Next Comes Life

Dear Reader,

The problem with being unhappy most of the time isn't actually the unhappiness. Sure, it burns you out, leads some people to commit suicide, whatever, but on some level you get used to it. Just like with drugs or alcohol, it's what to do when it's gone that's the problem.

I've often thought of depression as an addiction to feeling miserable, maybe to a certain chemical or biological configuration in my brain. Some of the more behavioralist- or CBT-focused schools of psychology also discuss thought habits, which is about as clear a definition of “addiction” that I can think of. But of course, getting rid of this massive part of your day-by-day thought processes leaves a hell of a gap.

It's the replacement of the thing that is, in my opinion, the true difficulty. Feeling sad and frustrated was something to do, and now that I don't, I am stuck with this vague restlessness but with the priors of my previous experience. In other words, I've spent as long as I can remember in a state where I didn't feel like anything I did mattered because, in a sense, it didn't. If something doesn't make you happy, why do it? But what if that something is everything?

So now I'm trying to find something else. I was afraid at first that I would have to totally give up on what I thought I was into, what I thought I wanted to do with myself. I haven't ruled this out, but in the meantime, I'm noticing more control over myself and what I choose. But this still doesn't really address the question of what I like and what I don't. Granted some things are facially uninteresting, yet there's plenty of things that aren't but still don't offer any kind of meaningful accomplishment or whatever.

I actually expected that the biggest issue would be the vulnerability: when you feel like you have nothing to lose, that can bring with it an immense sense of security. There's something about our brains where we're far more sensitive to changes than the actual states we're changing between. And so feeling at the bottom doesn't actually feel as bad as the fall to get there. (And I must recognize that I was fortunate to not have to do that downward spiral all at once.) If it wasn't clear, this has not been my struggle.

Instead, I'm faced with a vast plain ahead of me. Dante describes Purgatory as a mountain slope, but that's far too interesting. Even C.S. Lewis's version (in The Great Divorce) of a drab and infinite suburban sprawl still has more going on than what I see ahead of me. It's just a flatness without variation.

Like the song says, “all outward motion connects to nothing.” If I ask myself “why should I do x?” I have no answer beyond it being a way to avoid boredom while it's in progress. There's simply no connection to anything beyond that. This means looking for my strengths or talents is unproductive; I could be the greatest writer since Shakespeare, for example, but if it doesn't change anything, what does it ultimately matter? I don't mean this in the sense of becoming rich and famous. But if I get nothing out of writing, none of that can make up for it.

You may then ask why I'm writing here. It's one part balm—it helps relieve some internal pressure these thoughts bring up—and one part desperate hope that some new aspect of this will come to me as I write. Really that's the main reason I ever write, the latter. Sometimes the former too. It works as a pressure valve, but I've never had any new insights beyond realizing something I thought was an interesting dichotomy actually isn't one or both of those things.

I need to forge some kind of outside connection with the outside world, but I haven't the faintest idea how.