This week I came across a book by Po Bronson called What should I do with my life? In it he interviews people from all walks of life and across the globe, on their experience with the question and their search for meaning in life. I highly recommend reading it.
I described my discovery of this book to a friend as one of those serendipitous moments in life. It was a time when I needed to read this book as other challenges and questions presented themselves to me.
My own search for meaning in my life has always been one source of my depression. A source that involved constant questioning of my work and life pursuits, coupled with a grief that I had lost something or was missing a piece of myself. To read a book where strangers describe your very thoughts and feelings as their own, well, it is pure solace.
You see when you are going through your own depression it is a struggle to see outside of yourself. It can be hard to summon the energy to do much of anything let alone appreciate that others may feel as you do. And when you are ready to talk, to share some of your deep, dark moments, it takes bravery and energy to surmount the wall of shame and guilt that you may feel. A wall that you feel for being weak, struggling, broken. So talk rarely happens. When it does it proceeds at a glacial pace whilst you learn to trust some that “get it”, whilst avoiding others that don’t.
For me personally it felt like admitting defeat, a failure to cope with life. It was selfishness that made me deal with depression alone for so long; asking for help seemed like giving up. Or in some perverse, non-logical way that receiving help was “cheating”. Like using a special code in a computer game to level up because you kept getting “game over”. Of course that’s ridiculous. But less ridiculous things have made people think crazy things for time eternal.
At various points through my depression journey I learnt something that helped, or made improvements to myself that made a difference. In that slow drip way I moved forward. Now and then I would find someone that felt as I did and wanted to talk. In those moments it was like discovering a piece of yourself that had been missing for years, fitting it back in like a puzzle and being overcome by emotion. It was someone placing their hadn’t on your arm saying “I see you. I hear you.” All with just a knowing look. Those times it felt like no energy was used but a lot was gained. I felt like I’d plugged myself into the mains and was recharging by being open and honest with someone. I coined it “real talk” in my book The Noisy Mind, but even when I wrote that chapter I made it sound simpler that it is in reality. You see talking and sharing are one thing, but opening up and exploring your pain are another level. This is what real talk is about. It stops you feeling lonely and connects you with a human being on a level so rare and different it makes you cry.
In the past I may have inserted a funny quip or self deprecating remark about my experience or writing. But I am trying to move away from that, I no longer want to make fun of my thoughts and feelings to make others more comfortable. The comedy is a hangover learnt as a child form my Dad, something he would do to make light of things we talked about, things important to me.
There will be many men and women that would laugh at this writing, or say it is stupid. Perhaps even that it is not what men should do.
That is another reason I felt so lonely for so long (and still do). As a child I learnt a way of dealing with emotions that wasn’t healthy, but was normal; bottle them up and stay strong for those around you, be a good boy. As I grew into a young man I was presented with various stereotypes of what people should be, most of them bollocks. As I have grown older I’ve seen all this change in some amazing ways, allowing people to be who they want to be.
For me it’s been a conflict of thoughts and feelings for years, which is where writing and reading became a companion. A place where I could write about how I was suffering and read others talk about how they had dealt with the same. And in reading these stories over the years I felt less lonely for a time. I had a friend in those authors that understood, that cared and shared their love and wisdom through the power of writing. It was what helped me emerge from my darkest moment to write a book about managing depression. At that time I said I wanted to help others, that’s why I write. It wasn’t wrong, but the more I wrote the more I realised I was helping myself and doing what I found it impossible to do in person. To speak openly and honestly about my depression without having to deal with someone else. It was a small recharge of my batteries, a stepping stone to therapy and then to a creative year like no other. What I wanted then and now is for someone out there to read something in my books and find solace as I did. It was and still is my reaching out to say “I see you. I hear you.” and lay a comforting palm upon their arm.
I’ll end here for now because this is enough. There will be more to come this year as I write. But I hope that whoever you are, wherever you may be, you know that you are not alone in how you feel. Your questioning mind is not broken, so don’t give up the search. Just know that there are others out here floating about in their own boats with one paddle. We’ll find each other one day soon.