Because There’s A Word For Everything…

largeI learned a new word today, which I suppose isn’t surprising given how my line of work dictates that I keep expanding my vocabulary whenever possible.

 

In all honesty, I figured the typical identifier for such a state of mind was Depression, which I know all too well, but in our need for constructing more privileged and elitist sounding words to loom over the rank-and-file, I suppose Anhedonia will work too.

 

I was having a conversation with one of my friends recently, and she’s been going through the not-so-fun process of rebuilding and reinventing herself after the end of a long relationship. Having seen what she’s posted on social media and the demeanor she’s seemed to take on as part of what she’s attempting to do, I mentioned in my own snarky way that should she pull it off, one of these days she’ll have to indoctrinate me on how it was done.

 

“It’s not that hard, really,” she said. “You just have to find joy in the things that matter to you.”

 

In the week or so since we chatted, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and contemplating of how I’m feeling in the moment as I do the things which constitute my life now and have realized a rather scary conclusion.

 

My case of anhedonia seems to have become chronic. Or to put it another way, I don’t get any real joy out of doing anything any more.

 

I know there was a time not too long ago when I did. When I could sit down to write, or go out and take photographs, or play a video game or read a book, or even be in the space of friends and/or people in general, and get some form of positive emotional feedback from it. It may not always be much, but it was something, which is always better than nothing.

 

Over the past few months, though, I’ve come to realize that the majority of the time I spend doing the things which constitute my life now are done without any real sort of emotional connectivity or meaning.

 

At work, I’m just a mechanism, really. Just going through the motions of having employment so I can have a paycheck, pay my bills and keep myself from having an even worse existence. But I go to my job for the same reason I will come home and watch YouTube or play Skyrim for hours on end, instead of pushing myself to be more proactive on things like going back out and seeing what I can capture with my camera or cranking out another chapter of my book.

 

What I do doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, so why should it matter to me?

 

Now before you say anything, I already have a good idea of what’s coming, because I’ve heard it before. “It doesn’t matter what other people think, Dev, and you can’t count on the opinions of other people to make you happy.”

 

Perhaps not, but in return, I ask you this question. Just how happy could you really be if you knew that whatever you did was unlikely to ever change the opinions of those people who matter to you?

 

Just give it a think for a minute, if you will. Put yourself in that spot and try and figure out how long it might take you to maintain an atmosphere of happiness and fulfillment of your existence, in what amounts to an emotional vacuum. My guess is it would take a hell of a lot longer than you might be willing to accept.

 

And here’s the unpleasant kicker of truth that no one really likes to admit, because we’d rather tell ourselves that we can exist in such a bubble. Happiness and joy in our existence is predicated on receiving the positive acceptance and appreciation of those who’s opinions and feelings matter to us. 

 

It’s a universal reality of who we are, from the time we are babies seeking the approval and affection of our parents and everyone needs it on even a basic level in order to function with some level of positivity and optimism. It starts with our parents and relatives, then moves onto the friends we make, and the lovers we choose, and ultimately onto our own children, who repeat the cycle ad infinitum.

 

Anyone who says they can operate without that is deluding themselves, because the symbiotic dichotomy of human relationships is that the external stimulus reinforces the internal. It’s why we have such a rampant obsession with fame and celebrity, especially in this country, even though the greater majority of those celebrities are miserable because the price to be paid for being the constant center of attention and widespread affection is so steep that it consumes so many of them through self-destruction and cognitive dissonance.

 

One of the biggest things I’ve had to come to grips with as I continue to battle my Depression is coming to the realization that for a very long time now, I’ve operated predominately in that anhedonic vacuum. I’ve lost even the most fleeting sense of joy or fulfillment I used to get in doing things that I like to think I was pretty good at.

 

On Sunday, as I sat here trying to figure out how I can finish the latest chapter of my second draft, I found myself grappling with the fact that the only person who seems to care that I’m even trying to accomplish this is me. That my family and those who mean the most to me emotionally, just don’t seem to anymore, and my natural inclination is to presume that that’s somehow my fault because that’s how this works.

 

Were I somebody else, this would likely be a non-issue. But I’m me, so this is the deal.

 

Except I can’t exist like this. Nobody can. While there is joy and satisfaction to be found in taking the time to do a thing, the real emotional treasure to be hoarded comes when you show that thing to someone who you look to for affirmation and confirmation that you haven’t wasted the hours, days, months or years of your life you invested in the work to create it.

 

That is as basic as the first time you draw a picture that goes on the family refrigerator or the first time you turn in a school project and it comes back with a gold star. That external return on your creative investment matters and it always will. It’s what keeps us going to create even greater things because we are given the impetus to keep going through the self-confidence we gain when we understand that what we do matters to someone else.

 

I wish the things I did mattered to someone. I wish I still mattered at all, really.

 

From where I sit, though, they just don’t feel like they do. I know I’ll keep doing them because it’s something to pass the time and to keep myself from going even crazier, but I can’t say for sure if I’ll really enjoy them as much as I could have if things were different than they seem right now.

Chaos Reign

anarchy_009When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t sure which hurt worse really, my heart or my mind.

 

They both hurt for obvious reasons. My heart recognizes the weight of empathy that comes with seeing people lamenting the loss of friends, family and loved ones through yet another senseless and unjustifiable act of violence. My mind feels the anger that comes with wanting to do something, anything, to make the world better and make this insanity stop.

 

To speak out. Speak up. Defend those who deserve that defense out of respect and acceptance that they too are human beings not to be defined through the distorted lenses of religion, privilege, politics, prejudice or the ignorance of the willfully uneducated. But then you find your limbs tied behind your back, your mouth silenced, because the world at large isn’t interested in what you feel, or think, or have to say, and the rage which comes with being rendered functionally impotent under the constant threat of the unfriend or unfollow neo-modes of social punishment via isolation and ostracization sinks into your bones like a radioactive isotope, slowly eating you alive.

 

Maybe it’s because I simply care too much. I’m too empathetic.

 

I look at the vexation of people I know, people I care about, who have to ask yet again, “Why are we so despised for being different?” There’s also those who are looking around as the mob mentality of primal human vengeance is looming over them like a tsunami because there crime is guilt by association, trying desperately to convince the mob that they are not cut from the same ideological cloth.

 

But like the proverbial duck, they seem to both walk and talk like the one who committed the act, which means no acceptance of differentiation and thereby no quarter can be allowed.

 

I’m empathetic because even though I’m not gay, (but rather most definitely asexual at this point), the majority of my life has been spent being despised, demonized and hated because I see the world differently. Because I never conformed to the social norms of my peers, and because once upon a time, I did something to warrant such treatment.

 

Both sides are demanding answers, yet no one seems much interested in any of the questions that are swept up in the schizophrenic din of separating fact from illusion, the guilty from the innocent. We’re too busy pointing fingers, casting and deflecting blame from the realities which have brought us to this point of existence.

 

Rather than weighing the all-too-human costs of our ongoing hostility, we’re looking at the political capitol to either be hoarded or lost as the result of yet another atrocity. Everyone seems to have their axes well-ground, the pitchforks sharpened and the torches ready to light, and are now just waiting for the new marching orders from those who don’t really have anything to gain by making the world safe again.

 

I keep hearing that love is the answer, because love is the panacea for all ills. For the last two days, I’ve heard that proclaimed from many different voices. I’ve also heard it crash hard against the constant breakwater of those who find far more comfort in hating everyone and everything which falls outside their own apocalyptically myopic purview.

 

And here I sit,somewhere in the middle. Stuck in the no-man’s-land between two massive ideological armies, honestly too shell-shocked by my own experiences in this longstanding conflict to know which direction I should go, even though I’ve been down both roads more than once.

 

I’ve taken the risks of loving people, felt the life-affirming joy and possibilities of what it gives you and I’ve been consumed by the raw hate that comes when you find that love is neither acceptable nor requited. In the last six years, I’ve forced myself to accept the rather harsh reality that I likely will never feel that joy again, which is enough to turn even the strongest heart into a cold stone.

 

I’ve tried for years to find places to belong and be welcome, social circles where I can feel appreciated and wanted, and also had to stand out on the fringes, full of envy and bitterness and self-loathing loneliness because those doors were slammed in my face due to what amounted to petty excuses and trivialities of people who either didn’t or couldn’t understand why I’m who I am.

 

I can see what would drive a person to somehow conclude that unleashing their anger that the world is not what they were either told or promised it would be is somehow the right thing to do and I also see the adamant refusal to give into the fear and vitriol and drawing a line in the sand to say enough is enough.

 

I see both sides. I truly do, though I wish dearly that I didn’t.

 

In the face of despair, the contrary move is to take action. To be part of the solution and not perpetuate the problem and be brave in the face of an opponent who operates best in provoking abject terror.

 

I honestly don’t know if I have it in me anymore to combat such a level of chaos, and if I do, I don’t know if that ability will even be wanted by everyone else who’s still knee-deep in the fight.

 

As tired as I am and as tempting as the idea of just laying down and dying are though, I suppose the best I can do is stand my little piece of ground for as long as I can with the last remaining glimmer of hope I have that my son and every child who will inherit this world after me have a chance for a better life than the one I was given.

 

I have to believe that’s still possible, even as 50 people I never knew lie dead due to the machinations of others who believe we must all capitulate to their wants and expectations, because the alternative of them dictating the course of the future is unthinkable.

The Space Between

im-somewhere-between-giving-up-and-seeing-how-much-more-i-can-take-quote-1I’ve been back from my vacation for little over a week now and find myself back in the familiar territory that comes with having a mind which is constantly rebelling against me.

 

The basic reality I am dealing with is that I’m not happy with where I am, or where my life is, and I’ve been this way for seemingly longer than I can even remember.

 

I am currently overworked, over-stressed, under-appreciated, and perhaps most dangerously, under cared about. I am tethered to people who’s attitudes, history and behavior have shown ample evidence of indifference, if not even a casual disregard for my well-being, and as much as common sense would dictate that I cut myself lose with all possible speed, I cannot bring myself to do it for what I imagine seems like a very backwards reason.

 

As much as it hurts now, in my mind, I am convinced that the act of getting free and clear of them will hurt infinitely more and I won’t survive it. Worse still is the stubborn refusal to concede defeat and accept that those relationships are truly irreparable, no matter how much I dare to hope that they can somehow be salvaged.

 

I’ve had ideas, goals and plans for where I wanted my life to be by this point which never really panned out, and while conventional wisdom dictates that I should just keep pluggin’ along and be both patient and optimistic that someday they will actually happen, the more realistic side of me is quick to point out that after about 30 years of battle with the Culture of No, the reservoirs of patience and optimism I once had are long bone dry.

 

And yet, it’s not patience or optimism that’s kept me going to even this point. In the noticeable absence of love, empathy and understanding, the drive to carry on has been fueled by my anger, my disappointment, and at times, even my outright hate of the world in which I have to exist in. The idea being that if I’m going to be beaten down into oblivion, then that beating is going to be earned every step of the way, and I will get my licks in however I can before I’m done.

 

It’s a hell of a place to mark your existence, feeling like you’re somehow halfway between being even marginally alive and functionally dead. Having to reconcile yourself to the rather unpleasant reality that you’re there solely by the decisions you made as the result of the life you were given without much of a choice.

 

I honestly don’t know many people who manage to find ways out of such a maelstrom. I know I’ve certainly tried more than once, but as the old line goes, “Just when I think I’m out, something finds a way to pull me back in.”

 

In the past few weeks, I’ve had friends remind me yet again that not everything that’s brought me to this point rests entirely on my shoulders because, of course, I can’t control everyone and everything around me. I can’t always anticipate when someone is going to betray my trust. I can’t always anticipate how someone will react to my affection. I can’t always anticipate someone choosing to write me off as yet another apparent lost cause.

 

Be that as it may, the collective weight which comes with all those things ends up hanging around my neck like a chain, and worse still, it messes with my head enough to lose all sense of direction.

 

It’s those same voices telling me to forgive myself, that it’s time to stop punishing myself for things I can’t do anything about anymore. As nice as that sounds on paper, it’s something I’ve never really figured out how to do, because in all honesty, part of me prefers the self-immolation because I know it genuinely feels deserved.

 

If I’ve earned nothing else in this life, it’s the right to emotionally beat the crap out of myself, or at least that’s what I tell myself in the moment, because somewhere along the way, I’ve rationalized the idea that that’s what I’m expected to do rather than move on to the mythical greener pastures.

 

And the worst part is I can justify it with the all the conviction of a junkie explaining why they need that next fix. Because it makes me feel alive enough to function through yet another day where I otherwise likely couldn’t do much of anything.

 

I genuinely don’t know what I should do next with my life. I don’t know what the next step should be. I don’t know what I should be feeling or for how long and I suppose that stems from having to feel so much for as long as I have already, that the numbness has somehow become more tolerable to the flipside of unleashing all the pent up emotion that I’ve stockpiled.

 

Sure it might make me feel better in the moment, but it’s the knowledge that such a release comes with a near-ironclad guarantee that there’ll be nothing left but scorched earth when it’s over that terrifies me to my bones.

 

When that seems like the destination at the end of the supposedly long and winding road to some sense of wellness, trust me, staying in such a state of emotional limbo feels a whole hell of a lot safer for not just myself, but everyone who still matters to me at all.

I’m not here because I want to be. I’m here because it safer for everyone around me that I am, because it makes their lives better.

 

And that, I guess, is Depression at its core; that constant voice in your head telling you the only way you can exist is to be completely miserable, because happiness is a commodity reserved specially for those who put you here in the first place.

Requiem for a Champ

Ali IEven though I was born at the end of his great career, a career we later understood went on for far longer than it should’ve, and even though I’ve loved boxing and covered sports for a living, I never got to meet Muhammad Ali. I never saw him in person. I didn’t even see any of his fights until I was close to 10 years-old.

 

So I suppose the logical question is why a white kid from a broke-down old Massachusetts factory town, who’s never really amounted to much of anything and never considered himself much of a fighter…why did I break down and cry when the word came down Friday night that Ali had succumbed to more than three decades of battling Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 74?

 

The answer, I’d like to think, is not dissimilar to what millions of other people around the world would say as well.

 

Because I loved Muhammad Ali. I loved him in that way a child does when they’re trying to get their first foothold on the world. When they’re looking for someone to aspire to and emulate themselves after. When they’re looking for a role model, mentor and even a hero. If you’re lucky enough to find that all in one person, then you’ve come across something very rare.

 

Even in a brutal and barbaric sport and art that boxing is, Ali somehow made it seem like he wasn’t really hurting the men he knocked out. Yes, he obviously hit them, but it was with blinding speed, more than ferocious power. He fostered the illusion that it was just enough to win the fight and put on the kind of show he wanted, but no more than that.

 

For whatever reason, I just gravitated to Ali like so many others did, though in my defense, I suppose it was nearly impossible not to get caught up in the historical wake he generated throughout his whole life.

 

In sports, we like to think that such things are commonplace, when in actuality they’re not. In the 20th Century, there was maybe one other athlete I know of who possessed the kind of majesty that Ali would eventually possess as well. And as great as Babe Ruth was, even he did not have to travel anywhere near as difficult a path to achieve his mythic status as Ali did.

 

Ali wasn’t liked even before he took his defiant stand against the Vietnam War. He was too brash, too arrogant and often, too damn loud for the establishment to accept. His confidence was seen as cockiness. His words considered hate speech. His beliefs considered by some to be treasonous.

 

For most of the 1960’s, Ali was the most hated man in the United States. You put any modern sports star in that same situation and they’d wilt almost immediately, as they would lose too much money, too much adulation. Ali not only accepted it. He refused to be stopped by it. And when he returned in 1970, even though many never forgave his refusal to be drafted, he was in the rarefied air of having endured the crucible, emerging on the other side, and somehow being loved even more than he had before.

 

Very few people will ever have to go through such a thing in their lives, and they’re better off for it. In my own way, and I am not being hyperbolic in saying so, I truly empathize with Ali on this because of my own crucible, which I’ve endured for far longer than he did.

 

As much as I envied Ali for his obvious physical and verbal gifts, the real envy lies in his seemingly infinite reservoir of self-confidence and self-belief that he could overcome the impossible, regardless of the odds stacked against him. He did it against Sonny Liston in 1964. He did it against George Foreman in 1974. He did it against Joe Frazier in 1975, and he did it against the full power of the United States government and the racially-charged era in which he lived.

 

It’s a belief and a confidence I wish I had, especially now. But like the average fighter, when you get knocked down enough times, you reach the understanding with yourself that there’s little to no point in getting back up again. Part of you wants to, but the more logical side keeps you down, having already conceded that the fight is lost.

 

What made Ali great was the ability to take everyone’s best shot, get back up, and not only keep fighting, but with few exceptions, still found a way to win.

 

Maybe I had that once. Maybe I was that brave, that strong, that fast…but it feels like I lost it a long time ago.

 

One of my many regrets in this life is that I didn’t get to meet Ali in person. I know I would’ve loved to and I’d like to think he’d have had the right words to say for me to pick myself up one more time and carry on with the good fight. After all, he seemed to have the right words for everyone and everything.

 

What I know is that while it means he no longer has to deal with effects of a body that broke down over the latter half of his life, the world is a little darker place now that he’s gone.

 

Goodbye, Champ. You were indeed, “The Greatest.”

An Open Letter to Humanity

TWIMCFor a long time, I’ve held the belief that any dispute can be resolved to the best interest of both sides if the two parties are willing to sit down, air their grievances and come to some sort of mutually beneficial solution, provided they can behave like reasonable adults.

 

That said, I think it’s time we have one of these discussions. You’re probably not going to like what I have to say anymore than I’m probably going to like many of your retorts, but clearly we have been at this impasse for long enough that something has to change if we are ever going to coexist on even some tolerable level going forward.

 

Look, I get that you’re not a big fan of me. I’ve known that in one form or another since I was about five and that has only been further illustrated with each passing year.

 

Back then, I didn’t really understand the why of that. After all, how could anyone hold any real animosity for someone would lacked the capacity to do anything to really justify it? Sure, I thought I knew everything and I was precocious and eager to please, but that didn’t really make me all that different than the average kid, I’d like to think.

 

Of course, I know that the real divide we now contend with started a few years after that and I understand the why of that all too well, some days far more than I wish I did.

 

For the record, I fucked up. Badly. I knew it then and I know it even moreso now. The reality of what I did has never been something I’ve lost sight of or taken lightly, and yes, I deserved to be punished for it. I suppose in my naivety, however, I didn’t expect it would last this long. I didn’t think I’d be reaching the mid-point of my existence with it still hanging over my head like some great Sword of Damocles and for good reason.

 

I made a promise that I was going to become something better than what I was, a twisted, backwards soul. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and there were going to be a lot of times where I didn’t much want to put the work in to do it. After all, reinventing yourself is a grueling, arduous process, especially when you have to by-and-large do it alone.

 

But…and you may not like, but that doesn’t change the reality of the situation we now find ourselves in…I did it, and I did it with the thought that if I changed, then maybe so would you too.

 

I guess in that way, we both did, but it seems only one of us actually changed for the better.

 

That’s not to suggest that I somehow became perfect or beyond reproach. I don’t possess the ego for such a claim. I have my flaws. I have my faults, but those things don’t exist or manifest in a bubble, either. They’re the product of the experiences which a person goes through along the way, and all you can do to counteract them is to act with as much integrity, honor and empathy as possible.

 

It doesn’t mean you’re always going to get it right, but at least the effort to do so, in theory, will be recognized and hopefully rewarded.

 

Which is where I guess my main beef is with all of you.

 

Too many times, I’ve been asked to be patient in waiting to see if I’ve done enough to earn a chance to have the sort of life that I want. I’ve never wanted to be the richest or most powerful man in the world, nor did I want any special measure of privilege or entitlement. That’s not how I was raised and it wasn’t the life I grew up in.

 

All I’ve ever wanted was the means by which to be happy and comfortable in my existence, to be with people whom I loved and who loved me in return and to know that when it all ends, I did the best I could and did things as well as I knew how.

 

Over the years, a lot of you told me I wasn’t asking for too much, and if I put any measure of faith or trust in you, that those things might probably happen. So I did…and you used it to take advantage of me, betray my trust, and ultimately break my heart.

 

Now, I know I could ask the obvious question of why that choice was made and I know I’ll get a thousand different explanations, justifications and excuses for each and every instance that it did happen. And before you get all defensive and revisionist and tell me, “No, Dev…that’s not how it went,” understand this.

 

I may be crazy. At times, I may be a complete and utter bastard, but I’ve never been an idiot. The lone exception to that has been when it comes to trusting people.

 

And perhaps that’s the worst punishment that could’ve been meted out to me. The idea of being asked to take a chance on those who had ulterior motives and something to gain by my doing so. I’ve never understood the motivations behind why, and maybe I never really will because in a way I don’t want to.

 

I don’t want to know what compels someone to use another person in that fashion, when it seems easier and better for both sides, if the opportunity for a loving relationship is allowed to develop. Unfortunately, such things I guess aren’t meant to happen, and what’s equally unfortunate is that’s not my call.

 

It’s yours, and to be honest, as much as you seem not to care much for me at this stage, I don’t trust you any further than I could throw you. I get that I burned you once, and I have to live with that. You all have burned me a hell of a lot more than that, though, and I’ve had to live with the idea that that’s on my head too, because if I were anyone else, then this all would’ve likely never happened.

 

But I’m me, so it did, and I’ll tell you right now that that kind of existence…it’s not fun and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy’s dog. It’s not an existence that often allows for a long life and there’s been more than one occasion where I was certain mine wasn’t. Yet, and apparently to your chagrin, I’m still here and I’m too stubborn to just lay down and die, no matter how hard you take your best shot to try and make sure I do.

 

So here we sit, on opposite sides of the divide. The question is, where do we go from here?

 

I wish I had an answer, but again, it’s not my call and to be brutally honest, I don’t know what the hell you want from me anymore. I don’t know what else I can do, how many more hoops I can jump through, or even if doing so would make a lick of difference anyway, because I suspect they’ll only be met with more justifications and excuses for why I can not and will not be allowed back into the fold.

 

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m too clouded by my anger and bitter disappointment that it ever managed to get this bad in the first place, and I can’t see that there’s a chance that the last few chapters of my life could be happier ones than those which came before. I don’t know, but I’m not willing to put any measure of faith or trust in that until you show me something to prove I’m not wasting my time or being taken for a ride again.

 

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to prove myself to you, trying to convince you that I belong and I have something positive to offer. All I’ve asked for in return is the opportunities which I feel I’ve rightly earned based on the work I’ve done. I don’t see that as unreasonable or unfair to you, but I continue to be met with skepticism, resistance, assumptions and presumptions that I will likely fail to meet your expectations.

 

Well, that is a two-way street, but if we’re ever going to get anywhere, I suppose we’re both going to have to take a chance on one another and see what happens from there. Do I expect it to be simple? Nope, but these sort of things seldom are. I’ve been around this block long enough to know that better than most.

 

That said, I’ve done my share of the heavy lifting. The ball’s in your court now, and I truly hope you don’t drop it, because I don’t know if there’ll be another chance after this. I’ll be waiting to see what you choose to do with it.

 

Tally Ho,

 

-Devin