Nothing Special, Really

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Long Overdue Epilogue

You may recall a couple of posts I wrote last summer about a situation from January where I sort of fell into a weird, depressed state. It only lasted for a week or two, but during that time, I was constantly fixated on a very uncomfortable thought; the notion of my own death. I started writing about it as it happened, but it took me nearly 7 months to finally get most of it out for a couple of reasons.

1. Even in August, I was still having a hard time coming to terms with what happened
2. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to capture my thoughts into words as clearly as possible, but with a hint of drama as well

I tried turning it into some sort of epic 5-part story, but I stopped after Part 4. I made the mistake of finishing these posts right around my birthday, I got distracted with birthday events, and I couldn’t find a way to conclude it all afterwards.

I still don’t know if I’m ready to write the conclusive post, but I’m going to try anyways. It’s been almost a month since I’ve written anything, and I’m trying to see if this can get my creative juices flowing once again. So far, so good; I’ve written this first part pretty quickly, with little to no editing, so I guess I’ll run with it.


I haven’t had another bout of panic attacks or depression like the big one from last January. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t let those thoughts creep into my head again, but after letting those thoughts consume me like they did before, I’ve become much more adept at shaking them off. Thinking about my own death, the absence of my own existence, is still pretty scary to me, but I’ve gotten so much better at deflecting my thoughts elsewhere.

Saying that I came out of those two weeks with a new outlook on or appreciation of life is too dramatic for my taste, but there is some truth to that idea. I somehow found a way to convince myself that everything we do isn’t meaningless, but I didn’t have a definitive answer about what that meaning was; I doubt I ever will. Looking back on that time as part of a bigger picture, I see it as a culmination of events over the prior three years that left me more confused than I realized. By the time 2008 rolled around, several aspects of my identity from January of 2005 were different. College was over, friendships had changed, work became more serious, and that’s not to mention that I lost a significant portion of my identity when I began my relationship with Wac, to this day my one and only serious relationship. On the exterior, I probably didn’t seem that different to anyone who knew me, but inside, I was hardly the same person I knew myself, and I guess it’s easier to see now why I could get depressed when I struggled to figure out the meaning of everything or anything. But anyway, I did come out of all that with some new ideas about how I wanted to live my life going forward.

The first change was that I became much more focused professionally. It seems strange to me, but my focus improved when I realized that I had no desire to define myself by what I did for a living. Let me backtrack for a bit; this was an issue for me as early as the fall of 2006 (two of my favorite blog posts were on this very subject), the first time I was really disenfranchised with my career path. Since then, a couple things happened: I found that HR was something that I could actually be good at, and I found aspects of HR that were at least satisfying if not enjoyable. But beyond that, I realized that it wasn’t a goal of mine to define myself as an HR professional. For me, my career is what will enable me to do the things I really enjoy in life, like traveling when I please, to both distant and familiar places. What I really want is the freedom to go anywhere I want to at any given time, whether it be Barcelona, Vegas, home to Tempe, or a weekend getaway to Portland, and if the best way for me to achieve that is to excel as an HR professional, then that’s where I find the reward in my job. It’s basically a “work to live, not live to work” philosophy, but I'm trying to be more eloquent than that for my readers' sake.

The second change was that, for better or worse, I’m less passionate about life in general. I mean this in a very Existentialist sort of way, not in the depressive sort of way I viewed life 15 months ago. There are certain things I’m more passionate about, but they’re really just support of my passion towards getting the freedom to travel. Part of getting that freedom is improving my financial status, and so since last January, I’ve been more focused on reducing my debt and improving my financial freedom. For the first time in years I’m contributing to my 401k again, and once I can get my debt reduced significantly, I can start putting money away into savings again.

The counter-effect is that I’m not as passionate about certain things as I once was, things like music, basketball, and poker. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these things anymore; instead, this slight shift in the way I think prevents me from being as passionate about them as I once was. At the worst of my depression, I saw everything as absolutely meaningless because, at some point, everything we know and experience will be gone. I’ve been able to find meaning in certain things once again, but ultimately, the aforementioned activities don’t really contribute to the bigger picture outside unless we’re talking about traveling to these events (like going to a big music festival like Reading or Glastonbury, going to the WSOP, or traveling to see the Suns play). There is sort of an absence in my life in the sense that I don’t have anything going on that I’m very passionate about, but I’m at least able to counter that by understanding that A) there is a bigger picture to it all and B) tempering that lack of passion with enough activities that I still enjoy.

I can’t say that I’ll never fall into that depression or have those panic attacks again; in fact, it’s probable that it will happen as long as I’m living in Seattle (seriously clouds, it’s been almost 8 months, you can go away now). More so, I can see myself falling into that again as I get older, closer to the end of it all, not out of regret or disappointment but out of sadness. And when that happens, I hope that I'll be able to welcome it. Therein lies the third change, my acceptance of all this. I’d much rather be afraid of death than indifferent to it because ultimately that means I’m still happy. If I wasn’t enjoying life, if I wasn’t living a good life, then the concept of my own death probably wouldn’t be so scary. Those unfortunate enough to hit a point where they take their own life don’t do so because they’re afraid of dying; instead, they prefer the terminality of death over the burden of life. For me, life isn’t a burden yet, it’s still something worth living, and I realize that my fear of death is a natural instinct to keep me living. It’s this same instinct that’s behind things like stopping at a red light, drinking water, or saying no to prostitutes; we do these things so that we don’t die. My fear of death is just me being very conscious of this instinct. Others are able to resolve this fear better than I can through belief in their own religion; I’ve chosen a different set of beliefs that doesn’t give me that luxury, but that shouldn’t warrant any pity from anyone. I believe, more definitively than most, that our death is the end, and that if there happens to be any continuation beyond that, we’ll never be capable to know, just as we’ll never be capable enough to understand how we got here in the first place (aside from being delivered by storks, EVERYONE knows that). Fifteen months ago, that uncertainty was enough to paralyze me into such a depression that I couldn’t enjoy the life I still had yet to live. Now, I realize that uncertainty is nothing more than just a reminder to keep living the life that I still enjoy.


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