The following piece was written as a commissioned article by Aware Online, another great organization focusing on reforming the rhetoric around mental health.
They say if a friendship lasts more than seven years then it will last a lifetime. Can we just
appreciate how finite a time that is to make something permanent? There’s practically a ticking clock happening in the background of every text, of every hug, of every heart-to-heart conversation that happens in the wee hours of the morning after a night out. 5 years, 83 days, 9 hours, 2 minutes, 54 seconds. 3 years, 146 days, 13 hour, 22 minutes, 17 seconds. The quest to turn something transient into something permanent lingers behind every interaction.
I guess that’s why they say that family is so important. Family, in theory, is the answer for all of these forays into identity via community. Community, being that sought after group of individuals who give you a sense of belonging, is a natural desire and family is society’s equivalent to the Monopoly card for getting out of jail free. Play it right and you’ll stay within a community until the day you die. But I dare you to find anyone who says their family is perfect. You can love them, but there is always an exception. Ask someone about it and they’ll doubtlessly end their sentence with a “but…” and a sheepish grin. It’s practically a mortal sin to disparage about a family member, but I digress.
With all this considered, I’ve always found it funny and somehow logical that people scatter when you need them most. There’s so much rhetoric around community – it’s importance, nay, it’s essentialness to the human condition – but there is rarely any action. Not enough, anyway, in my personal experience. Not in the 21st century, the modern world where we apply medicines to everything and repress the actual conversation that needs to happen when we discover that we aren’t, medically speaking, invincible after all these years of fighting ailments. The fact that there is an underlying possibility that maybe there is something biologically miswired within the human brain, something that happens at the synapse level and so clearly cant be handled by a scalpel and dexterous hands, is alarming to mankind because it cannot be eliminated. There’s no way to trick the system, to stack the deck. There’s only genetics and a little bit of luck.
I always tease my parents that I hit the genetic jackpot. At first, it was a visual thing. They’re both five-ten, five-eleven, with brown eyes and dark hair complementing their perpetually tan complexions. My brother is the same way. And then there’s me: five-five, alabaster white with green eyes and dark auburn hair. Every recessive gene in the pool, so to speak. But then the joke became a little more sinister: it started with anxiety creeping into my adolescent years, rendering me at times immobile and, at worst, hysterical; then, in my young adulthood, came the crippling depression and spiraling suicidal thoughts that invaded my consciousnesses and wound me around and around until I would fall asleep in a haze of Xanax. I sought out help and, as it turns out, was placed on a medical cocktail, a combination of the drugs that helped my parents to regulate their own biological systems. I walked out with my prescription held high from the pharmacist and declared facetiously, “Thanks, Mom & Dad!”
But those were the days that I wrote. I wrote like Hemingway and Ginsberg, alcoholic and at times incoherent. I wrote like I was in conversation with all the greats that had come before me. I’ve never been able to write happy. It’s only in that twilight zone between despair and elation, that grey area where you feel the numbness and the acuity when it comes to human emotion, that I was able to feel the whole range of what I needed to write. It came at a cost though. Staying within that darkness cost me community. Those friends that didn’t make it to the seven year mark. Those family members that I held so close were now subject to cryptic conversations where I would try to hide away what I was feeling so strongly in every cell in my body. That community I was promised as my birthright became my cross to bear as I tried to decide where my life was heading. I was alive and I was dying. There was no in-between.
I’m not encouraging this lifestyle. I would not return to it – to the day I almost intentionally crashed my car or to the day I asked my mother to hide the razor blades in the house – but I would not trade my experience for something else. Yes, you lose the traditional community when you admit to the demons inside your head. People scatter. If given the choice, more people choose flight than fight.
But hear me when I say this, reader – whoever you are and whatever your condition: no one is alone. There is just the singularity that defines you away from the pack and propels you into the wider community of those who battle their diseases and fight every single day. It’s a tiring war, but one bad day does not define you. One bad week. One bad minute. One bad year. One bad second. Perhaps you too hit the genetic jackpot. But you know who else did? Twain. Keats. Faulkner. Hemingway. Fitzgerald. Poe. Vonnegut. Rowling. Hell, depression has not struck down only the literary community, but it has given us the greats of Degas and Van Gogh! A quick Google search will even tell you politicians who shaped the very world we live in today were subject to their own plagues – from Abraham Lincoln to Winston Fucking Churchill. All these people, singular in their achievements and wonderous to behold; they were all forced to sacrifice the communities so traditional to society and still were able to achieve new heights.
Perhaps you were born a little different, a little misconfigured, a little messed up. But that does not for one moment mean that you are undeserving of community. It’s just one that takes a little time to find. Don’t give up the battle because you feel alone. Let yourself feel. Drive yourself forward no matter how steep the hill and pursue your art, whatever that may be, with the same vigor and singularity of all those who have come before you. Find solace in their company. Recognize that maybe, just maybe, this is surmountable.
I dare you.