I’ve been facing the existential void since the first of the year. I woke up New Year’s morning feeling completely overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness and despair. I asked my girlfriend if we could move in together. We discussed it and I started spending more time at her house. Then I got sick and I was laid up in bed for days and I began thinking that I wasn’t functional enough to be a parent or strong adult figure to her two children. The entire situation from start to finish was beginning to affect my job, and yesterday I ended up in my boss’s office talking to him about how I felt like I was going to implode and that I was really fearful of that because I didn’t want to continue my self-sabotaging patterns.This morning I woke up suicidal. Suicidality for me is a the result of a sense of a paradox, that I am too emotional and screwed up to possibly live a life of quality, so why bother? It’s a chicken and egger, to a degree, where I feel like, “Do I get my shit together first and then become successful, or do I become successful and then I will feel less emotionally screwed up?”
The feelings were overwhelming this morning. It just seemed impossible to feel safe going on. And I have this friend in my life, my friend Gerald Hausman, who tells me that this is part of my life, that I experience it about once a month or every six weeks or so, and I feel like it’s a part of the dark side or shadow self that I cannot get a handle on regardless of how much I try.
What I am aiming to do in writing about it now is to transform it. The shadow terrors which rule me when I am in this place have a lot to do with the past and a sense of comparison about who I am, who I should be, who I should’ve been, what should’ve happened to me before now. It’s a place, ultimately, of ingratitude about all that is here right now, and the reality of things is that I have much positivity going on in my life.
Like I said, this is not the first time I have ever felt this way. I always get through it, and people who know me when I am not in it believe in me as a person of happiness that makes them feel happy – and then I fall and I am a difficult person to be around, as I probe others about what they feel and how they cope because it all seems much too overwhelming for me to handle. And knowing that also scares me, because I know that I push people away when I am in this place, even as I feel that what I need most is for people to tell me it’s all okay.
What I’d like to reach is a place where no one needs to tell me that it’s all going to be okay, that I can be a rock for others as they have been for me. That’s a quality of personal manifestation that seems impossible, given the bipolar disorder, the PTSD, the flashbacks I have over traumatic events, the sense of comparisons I make about myself and where I am in life and where others have reached that I can’t even imagine…But I also have the wisdom inside to recognize that nothing grows from a person who is eternally unsatisfied, eternally freaking out, eternally unable to keep myself moving forward, always hugging the phone to my ear talking to others about how to get through it…
Many times in my life, I have been in this place. I remember about fifteen years ago, being here, and having my friend Jesse Wood talk to me over tea in the backroom of the Oasis coffee shop about the void and how we need to face it and move onward, refusing to listen to it any further, engaging ourselves in some activity (his is painting) that gives us a sense of mastery over the world or even just the moment and allows us to feel the shifting sands of time with a sense that we are aware of the void but we are just skirting over its edges enough to be able to almost forget it’s there.
Writing was that for me for a very long time. I have hundreds of notebooks filled with sad stories or fearful brushes with the void, each stroke of the pen or the keyboard getting me closer to finding a way to skirt that edge and live in spite of the void and the sadness of what could’ve been or what might be if…I stopped writing a couple of years ago, or at least I should say I stopped writing in a way that was therapeutic for me, and I think that part of the reason for that was because I wanted to see who I was stripped naked of that crutch, and the reality is that I am a basketcase without it.
People on the phone. Everyone has received a phone call from me from the edges of the void. Many people shrink back in fear because I think I have the ability to articulate the void in ways that are much too frightening for most people to want to consider or think about, and I also think that the sounds of a soul heaving with trauma and sadness is often too much for other people to consider bearing for more than a moment or two. I would like to leave those people alone, honestly, and find my way out of the void myself again.
A lot of what leads me to the void in the first place is the sense that I have made far too many mistakes to possibly be safe and lead a good life. The truth of the matter is that I have had many incredible opportunities in my life that I couldn’t make sense of when they were in front of me, and part of the reason is that I haven’t been in the present enough to see them for what they are. Again, the paradoxes – do you fix yourself somehow first, through psycho-therapy or journaling or dropping out or taking courses or hiding in your room? Or do you gain some sort of success and just kinda wing it through life hoping that the bogeyman never reaches you?
Unfortunately, mine does. It reaches me in the dead of night and it reaches me in the middle of the day when I should be doing something else. If I try to avoid it, it responds by making me feel spaced out and frightened or worse, in a state of physical pain over past failures and past mistakes. I have medications that are supposed to make it less severe and less crazy, but they don’t always work and so I have used all kinds of other activities and substances to make it less severe, from drugs and alcohol to gambling and sex.
At this moment, in my quiet room on 2nd Street in downtown Albuquerque, I don’t feel a negative thing at all. I am in a warm room with nice lighting and I am writing on my laptop, and there are plans to go out tonight to dinner with my girlfriend and two of her friends who want to meet me. It is a Saturday, and I have time to reflect on all that I am thinking about before Monday comes along again and I will go back to work, where I work for a weekly newspaper that provides me with a desk and comraderie and purpose all week long.
It’s toughest when I am alone. The pain can get really intense, and physical pain that is brought on by emotional sadness is really tough pain indeed. I fear the past and what didn’t happen – I fear the future and what might happen – and I fear the present and wonder if it will all implode and if I will lose it again. This would make anyone suicidal, wouldn’t it?
I am told there are ways out. I have been playing with sobriety and recovery for the past two years…I manage to get a bit of time but what rises up when I am sober is just more pain that I can’t confront or deal with and so I go out again. Never for very long, but long enough so that I know I need to get back on the wagon where things are safe again…but it’s not safe there either, honestly, because then the pain comes back. I have been to a thousand therapists and faith healers and everything else and these things work, for a time, for a week or a few days or a month and then it all goes by the wayside again. The sense that trying to fix anything inside me is actually going to bring forth strides of wellness diminishes over time, but then I find myself bouncing back again and all the people who got the terrible calls then begin to receive good ones and they are left, one assumes, thinking that I am back on track and all is well.
And I wonder about the pain – am I just overly sensitive to the world and the disappointments it offers? How will I possibly face aging, the death of a parent (not yet) or any of the other real-world events that await me soon enough? Suicide seems like an option in this position, because if I can’t face garden variety disappointment and the general sense of dislocation that an active life can bring, how will I face those things without endless phone calls, visits to the doctor, more pills, more drugs and alcohol and sex and gambling, more fear and sadness and a sense that I am simply going to fall apart in a way that seems worse than death?
Here is my position at the moment: I live in Albuquerque and I work at the Weekly newspaper, where I sell ads and serve as the arts editor. I make okay money, enough to survive and pay off a few debts that I’ve acquired, and I have a great staff of people that I work with who make me happy even as I am sometimes too overwhelmed by the jobs I have taken on. In both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I have a wonderful community of people that I can call on for all kinds of information about local issues and interests, and I have a nice girlfriend with two children that I adore and a cat that is just too cute for words. I have friends like Rip and Val and Carl here in Albuquerque and I have friends across the wires like Spiros and Erik and Jasmine and lots of other people. I have arrived, but in my arrival I still am filled with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction and fear that I need to be doing something else, that I need to be somewhere else, that I should’ve achieved more with my life, etc. etc. etc.
I am told I am not alone when it comes to writers and creative people being eternally dissatisfied with what they have created and achieved. If I could have anything, I would have happiness and gratitude about what I have and forget the past and what might’ve been and let it go, but I am like a stubborn old mule when it comes to some things, even as I am aware that my refusal to let go of the past is part of what keeps me running in place, exhausted, driving people crazy with my sadness and my inability to be for others what they have been for me – a rock in a sea of confusion, a person of consistency and presence of mind to be there.
Again, the paradox, again, the sense of failure, again, the sense that it’s pointless to move forward. But it’s not, really. In the grand scheme of things, my life is a speck on a speck in a vast cosmos, but the temporal sense of wonder and kindness I can bring to others is simply enormous if I allow myself to stop being so selfish and self-absorbed and allow myself to take flight as a human being. This is my challenge…and I don’t particularly feel up to it.