by: IOW Staff
Readers, welcome to the fourth day of Reasons to Live, where our writers share with you some of the little things that help them keep going every day.
Before I start, I must admit that I have never been good at remembering all of my reasons to live. After multiple suicide attempts and struggling with severe major depressive disorder for many years, I’ve given up too often. Looking back, I shake my head at my younger self.
I look at where I am today, three years later, and can hardly believe that if someone had found me 20 minutes later, I wouldn’t have been here to have all the incredible experiences that the last few years have brought me. When I encounter friends or family who are struggling with depression or bad days, I always tell them to do exactly what they don’t want to do. And as I say this, I know that it is so much easier said than done.
When a person is that low, it’s hard to believe that life is ever going to get better. But, I am living proof that it does, indeed, get better. In the last three years (remember, I didn’t think I would ever get better), I’ve met my soulmate. We’ve been together for over two years. The joy and happiness that she brings me, makes every single day worth it. I got a cat, then a dog after that. They remind me every day that I am important to somebody. When I come home, no one is more happy to see me than my dog. I went back to school. The feeling of accomplishment I felt after getting a 4.0 semester, made every awful test and essay suddenly worth the challenges.
I’ve lost 60 pounds. Looking in the mirror everyday reminds me that no feat, no matter how small or big, is impossible. With enough determination and sweat, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I bought a new car. Every month, when I make my car payment, I realize that nothing can be achieved without hard work. But when you put in the hard work, you’ll always be rewarded. When it rains outside (and I despise rain), I choose to be excited that I get to wear my awesome North Face jacket and show it off, rather than succumb to the melancholy mood that seems to overwhelm me on rainy days.
My point is that no matter what you do, whether it’s flunking a test, paying your bills, or even feeling depressed, something good will always come of it, if you choose to let it. You can either look for the positive in every situation that life hands you, or you can sit down and watch life pass you by. It took me a long time to finally realize this, and now everyday I find something to live for in everything that I do. That amazing turkey bagel sandwich that I made, the energy drink I stopped to buy, the clear blue sky on a warm day, seeing my dog’s tail wag when I walk in the door; everything I do brings me some form of joy or a new reason to live. It’s all about attitude. Make it a great day or not; the choice is yours.
I’d be lying if I told you “It Gets Better.” The reality is that while life can get better, it will also get harder. You’ll find yourself in a constant state of change, oftentimes having to re-evaluate who you are and what you hope to become. Through all that, it’s all about the little things.
I can’t say what works for you but I can share what helped me. The number one thing that makes each day better for me is music: it’s why you’ll rarely see me without headphones. I try not to limit my range of interest–save for heavy metal and polka. If you’re in a dark space, neither of those genres are likely to pull you out of it.
Barring those two, try your hand in as many genres as you can. Alternative. Classical. Electronic. Soundtracks. Opera. Bossa Nova. Trip-Hop. Sample Iron & Wine and make sure you know who Concrete Blonde is. Read the lyrics of Tom Waits and buy the 99 Essential Pieces of Chopin on Amazon’s MP3 store. You get 99 songs for $3. Can’t go wrong there.
Adapt every day so that your music is incorporated within it and let it fuel you to move forward. At what tempo and style is entirely your call and that’s the best part about it. Music is one of the strongest aspects of our culture which we can customize to fit our identities. It is as malleable as we are, consistently growing and changing as we do. In that sense, it can be the strongest companion to get you through the dark spots and see you through to the brighter days.
This is going to start in a dark place and move to the light. What pulled me out of my past suicide attempts were, strangely, even more negative thoughts. I can’t really say them all, but they were marked by incredible fear; once, I pulled myself up from underwater with the thought of “That’s right, you’re too much of a sissy to kill yourself.” It’s a twisted psychology that can help you in the moment, but when sustained, it is dangerous and will wreak havoc on your sense of self worth. I do not condone this as a method of self preservation anymore, but it was out of one of these negative thoughts that I fashioned a more healthy mantra.
Like the plot of the movie Heathers, it was the thought of, “If you kill yourself, everybody will fuck up the story.” It was my my life story, because even if I wasn’t concerned with continuing my life, I wanted to make damn sure the life I lived was understood or at least not clouded with outright lies. I understand the logic is convoluted, vain or spiteful; I was a suicidal teen, logic and perfect reasons to live were not in my wheelhouse. I just didn’t want to be sainted for things I didn’t do, have everyone talk about how shining and beautiful I was. I wasn’t–I was a nice kid, but not as nice as how some speak of the dead. I also didn’t want to be taken up as a preening pubescent martyr who never came out, but killed himself as a symbol of the tortured gay soul. I didn’t want a vigil where someone told a story about some moment we never actually had together, or the people who really knew me to sit in silence. I get my story–I can’t dictate it but I can have some strong influence on it if I’m alive.
Even now, I find that thought too stark and mean spirited. Maybe it comes through in a pinch. What evolved from it was the prizing of my own perspective. I have an outlook unknown to anyone, my brain synthesizes and presents thoughts only to me. It made me have something to cherish and search for, my own singular thoughts and hearing the thoughts of others. I understood that my ideas are an amalgamation of my experiences, how could they not be mine. And it was likewise for others, I wanted to know what ideas had come to them.
The more I started releasing what I felt and thought and saw the world as, the more strange and mine it was; it was my pride and joy. It wasn’t just through writing–that has been a processes longer than any one should imagine, one I still go through, whether or not to publish work– it was in everyday conversation and life I could find something, say something, experience something, and I knew on a later day that would be somehow worked into another experience or statement.
A professor of mine, Mark Turcotte, told the class once, “Poets don’t change the world to fit into poetry, they see the world and write it accordingly.” That’s the thought I keep with me when I need to understand why living is important. If I kill me, I kill something unknown to the world, something that could have made it more beautifully strange and interesting.
This one’s easy: music.
I’m in a music fraternity and come from a legacy of singers, and I sing, too. Music has always been an area for me to channel my feelings, thoughts, perspectives, and to positively reinforce and affirm my experiences and my personhood. It’s hard sometimes to deal with both covert and overt forms of marginalization or other bullshit life throws at me, but music offers me a channel by which I can experience those feelings, cope with them, and feel as powerful as I really am. So, I create playlists; I started doing this as early as the start of high school, when I began to experience bullying and harassment, or was otherwise mistreated because of my race and sexual orientation (mainly the latter). The playlists are songs that got me through life during the good times and bad times in a given year. Sometimes they were even whole albums of artists (or came heavily from one artist). Each song had meaning for a specific set of feelings, life events, situations, etc. that helped me channel positive energy and cope with the negative.
One example of such a playlist is from my sophomore year of college. I called this playlist “Capture the Spirit”:
1. “Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” by The Noisettes
2. “Cold Shoulder” by Adele
3. “On A Mission” and “Awkward Game” by Gabriella Cilmi
4. “Telephone” by Lady Gaga
5. “It’s Gonna Be” by Norah Jones
6. “Rude Boy” by Rihanna
7. “Whataya Want from Me” by Adam Lambert
8. “Shark in the Water” by VV Brown
9. “Why Don’t You Love Me” by Beyonce
To explain: this was a year where I was attempting to regain my excitement and enthusiasm for things I loved, as traumatic events from the year before had put a huge damper on that. So it was, for me, a time where I was trying to capture my own sense of ‘spirit’ back. The inclusion of The Noisettes song is self explanatory in that context. Songs like “Cold Shoulder,” “Awkward Game,” “Why Don’t You Love Me” and “Whataya Want From Me” were more so about the dynamics of relationships in my life at the time, and how I was handling them (almost word for word). “Telephone” was pretty much a work-related song (I had 2 internships, board volunteering work, a student group, and a job and felt overextended for a time, so “Telephone” was a way for me to vent before I realized I needed to jettison some of the responsibility). That’s just to highlight a few things.
I have a playlist for my senior year (currently) and I update it as I go along. I named it “Fearless.”