There are people who have a natural zest for life. If given the time they would live voraciously and they would wish to live forever if the option was available. Then there are people who okay with whatever status quo they are in, and they don’t feel terribly wrong going through their rinse-and-repeat routines everyday. Many others are simply too busy surviving to even think about how they actually want to live their lives – their options are limited by their societies and systems.
I don’t belong to any of these groups. Earlier in my life chronic stress made me feel life was rather meaningless, now I have removed most of my external stressors only to discover that my capacity to live well is low. If you put a dog in a cage and subject it to chronic stress for most of its life it will take a long time to be rehabilitated, if it was even possible at all. Like if you over-stretch a rubberband it will never return to its original shape again. I guess I can go on with the metaphors.
I think that is what modern societies are doing to a lot of people. We either thrive with the system by becoming a person good at chasing the designated milestones or we develop learned helplessness. We spend such a long time of our lives in a system that rewards us when we’re do what we’re told. Some of us would like to change, but it is difficult to develop boundaries and make decisions for ourselves when we are so used to being compliant and making decisions the supposed benefit of the group.
My partner loves making art. Whenever she has free time, she goes straight for her art, and doesn’t stop until she has to. Whenever I have free time, I doomscroll. There are things I would intellectually like to do, like work on this website. But somehow I am weighed down by a sense of chronic mental fatigue. I don’t know if this fatigue is the outcome of surviving chronic migraines or the outcome of fighting against the system my entire life, or both.
Sometimes I imagine myself being struck by a terminal illness or suddenly dying in an accident. I would be so upset with myself for all the time I had wasted doomscrolling. Other times I have this awareness that I lack compassion for myself – I am unable to empathise with the person who is in a long, drawn-out battle with her body and brain.
This has been a recurring theme in my recent posts: I think it takes energy to live consciously, to want to do wholesome things and actually do it. It is like eating. We could just buy an average takeout and be satisfied, or actually take the time and effort to cook something delicious for ourselves. Many of us would choose the average takeout, because we’re just too mentally tired to go through the work of cooking. I deeply envy the ones who really enjoy cooking and don’t relate to it as a chore.
A lot of things in life can be perceived as chores. Again, I think this is an outcome of being forced to do things from a very young age. Logically speaking, everyone should feel incentivised to eat healthily, exercise and lead a meaningful life right? Why do we constantly choose to distract ourselves with alcohol, shopping, relationships, etc instead?
Doing meaningful things require a sort of psychological stamina because they often require effort and they may not be instantly gratifying. Writing posts like this every week is definitely not instantly gratifying. Many a time there is no gratification at all. Scrolling reddit to look at cute animal videos seem more worthwhile to my dopamine starved brain.
I think I’ve exhausted my psychological stamina earlier in my life and now the consequence is my brain associates most activities as energy-draining. I do have two and a half faint embers flickering: bicycling and this weekly writing. Bicycles may be the only thing I claim to moderately love now. Writing is more of a spiritual commitment, a spiritual commitment to my self since I am not religious.
To write and publish, is a very conscious decision. There is no two ways about it. It is honestly easier not to write, and why should I publish my skeletons for everyone to see? Perhaps it is one of the few if not only connection to the outer world. As long as I continue to write, I can still see that I still care somewhat.
I call reading a half ember because there are long periods when I just don’t pick up a book. Everything needs momentum and to start reading requires a person to consciously drop everything else and enter a quiet mental space. Sometimes there’s just no such space available, other times the fatigued brain prefers bite sized social media just like a sugar addiction.
I often wonder what my life would be if I don’t suffer from migraines anymore. I wonder if that would finally give me the psychological stamina and momentum to work on my creative projects, or if I would end up taking my health for granted and burn myself out again. I wonder if I have learnt and fully digested all the lessons I needed to learn. I wonder if my migraines would fade if one day I find the elusive balance of regulating myself. So many ifs.
In the meantime I guess learning to lead a quiet life with the awareness to live small meaningful moments and knowing what to truly cherish while learning to regulate my self is my ongoing goal. I feel like there are times when I just give up and everything becomes trash, until a recovery period when I consciously decide to try again. If I’m lucky it takes days to complete one cycle. If I’m unlucky and lose myself it could take years.
My partner observes my spiralling periods have become shorter. There is usually a setback, then a spiralling, then a period of recovery, and then the slow acquisition of a well-being that is enough to start living meaningfully and being creative. I think my spiralling and recovery periods have become shorter, but the time to rebuild my spiritual and creative well is still long drawn.
Life is essentially a practice, a skill to be honed. I can only hope I have enough time, and enough moments of insight and awareness. Wanting more time is a strange twist for a person with chronic suicidal tendencies. That is a faint ember in itself I suppose.