Let’s get real for a minute or two. The perennial question of my life – asked not only of me but by me, perhaps in equal amounts – is just what is wrong with me? Really? At no point in my life (outside of hypomania or outright mania, which I’ll get to in a bit) have I ever described myself as happy to anyone I trusted enough to be honest with. And while I’ve had reasons to be down, I’ve also certainly had reasons to be content.
I used to beat myself up about feeling down. Why was I so bothered by my situation? I always had a roof over my head, never came close to being homeless or starving, never suffered physical abuse, was gifted with above average intelligence (seemingly able to become adept at whatever it was I put my mind to), envied in a lot of ways by others… I’d guilt trip myself about these things, thinking about all the people who had it worse and how they still managed to figure it out and pull things together. So I’d try not to think about what was bothering me, and I wouldn’t talk about it with others. I felt like I was squandering all the blessings I’d been given – surely, as I wallowed about in my ennui and self-pity, there were a dozen other poor souls in some third world country somewhere who weren’t even being given nearly the same shot at life that I was and could still muster a better attitude about the whole thing than I did. What’s my problem?
In my youth I thought my problem was my mother. It seemed pretty obvious. She was emotionally abusive, and I’ve vomited enough words about that before. Naturally I thought that if I could just get away from her, then surely everything would work out. At first I just wanted to go live with my dad after the divorce happened, but my mother wouldn’t really allow this so I began to concoct more elaborate schemes to get away. I got accepted to a college while I was still in my junior year of high school, and they were going to take me even without a high school diploma – this plan fell through because my parents never finished filling out their end of the financial aid forms for various reasons. Then I tried to convince my mom that she should let me move in with a friend and his family but she wouldn’t allow this either. Eventually I worked out a deal to stay with another friend in Utah and told my mom I was going down there to go to school (which I wasn’t really) and thus began my adventures in Utah.
I suppose it bears mentioning that, at the time, if Sara had expressed to me that she’d rather not have me go, then I would have stayed. In any case, I envisioned some glorious future where, free of my mother’s negative influence, I’d be able to finally get down to writing my novel and perhaps find someone to date and even settle down with. As time wore on, however, I found this wasn’t the case. Despite having all the time in the world, I never sat down and wrote my novel. I failed spectacularly at any attempt to date. And I became more depressed than I’d ever recalled being. Yet despite all that I was still “doing well,” by other standards – I was racking up promotions and making way more money than I needed, able to afford anything my rather simple tastes could want.
And though I would rarely if ever admit it, there’d been plenty of times in my life where I’d been suicidally depressed. Though, I’d made an agreement with myself that I would never actually kill myself, because I felt it would somehow be like spitting in the faces of all those people born in other parts of the world who would do anything to have the opportunities I had. So instead I thought up this kind of “passive suicide” thing, which more or less amounted to not taking care of myself since I mostly couldn’t find a good reason to be alive anyway. This manifested itself to the extreme extrapolation of being okay with putting myself in a war zone and potentially getting killed and underscored some of my motivation in enlisting (aside from the more positive benefits – you know, training and education and maybe finding a purpose and things like that). I’d reasoned that if I couldn’t find a reason to to live, perhaps I could give my life to others so that they could. Or something.
Then I had the whole request mast bleeding into a manic episode thing. From the point where they told me I was being retired and had no chance in the military until my next episode, I more or less felt dead inside. During my next episode I had some crazed idea that I’d be able to start my own company and that seemed like a purpose, but once reality set in again I had nothing. I slowly started to piece things together after this (and particularly during my relatively minor third episode) and I guess that’s where things get a little complicated.
For a long time I was an agnostic. I even went so far as to call myself an apatheist. I ignored, for the most part, the religious overtones of my first episode and remained an agnostic while I was at the Wounded Warrior Battalion. One week before I had my second episode, I had a chance encounter with a bible study group at a train station while I was looking to get my bus pass figured out, and ended up taking a few business cards from the organizers. My second episode hits – again with religious overtones – but this time I wasn’t treated in the same manner the military doctors had treated me. The military doctors more or less issued me an ultimatum in the ward that said I wouldn’t be getting out of the maximum security area until I no longer had any grandiose thoughts – so I more or less shut myself away in my room for a day and forced myself not to think those thoughts. (I documented this in God Complex.) For my second episode, however, I was in the care of a state facility and they issued no such ultimatum, so I ended up talking a lot more freely about these religious preoccupations.
I’d grabbed one of the bibles off the reading shelf and (I don’t remember doing this) called one of the local pastors who had left his sticker on the inside of the bible. For whatever reason, he came down with another person from the church and visited me in the hospital. After I talked with him he pretty much told me I was off my rocker, left me with a bible and said (one way or another) I needed to get my stuff straight by reading that. Which I proceeded to do. It wasn’t the first time in my life I’d seen a bible – our family went to a Baptist church when I was growing up, and I used to win memorization contests and so on – but I hadn’t seriously opened one in a long time.
The more I read, the more things made sense. When I got back home, one of the bible study organizers (who had spent the past 30 years studying pretty much any religion you could think of) helped me through a lot of things as well. And this is where we get to the tricky part – I’m convinced God exists on the basis of what happened to me (which, mind you, I haven’t particularly written about in this post). This is tricky because any skeptic would dismiss my “proof” as being delusions caused by a mental disorder. It also puts me at odds with the vast majority of people I used to associate with.
On the other hand, I’m at odds with most Christians because I don’t really believe a lot of what mainstream Christians do. Moreover, I don’t yet currently believe the Bible is truly infalliable. This is because it is a collection of writings by some thirty or so different authors written over the course of thousands of years (itself now being thousands of years old) subject to all sorts of translation and transcription errors throughout time. I mean one of the most obvious errors with it is that it always says “do not take the name of the LORD in vain” but you won’t ever find “the LORD’s” name in any popular modern translation of the Bible! (Or Jesus’ name, for that matter!) Besides, if scripture truly were perfect, you wouldn’t need a teacher to explain it to you. (Moreover, Yeshua would have never had to come, even in his time, and explain to his disciples why the scripture pointed to him! Even back then, with much closer proximity to the events and in the original language and all that, people didn’t understand scripture.)
What I’m getting at is that I do know and believe that divine intervention has played a role in my life. Many wish for something like this to happen to them. Even still, I’m left wondering – now what? I seem to be stuck in the same rut. I can’t think of anything that truly excites or motivates me. Sure, sometimes an idea comes around (like the one a few weeks ago, now, about being a math teacher) that amounts to being “nifty.” But the enthusiasm is gone as quickly as it comes. There’s always The Problem. What’s wrong with me?
If I had to wager I’d say it’s this. Even if I’ve had other people love me, and show me love, and even if I can point to the best definition of love I can think of, I still can’t say that I know what love is. Moreso, I can’t say I know how to love others or how to love myself. The bible instructs that we are to love others as we love ourselves – but what if you don’t love yourself and don’t know how to? A lot of my relationships with people can be summed up as me trying to diabuse others of the notion that I’m anything other than awful.
And I really hope you don’t get the wrong idea and take this as an opportunity to be the next person to try to do something in that vein. Or that you think I’m fishing for compliments and what not. Because I’m not. And that’s exactly the kind of response that would normally keep me from expressing any of this. But there it is – in more words than I intended and probably a lot less than were sufficient – The Problem.
For maximal shame, today’s retro post is an awful poem I don’t even remember writing (or why I wrote it). Nevertheless, “enjoy.” As for scripture, the beautitudes seem fitting:
[MATTHEW 5:3-10] Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.