It’s a typical Seattle afternoon – gray, dismal, clouded, dripping with rainy melancholy. Sitting at the hipster cafe, blowing my nose and sniffling because I’m sick as a dog, the man next to me asks if I have a cold or if I’m doing cocaine.
I guess the question itself isn’t so strange. Sometimes the winters here drive us to do something – anything – to get us out of the malaise that seeps into our very pores. And while I do not personally turn to chemical substances to get me through, I am no stranger to harming myself in the pursuit of feeling better.
Maybe it’s by pushing myself to the limit of what I can take – not sleeping enough, not eating right, drinking too much, wasting my valuable energy and time on the pointless abyss that is men in Seattle and dating. Maybe it’s that internal monologue that tells me how very much I suck at life and encourages me to just give it all up. Maybe it’s crawling under the covers (literally) and giving up on the outside world.
When I was eighteen and severely anorexic, weighing 35 pounds less than I do today, my dad and I used to take walks down the trail by our house. My brain was foggy from lack of nutrition and my body was weak with strain and sadness. My only motivation was the calories I was burning (of which I had so few to spare) as we picked up our pace around the turn. My dad used to tell me that if we kept working and believing, we could part the gray clouds above. I knew he meant these clouds to symbolize my disease, my depression, but I still pictured myself literally pushing the clouds away to allow the far-off sun through. Willing that warm yellow light to give my pale and sick body back some of its vigor and life.
Things these days are different. I eat food. I like my body. But the clouds are still there, a lot of the time. And it isn’t for just one reason in particular. Yes, we have an orange blob of hatred for a president and a large segment of the population that has proven its contempt for women, immigrants, and minorities with their vote. Yes, the state of international affairs and human rights worldwide is cause for immense concern. And yes, I feel sadness and emptiness despite living the white middle class privileged life that I am so lucky to lead. But is one of these things the cause?
I don’t think so. I know that depression runs deep in my family. And sometimes I decide that I should be able to cure myself of it – for fuck’s sake, my life is pretty damn good in the grand scheme of things.
But depression is not just an inherited trait – I believe it is also a symptom of my generation. We have too much; we want too much. There is an endless supply of things to desire, and technology makes acquiring them that much easier. Our endless comparison of ourselves to others that we either know (looking at a high school acquaintance’s seemingly perfect life on Facebook) or have no actual connection with (read all about the super diet that gave Kate Upton that dream-worthy body in Marie Claire) is the opposite of what we actually need in our lives. Comparison truly is the thief of joy.
So that girl from college has a more impressive job than you? So what. Her life is her own. And your old friend from childhood married your crush? Good for them. Comparing what you have to what they seem to possess will end in nothing but heartache.
So maybe part of what we need is to stop this joy-stealing crusade of looking at our lives and measuring it against what others have. To fully, as we say in yoga, “live in the moment.” To be actually grateful for the blessings in our lives and not worry that someone else has something even “better.”
And trust me, if ever I figure out how to do this, you’ll be the first ones I tell.