If you’ve ever asked me that question, or wanted to, read this.
And watch out, because I’m about to get very, very real here for a few minutes.
Let me tell you a story.
One night, I was lying on my bed in my dorm room and crying. I don’t mean crying like when you’re sad; I mean crying like when your entire being is cracking open. I was bawling and shaking and having a lot of trouble breathing. What happened to get me into such a state? Nothing. I have depression.
It was 2 AM and I’d been crying for hours already and I couldn’t stop. There was nothing I could do. Cutting helps but it’s bad for you, and, as usual, I didn’t have a single person to talk to.
I don’t remember when exactly this was because this exact scene happens so damn often. But it was sometime within the last few months.
So I was lying there and pouring myself out. I felt increasingly miserable knowing that killing myself isn’t an option, because I could never do that to my family. I hated that. I felt trapped in a life I didn’t want anymore, all for the sake of the people I love. I have a sister who hasn’t even turned six yet, and a brother who recently turned nine. They’d remember me, they’d ask my parents what happened to me. I have an older brother who just got married. He would forever remember this year as the one in which he married the love of his life but lost his sister.
So what the hell could I do? Over the past eight years, I’ve only gotten worse, despite all the treatment I’ve been getting and despite having support from my friends and family at last. I can’t kill myself, I can’t live like this either, and those are the only two options.
The only other thing I could do, then, was pray.
I don’t believe in God. I haven’t for a long time. I refuse to believe that the Creator of this universe would allow all the war and genocide that happens on this planet, that He would send some people to hell just for being born with a different sexual orientation, that He’s so fucking concerned with whether I eat shrimp or not.
But whatever. I prayed anyway, just in case there IS a God and He loves all His children no matter what and all that stuff. I prayed for this all to stop, for me to be able to feel like a normal 20-year-old again, to make up for the time I’ve lost like this, making a mess of myself alone in my room.
I realized later that I never tried to bargain with Him. I didn’t offer anything. I didn’t promise to learn Hebrew or start going to services on Fridays or to stop getting cheese and sour cream in my burrito when I go to Chipotle. Most people do that when they pray–this is as good an indication as any that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with this God stuff.
So basically, I asked God for this huge favor–to change my brain chemistry, to change my personality, to erase the pain that every day brings–all for nothing! How presumptuous of me. Well, I’ve been thinking these past few weeks, and I’ve realized that I’ve been shown plenty of signs–not from God, maybe, but from the universe–as to how I should heal myself and how I should repay the world for helping me do it.
My calling is to help people and to make them happy. Everything I love in life relates to that somehow. I love writing things that people enjoy reading. I love talking to people who are feeling down and helping them find a way out of their sadness. I love playing with my brother and sister. I love getting gifts for my friends. I love making someone laugh. Somehow, when I do these things, I forget all about my stupid depression.
I’ve been in the depths of despair before, but a friend showed up who needed my help, and the act of helping them completely erased that despair. I realized what I’d needed that night when I was crying so hard I started praying–all I needed was for someone to knock on my door who needed my help.
This is why, after college and graduate school are over and I have my PhD, I will be a therapist. And I’ll spend all day talking to people, learning about them, understanding them, and helping them heal.
What doesn’t make me happy? Feeling like I’m not doing anything useful with myself. It follows that the things I don’t like doing are things that feel useless to me. Drinking. Partying. Watching TV. Having shallow conversations about boring stuff. Eating more than I want to eat. Sitting around.
This isn’t to say that I don’t get any pleasure out of the little things in life, because I do. There are too many of these things to list here, but they include being outdoors, swimming, organizing things, watching a good TV show or movie on occasion, joking around with close friends, taking photos, and eating good food, especially chocolate. And so on and so forth.
But this is a question of lifestyle, not details. My lifestyle is a “serious” one. I love studying and taking classes. I spend much of my free time talking and writing about social justice, politics, and psychology. In other words, I try to do things that make me feel like I’m contributing to the world rather than just floating along and satisfying my own desires.
My parents keep telling me that at my age I should be focused on “having fun.” Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should be. Maybe I would be if things hadn’t turned out the way they did. But after this year, when I was forced to confront some of the deepest questions I’ve ever had to ask myself–Why am I here? Why stay here?–I have to give myself reasons to keep living, and to keep living joyfully. Because that’s the only acceptable way to live.
My continued life is a gift. If not for my loving family and the many other ways in which I’ve been lucky, I probably would’ve killed myself long ago. But I didn’t. For some reason, I was given all these things that make me want to keep living. Yes, I happen to have a condition that makes me subject to frequent bouts of extreme fatigue and emotional pain. But that only makes me value even more those times when I’m happy and thinking straight. That makes me want to do something useful and meaningful with those times, not to waste them all away like people my age are expected to do. I waste enough time curled up in a ball and sobbing. I refuse to waste any more.
I am “so serious all the time” because that’s my way of healing myself and of repaying a world that has made me fortunate. And because, in order to prevent episodes like the one that led to this realization, I need to know that my continued existence is important, that I’m part of an interconnected web, that I’m not just living for myself, but for a world that, hopefully, needs me in it.
So don’t tell me to “stop being so serious.”