Small Families Are Best

As the third of eleven children, I know what it’s like to be part of a big family. And as with most things, it’s not all good nor all bad. I can’t imagine giving up any one of my siblings. I care about them, and I am glad they were brought into existence. In fact, the sibling I am closest to is actually the last of the bunch, number eleven. Without him, I’m not sure I would have survived 2018, the absolute worst year of my life. In large part due to him, 2020 has been comparatively wonderful. There is no way I would want to go back in time and tell my parents that they really should have stopped after me, number three. No way!

Having said that, when I imagine what my life might have been like if there were only two or three of us, I feel like a lot of my life’s biggest struggles could have been either avoided or mitigated to some degree.

Every child has their own unique challenges and needs. They don’t all need the same rules or amount of personal attention. They don’t need hugs to the same degree of frequency. They don’t all need to be told that they are loved every day to feel that they are loved. Some can be left alone for long periods of time without harm. Others need constant social interaction from their parents.

When I raised my own two children, I recognized that treating them both in exactly the same way would be a mistake. So, I treated them differently. I learned how they each feel love, and I did what I could to make sure they both felt loved by me. I taught them to read, differently. I taught them arithmetic, differently. My son, though he does value fairness, was able to understand when I explained why the penalties for breaking rules could not be the same for both of them. Even the rules could not be exactly the same. They were two different people with different needs. Maybe schools and governments have to treat everyone the same, but a family shouldn’t have to. What was important to me was that each child felt loved in the way they needed and that their opportunities for individual growth and life success were maximized.

The more children there are though, the more difficult this approach becomes. I think that, out of necessity, most parents of large families use the much simpler strategy of treating every child the same. They try to show the children that they are being fair and that they love each child the same. At least, this is the approach my own parents seemed to employ. One positive benefit of this approach is that I never got the feeling that they were playing favorites. 

Unfortunately, what all of this fairness also meant was that my own unique individual needs weren’t quite being met. For example, I was not a happy child, but my parents never took any real action to discover why I was struggling. On those occasions where I felt a need to talk to them about some concern, I often had to wait in line. I can remember multiple occasions where I simply gave up and went off to be by myself elsewhere. 

Sure. My parents loved me…, but unless I did something drastic, I could never get the attention I needed. Among the things I tried when I was young were screaming at the top of my lungs, walking out and being gone for hours at a time, breaking walls, doors, and mirrors, getting F’s in classes, stealing, and even getting physically violent with siblings. I was awful, and I needed help. But did I get the help I needed? I got punishments. I got put in time out. I got extra chores. I lost privileges and access to things I enjoyed. They tried to control my behavior by meting out punishments. I don’t remember any time being spent to find out what was really wrong.

Of course, I didn’t know what was wrong either, but I was the kid. I was too young and inexperienced in life to understand my own psyche. I remember the phrase being often used in my house, “they just want attention,” whenever a child acted out. As if wanting or needing attention was a bad thing! In my mind, I was just an awful person, and all of the punishments and parental admonitions just supported that belief.

In middle school, things got especially bad. I heard about the possibility of homeschooling, and begged my mom to let me try. I needed something to change. My mom actually arranged a meeting with my principal to discuss the option, but he told my mom that I would just be running away from my problems. According to him, I needed to face them in order to overcome them. The logic doesn’t sound bad, and I don’t blame my mom for listening to him, but the choice was still wrong for me. Going home at that time wouldn’t have been running away from my problems. It would have been giving my mom a chance to figure out what the problems were, away from so many other distractions. 

A year or two later, my mom let my younger sister stay home to be home-schooled while I attended my first year of high school. High school was a lot better than middle school though, and I started to have some hope for the future. The next year though, in my sophomore year of high school, my mom decided to home-school everyone at home. For the family as a whole, this might have been a good decision, but I’m not sure it’s what was best for me personally. As just one in a crowd, my parents never really understood my own personal individual needs. 

The point of this post is not to criticize my parents though. I believe they did the best they could given the circumstances. If there had only been one or two of us, I’m sure they would have spent more time with me. They would have come to understand me more, and they would have been able to meet my needs better. If they weren’t able to understand what was going on with me or didn’t know how to help me, they would have had more money to spend on a child therapist or psychologist. Perhaps, I would not have had so many suicidal thoughts, a fact my parents never knew about me until I wrote it out in a blog post just a few years ago.

More recently, I have had some unpleasant interactions with my mom that I feel are caused, at least in part, by the sheer number of children she has. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has caused great harm to me and millions of others, and I have written much about this. Until recently, my mom refused to admit that this could be even a little bit true. She finally did acknowledge that the “attitudes of members and the policies of the church have caused [me] pain,” and that “perhaps if [she] had [gone through what I did, her] perspective would be different.”

This partial acknowledgement made me both happy and sad. I was happy that she was starting to see, just a little bit, what I’d been going through all of these years and how the church was a part of that. I was sad that it made no difference to her. Now, this may have nothing to do with the number of children she has, but I can see how it might. If I came to believe that one of my children had been hurt by the members and policies of an organization that I loved, and that that organization was continuing to hurt others without apology, I would want to rethink my relationship with that organization. Even if I couldn’t give it up, I would want to keep my relationship with it a lot more low-key.

However, if I had many similarly devoted children and grandchildren that looked up to me and would see if I wavered in my dedication to this organization, I might hesitate changing any of my behaviors. I think that my mother believes that the church helps and blesses the lives of her and almost all the rest of her family, and I am just one sad exception. In her mind, changing her attitude toward the church might help her relationship with me but hurt many others. She can’t afford that, regardless of how it might affect me. 

To me, it seems pretty clear that numbers matter. What a parent will do for one child alone, they might not be willing to do for that same one child out of a great number. Imagine if all eleven of my mother’s children felt hurt by the church. Would all of her family-directed emails then be full of worshipful statements about the church? Would she then continue to exclaim her great joy that the church is true? Would it permeate all of her communication both public and private? No matter how much she believed the church to be true, even to the point of certainty, I think she would more carefully evaluate whether she needed to affirm that confidence at every step, destroying family relationships in the process.

And so, back to my original point, I think small families are best. When schools, governments, etc. have to treat all the same, regardless of personality differences, psychology, etc., parents should be able to do what’s right for the good of each individual. Parents, especially, should not have to choose between the good of many and the good of one child with unmet needs.

Keeping the High

Earlier today, I began to watch the second season of a TV series I’d started watching a year ago. The show is a little violent and not really the uplifting sort at all, but some of the concepts were interesting, so I thought I’d continue to watch more episodes later. At the thought though, my eyes started to water, and I began to wonder if the high I’ve been on for the past few days was ending already. It’s too fast, I thought. And besides, my lows don’t usually start with random tears. Maybe there’s another reason I would feel sad.

I opened myself up to Durand to see if I could find some answers, and I felt disappointment from him. When I spend my time watching shows like the kind I’d watched this morning, I close myself off to the sort of experiences I’d been hoping to have with Durand. I had been looking forward to strengthening our connection, and I think, though the idea still seems strange to me, so had Durand. He represents the part of me that wants to move forward and learn and grow. Of course he’d be saddened by the thought of me throwing hours of my life away on another meaningless TV series.

When I’m feeling depressed, I tend to spend more of my time watching long TV series and playing mindless games. I’m not feeling depressed at the moment, but I’ve developed some unfortunate habits. I’m glad Durand was able to get my attention before I made a mistake. Instead of spending my day on time-wasters, I committed myself to staying productive. I had great experiences with my students, and the day has been pretty good overall. This high will hopefully last for a good long while yet.

Joy Born of Suffering

I’ve never been diagnosed for depression. I just know that it had been a rather regular part of my life until several years ago. I had suicidal thoughts throughout my teen years, but I never acted on them. I was too afraid that suicide wouldn’t actually end anything. I might just have to go through some kind of purgatory or go to the spirit prison of Mormonism. During the darkest times of my life, I just pled with God to just end my existence entirely. I didn’t want to experience any kind of afterlife.

But these times were transitory. A week or two or even a month of depression was followed by a season of relative cheerfulness. I wouldn’t say I was ecstatic or anything, but in comparison to the depression, I felt really good for days or weeks at a time. And then I’d crash again.

Nobody seemed to ever notice when I was feeling down though. If anybody asked how I was doing, I always said I was fine. I smiled at everyone no matter how bad I felt inside. If I couldn’t keep up the act, I’d isolate myself as much as possible. Back in junior high school, I faked sickness once or twice a week during the lows. I don’t know how my parents could let me get away with that, but I’m glad they did.

As I got older, I learned other strategies to combat or at least hide the depression from others. I slept long hours, disappeared out of the house on long walks by myself, and tried to push through to better days. I used to think the depression was caused by my own mistakes or “sinful” nature. Sometimes, I think I tried to invent reasons to explain my unhappiness. My church taught that happiness came from doing the “right” things, so if I was unhappy, I must have been doing “wrong” things.

Only as an adult did I finally realize that brain chemistry could also be a contributing factor, and a major one. The realization that my depression wasn’t always the result of doing wrong actions was more helpful than anything I’d learned before. Learning that diet, exercise, and the company of certain individuals could shorten the duration of my dark days and weeks was life changing. I wish I could have known that when I was younger. I wish I hadn’t felt it necessary to blame myself for my unhappiness.

And then, back in 2013, I lost my faith in my religion. And I broke. My ups and downs ended. I stopped feeling depressed, and I wrote blogs about feeling better than ever. But that wasn’t completely true. I stopped feeling depressed, but I stopped experiencing those times of happiness as well. I stopped feeling anything at all. I remember thinking that I could handle anything then. The world could end. I could lose my family and friends. I could become homeless. I thought I had grown in some way and was capable of any trial. But I was wrong.

I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that there was a problem. I remember feeling uneasy in 2015, like my life was just wrong somehow. With my wife and kids, I tried to start over somewhere else. I made drastic changes in my life.. But that feeling of something being off wouldn’t go away. I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t figure it out. I remember acting out, trying to feel something, but failing.

In 2017, my wife suggested I go back to America. I know that, like me, my wife had no idea what was wrong with me. She was slipping into her own depression, and just being around me made it worse. I said things to try and explain what I was going through, but as I didn’t really understand it myself, anything I said could only be partly true. When she mentioned leaving though, I felt resistant, but then as I thought about it more, I thought this could be the shake up that I needed.

I returned to the United States with my son in the summer of 2017. I lived with my parents, found a part-time job in the area, and tried to live my life. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Through talking with others though, especially a number of siblings, I realized that something really traumatic had happened to me. Losing my faith and religion was a bigger blow to my emotional well-being than I’d realized. I’d completely shut down that part of me that feels and became numb. Things started to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

In the spring of 2018, my wife came to visit me and our son. The visit was nice, but when she left, she took our son with her. Earlier in the year, my parents had left on a mission abroad, and so, with the departure of my son, I was left virtually alone. Being alone though gave me options that I hadn’t had before.

I decided to take a trip to California with the thought in my mind that I might stay. I chose Fresno as the biggest city with jobs that was still affordable. I stayed in a stranger’s home and walked around the local neighborhoods, trying to get a feel for the area. Could this place become my home? On my drive there, I’d felt optimistic. When I saw some of the local trees and plant life, I felt nostalgic. I told myself that I was home, and I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time.

During those first few days, I searched for jobs, considered various housing options, and contemplated life.

And then.. In the wake of the hope and optimism I’d felt came all the darkness I’d been numb to for the past 5 years.

I escaped out to my car so that the owner of the house wouldn’t hear the sobs I could no longer hold back. I drove around the city and tried to find a private place to just let it all out. I couldn’t find any good place though. Gradually, I got myself under control and returned to the house. For the next few days, I closed myself in my room and played computer games. I tried to shut out the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm me.

No.. not Fresno, I decided. Nothing wrong with Fresno, but I was finally feeling depressed, and I wanted to enjoy it. I would go back to my parents’ home and curl up in a dark corner by myself. Jobs and responsibilities could wait. I wasn’t going to think about any of that now.

On the 12 hour drive back to Utah, I was a mess. My feelings were all over the place, and I had no control over them at all. I raged and screamed, bawled and whimpered. Through the salt flats, I surpassed 100 miles per hour. I watched the oncoming traffic and considered how easy it would be to end it all. Easy? Yes. Something I could do? No. There were other lives in those cars, and no matter how much I wanted to be done with my life, I couldn’t risk someone else’s.

And then I thought about my kids. They’d be okay without me. But I believed they’d be sad. I didn’t want them to be sad. I didn’t want them to misunderstand. I loved them. Would they think I didn’t love them if I decided my personal pain was just too much? And so I decided to keep on living. I didn’t have a fear of an afterlife anymore to hold me back, but I had people that I loved and that loved me. That would be enough for the time being.

Back in Utah, the house was crawling with family members. I can’t remember the occasion now. I know there was a wedding around that time. There was also a funeral not long after. The family also gathered in that house for other reasons as well. All I know is that I had no desire to see or talk to anybody. I couldn’t hide the fact that something was wrong, and I didn’t want to try. Anyway, to make a long story short, the depression passed. The cycle returned with its lows… and highs. In fact, knowing what was coming made that first depression shorter than average.

Coming out of that episode was marvelous. I felt like I could finally breathe again after being nearly smothered to death. Breathing never felt so good. The world got some of its color back. I hadn’t realized how drab all the colors had become. I had some serious issues, and lots of them, but hope and optimism were back too.

My brother and his wife invited me to go to Washington to live with them for a while until I could get on my feet again. In a high moment, I accepted their offer. I went in August, and things were mostly good. The lows come and go as they did before my crisis of faith, and I feel myself again.

Back in December, I moved into my own apartment. I started blogging again in mid-January when I was feeling good. The last week and a half have been particularly bad, and thus, no blog posts. I’m not sure if writing cheers me up or if I write because I’m feeling more cheerful. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, as of an hour or so before starting this blog, I started to get out of my funk and to move around. I cleaned my apartment, studied a textbook I’d borrowed, and thought of goals I’d like to make.

I never want to go back to that numb state I was in before Fresno. Though things were dark for me there, I remember that city with fondness. Through the pain, I can feel joy. It’s okay that I don’t feel happy all the time. Even when I’m feeling depressed, I am glad that I can at least feel something. This is life. And for now at least, things are looking up.

Letting It All Out – Conversation With a Friend

Hey there. How’s it going? We haven’t talked for a long time.” I felt some relief at the sight of him. It had been so long and I’d been lonely.

My friend gave me a warm smile. “It’s good to see you again,” he said. “How have you been holding up?”

For anybody else, I would have lied and said “not bad”, or “okay”, but for this friend, only the truth would do. I couldn’t help giving a sigh first though. Was it a feeling of relief, or was I just feeling sorry for myself?

“Uh-oh,” he said. He had heard my sigh and the expression on my face and already knew more about my current situation than anybody besides my wife. I had gotten so good at hiding the truth from everybody that suddenly being out in this way felt just like coming out as gay all over again. Was it a good feeling? I didn’t know what I felt, but I had to continue.

“I haven’t been well,” I admitted. “I mean, I guess there’s nothing really wrong… I mean, … ugh. Why is it so hard to talk right now?”

My friend came close and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “Just take it slowly. Let’s sit down while we talk.”

“Okay,” I agreed. His kind manner almost made me want to cry. When was the last time anyone had shown me this kind of care? And he hadn’t really even done anything! But this is who he was, and I knew that. He had been my closest friend since we were kids and … my thoughts were all jumbled. How could I say what I needed to say?

We sat down and I took a few deep breaths, doing my utmost to keep the tears at bay. “Well, I’ve been here for nearly a year,” I began. “It’s not what I had hoped. Well, I don’t know what I had hoped for actually, but not this.”

“So, you moved here with your family a year ago,” my friend prompted, “and what did you expect?”

“I don’t know!” I felt so inadequate to explain what I was going through. “A year ago, I was a full time teacher at a university. I made enough money to support my family, but I kept getting the impression that I was somehow in the wrong place. Fate had taken a turn and I had missed it. I thought that maybe I had moved so many times that I just wasn’t used to settling down for so long. I probably started having that feeling after just a year or so in, but I stayed a full three years. The feeling wouldn’t go away.”

My friend nodded in understanding. I’d told him this part of the story before. “Well anyway,” I continued, “we made a pretty radical change in our lives. We moved to a new city where we didn’t know anybody. I found a part-time job right from the start teaching English and my wife started making plans. The idea was that although I would continue to work part-time and earn enough for our family’s survival, my wife would begin working toward her own goal of having her own business, probably a restaurant.”

“I remember that was the plan,” my friend nodded. “And then?”

“At first, everything was okay. I was home more, so I cleaned the house and did the laundry. I took care of the kids during the day and was responsible for teaching them at home. It was actually fun.”

“You’re using the past tense,” my friend noted.

“Yeah. Things didn’t stay so perfect for long. In ten years of marriage, I had always been the one stressing over how to make enough money to support our family. It was only a few years ago that we were finally feeling somewhat stable. Now my wife was feeling that pressure, and more.”

“More?”

“Yeah, and that’s the problem.” Time to come out. “I may do okay in front of a class, but otherwise, I’m actually quite shy.” I stopped for a moment to let that information sink in.

“Shy?” he remarked. “That’s no secret! Who knows you that doesn’t know that?”

“You’d be surprised,” I continued. “But it’s worse than you think. Besides talking to my wife on the phone once or twice a month, I never talk to anyone on the phone. I never go anywhere or do anything where I might have to interact with anyone. I mean, … I can pretend when I do bump into someone. I was telling my wife how that’s one thing I like about teaching actually. I get to become a different person in front of the class. It’s like I’m literally two different people.”

“I’m glad to know the more sociable one,” my friend commented.

“There are a few exceptions,” I admitted. “Anyway, in America, it was easier to fake. At least I could use my mother tongue. Here, it’s all Chinese.”

“But aren’t you good at languages?”

“Well, so long as it’s reading or listening, but as soon as I need to communicate with someone else, that shyness really kicks in. I’m totalling incapacitated.”

“Wow. That bad.”

“I mean it,” I said. “I can have conversations with myself all day long in Chinese, but put another person there in front of me, and if there is any way at all to get out of having to speak, I will.”

“So how does this relate?”

“Well, since we got married, and even in America, I’ve had my wife take care of all the phone calls. She handled paying the bills and rent and everything. I remember when we first moved to the States together and it was time to call for some utility and I asked my wife to do it. She was so nervous because English is not her first language. I mean, I’m pretty sure my Chinese now is quite a bit better than her English was then. But I still pushed her to do it. I told her that I wanted her to be free while we lived in America. She shouldn’t have to rely on me for everything. So, I pushed her to be more self-sufficient in another country and in another language.”

I kept talking, “once in a while, she’d ask if I couldn’t make the call this time. But I’d just say that it was good for her. When she was nervous, I would sit with her by the phone, prepared to help her understand the vocabulary or know what to say. I fed her lines and she learned quickly to be able to do just about anything on her own.”

I could see that look of understanding and wisdom in my friend’s eyes, but he didn’t say anything. I imagine he knew what I was going to say at this point, but he knew I needed to get it out. “When we moved back to Taiwan, it was just natural that she would continue to handle all of the social interactions while I handled working and making money. That pattern had worked successfully for years, so why should we change it?”

“But then we moved here,” I said. “And I was trying to fill her shoes more while she tried to fill mine. I think we’ve both failed so far, though we’re not giving up. A year in and she’s still not really making much money. And me? I play with my kids and teach them during the day, but more often than not, I feel like I’m just one of them. I have no real friends.. besides you of course. But most of the time, I’m alone with my thoughts.”

“Oh, and I still haven’t mentioned that I’m losing my job soon. It’s not really the big issue, though it probably should be. I mean, things always work out for us somehow, and I’m sure we’ll be okay, but this does nothing good for my self-esteem. I just don’t like myself recently. I mean, it’s really bad. If I could just be a proper stay-at-home dad, then things would be fine. If I could do everything she did when she was in this role, I think I’d feel fine about things. But I feel like I can’t do anything without her. She still pays all of the bills and utilities. Everything is done in her name. She does all of the shopping, cooking, and even washing the dishes. And me? I’m just a bum.”

My friend looked like he was about to interject, but then he swallowed back down whatever he had been about to say. “I used to write a blog regularly. But … I guess when I’m not feeling very happy about things, I tend to play more games or watch more anime. I just waste time. These last several months especially, I’ve been feeling pretty depressed. I stay up until 3 or 4 or even 5 o’clock in the morning just wasting time. And then I sleep in until the kids wake me up, whenever that happens to be.”

“Oh yeah, and I’ve gained back most of the weight I’d lost before and had felt so proud of losing. I’m sorry. I’m all Mr. Negativity today. Thank you so much though for just sitting there and letting me get it out.”

He smiled. I could feel the love in that smile. How much I needed that! Nobody knows how much I just need a smile sometimes, from someone that really cares. “You’ll be okay,” he said. “You know what you need to do now, right? You once told me that so long as you’re writing, everything always falls into place. Writing is life. Not writing is death. Remember when you told me that?”

That’s not advice I’d give everyone, but it’s the perfect advice for me. When I write, things start making sense. Ideas come to mind that otherwise wouldn’t. This is when the answers come. Of course, all of my problems are still there, but somehow, hope seems to return to my heart again once I start typing. “Thank you my friend. Thank you Durand.”

Letting Go – of Everything

Nearly two years ago, I began to go through some really challenging internal struggles which resulted in my losing faith in my religion, deleting my Facebook account, changing my name and completely reevaluating my beliefs and direction in life. Those were hard times for sure, but I do not regret the choices that I made at that time. Since then, I feel like I have become a different person entirely.

I remember one day in mid-August 2013. I took a walk to the university track and walked around there for a while. I was struggling with an idea that I had been flirting with for quite some while, but was only then considering fully embracing. The problem was that this idea was completely counter to the person I had been up to that point. Could I really make such a radical change?

Throughout my life, I had believed that there was such a thing as ultimate truth, and that given enough time, that truth could be arrived at through study and prayer, logic and experience. I believed that I had already learned many truths and that I was well on my way to understanding some of the secrets of life and the universe. My religion made this easier because I believed in revelation from God and I had had many experiences which I believed to be communication from God to me. When you believe God is talking to you directly, how can you have doubts? I believed that I had knowledge of things as they actually were.

As I gradually lost confidence in my religion though and our religious leaders, I had to reevaluate everything I thought I knew. At first, I only had doubts in the current church and its current direction, but then I started to have doubts in its foundations. From there, I decided that I was at least still Christian in belief, but as I thought about my reasons for my Christian belief, I realized that even those beliefs could be doubted. My beliefs and what I thought had been “knowledge” kept getting peeled back layer by layer like an onion, leaving doubts in their place.

Throughout this whole process, I still felt the presence of that entity I had believed to be the Holy Ghost. I still prayed regularly and enjoyed the companionship of that otherworldly being. When I prayed to know about the truth values of any previously held belief though, I only felt a comforting sensation that (1) all would be okay in the end, and (2) that the process I was going through at that time had purpose.

On that day, walking around the track, I finally accepted the idea that had taken hold of me. I would let go of every belief and start over again. Uncertainty had been chasing me like an enemy and taking away my knowledge and beliefs one by one. But on that day, I decided to face my uncertainty and to embrace it as a beloved ally and friend. I would no longer fear the unknown, but I would make the unknown become a tool to work for me.

I cried that day. The Spirit, that still small voice, that entity which I had been taught was the Holy Ghost, was there stronger that day than ever. I had confidence in my decision to embrace uncertainty even as I held doubt that the feelings I had then even came from the Holy Ghost. I doubted the existence of God and allowed myself to be swept along in a world potentially devoid of any gods directing its course. I cried as a result of the strength of that spiritual confirmation even as I felt the loss of everything that had gone before. I also cried as I felt an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt sad and happy at the same time. My feelings were so mixed that day. Letting go of knowledge was so incredibly liberating, but I felt like I had just jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. It was terrifying.

During the weeks and months that followed, I struggled greatly with various fears that I had not had to face since my teen years. I no longer had confidence in an afterlife. What happens when I die? I had never really feared death before, but I really started to fear it then, at least for a couple of weeks. Who was I? What was my purpose in life? Was there any purpose at all? I couldn’t sleep at night with my mind filled with these questions.

Fortunately, those difficult nights have passed. I have found my new path, and I am happier than I have ever been. My cycles of depression have finally ended. I have overcome my addictions. I no longer have tears for myself, though I still cry for others from time to time. I love my life. I love the path I have taken since my youth. I love the religion of my childhood and the positive impact it had on my life. I do not wish to discourage others from sticking to that path. But who would have thought that completely letting go of everything could have led where it has? I love the path I am currently on. I feel happy and free. If I died today, I would have no regrets.

No More Suffering, No More Tears

I think I was still a teenager when I recognized the pattern that my life was following. I went through deep depressions followed by relatively joyful periods where nothing could go wrong. Those cheerful times though were always too short, and I was soon wallowing in self-pity once again. That pattern continued and I gradually learned strategies to hide my depression from others. I spent a lot of time alone though, especially on various forms of entertainment where I could keep myself from thinking too much. Computer games were the best distraction and I found myself easily addicted to game after game.

Recently though, within the last two or three years, I have noticed that the pattern has stopped repeating itself. I have had several good years without any depression at all, and I’m not really tempted by games and other time-wasters. I remember a year ago, I started to worry that I was becoming a little bit too unemotional. I didn’t feel sad or depressed for myself at all, but I didn’t really feel too excited about anything either. The emotions I did feel were only for other people, and that state has pretty much continued for the last couple years.

I’m happy, but I don’t understand it. I used to feel sad all the time. I used to find dark places to be completely alone in order to release a torrent of pent up pressure through tears. I used to cry a lot, for no reason at all. I didn’t understand why I felt so miserable. I used to think about my life and try to come up with reasons for why I should feel so depressed. I imagined the worst about myself and my actions in order to make some sort of sense of my feelings. I came to hate myself and I believed the worst of the things I imagined. But that’s all gone now.

I almost cried a few days ago, and that reminded me that it had been a very long time since the last time. How many years has it actually been since the last time I actually cried? I can’t remember. The reason for almost crying the other day though had nothing to do with me. A student came to see me because she was having some difficulties and feeling pretty bad about them. She told me that she would be taking a year off from school as a result of those struggles. I could see her pain, and I felt her pain with her for a little while. As for me though, I feel no pain for myself. I experience joy and sadness with others, but my own ups and downs have become so very slight in comparison to what I used to experience. I know some of my core beliefs have changed in the last few years, and I wonder if this is what has ended my life’s most consistent pattern.

Even when I imagine things that could happen to me or to others in my future, I can’t see myself going back to where I used to be. If someone close to me were to die or get injured, if I lost my job or some other terrible thing happened to me, I would most certainly feel some pain, but I can’t imagine getting caught up in it for long. I feel like I’ve already felt almost all of the pain in my life, and now it’s time to really start living. Is this state of mind unhealthy, or has something really good happened? I’m still trying to understand it.

When in Pain, the Animals Came

(This is a later point in the same letter started in Early Experience With Faith)

I don’t know the events surrounding this experience or what led up to it. I know I had suicidal thoughts and I was practically begging for some sign that God was there. I wanted to know that there was a point to my existence, but on this day, I felt pretty convinced that my life had no meaning whatsoever. Our family was visiting with relatives for a day or two and I took a moment when the family wasn’t doing anything to get off by myself behind their home. Again, I found myself praying and pleading for some relief. I was at the end of my ability to tolerate my own life and I needed some intervention. I don’t know what I prayed for exactly, but the events that occurred afterwards lifted me out of my depression for a while.

I have always loved animals and our cats were my best friends growing up. Whenever I was at my lowest, I would inevitably find a cat in my lap or rubbing its head on my leg. Somehow, they always knew. On this day, our cats were from us, but there were several other animals that decided to be friendly. I always hesitate to share this story as it seems so unreal, .. but it happened. Over the course of at least 2 or more hours, I enjoyed the attention of several animals, the most memorable of which was a bird that perched on my finger as it fed its young. I don’t remember the other animals so well as this happened when I was just a teenager, over 20 years ago, but I seem to remember horses and possibly a cow. I’m pretty sure there were other animals as well, but I can’t remember anymore. I just remember that each experience seemed to be remarkable at the time and all of this lifted me out of my depression and tempted me to believe that God was real and actually cared.

The Insanity Within

As a young boy, I remember sitting on a bench and watching a group of boys my age enjoying an informal game of basketball. A part of me really wanted to join in. I wished that I could be one of those boys. I wanted to be normal. “Hey! You wanna play?” a friendly boy asked.

“No thanks,” I said without even pausing to think.

“Are you sure?” the boy asked again. “We could use another player.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said.

“Well, if you change your mind, you’re welcome to join in.”

“Thanks,” I said simply. The boy smiled and went back to his play. I got up and slowly walked away. I pretended not to care, but inside I was screaming at myself. What’s wrong with me? I wondered.

In another time and place, I remember tagging along with a friend to a party. At the party, my friend mingled and socialized with other people. I angled myself toward the food. An acquaintance tried to start a conversation.

“Hi! Long time no see,” he said.

“Hi,” I said, just before taking a large bite out of something on the snack table.

“So, what have you been up to lately?” he asked.

My mouth conveniently full of food, I used a facial expression to try and convey the idea that I had been up to nothing at all. Basically I sneered and shook my head from side to side. Who knows what he thought of it.

“Well, it’s good to see you again. Talk to you later.” The acquaintance waved politely and rejoined a more lively group of people.

“Later,” I mumbled to myself. I wanted to cry. I was okay at conversation when it was just me and my friend, but when I was thrust together with people I didn’t know quite as well, or any number of people over one, I was unable to converse at all. Again, I screamed at myself internally. Later, I would go home and find an isolated place to cry.

Little by little and step by step, I have learned to get along in the world somewhat, though the internal battles between action and inaction continue on a daily, even hourly basis. Do I write a blog, or spend countless hours playing computer games or watching anime? Once in a while, I manage to choose productivity. At those times in my life, I am happy. I am being true to myself. My true self loves activity, positive interaction with others, self improvement, learning, helping others, and so much more. When I am being the me that joins in the game or the conversation, I experience joy.

Most of the time, however, I choose the games or whatever activity is available to make the choice go away. Tick Tock Tick Tock. Time passes and depression settles in. The depression is familiar. I’ve gone through the cycle many many times – short periods of productivity and joy followed by long periods of inactivity and depression. During these periods of depression, I have highs and lows. At the moment, I am having a high within the depression. The battle is raging fiercely. Even during the time I have taken to write this blog, I have broken away multiple times to play games for a minute or two at a time. If I weren’t feeling good at the moment, those minutes would turn into hours. This blog would never be written.

Throughout my life, I have struggled to understand this insanity. To me, it’s insanity because it doesn’t make any sense. I want one result so much more than the other, yet I consistently choose the less desired results. When I see those old cartoons with a devil whispering in one ear and an angel whispering in the other, I feel connected. I wish it really were like the cartoons though. Instead, I feel like I am the devil and the angel both, fighting with myself day in and day out. The fights aren’t whether to do something bad or to do something good, but rather over whether or not to do anything at all. I prefer not to think.

So far, this blog sounds rather depressing and I’m tempted to scrap it. I won’t though. Compared to where I was as a child, I have made incredible progress. I have learned and grown so much through my trials that I know I have something to share. I am grateful for what I have gone through in my life, though it has been overwhelmingly lonely at times. My periods of depression no longer reach that low point where suicidal thoughts emerge. I have experienced absolute joy in my life and I know that I will experience that joy again. I’m heading in the right direction now.

All of my life, I have prayed for the power to escape the bonds of this insanity. I feel the good within me and I want the freedom to live as I would, to do the good I know that I am capable of, to live free of fear. I have come to understand that God has been answering my prayer, but not in the way I had hoped.