicidal ideation. “Suicidal ideation,” I tell the doctor, “has been a part of my lifestyle at least since high school. I’m not worried that I’ll act on any of it. I use it as a way to . . . calm myself down. Knowing I always have that escape hatch, it makes things seem smaller somehow.”
If I were my clients, I would have already dismissed me. That’s not to say I’ve completely abandoned things. But I’m behind. I’m trying to communicate, I’m trying to catch up, but I’m not the writer I should be. It’s just a few hours of work left to catch up, but it still feels like an insurmountable barrier.
I have dreams where I’m trying to defend myself against attackers, and I go to punch them, but as I swing my arm the muscle goes limp and I can’t hit them with any force at all. That’s what this struggle feels like. Every day.
People who think you can’t get fat as a vegan have no idea what they’re talking about. Since December, maintaining my vegan diet, I’ve done a fine job of gaining 15 pounds. Some of that’s muscle, it’s true (I have been walking around campus all day with a ~25lb backpack), but at least some of it has been me just gaining good old fashioned blubber.
Obviously, I’m not too happy with this. It’s been a semi-conscious decision; I knew that taking on extra stress to attend school and do work simultaneously would have consequences. Overeating due to stress is sometimes one of them. Want a formula for gaining weight as a vegan? Here goes:
- Select items from the following: peanut butter sandwiches, energy drinks, protein shakes, dark chocolate bars, vegan sausages, vegan brownies.
- Eat them whenever you’re stressed.
- Never realize when you’re “satisfied,” because the anxiety detaches you from that.
- Stop having time to work out.
Anyway. Angsty rant over. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m more than glad to listen.