I saw a meme this week that suggested that the reason a baby cries at the time of birth is because that experience is the worst experience of its life. It seemed like just an interesting observation at first, but later I realised that it spoke volumes about perception and reality. Several incidents since then, including the passing of Robin Williams prompted me to revisit many aspects of how poorly we define our own realities.
At times in my life when I was riding the crest of the wave, I found myself mildly annoyed by the actions of others that did not meet my expectations. It was easy enough to shrug off because I had enough else happening in my life that made me feel accomplished and relevant. So I would ignore it and instead polarise towards those groups or activities that bred positivity in my life. After some time, the trend of being disappointed by the actions of significant others seemed to grow, and given a few stumblings of my own, I found those disappointments weighing down on me much heavier than before. Suddenly I didn’t have the abundance of good vibes from the crest of the wave to keep me grounded in positivity, and so I slipped from being easy going, to being disappointed.
That disappointment grew as my reality continued to throw curve balls at me. I started wondering where did I make a wrong turn. When did the wave throw me over so that I would find myself crashing into its trough? Blaming myself for my slide didn’t help much, and soon enough I found that the disappointment started turning into despondency and a deeply ingrained sense of sadness. That sadness lingered longer than the brief smiles I would muster. But I still found myself questioning myself. I questioned my worth to those around me who kept disappointing me, and I questioned my competence to make the right decisions to break this cycle that I found myself in, but all I ended up with were questions and no answers.
I kept doing what I thought was the right thing, but I found myself challenged to uphold the principles that I subscribed to. The more I tried to live a principled life, the more I found people in my life demanding a response from me that would force me to choose. Be true to my principles and values, or succumb to their pressure so that I would feel included? Inclusion was another evasive aspect of my life. Perhaps that is why I find it so easy to dismiss the negativity associated with being the odd one out. So I chose to be principled, and despite being true to myself, the disappointing reaction I got from those that were encouraging me to throw caution to the wind and live a little weighed down on me even more. And so I continued to question myself, even though I couldn’t find enough reason to abandon my principles.
So the slide into despondency continued. I looked at the pitfalls of the lives of those around me, the emptiness, the trinkets, the lies, and most of all the insincerity. All it did was make me more adamant to hold on to what I chose for myself even though holding on grew more difficult by the day. There were endless cycles of insincere ones coming into my life, celebrating my resolve, embracing my principles and me along with it, and then drifting away when the burden of commitment to our shared ideals became too burdensome for them. The moment it meant reducing their popularity with the social circles that they aspired to be a part of, they abandoned those principles because affirmation was more important. Being insincere didn’t bother them, because the people they aspired to be like were equally insincere, which made it acceptable.
I didn’t want that for myself, and so I continued to search each time for someone that appeared sincere in their conviction to subscribe to that which I subscribed to. But the cycle ended in disappointment each time, and each time I found myself contemplating the hopelessness of it all more seriously than the last. The hopelessness quickly grew into depression until I was diagnosed as being depressed and placed on medication to help me out of what was assumed to be a clinical condition that I had acquired.
The medication didn’t help. If anything, it made me feel numb. I didn’t want to feel numb. At least in the disappointment and the depression there was still a sense of purpose and passion. Even though that purpose and passion didn’t always bring me joy, it still gave me a reason to want to prevail. But now all I felt was numbness. My jaw tightened, but my senses dulled. I was easier for people to tolerate, but my contempt for what I saw outside of me started being redirected internally. I didn’t like the state I found myself in. I didn’t like the lack of passion or purpose that I felt, and the entire situation was unnatural. I was not me anymore, and I hated it. So I stopped. I weaned myself off my medication, visited my psychiatrist once again, and he confirmed that it was the quickest recovery he had ever seen. His praise fell on deaf ears.
I soon realised that the medication didn’t alter what I despised in those around me. Nor did it give me reason to change my conviction about right and wrong. With or without the medication, my reality remained my reality. The only difference was, with the medication I was numb and unable to respond to it effectively, while without it I was forced to deal with the full impact of it. I chose the latter because I knew that inaction and passivity, as was my perpetual state with the medication, was not a life to be lived. It was merely an existence that made me more tolerable for others, and made others less annoying for me. At best, it was a distraction, but at worst, it was a nightmare, with me standing on the outside looking in. Those moments when I tried to scream and no sound came out. It reminded me of those dreams when I saw myself trying to drive a car that I had no control over. The lights would go out, the brakes would fail, the steering would be unresponsive, and I would end up lying upside down with the car on its roof, entirely unable to influence the outcome, and my scream remained a silent scream. That was what the medication did to me. At least without it, I could scream. I could beat my chest and curse the world. I was not powerless. And that’s when it hit me.
My diagnosis of depression had nothing to do with a clinical state that I had acquired. Instead, my clinical state was in fact a result of my reality. My depression was my way of expressing my dissatisfaction with the world, and those that I held to be significant in my life. The more they didn’t react, the more I expressed, until eventually I forgot why I chose to express myself that way. They stopped caring enough to even attempt to understand, and all I was left with was the reality that I was alone, with little to no joy in my life, and still surrounded by the same people that either didn’t care, or were too distracted to notice. I was not a victim of depression. Depression was my chosen form of expression. But when it didn’t yield the response I was looking for, I once again found myself asking questions for which I had no answers.
I think that’s part of the problem in that state. The less answers I had, or more importantly, in the absence of answers that appeased my needs, I slipped further into the belief that I probably just wasn’t significant enough for anyone to want to do what was important for me. And they must know what is important for me because I had been expressing my dissatisfaction for so long that surely they could have figured it out by now if only they cared enough, right? So it stood to reason that they probably just didn’t care enough. I needed to make a choice. Continue to abandon myself in the hope that they will notice and respect me, or abandon my expectations of them and give up my principles in order to feel included.
I chose me. I chose my principles. And most importantly, I chose to stand unapologetically for what I believe to be right, in spite of what is socially acceptable. This increased the accusations against me of having unrealistic expectations. It increased the isolation when I challenged people’s insincerity or hypocrisy, but none of it deterred me. I saw my weaknesses in those around me. Some of them put in a sincere effort to overcome it, like me. But most choose to live in denial because of the fear of losing those that they still wish would recognise their significance.
Depression set in when I looked for people to respect those things that I felt most passionate about and instead only found ridicule and rejection instead. It set in when I abandoned myself in favour of others, only to find that they had abandoned me as well. Depression became my voice when I gave up my right to be me. But depression never defined me. It never will. It will always only ever be the most passive form of resistance I would be able to muster up against a cruel world that celebrates conformity while crying out for individuality. It will only be my chosen form of expression as long as I fear rejection from those that I despise at worst, or disagree with at best.
I now realise that I didn’t abandon myself in favour of others. Instead, I sacrificed what I wanted in the hope that that sacrifice would bring solace and a smile to those that I thought needed it. Unfortunately, I realised too late that no amount of self-sacrifice can fill the void of an ungrateful soul. So now I give without the expectation of receiving. I live with the hope that they will realise what is important rather than being distracted by what is popular. Unfulfilled expectations of significant others can never be remedied by a pill, nor by self-harm regardless of what form it may take. Seeing people for the flawed human beings that they are is the only way to maintain your sanity in an insane society. It’s when you expect perfection from yourself, or others, or both, that you solicit for yourself the most painful reality that need not be experienced.