There’s no argument that the best art comes from the dark side of human existence. Whether it’s a brief journey across the border of sanity into the unknown, or the marshalling of emotions from one’s own experience, the exceptional seems to rise from the areas in which conflict and struggle are the norm.
Lately, I’ve had these experiences in spades. In fact, the nature of the manner in which I interface with the world has rendered the majority of my life a fertile field for a massive yield of angst-related “art”. You’d think by now I’d be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author in every category. That is excepting of course the “feel good” category. Wait, I’m not sure they have that one anymore, at least not since World War II.
I have won no prizes. I have received no cash, no scholarships, no accolades on the front page of the New York Times Sunday book supplement. I haven’t completed a novel, or anything even close. I’ll provide some insight as to why.
I overthink everything. Given the amount of mental run-time I’ve devoted to my limited life experiences, you’d think I grew up in extreme poverty as a black man in the Deep South; that I’ve fought in at least two wars (on the losing side); and that I’ve gone through a number of tumultuous divorces, boiled rabbits and crazed knife-wielding included.
But no, a hundred times no. I grew up in a happy, well-adjusted household. I had two loving parents, who are still together. The closest I’ve come to a war is signing up with selective service for the draft when I was 18. I’ve never been the victim of a crime; I’ve never failed at anything substantial. And yet, I feel as if I have been through the ringer. I sit here, almost 42, with streaks of gray in my beard, 70 pounds overweight, tired all the time, living paycheck to paycheck, feeling sad and alone. What went wrong?
Let’s cherry pick a few of those wrong turns; and there are many. For the last three years, I’ve had to deal with an out of control teenager who, for at least two good years, reminded me on a daily basis that I am both a crappy parent and a powerless coward. I spent the majority of my thirties (which is supposed to be the prime of your life) playing World of Warcraft. That game does you a great favor: it provides you with a running tally of how much time you’ve spent playing. I would not doubt that I probably played four straight years of that game during my fourth decade on this earth. That’s 40% of ALL time during that period. Suffice it to say, the lion’s share of important things that I should have accomplished were left undone.
I have spent the last ten years of my life outrageously obese. I am told on a daily basis that I am “not fat” or that I “don’t seem overweight”. That is complete and utter horseshit. I oscillate between 250 and 270 pounds. Across this spectrum, I am morbidly obese, meaning that I am significantly reducing both my quality of life and my lifespan. There’s something in life expectancy-related demographics known as “disability-free years”. What that means is there are really two important numbers in life expectancy: how long you’ll live and how long you’ll live without being disabled. At the rate I’m going, my disability-free years are slowly and desperately drawing to a close. I have no endurance and no energy. The years where my body would have responded more readily and efficiently to a change in lifestyle (my thirties) were conveniently consumed by long periods of “bum on seat” computer worshiping.
The all-revealing information orgasm that is the internet assures us that we’ll have access to data regarding “the others” that we cannot help but engage in self-esteem-defeating comparative hypotheticals. I fail in both of these respects. Compared to my contemporaries from high school and college (people of similar intelligence and ability) I’m about at the bottom. If I look just at myself and my own expectations, it is clear to me that I have only managed to scratch the surface of my potential. I am pretty close to a genius, and I am working a job which, while sustainable, is about as close to a dead end as is imaginable. My creative output is shit. My physical shape (I hiked around Mt. Rainier for 100 miles when I was 18) is laughably poor. When you put together my asthma, my weight, and my heart, it doesn’t take a degree from Johns Hopkins to see the direction I’m headed.
My attempts to pull myself out of this rut have been pathetic to a tee. I am psychologically addicted to food as a means of addressing or alleviating depression and (even more pathetic) as a means of rewarding good behavior, up to and including eating right and exercising!
When I was young, I was a coward. Don’t get me wrong, I was not a physical coward, nor much of a moral coward. But I was a coward nonetheless. I wasn’t able to break out of preconceived societal notions about how relationships should be, what success should look like, what duty to country and community means. The most immediate result was that I was unable to maintain good long term relationships with women, several of whom were truly wonderful individuals. In particular, I went through a period when I was 20-21 when I was in love with two women. Rather than just tell both of them that fact, subjecting myself to the very possible result of being rejected by both, I juggled them around like hot potatoes until I had caused severe, undue and undeserved pain to both of them. I loved them; I was a coward; they suffered for my weakness.
More recently, I have toyed with the idea of being polyamorous, without really knowing what that means. My attempts to find a secondary partner have failed, not necessarily because there aren’t available candidates, but because the very nature of being secondary is understandably repugnant to most women. Several friends have pointed out persuasively that with a few “candidates” I was selfishly pushing them into a secondary relationship when what they really wanted (or needed) is a primary relationship. I don’t want to leave someone I care about perpetually unsatisfied, as much as it may make me feel good in the short term.
I don’t know where I want to go in my life. My mortality is making its inescapable presence increasingly clear to me. And I am afraid of death, yet somehow not afraid enough to engender forward movement, even to make small lifestyle changes that could readily stave off inevitable death.
I could go on and on; at some point I developed the pessimistic tendency to simply write everything in my life off as crap or likely-to-become-crap. But it is this spot; it’s this spot that I will try to mark as “rock bottom” and elicit some sort of movement; some sort of progress. Suffice it to say, and for reasons I’ve already clearly conveyed, I’m not optimistic.
Guest post by ericb, mindless drone from Sector 7.
This post makes me sad, Eric. And I believe you have a lot of company. As a provider, I see people all the time who are living way below their potential. The people who “have something to blame it on” can hide behind that curtain; the people who don’t feel exposed (and oftentimes stupid and/or guilty).
We all go through lousy periods in life; I know I sure have. Getting motivated to do ANYTHING constructive was difficult for months at one point, and years for another. Antidepressants got me through a particularly bad year. I’m a big believer in therapy; it’s a beautiful thing to have somebody totally objective flip your head open and observe what’s going on inside. And tinker with it…with your permission. If I ran the place, I’d make therapy mandatory for everybody in their late 20s; I think it would eliminate so many issues that people have down the road.
I don’t know what the answer is for you. What works for one person might not work for another. For all of us, though, our ancestors relied on eating real food (which is expensive), regular exercise (who has the time?), and getting enough rest (quite un-American). The older I get, the more I strive to make this stuff happen. I realize it’s clichéd…and after spending 20 years in healthcare, I’m fully aware of what medicine cannot do to help us live. Not survive, LIVE. Our minds, hearts, and bodies are more connected than people think. We try to separate them into different categories, and it doesn’t work. Dysfunction in one area will affect the other two.
Step One: Recognition. It takes an incredible amount of insight to be this honest with yourself, much less write a guest blog! I don’t know how you’ll find your way back, but your spark is clearly still there. I hope the rest of us will get to see more of it.
I wish you well, friend.
And I love “The Simpsons” reference…
Thanks for reading, Kelly! And thanks for your response to ericb’s post. We want to see a lot more of his spark too, and we’re grateful for his raw honesty.