Reasons to Live: Our Mantras for Life-Affirmation (Part One)

by: IOW Staff

Readers, I’ve been trying to work on a piece for awhile based on a journal I had as a kid. Most kids keep things like “diaries” or journals on WHY DOESN’T HE LOVE ME, like Angela in almost every episode of My So-Called Life. Because Nico Lang was a really morbid kid, my journals were those sorts of composition notebooks that Harriet the Spy used, except instead of judgmental thoughts, it was a lot about killing myself. Ways to die. I used to doodle lots of pictures of exploding heads and people getting shot in the face, because if I didn’t doodle about it, I would probably just do it. There were a lot of nights in Middle and High School where I slept with a bottle of pills in my hand, daring myself to do it.  This helped make sure I didn’t.

But later, I decided to do the opposite. Rather than filling my notebooks and the flaps of my binders with outtakes from David Croenenberg movies, I decided to fill my life with reasons to live. Sometimes, it was a perfect sketch of the boy I liked at the time or a heart with his initials around it or song lyrics from Oasis (don’t judge!) or a simple affirmation of, “Today was a good day.”

I don’t have those books anymore, because I’m a terrible sentimentalist and never keep anything, so I thought we’d make some, together. This is the first installment of all the reasons our staffers want to live, the simple things that keep us going every day. It’s great that it gets better later for some, but sometimes, it’s just good to know that some things are nice right now.

Dominick Mayer:

Though I have no doubts about the efficacy of “It Gets Better” as a life-affirming/saving mantra for some, I was never that kid. I was the perpetually vitriolic misfit who didn’t care if it was going to get better because it damn well wasn’t now. In that time, I found punk rock, and later hip-hop. (There’s always been movies, too, but that’s a different and more intimate thing entirely.) As much as age has instinctively made me roll my eyes a little too hard at “music saved my life”-type declarations, in a lot of ways it really did. In addition to the common things, like the sense of community and the feeling that someone else was going through the same shit as me, it also gave me a new thing to obsess over, something wonderful and rare that my parents and the suburbs couldn’t show me. I had to go out and find it on my own, and in doing so I eventually kind of forgot about wanting to kill myself more days than not, and started living.

Carly Maria Hubbard:

I love to “stop and smell the roses.” Yeah, ok, I know it’s disgustingly cliche, but I swear it’s an instant mood boost. I live for those spring moments when the daffodils and tulips finally bloom and the grocery stores are chock full of fresh freesia. And in the fall, the smell of burning leaves and the crunch and crackle of newly loosed ones under hiking boots- mmm, utterly delicious. I live for skinny dipping in Lake Huron every summer with my cousins. I live for crappy teen romance novels and amazing coney dogs back home in Michigan. I live for afternoons spent buried in my Riverside edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, for homemade mint tea, thunder storms that shake me awake on a Saturday morning, inside family jokes, Disney movie marathons with my high school gal pals, any time spent with my little cousins, crappy music I’m not supposed to like, cheap Pinot Grigio, new college-ruled notebooks, trips to see my family in Vienna, for making cookies with my childhood nanny every Christmas, driving around with my sister (with all the windows rolled down and music blaring, naturally), for ‘family dinners’ with my little spiritual group here in the city, and for thousands of other little, seemingly inconsequential things and happenings that make my world spin off in complete euphoria. And orgasms. Can we all just take a moment to fully appreciate how wonderful orgasms are?? They’re the best way to start a day, the best way to end a day, and the only way I know how to give a crappy day a “happy ending.”

But of course, if you’re really down in the dumps, it’s hard to appreciate all the little things. I know that when I was diagnosed with depression in high school, it was tough work just getting out of bed in the morning, never mind going all Julie Andrews on myself and singing off a few of my favorite things. Not a whole lot helped when I was in that place. One thing that did keep me going was the reminder that I had a choice: I could choose to live, or I could choose not to. So much in life is out of our control (especially when we’re teens), but the decision to end or not end my life rested solely with me. So everyday, I got to make a choice that no one could take away from me, but the thing about that choice, was that if I chose even once to end my life, I’d never get to have that kind of control again. I would lose that power forever. As twisted as it sounds, the knowledge that if I stayed alive for just one more day, I would get to exert control over my life again tomorrow, kept me alive during my darkest times. That, and the thought of someone having to explain to my baby cousins why Carly couldn’t ever come over to play again. I stayed alive for them as much as I did for me, if not more at some points. They are the beauty I see in this world.

Mar Curran:

When I think back to my darkest moments, the thing that always got me through them was the open possibility of the future. I imagined myself as a 30-year old-cartoonist, dressed in a black turtleneck with short hair and glasses (yes, I am Alison Bechdel in my mind) living in a New York loft with my partner, eating unlimited Chinese takeout. I realize this comes from my perspective standpoint with a lot of privileges. I do believe, though, in a lot of cases having dreams for the future is what saved me and could help others. If I think about the possibility that I might not have experienced all the terrible, wonderful, loving, and life-altering things I’ve had happen in the past two years alone it’s distressing enough. That makes me want to see what the future 80 years bring.

J.D. Gore:

I have learned not to underestimate the power of beverages, especially teas. When I am feeling distressed, I flip my world and pretend everything else exists so I can sip that steamy blend of herbs. Tea makes doing other things better, especially meeting new people in new places. Tea has become part of my personality so that I feel intimate with everyone or, if I need to be alone, with just my cup. Coffee has become practically a sacrament. Fresh juices, bubbling sodas, and even just plain water on a hot day. It sounds so simple but whatever I drink is an offering to my body and existence — hydrating says “I love being alive. I will keep living.” It’s the first thing I thought of and sometimes it really is the only thing left. When life is going to fast and heavy, I can sit with my steaming cup and tell it all: “Back-off. I am having my tea.” When I take that moment, it is even better than meditation. I remember other reasons to live and the people I might have a cup with someday.


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