Life will always let us down. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true. Even for the least spontaneous soul who schedules out every last minute of every day, something somewhere will eventually go astray. It’s a simple fact.
There’s not necessarily an explanation; there’s no one to blame. There are just too many variables involved in the outcome of our day. Therefore, the simple truth is: at any given time, anything, anywhere is possible.
Be real. But don’t be pessimistic. Possible does not mean probable.
We cannot live our lives with the expectation that disaster and heartache are lurking about every corner. Obviously, this would lead to massive anxiety. What good would it do to relax at home watching a movie, all the while preoccupied that a fire-engulfed jetliner could come crashing through the house, or that the chicken wings we’re snacking on are crawling with E.coli?
We have to approach life with at least some degree of certainty that the universe will yield to our basic expectations.
But what are our expectations?
If you always get A’s in school without studying, then you expect to get A’s. If you are lactose intolerant and invariably get the trots every time you touch ice cream, you will expect to run to the bathroom whenever you eat ice cream.
And if you have struggled with a lifetime of emotional pain, you will always expect to hurt.
Unfortunately that’s no exaggeration.
For as far back as my memories extend, I recognize sadness above all else. Hope and happiness were an exception, not the rule. I was ruled by fear: fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of rejection and hate. And it was this fear and pain that I came to expect, because it was the most consistent factor I knew. If one fear dissolved it was insignificant because it would merely be overshadowed or replaced by another, equal or worse pain.
But this was life. And I accepted it for what it was.
So what happened?
Well, there was the breakup of the century which turned my life upside down… and then came the therapy.
Thirteen years of therapy. That’s right. Thirteen. My lucky number.
And if the breakup turned my life upside down, the therapy was about to drop it on its ass.
What I thought was “finding someone to chat with,” turned into 13 years of therapists and psychiatrists. A series of suicide attempts with several close-calls. Hospitals. Blood, sweat, tears… diagnoses… medication — lots of medication. And still wishing I had died, as I almost had the day I was born.
But then one day, somewhere around year 11, I realized something. Something was changing. I was…dare I say it? Happy!
Was it possible? Could it actually be?
At first I brushed it off as coincidence. Law of averages. I mean, things can’t always be dark and distressing. But, as life experience had taught me, I knew it was merely an anomaly… a fluke. A taunt. A spell of happiness was nothing more than God’s cruel way of magnifying the pain I would feel when it was inevitably stripped from me.
But then the joy I felt transformed into something even more foreign to me: Hope. Even gratitude!
I began to look forward to the future. I began to be grateful for the past.
Grateful! How absurd.
Gradually, my life changed. The return to happiness (or the introduction to it, in this case) is as insidious as the mental anguish it replaces. And little by little, life took on a different light.
I’d actually look forward to waking up in the morning. I’d walk to the train, listening to my music, singing…maybe even dropping a dance step or two when I came across the odd, unoccupied subway car. My daily routine, my thoughts, plans, feelings, beliefs…everything changed to accommodate a new perspective of life that was, for the very first time, not focused on death.
Eventually my medication was downgraded to a single low-dose of anti-depressants intended more to keep in check the little rascals that linger in my mind and like to stick their nose in my progress every so often. Of course any medication means I must still see the psychiatrist, but I’ve managed to keep this to a minimum, dropping in for 10 minutes a few times a year to get my required script.
But no more talking.
Thirteen years of therapy, I’m all talked out. There’s not much left to talk about. It’s about acting now. And so my therapy schedule which started at thrice weekly visits back in 2003 has been reduced to an occasional reality check every few months, merely aimed at keeping my ass on track.
But most importantly, it’s been 10 years since I had a visit to the hospital. Ten years since I sincerely had the wish to die.
Impressive? I like to think so. The pride is helpful in my healing. It reminds me of how strong I am. Sometimes it’s okay to be cocky.
But don’t be complacent.
This was where I went wrong.
My cockiness turned to complacency, and the undiscriminating, callous world of infinite possibility was just waiting for me to let my guard down.
And that was exactly what I did. I was ignoring things I knew would hurt me in the end… dipping my feet in water I knew would eventually drown me. Worst of all, I was getting far too laid back with the drinking.
I didn’t have my first drink until I was 19 years old, but coming from a long line of accomplished alcoholics, it took me years to learn how to drink without needing someone to carry me home at the end of the night. Once I found happiness this skill became effortless. But I forgot how easy it would be to travel back down that road.
I was already in a bad state of mind. I had just returned from two consecutive (and amazing, by the way) trips to Australia and Disney World, in which I had a month off from work. I now had to report to a job that I loathe — a job I swore 18 years ago was only temporary. Entirely devoid of vacation time, sick time, personal time…me time… things were looking grim.
Then I woke up one day and the date seemed familiar. It didn’t take long to realize that twenty years had passed since the start of my last serious relationship. The same relationship that turned my life on its ass four years later.
My gynecologist unwittingly then tipped the scale when he asked if I’d be interested in freezing my eggs, as it seems I “won’t be having children any time soon.”
Maybe I should also add that I just turned 40.
So there I was…home alone, a single, 40 year old, lousy with eggs…sipping on some Bacardi and coke.
Well, as the old saying goes… one thing led to another and before I knew what had happened I had turned back the clock of my life a solid 10 years.
Not one month prior I was shining bright… flying higher than ever before. I even jumped out of a plane in Australia! The single best experience I had ever known. Life couldn’t be much better than it was.
And now it had thrown me one of the biggest curve balls imaginable.
Granted, the consequences were not permanent. Not quite as dire as a flaming jetliner crashing through my roof. But for me it was a defeat that was unimaginable after coming so far. My pride was shaken. Obliterated, really. I was humiliated.
Details aren’t necessary. Nor are they really known except from what I was informed of after the fact. All I can say is a quarter of a bottle of rum, chased by a 6-pack of Corona and a dose of Benadryl in excess of its recommended usage did not result in much more than a night at the local Emergency Room, the intense desire to crawl under a large rock, and an even worse spell of depression than I thought I was already feeling.
For three full days I stayed in bed. I cried.
I didn’t eat much or go outside or really do anything — nothing productive, anyway. And for the first time in a long time, I sincerely did not want to live anymore.
I thank God for one amazing friend who made me remember that I am a good person, in spite of my faults. He came to check on me and bring me food… just give me a hug and tell me I will be fine again.
It’s the smallest things in the world that can make all the difference.
Unfortunately, the depression didn’t leave as quickly as it returned. I was fixated. Fixated on my pain. Fixated on the humiliation.
I was fixated on the things that hurt: I hate my job; I have no family; I’m nowhere close to getting married and will likely never have children… the list goes on and on.
I disregarded the positive: my job pays really well and my flexible schedule allows me much freedom in life to do the things I really love; I have a surrogate family that I adore and that cares for me dearly, even if I am not their “blood”; I love being single, and I already decided that I am perfectly okay with never having children… and the list goes on and on!
So what do you do when your brain just won’t get on point?
Well, in the words of Alanis Morissette: The only way out is through!
Don’t forget that it’s important to grieve. Embrace the pain.
Embrace it… but don’t wallow in it.
Distraction is constructive, but not when it masks denial. If you try to close out the pain and never deal with it, it will fester in your heart and consume you. You won’t even realize it. So cry. Scream if you have to. I’ve broken my share of dishes. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Open your arms to it.
More importantly, open your mind.
Understand the pain. Blind rage and anguish do us not good.
It’s a hell of a lot harder to ignore our feelings and emotions when we know where they’re coming from. No, ignorance is not always bliss. It can be. Do you really wanna know who sat on the toilet before you every time? I sure don’t. Even if I do cover it with a month’s worth of toilet paper.
Know the facts. Are you feeling sad or angry or embarrassed or jealous? Or, truth be told, are you simply thinking irrationally?
Journals are a godsend. If you’re like me and in constant need of fitting everything in your life into neat little boxes, go nuts with charts and checklists. Otherwise, ramble out strings of seemingly incoherent thoughts to your little heart’s content! But get it out. Think of pain as a poison you must dispel as soon as possible. Because that’s what it is.
Just the same, TALK!
Find a friend or a therapist…go to Church if it suits you. Hell, even the local Starbucks barista will do. Just get talking. Or get writing. No holds barred. Except one:
Be honest — with yourself if with no one else.
For starters, don’t disregard the positive. Yes, the negatives may be true but don’t get caught in biased evaluations. Maybe I’m 40 and unmarried and most likely not going to have children… but let’s be real: if I was presented with the opportunity tomorrow I’d likely run so fast I’d fly clear off the face of the earth.
So don’t make excuses or tell yourself lies. Don’t change reality.
Do change your environment. Environment is KEY!
Ditch the candles and depressing music. This’s not grieving, it’s wallowing. We don’t wallow!
My apartment is naturally devoid of sunlight. One of those little perks of living in New York. My windows provide a view of nothing but a brick wall and the adjacent windows of my neighbors so on top of having no direct sun to enjoy, I also keep the curtains drawn at all times. This drawback was my one reluctance in taking my apartment. Thank the heavens I decided against my concerns because I love my new home! So when I moved in one year ago I spent a good four weeks tracking down the perfect lamps and light bulbs in order to maximize the natural light in my home.
Nevertheless, light bulbs don’t work if you don’t turn them on! Consequently, I can find myself sitting in the dark for days if I am not careful.
So turn on the lights. Better yet, get the hell out of the house! Take a walk in the sun. All that crap about the healing power of sunlight… It’s true! I never really believed it until I experienced it myself.
Which reminds me… Know what works. More importantly, know what doesn’t.
For you. Not for your friends.
Know yourself. Know your stressors and triggers; know what soothes you; know what makes you smile. It’s different for every one of us.
My absolute favorite television show is Little House on the Prairie. For many the unrelenting tragedy and misfortune could be a downer. The infant deaths, fire and typhus… Mary blinded by Scarlet fever… Pa shot while hunting… rabies, rape, and meth addiction…
But I don’t see any of that. I see a hardworking, loving family that values one another above everything else, and will work hard together to overcome any obstacle thrown in their way. So when I am feeling alone and unloved, my vicarious little journey with the Ingall’s is greatly comforting to me.
On the other hand, I am absolutely incapable of watching certain sitcoms that my friends may think are hysterical, but have a profound negative effect on my mood.
We are all different.
But we are also all the same.
It is a basic condition of human nature that we seek what is most familiar. Accordingly, one of the worst aspects of depression is its self-perpetuating nature. Chances are, people who are depressed are familiar with sadness above all else. We seek it. We often crave it. So often we have the tools to change, but we are unable to implement them. For lack of a better explanation, we want to be sad.
Most people, I believe, won’t admit it. I would not. Many may feel it would discredit their pain. It does not.
But if you cannot be honest with yourself, nothing I said matters. Above all else, we must want to find peace. We must want to change our minds. We must be willing to fight and even more willing to fail. Because the world is full of flaming jetliners just waiting to crash through your roof.
The beast lingers.
But don’t be scared,
Don’t let it hold you back.
There’s hope inside you.
There is light.
Just give it time.
This story originally appeared on the Medium publication Invisible Illness.