By Johnathon Lee
I wasn't quiet about my depression and confusion. I told practically everyone.
I was really struggling. I was an impoverished blind guy with PTSD who was living alone for the first time in his life. My decline started… last year? The year before? The two have kind of blurred together.
Granted, I wasn't on stable footing to begin with after taking care of my grandma. Wait, it was even further back then that—probably around 2018 or so. I started losing interest in the things I once enjoyed and found meaningful. I became more obsessive and anxious.
The exhaustion of being started to settle in, ya know? The chore of never getting a break from yourself and your own patterns. When the problem is you, or when it seems to be you, then it goes where you go. You could be in paradise, but then after a few days, the same old pains start creeping back in.
If you hate yourself, then not even the most gorgeous scenery can snap you out of it---not even actions help. You could cure cancer, end world hunger, donate your kidney, and save a kitty from a tree and you'd still go home feeling like a piece of shit.
You might even change some of the things you loathe about yourself, but even that doesn't do the trick. You'd just end up finding new things to despise. I'm talking about deep self-hatred here. That's different than low self-esteem.
Self-hatred is an antagonistic attitude toward the sensation of being oneself.
Just existing, just sitting in a chair, feels bad. When we've exhausted our search for the cause behind that feeling, we conclude that there really isn't one. So, we must be the problem. With that bias in place, we look for every ounce of evidence we can find to confirm it.
You eventually get to a point where you feel like you deserve to feel the pain. You deserve the losses, the financial problems, the new wrinkles and old scars. You deserve to suffer.
The inner critic isn't to be taken lightly. It can come to dominate the entirety of one's life.
The critic destroyed me---slowly. Well, I guess it was more of a three way tie between the Critic, the Dreamer, and the Realist. Dreams would come. Things would seem like they were finally coming together, like I had a handle on life, a direction, a future.
Then something would happen, and the Realist would shrug the Dreamer aside. The shock of each reality check would stir the Critic into action. The heartache of broken dreams was accompanied by a slew of catastrophizing and abusive self-talk.
Then, once I dusted myself off and started feeling better, the Dreamer would wake up again. It was a Sisyphusian tragedy, and there's only so much of it a person can take. You find yourself waiting. Waiting and waiting for something to give, waiting for some kinda break. You wait because you've got no energy left to strive. There's no time limit on waiting. It's possible to wait one's life away.
At some point last winter, I completely broke.
I was at a level of depression where you order a $20 pizza even though you have a frozen one in the freezer. It's not because delivery tastes better—it's because you've got no energy to wash the dirty pizza cutter.
I drifted from friends and family. Once again, slowly. They tried to help, and they said so many kind and loving things. But, once again, that doesn't penetrate self-loathing. What I needed was someone to help me cook and clean. Someone to remind me to shower. Cleaning and organizing are easy to ignore when you're blind and don't have glasses—even easier when you're blind and want to die.
I asked people to help me with stuff around the apartment. I asked my parents, my friends, and I even brought it up with coworkers. I was open about wanting to die. I was open about the reasons why. I adjusted meds, I talked to people, I tried therapeutic methods, I tried breaking my cycles, I checked every single box you're supposed to, and yet I just kept sinking into sorrow, illness and debt.
I'm not resentful. I'm not blaming anyone.
I'm saying that you can do all the things a depressed person is supposed to to get better, and yet… if you hate yourself.
That there was no one here to help with things was just bad luck. My friends all have jobs, my mom's agoraphobic, and I've never had a partner. When it comes to poor decisions I've made, no one stopped me because our culture says it isn't our responsibility to stop each other unless we're doing something blatantly dangerous.
But it's the little things that get ya. A bad decision becomes a bad habit, and a bad habit can destroy a good life.
I eventually found myself unable to think. The Critic was in every thought. I couldn't focus on anything without collapsing into misery. I went quiet.
During the last depressive episode, I realized something: I'm an unreliable narrator. In writing, an unreliable narrator is a storyteller who either omits or gets certain parts of the story wrong because they're lying or working with incomplete information.
The fact is, self-hatred has compromised my ability to think about myself, or my life, clearly. That self-bias means my thoughts, views, and opinions are based on incomplete info. They can't be trusted, and any of the emotions and longings that they give rise to can't be trusted either.
So, I stopped telling myself stories about myself and my relationship to everything in the world. I surrendered to not knowing. Then, something nifty happened: the depression lifted.
When it was gone, I saw how burdened by bullshit I'd become. In that moment, my practice shifted to being mindful of storytelling, to interrupt the process before it breaks my heart again.
I also saw that everyone has this same unreliable narrator in their heads.
We're all storytellers, and we all forget that—apart from the sights and sounds happening now—nothing else is real. It never has been. Most suffering comes from the stories we tell ourselves about what we're experiencing. Most suffering comes from the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
There's no beating around the bush, friends: the solution is to kill the storyteller. Luckily, in the end, it's easy to do: just be aware of the tendency to tell tales, and then the tales will stop, and all the pain they caused will stop with them.
Looking at things, without the story, it's clear that my life isn't ruined. I'm not lonely, I'm not unlucky. What am I? I'm sensing and feeling. I'm breathing. With a deep breath, I look up at the starry sky, and smile.
There's much to do to repair the damage I've caused myself, but step-by-step it can be done. And it can be done without me getting lost in nightmares and fairy tales.
Much love to you all.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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