I’ve just finished two books that brought me great comfort at a very difficult time, Stitches by Anne Lamott and Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky.
It is telling that in times of difficulty it is not really books of optimism and positivity that helped me, but books that deal with similar tones of existential pain. I am not alone in this, I have to keep telling myself.
I guess there is a same thread running through some of my own writing, in many ways I am paying a really weird debt forward. I have survived and coped by knowing that there are others like me out there, so I want to be part of that effort to keep the circle running. You are not alone, because I am here.
There is always this conflicted ball of feelings when I try to process my feelings about the passing of someone like David Foster Wallace. Not only I understand why, I relate to it and I am perversely envious. Yet my feelings are mixed with some form of despair – does it mean a similar fate await for me; sometimes it does not have to be literal suicide that takes life away, the seemingly inescapable gradual numbing that takes place in order to survive, is a form of death too. There is also a sense of betrayal, for those of us left behind.
We understand that though there is an intellectual understanding that escaping life does not solve the problem, yet there is no point in trying to tell that to us when we are in that terrible depth. It is so easy for people to tell us to stop trying to give up, when they are not the one having to live with that darkness. A darkness that feels so foreign and yet so intimate at the same time.
It is difficult when I am so used to this that I have learned to become highly functional – I can no longer tell which is worse, being so acutely afflicted that there has to be some desperate intervention, or being in this state of chronic perpetual dysfunction that it becomes dishonored. Everything on the surface is great: supportive family and friends, professional work that aligns with personal mission, after three decades of living I have finally realized I do not have to put up with people’s bullshit, blessed with a privileged amount of mobility not afforded to most people in the world. I have a ton of guilt, for not being able to do more when I have so much because half the time I am really trying to breathe, for causing people hurt because I have to be so goddamned honest with my pain.
But it is that same pain and honesty that makes me, me. I would not be able to do the work I do, write the way I write, love the world so profoundly – which still trips me up, why do I love so much of what tries to kill me – without that pain and the precise sensitivity to it. It has become a source of strength and it will continue to grow as one, if it doesn’t kill me first. It is like injecting poison to build up immunity to it. It could either be life-saving or lethal.
There is always a trade-off. I have traded off some form of robustness in order to always be susceptible to the pain, maybe because in the end, it is really the same susceptibility to joy and life itself too. It may not have been a trade-off I was consciously capable of making, because is life truly life to me without the fullest expression of sentience we have been gifted?
I hope I do have the conscious choice of being someone capable of sharing every dimension of me, the pain, the joy, the ugliness, the beauty, the struggles and the celebrations.