I’m Not Okay, but I’ll Get There: Where Am I?

It’s been a strange year so far. In my struggle to learn the ins and outs of being a functional adult, I’ve come to encounter many issues that have been lingering in my subconscious mind, issues I hadn’t even noticed until they were placed directly in my path. Motivational posters and self-help authors like to tell you that progress is made by dramatic (and sometimes expensive) steps forward. If you have problems, go through them. Sure, that might work for a running back or somebody who forgets there’s a screen door in front of them, but that used car sales-pitch that your happiness and well-being are the only things that matter in life will only see you repeating your self destructive cycles with different scenery. What I’ve come to learn this year is that – though looking forward will prevent you from running into things – it also helps to look down. And no, that’s not a religious metaphor. Even under the best circumstances, life is like a waltz across a glass floor. While community is important, and you need people in your life to hold you accountable and help you get through things, people are complicated, and emotional, and quick to put so much weight on your shoulders that shattering that glass floor becomes inevitable. So what do we do to prolong this metaphorical shattering? We lie.

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There is no greater myth than the one that begins with, “I’m okay.” If I had a dollar for every time I told somebody that I’m okay, I would be a rich man, but I’ll come back to this. I want to talk about prolonging the inevitable shattering for just a minute. I was at lunch today with a couple of friends, and we started talking about depression and other mental health issues that people don’t like to admit to, when I was asked if I ever figured out what was at the root of my own depression. To be completely honest, I’ve never put a lot of thought into it, and it’s not because I don’t think it’s worth the intrigue. It’s because there isn’t one particular moment that caused it. There were several, and following the trail back through the fun house of my memories would be nothing more than a painful reminder of all the things I can never get back. How did I answer the question? I lied . . . sort of. I said something about being lonely and feeling unloved as a child. While that was defintely on the laundry list of things I took to therapy, it wasn’t the cause, not exactly. And for the rest of the day, I tried to figure out what the cause was, thus causing me to think myself into that familiar oblivion that I have enough real estate in to build a luxurious Summer home. Did I reach a conclusion? Yeah, sort of. I don’t doubt that depression can be triggered by certain events, but having spent enough time in those trenches, I don’t think it’s born of one specific thing as much as it’s a gradual build up of a painful awareness that in a world of vivid color and allegedly infinite possibility, nothing is what it seems. It’s like finding out that wrestling is fake. Yeah, you can still enjoy it to some extent, but you’ve seen through the illusion, and it’ll never be the same as it was before.

In my attempts to deal with these feelings and get to a place where I’m strong and functional enough to exist in a world where people actually decorate illusions instead of looking through them, I’ve found myself at a cross roads of being and becoming, which has lead to me to ask two fundamental questions: Where am I? And where do I want to go from here? For example, my life is spread out through so many different possible career paths right now that I’m almost drowning myself in exhaustion. I can be Josh Pederson video game journalist, or Josh Pederson media creator, or Josh Pederson high school teacher, or Josh Pederson novel writer. In reality I know that I can continue to do all of those things, but in each of those possibilities somebody wants or needs something from me that’s going to consume time. And in the midst of this journey, I’ve realized that time is not a limitless commodity. I’m also trying to figure things out spiritually (that’s another blog entry for another day), and also hoping to meet that special somebody who won’t try to make me something I’m not, or tear my heart from my chest because I don’t meet their expectations of the perfect man. I know that I would like to settle down, start a family, and be able to comfortably support them one day, but all things considered, I keep asking myself . . . at what cost?

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All of this because everything I thought I was and who I always thought I would be has become unraveled over the years. Depression and mental illness aren’t exactly the cause of all of that, but it has made the journey that much more difficult, and in a slightly destructive sort of way, that much more beautiful. And for the longest time I was stopping to pick up all of the broken pieces of myself and foolishly trying to put them back together, like some sort of puzzle, not stopping to realize that there’s a reason they broke apart in the first place. I used to look at people and ask myself why I couldn’t be like them. Why can’t I be normal? I’ve come to realize that normal is an impossible standard. It’s an illusion of our own making. Normal would mean that life has run out of ways to surprise you. The illusion is thinking that money and stability are the most important things in the world, or if you don’t get married by a certain age you’ll die alone, or that there’s a point when it’s too late to change things in your life. But we tell ourselves these things, we give into these modern myths and illusions because despair is perfect. It might be the most perfect thing we ever experience, and it’s so much easier to wrap ourselves up in it like it’s a warm blanket on a cold winter night than it is to go outside and brave the cold.

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As for those fundamental questions of: Who am I? And where do I go from here? The greatest illusion of them all is thinking that there’s a point when those questions get answered. I was talking to a friend this week, who said that he always thought that life would stop being so uncertain once he got settled into a career and started a family, but once he achieved those things he had more uncertainties than he did before. For me personally, these days I basically live off of stress, energy drinks, and a severe lack of sleep. This is partly due to my poor time management skills and mostly due to people sucking the life out of me because, as I’ve mentioned before, I have a difficult time saying no when somebody needs help. I keep telling myself that if I could only have a couple of weeks off I could level out and things would be okay, but while learning the ins and outs of being an adult, I’ve come to the detrimental conclusion that this is being adult. This is life. There will always be a difficult decision to make, or somebody to deal with, or an obstacle to overcome. We lie to ourselves and our loved ones and say that we’re okay, but until you can admit that you’re not okay, and you’ll never be okay again, there’s no way you’ll be able to find your identity in the midst of the chaos, and the chaos will leave scars, but you’ll live. It’s like Lewis Black says in the film Accepted, “My ass looks like hamburger meat, but at least I can still sit down.” For every answer I get or problem I solve in this journey of becoming, I’m met with more questions and more problems. Where am I? I’m here. Maybe some day I’ll be somewhere else. I know that I need to stop seeking certainties and stop comparing my life to the lives of other people, but I also know that it’s not that easy. Ben Brooks says this in his novel, Lolito, “Sometimes I think of atoms as tiny people who are extremely scared and hold hands with each other a lot. I imagine that my body is made of tiny, scared people, and they pick up mugs and books, which are made of other tiny, scared people. I think about the tiny people that are me and I feel less alone. I’m an army of tiny people, trying their best.” Sometimes trying your best is all you can do. It’s a lot better than giving up.

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