I’ve found that going through life is a lot like creating art. For me, my medium is the written word, and before I sit down and actually begin to type out what comes to my mind, a litany of wonderful thoughts float through my head about what I envision coming out on the page.
I think of many different ideas I want to portray, form several sentences and tie them together in elegant symmetry with one another that results in a truly moving and thought-provoking piece.
Yet, when I finally begin to actually write, not all those sentences return to me in the ways I expressed them in my head, and the final written result proves to be a shadow of the idea I thought I had.
Reflecting back on my life as I mark the milestone of turning 40, I consider the analogy fairly apt: I had what I thought were great ideas and plans for myself, but what actually occurred turned out to be not quite what I’d hoped.
Which isn’t to say that I’m disappointed, but that the result doesn’t match the vision. Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised and the story turns out even better than we’d planned, but for me, that has proven to be the exception instead of the rule, at least in my perception.
I’ve found that a lot of life is learning to accept things as they are. That probably sounds obvious to most, but as an idealist, that has proven to be challenging for me. Acceptance isn’t the same thing as settling, and it’s not the same thing as ceasing efforts to make things better – it’s coming to terms with how things currently are and learning to be alright with them in the event they don’t change.
What I specifically have in mind when I say that is twofold: my ambition and my battle with depression. I’m about to be very open about myself, and this is humbling because it’s not the most flattering way of describing who I’ve been, but it’s true, and we don’t learn from each other or from ourselves if we aren’t honest.
This is going to make me sound like a prick (and, well – maybe I have been one), but for as long as I can remember into my earliest childhood, I’ve wanted to be great. I’ve thought the same is true of everyone to some extent, but I’ve started questioning that assumption a decent bit – maybe a lot of people really are just content to live life as it comes to them without aspiring to some pinnacle (honestly, I’d really like to know: what’s your experience?).
But as egotistical as this makes me sound, I’d always sought to leave my mark in the world, to do something important, to be someone the history books would remember. Some of this stems from father issues, seeking some deep kind of affirmation that for whatever reason I never felt I had, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. What that “more” is remains a mystery to me.
Without rehashing my entire life history, which I’ve done a decent bit of elsewhere, the important thing to note is that at a young age, in my early 20s, I failed quite dramatically, imploding my self-image and understanding, unintentionally but nonetheless hurting people emotionally and spiritually in my wake. A great deal of my life since then, nearly 20 years, has been spent trying to grasp just where I go from there.
This goes somewhat hand-in-hand with my lifelong struggle with depression, as that demon has impacted in various ways my ability to be the kind of person and do the kinds of things I wanted. It is quite literally only within the last several weeks that it’s begun to dawn on me that the loneliness I so often feel is something I am going to wrestle with, off-and-on, likely till the end of my days, regardless of how actually alone I really am. It’s a feeling of isolation and disassociation that is independent of how truly isolated I am in reality, and it’s one of the largest drivers behind why I write: the small hope that, through some words I use, someone – you, maybe – might actually be able to, for the briefest of moments, see through my eyes and feel what I do; maybe for a fleeting instant we could truly connect.
As a teenager and into my 20s, I thought finding my true love would cure that ache inside me. I’ve learned that it’s mercy that has to this point left me unattached, as no human is meant to bear that kind of weight of expectation, nor can any human truly bring that relief.
Nonetheless, I have regrets in love, people I’ve hurt that I wish I could heal, people whose emotional pain because of our relationship means that my words only have the potential to cause more harm; there’s no healing to be found in them, because they come from me. And that realization breaks my heart. If I could make things right and erase the pain and the mistakes, I would. But it’s another kind of acceptance to come to terms with this fact: I can’t.
So what is the point of my self-reflection here, as I somehow find myself at 40 and unable to hide anymore from the weight of “mid-life”? I guess I might as well ask, “Why do people write or say anything at all?” I hope maybe you can learn something from my experiences. I hope you might understand somewhere deep within you what I’m trying to express, what it’s like in some small part to be me.
Maybe that’s the deepest root of my childhood ambitions. Maybe I’d hoped that whatever “greatness” I achieved would mean I wouldn’t feel so alone – that people would want to know me, to empathize with me, to think like I think and feel like I feel. Maybe there’s a buried fear so far under the surface that, in some way even I haven’t known, I’ve felt alone my entire life, and I’m afraid I’ll reach the end of it having never felt otherwise.
Huh. Look at that: this short, written journey took a twist I didn’t remotely anticipate when I started it. The result exceeded the idea. Unintended symmetry – the best kind.
Which shows that the other reason I write is to help me understand myself.