When I arrived home earlier this week, the house felt very still. I placed a paper bag of groceries on the table and then sat down. Sitting made me uncomfortable, so I stood back up and walked to the side door. The weather was fair, warm, and I thought airing the house out might help. I went to unlock the door, to crack it open, and discovered that I was too weak to unlock it. Frustrated, I turned around, facing the stairs. I tried to climb them and was amazed to realize that I could not. I was so exhausted, so numb, so beyond joy and despair and imagination that I couldn’t move. I collapsed onto the stairs and cried, nuzzling my face against the soft and dusty brown carpet. It smelled like dirt, dogs, and incense. I could hear Silo scratching at the door upstairs and Tycho pacing around. I worried about them worrying about me. I opened my eyes and centered my gaze between two spindles — looking out at the living room, where my best friend lives downstairs. He sleeps on that couch, and plays video games in that chair. He was at work now, and feeling happy today, I hoped. I thought about my family up in Tennessee, with their highlighted bibles and church clothes… my three best friends in Birmingham and Trussville, as well as the one who’s far away in Florida… and the two exes who live locally, one of whom I never did care for very deeply. Gave myself away, I did. It was loneliness. I cringed at the memory.
And back in this moment, I felt like I couldn’t possibly feel more alone, more depleted, more hopeless, or more indifferent to whether I was still in this world or finally out of it.
“stairs and doors”
a non-poet’s poem
my bones cannot climb these stairs
so they’ll rest on them a while
we’re weak in the wrist or we’d open the door
take a few steps
breathe in the world
i whisper to you — sometimes, some days:
“think about me; remember my face”
you never do
it’s always those stairs,
there’s always a door,
and you’re too far away
too alive in that world
I’ve experienced this before — a sudden slope in my depression that’s so drastic I can barely move. It’s a strange physical phenomenon, and for a Virgo who craves absolute control over her mind, body, and heart, it’s difficult to comprehend how I can become so truly weak in the knees that I can’t keep my body from hitting the floor.
When I reflect on childhood, I can remember dark spells, gloomy years, and a sustained sense of being 1. out of control and 2. an outsider. To cope, I stopped eating, cut myself, and danced the downward spiral with OCD. But I was always bravely happy — firmly insistent that the sun was there despite steady clouds overhead.
My depression back then was never as bad as it often is now. I trace this current “dark age” back to my big breakup three years ago. I think that losing a long-term companion after losing my brother and my religion affected me much more than I anticipated it would, and now, I’m wondering what I can do to help myself cope with the ceaseless uncertainty and heartbreak of life.
Things I’ve either realized or been thinking about a lot recently:
- Over the years, I’ve been overly invested in my work and relationships to distract myself from scary nihilist thoughts and deep-seated feelings of loneliness.
- Until recently, I’ve misunderstood unconditional love.
- I’m highly critical of myself and others.
- I’m a true agnostic who is dying to know the meaning of life.
Before work and relationships taking up my time and attention, it was church stuff — teaching classes, working events, and sharing music (back when I was a “believer”). I’ve always had something “big” to devote myself to and identify myself with (a god, a person, a company), and as I take a step back now to assess that, I realize that – as good as my intentions were, and are – over-investing in anything external is just a subliminal attempt to escape from myself and not address my innate unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the world.
Why am I so dissatisfied with the world? As beautiful as it can be, it equally sucks. People are so violent — so cruel to each other and to animals and indifferent to the suffering of others. It’s like when I pass by a farm of cows — I eagerly roll down my window to greet them, my whole face a smile, and then I begin wailing two miles further down the road, realizing that those cows probably aren’t pets. I mull over how murderously selfish meat eaters are, re-realize that they’re fucking everywhere and that people who genuinely give a shit about animals are in the minority, and it just rips my soul apart. So I turn on Spotify and think about something else instead — like how much I can’t stand being here, and how awful it is to be driving on the interstate alone; without a warm hand holding mine, a trusted voice drawing me out of my troubled mind, or a good soul navigating through all of this shit with me.
And as far as unconditional love is concerned, I’ve always claimed to love people unconditionally, but I realized, after Christopher spat on the small bit of friendship we had left roughly a month ago, that I was basing my love for him on the premise that he loved and respected me back. When I finally learned that he didn’t (at ALL), I told myself that he didn’t deserve love, and that I should firmly dislike him for the rest of our lives.
Something similar happened with Charlie, my best friend; when it hit me, a few months ago, that I was no longer his VERY best friend slash favorite person, I told myself that he shouldn’t be MY best friend or favorite person, either.
But the truth is, if you actually love someone, it shouldn’t be because of how they feel about OR what they do for you. If the existence or degree of your love depends on their own, it isn’t love. And the truth is that I do love Christopher unconditionally, as a person, despite his grand jackassery. Not romantically, as I used to — he’ll never again be that same old companion I knew and loved, and I no longer wish to speak with or hear from him again — but as a person, I still care about his well-being. It’s a fundamental kind of love; like, you want that other person to be healthy and happy and would give them one of your kidneys, if needed (regardless of whether or not the freakin Gemini “deserves” it).
And whether or not I’m his best friend, Charlie is still mine — I don’t have to pour our love for each other into two separate test tubes and then measure them to ensure that they’re equivalent. It doesn’t matter. I’ll simply love him as much as I do.
As for Audio (the boy I like who maybe but probably doesn’t like me back)… well, I still like him. Pride aside (because I don’t have much of it), it’s okay to like someone who doesn’t like you. It’s honest. Why should we be dishonest with ourselves, others, the world? What a waste of time and energy that would be. I’m sure I’ll like other people before I die — I’ll instantly fall in love with their spirits and then hope that they love mine, too — but some of them, maybe even most of them, won’t feel the same. And that’s alright.
Also, this soul-recognizing-soul event doesn’t always have to be romantic — sometimes, a connection is just a connection. And more often than we care for, the connection just randomly dead-ends — even though we hoped to a god that it never would.
For the last couple of weeks, Charlie has been obsessed with astrology. He already knew my birth date, but recently decided that he wanted to drill deeper down into my psyche to give me a “fuller picture” of my true, inner self, so after I gave him my birth time and city, he completed a “star chart” of sorts that rendered a startling accurate analysis of who I am and how I operate.
I don’t remember very much of it — there was a bunch of stuff about houses and moons and moods. I place about much stock in it as I would any other theory. Other than a rough middle-eastern translation that stated that I am “a business” (love it!), the other thing that stood out to me the most was that I am highly critical of myself and others. Star charts aside, it’s a very true statement.
I’ve never given myself a passing score in anything — abilities, looks, interpersonal relationships, inherent worthiness. None of it. And as an adult, I’m constantly working through all of that. But I’ve also always been highly critical of others; judging someone’s entire character by one unforgettable incident, or one (what I’d call) major flaw. For instance, I know a person who lies incessantly, and when I first discovered this, I immediately thought: Well, I can’t be friends with so-and-so… they lie. But their habit of lying doesn’t define their whole character. As I got to know them, I discovered that they have many good traits also, and that these aren’t rendered void because they feel a compulsion to lie (for whatever reason — it could be due to a lack of self-worth, like me, and they’re just trying to remedy theirs differently).
The same goes for people with other bad traits and qualities (which we all have — they just vary). We’re all still valuable — still just as important as anyone else in the world, whether we’re out in it or hidden away in our homes.
Lastly, the agnostic bit. When I visited my family up in Tennessee last week, they wanted to know when I’d have my “epiphany” and rejoin their religion (as if such a thing could be scheduled). They seem to believe that this disbelief of mine is a phase — something that’ll pass. That it’s a temporary rebellion so I can “do what I want” (which is drink coffee, work hard, study Spanish and go to bed at 8:30). A close friend of mine is, like them, hopeful that things will “click” for me someday and that having a god will give me a sense of solid footing in this world. To be completely honest, I genuinely envy those with faith (in any religion/denomination), but I know myself; it isn’t in me.
To me, the idea of there being this heaven place is a beautiful fairy tale — one I can easily understand people wanting to people in. When I hear “heaven”, I imagine people, many years ago, thinking to themselves: “I hate it when we have a famine and run out of food; when we get sick; when friends and family die…” and then dreaming up, mapping out, and writing about this perfect world you can eventually end up in (offering eternal life, perfect health, and endless fun with the people and animals you love) if you play your cards right. Dreamy, right? Right. It is the stuff of dreams. And for me, it just doesn’t resonate.
However, this is why I call myself an agnostic — not an atheist. I can’t imagine that tangible and intangible things like music, love, trees, rabbits, burritos and German Shepherds just apparated. Just happened. I think there’s some intelligent design in play, and I do feel what I can comfortably refer to as a kind presence following me around most days, but – unlike many – I don’t pretend to know what it is (or they are), because I remain unconvinced. Some frown at this lack of faith, this laziness, whatever… but for me, it’s all there is.
And since my life purpose slash meaning doesn’t come from saving souls, I have to figure out where it does come from. Thus far, I’ve been attaching meaning to over-investing in my professional work and relationships. Recently, I added academic studies, death row plants, and travel adventures to the list. And at this exact moment, I feel like the most meaningful things I can do while I’m here on this earth are to create art (in the forms of stories and songs), take good care of the people and animals who are in my neck of the woods, and lessen the suffering of every person I meet to the best of my ability (whether that’s handing out a meal, offering some sound financial advice, giving somebody a hug or just listening to them complain). Suffering is universal — and so is love. The two are very closely related, and because I know the magicalness of love and the corresponding terribleness of sadness, I want to be there for people who are suffering as I have (and am).
How about you? What seems to give your life purpose? And do you ever feel so weighed down by everything (or nothing at all) that you literally can’t move?