One of my closest friends is going through a really great time in his life. More than great, it’s seminal for his life being just what he wants it to be in the very near future. As he’s shared with me the steps he’s worked so hard to take that are leading him to the future he wants and will soon have, I’ve been thinking about what my own life being just what I want it to be would look like.
I know I want to someday make my living as a writer. I know I want to someday find someone I love who loves me back. These are fine, perfectly normal goals. The second one is virtually universal. The first one may not be as common (and will require millions of words more to accomplish), but neither are impossible nor out of the ordinary. If 10 years from now I am a professional writer in a healthy, long-term relationship, no one will stop and stare in wonder.
These are my two goals when I am well and stable. This is what I want for my life when my thinking is clear, my mind is healthy, and my view of reality is un-skewed. This is good because it means there are attainable desires I’ve pinpointed that I can work and hope for. What’s not so good is that my thinking many times isn’t clear, my mind isn’t always healthy, and my view of reality often is skewed, as though I’m looking through a sheet of cracked glass. These two goals I have – writing and love – are my goals only when I am well, and that hasn’t usually been the norm.
For most of my adult life, my only goal has been to be alive and well, something that many times has felt unachievable. I can learn to manage being alive, but being well? That has often seemed as possible as going back in time to change the things that made me unwell in the first place, such as the depression I’ve lived with for most of the last 12 years, and the destructive thought patterns, unfruitful habits, and debilitating core beliefs that have made just getting through the day and meeting my base responsibilities enough. (Where depression ends and where these patterns, habits, and beliefs start, I do not know.) And so for most of my life I may have had writing and finding love as desires, but never as goals. When just getting through the day feels like all you can do, looking towards anything else is simply not possible.
I say all this at a time in which I’m the healthiest I’ve been since I was diagnosed with clinical depression my sophomore year of college. That spring semester is the least alive I’ve ever been. I went from being a socially-active, straight-A student at peace with God and having the most fun of her life, to someone who slept 16 hours a day, lied to and stood up her friends, and felt nothing but resentful distance between she and God. I was suicidal and barely functional. I had to spend some days in a psychiatric ward and ended up dropping out of school two weeks before the semester ended. Eventually, the crisis passed and I went back to living a more normal life, though the persistent remnants of depression lingered, mainly in my self-attacking thoughts and emotions. Every day it was still a battle at some level between me and my sabotaging mind.
But recently all that has been changing, especially in this last year. Through the help of family, friends, medication, therapy, time, and what I see as God’s hand, I am now the furthest I’ve been from depression and a self-destructive mind. I am now actually healthy enough to finally be working towards the first goal I mentioned, that of being a professional writer, something I’ve wanted since I was 15. I have focus and resolution I’ve never had before. My mind and emotions are generally healthy, and the chemicals in my brain need only a small dosage of help to stay on their proper paths. I am able to look at reality with less fear and with fewer adjustments required. I’m moving forward.
But it’s because I’m moving forward faster and more surely than ever before that I notice the times when that progression takes a detour or even a complete U-turn, and I’m back to my primary goal of just being well. Thankfully, these times are further and further apart and carry less and less weight. But they do periodically come, and when they do, I realize that if I never get to be a writer, if I never find requited love, if I am able only to make it to the end of my life with peace in my soul and mind, then I will have reached my ultimate goal.
Now, I am not making excuses for not working for something greater than simply being alive and well, especially now that I am finally able to aim for something more. I know that for many, this goal of being well is anything but simple. I don’t belittle or detract from that. I just acknowledge that, for me, the only way I will ever be able to reach what I would really want for my life means reaching first for the goal that will make it all possible. I cannot write if the darkness in my mind is so thick I can’t see through it to the page on the screen. I cannot love someone well if I don’t think there’s reason for them to love me back. I must be well if I am to even come close to what I want.
Upon hearing about a very significant, unexpected reward all his efforts have brought about, my friend wrote: “Work. Work hard. The results will speak for themselves.” For him, this meant overcoming lifelong health obstacles and excelling in his education to arrive at a place where all he’s wanted since he was a child is laid before him. For me, this means putting all the strength and focus I can muster towards keeping emotional and mental health. It means keeping up the little habits that build up my mind when it is well and keep it from completely regressing when it is not. It means taking hold of my emotions – as much as they will let me – and directing them towards truth. It means being self-disciplined enough, not just to write every day and to be open to new people, but also to continually look towards light, even if sometimes it’s through miles and miles of haze.
Maybe one day I really will be able to write full-time and live comfortably from it. Maybe one day I will really be able to look at someone with love and see love reflected back. But this will only happen if one day I really am able to be, fully, alive and well.