When despair has consumed every molecule of hope that ever burned alight within you, when your entire energy sources have been drained and sucked absolutely of life, and when really, all you want is to throw yourself on the floor and spontaneously combust, dissipate or be engulfed by the world then keeping going can seem like the most hideous of tasks. It is at this point that even breathing is a chore. Sometimes you might cry upon waking up because, oh fucking hell, you’re still alive and breathing. That respite of 14 hours oversleeping wasn’t enough and you have to endure wakefulness for at least 6-8 hours is a moment where, quite literally, the whole world feels like it is crashing down on you, heavy, and hard.
Sometimes you’re numb, you’re switched off and the closest thing to “the living dead” that is humanely possible: a walking zombie, a corpse with circulation. For some, this is hard to bear and many feel like they may as well die because there is no quality of life in being half-dead: for me however, this is preferable and a manageable existence. Your eyes are empty, your face expressionless and anything that does pierce through the protective bubble of numbness is always a subdued experience, happiness included.
Then there are the times when the bubble is not so efficient at holding the world on a barge pole, held out at arms length, emotionally speaking. It is at these times that the world is an overwhelming invention of cruelty, an entire atmosphere of pure evil and potentially a sadist plot within which we are simulated by bigger forces. These are the times within which the, “If all you do today is just keep breathing, then you are still strong for making it through” mentality is a lifesaver.
When the mind is plagued with suicidal ideation and pervasive intrusions of images about death, suicide and homicide the notion of, “building a life worth living” can seem an impossible feat. Especially as, everything and anything you ever wanted from life has been another failed attempt at an achievement upon which you pinned so many values of hope, happiness and personal prosperity. For myself though, I did play a major role in setting myself up for failure. To a certain extent I was ‘doing it to myself’.
I wanted a fantastic career as a journalist in an impossible industry. I wanted to earn a good wage in an industry notorious for abusing internships for free labour. I needed to be not only good, but amongst the best: internationally recognised and respected. I needed to be the next Alexandra Shulman, the next Christa D’Souza, or at the very least, a Features Editor for an internationally respected publication in addition to an author of a successful book in academia and fiction as well. I needed to be amongst the best in my class, and amongst the best within my contacts. I needed the perfect relationships with the perfect children, in the perfect house. I had been told I could be anything I wanted to be. For me, being the literalist that I am took this whole-heartedly. I didn’t mind working hard to get there. I didn’t mind waiting tables to pay the bills, as long as I was on my way there. I would do anything, just to get myself there.
Then I got ill. Not only that, but even if I hadn’t become unwell, my expectations were somewhat unrealistic. I didn’t want fame, I needed my own personal success – and in doing so, ironically I failed, miserably.
The disappointment I can tell you hurt more than learning the true extent to my parents’ behaviours of deceit, lying and manipulation: and that hurt. The realisation that I would never be special for what I do made me question the point of living. You see, it sounds socially vain but this was everything. My career had been everything that had kept me alive and fighting through my teen years. The desperation to take control of my own life entirely had been the motivation to “keep breathing” through the heaves of vomit, the tears of exasperation and the loneliest hours of isolation and social inadequacies. It was in this false world and plans that I set myself up to fail – and the reality of what life is stole everything from me, including the will to live.
I had never had strong “family values” coming from a family with distant and weak bonds. I had seldom experienced friends who made life worth living in the long run. I had never had the security and happiness within myself that my home was a comfort and place within which existing was an enjoyable existence. I lacked all mindfulness, all insight into the present moment of living and true enjoyment in life in anything other than using my abilities to prove everyone who doubted me wrong and relish in the, fuck yeah I made it smugness. I am aware that this is no life. This was not a life worth living, yet when my already life not worth living was snatched away from my by the harsh realities of the world, I really and quite definitely had nothing to live for.
Throw in a dose of depression, an emotionally labile temperament and some very challenging mental illness’ to tackle – I had nothing left. Eventually though, I realised that building a life worth living wasn’t a shit hot job, being someone I’m not or being spectacular. Instead, when I was dragged to rock bottom kicking and screaming I had to find something more worth living for, something small, minute even. The tiniest things that keep people going, perhaps they could keep me going too.
It hit me when I was reading a book. I was half way through it. I really enjoyed the story for as emotionally involved as an emotionally cut off person can get. I wanted, no, I needed to know what happened in the end. Who was the real criminal in this crime thriller? Who had duped me? How was this romance going to end, happily ever after? How did they get there? What was the journey like? Not only did I need to finish my book, but also I have a list of 10 more I need to read before I die. I NEED to read them because I know they will bring me the enjoyment of literature, stories, and peeking into the lives of other’s in order to explore worlds I will never experience. It was then that I realised, reading could be something to live for. Reading could become a vital part of my “life worth living”. What about playing music? Learning something? The goals and enjoyment of learning new song son my saxophone became something I needed to stay alive for. What about running 10k? Yes, that is another thing I need to do. How about all those stupid moments with my significant other where we are running around the house being silly and laughing our heads off? That is part of my life worth living. What about that community project I became a part of? Helping people became another thing to live for, another part of my life worth living.
Do you see a difference? All of these fulfilments are profoundly personal. No one else sees, hears or necessarily knows about the books I’ve read, the songs I’ve learned or the dinner I helped to cook in the community project. Life remains complicated. That pit of despair still looms around me, a swirling whirlpool ready to suck me under and bash me amongst the waves of upheaval, morbidity and hopelessness. It still happens, but since my shift in focus it has been slightly easier to avoid any close calls with death. I am not living for anyone else. No-one else’s expectations of me are of as much importance as my own expectations of myself, which have been brought down to the ground.
So even though I may not be internationally magnificent, in the career I dreamt of as a 16 year old desperate to escape to a fantasy future worth living, or heading the features of any international publications I am, in my own way, carving a life worth living especially for me. That is what it means to build a life worth living for me in my journey: it was about focusing on the most miniature details of appreciation, satisfaction and personal successes. Even if for weeks on end, I “just breath”: when I can concentrate on my book again I will already be living a life worth living within that act alone. The possibility that one day I may lose my battle remains, however, the important point of focus is that as a result of the small things becoming the big things, I am more resilient than I once was – and that is a few gigantic steps towards winning. There is also the possibility that I will one day be an absolute winner as well.