Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To Live a Life...

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
~George Bernard Shaw

In the past two years, I haven't written very much here. I needed a break. I needed to step away from the story that has unfolded here since I left the Jehovah's Witnesses back in 2005. I needed to get perspective on what story I'd like to continue telling, or if I want to continue telling one at all. 

I battled for some time with myself about not writing regularly on this blog. It was a good six months before the voices quelled enough to just let it all be. I have continued writing in my private journals. I am a writer after all, and writers write. 

I spent much of the past couple of years reading and taking notes and reflecting and taking more notes. I buried myself deep in neuroscience, medicine and psychology. I have always had a passion for understanding how the human organism works. Growing up, we had a set of medical encyclopedias that I would read for fun. I'm sure it lead to me being a tad bit of a hypochondriac, but it also gave me an intense appreciation for medicine and human physiology. In my teens, my interest shifted to the mind and I became fascinated with personality tests and pop psychology. But now, with the Internet and the advances in our understanding of the brain, I have access to an abundance of information. I can look up studies. I can read blogs written by neuroscientists and medical specialists. There is a wide world of knowledge at my fingertips. So much has changed since my encyclopedia-reading days. 

I have focused a lot of my research on the brain's cognitive biases and human irrationality. When I realized that the religion I'd been raised with was filled with falsehoods, I felt betrayed by my parents and my elders, those I felt were responsible for imparting correct information to me, a trusting child. But it wasn't long before that sense of betrayal extended to myself. I felt betrayed by my own mind. Why did it take so long for me to realize that I'd been duped? What was it about the human mind that allowed such ridiculous beliefs to take root to begin with? Much of my writing in previous years explored these questions on a very personal level. But over the past few years, I've taken a step back and realized it wasn't just me that had been duped. We're all duped by something. We all carry irrational beliefs that we take for truth. And so, I wanted to understand what it was about the human brain that lent itself to such self-deception. 

I found out more than I bargained for and it made me really depressed for quite a while. I fell into quite an existential stupor in 2010. I could not come to terms with the absurdities of life and human existence.  After everything I'd been through, I didn't think it could get more difficult, but it did. I had reached a whole new level of knowledge. For the first time in my life, I felt completely naked, exposed entirely to my own ignorance and the collective ignorance of the human species. I could finally see all the cognitive errors I'd made through my life. Bad beliefs lead to bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to difficult experiences. It was all quite overwhelming to be faced with the raw truth of reality. Reality really does bite.

And, of course, there eventually came the meaning question and the realization that there is no inherent, overarching meaning to life, the Universe and everything in it. It just is. And the related realization, that if I wanted my life to mean something, I'd have to decide on that meaning for myself. And damn, what did I want my life to mean? Who did I want to be? And I found myself revisiting old versions of myself, and picking and choosing the bits of those mes that I wanted to keep and those that I wanted to discard. This was all percolating in my psyche as I read more and more about the brain. I took every bit of information I'd read and turned it back on my life. What does this teach me about life and my relation to it? What does this teach me about how to make my life better? How can I take this knowledge and make myself into the person I would really like to be?

My main goal in all of my self-exploration has always been to be healthy, sane and high-functioning enough to contribute to the society I live in and to not be a burden on others. I pulled away quite a bit in 2010, partly to heal and partly because I didn't want to infect too many people with my crazy while I was healing. For all of my reading, writing, reflecting, and therapy, I was still hitting the wall with my mental health. My moods were still inconsistent and I still thought of suicide regularly. Anxiety and depression were still my constant companions and no matter how hard I worked on bringing my mind into a rational space, there was still a wall that I couldn't get through. 

At that point, I realized that I needed pharmacological assistance for my brain to set up some kind of baseline. Without that, I knew I would just continue to flounder, no matter how hard I tried. So, I did the trial and error thing once again with my doc and about a year ago, we stumbled on a combination of meds that has changed my life. For the first time in 25 years, my brain is not actively trying to kill me. While I was quite aware of having recurrent suicidal thoughts since I was a teen, I didn't realize how much they had enveloped my daily life until sometime last Fall, when I noticed that they were gone. 

My mental landscape has changed profoundly since then. It was like the meds unlocked a door for me. And behind that door was all of the learning I'd done in the past 7 years; all the therapy I'd done, all the self-reflection and realizations. Suddenly, it was all there. Quiet. Accessible. In its place. 

I also woke up one day about a year ago and started walking regularly. For someone with Fibromyalgia, this is a big deal. It took a few months for my body to stop hating me, but it eventually got the message that this was going to be a regular thing. It still hurts but it's manageable. And starting my day with walking gives me time to listen to science podcasts or music or audiobooks. More knowledge. Yay!

After isolating myself so much in 2010, I knew that I would have to make a concerted effort to get back into life, to get engaged with people again. So, I started a weekly board games night at my apartment. A little wine, a little food and a whole lot of Cards Against Humanity. Nothing helps you come to terms with the absurdities of life like a little off-color humor. Laughter really is good medicine.

I now see my parents fairly often. We do lunch and shopping every couple of weeks. I think we've found a place of mutual respect. We might not share religious beliefs, but we share a love and basic humanistic respect for each other. And that is worth something.

I still grapple with questions of meaning and the absurdity of existence. And more recently, I've become acutely aware of the fact that I won't be here one day. And even more acutely aware that 'everyone I know, someday, will die.'

I try not to think about it all so much anymore. I keep engaged with life, with the people that matter to me and with the present moment. I'm not really sure how I got to where I am. Life is much more random than we realize and we have far less control over it than we think. This used to be depressing; now it's freeing.

Part of being able to move forward this past year was a conscious grieving of all the people I could have been. I easily could have been a doctor or a researcher. I could have been a lot of things. 

I feel like I took a 25 year long detour and am finally getting back on course with the life I want to be living. I know some people will say that I can still be a doctor or a researcher. Perhaps. But it doesn't matter anymore. I'm content with the knowledge that I was capable of being those people, that that potential was in me. If life had unfolded differently for me, a lot of things would be different. But it didn't. You can only play the cards you've been dealt. I only hope to play them well.

The reality is that while the past is the past, it has had its effects. My health will always need to be a consideration in my life decisions and now that I'm entering mid-life, there are age-related considerations to be made. Reality may bite, but I prefer it now to living in fantasyland. Part of growing up is accepting that life is what it is, whether you like it or not. And if you stop arguing with reality, life gets easier. 

There is something very sweet about the mortal life; once you realize the finitude of existence, you stop taking it for granted. And then, you start living. 

tall penguin


Anonymous said...

Nicely said Anya. You've given me a nice warm feeling. I'm happy for you my friend.


tall penguin said...

Thanks, Tony. That really means a lot to me.

John Davies said...

Could've isn't should've. I wasted half my life feeling I'd wasted half my life. Should've been making Art all the time. After Uni I should've pursued film-making as well as getting married instead of instead of. Philosopher, writer, poet, screenwriter, editor; composer; counsellor; garden designer; so many careers I could have chased if the shape of my childhood hadn't streamed me down the wrong side of the mountain (of excuses?). But I am not a careerist. If I have a vocation it appears to be creative self expression generally. What point was I going to make? I've forgotten. I'm up in the early hours writing again and consequent tiredness has dragged my thread from me. Find another. There isn't a point, that's the point. Ultimately all our efforts will be dissipated. That's one reason I try to fix my life in journal and producing video about it, to feel less temporarily immortal. I've largely wasted my life and still do and that's why I must save the remains of it textually and audiovisually. There's irony. Perhaps my course of less resistance has let me gather more along my lazy way. Yet when I am creatively engaged I can be driven to take the hardest most personally rewarding route up. Anyway, I've forgotten where I was going in this and it's well past dawn and fatigue has grown heavy enough to squash insomnia at last, so goodnight - or goodday!