Why can’t this be enough? I think as my right thumb hovers over my iPhone’s screen as if there’s a hidden well inside it that can fill up whatever part of me is still unsatisfied. I’m on a boat with four of my closest friends, sailing past the Santa Monica Pier on a sunny Saturday morning. The Pacific Ocean dances around us like a endless turquoise flag waving in the wind. Even Scrooge would have to admit the red solo cup of Trader Joe’s wine in my left hand is half full. And yet, I still want more.
“TELL ME I’M SPECIAL!” I feel like screaming into my phone, but I know too well the reply I’ll get. Minutes from now I’ll be checking each app compulsively like a fiend looking for a fix, but it won’t be enough. Every moment will bring a renewed need for validation, and despite my knowledge of the tricks employed by our technological overlords to keep us hooked instead of happy, I’ll find myself succumbing to their sickness and seeking out their cure. And I’ll still feel empty.
I close out of the app and begin scrolling the contents of my mind trying to discover what’s actually missing. It doesn’t take long to realize that the thing I’m desperate for is a deeper connection, one that can’t be achieved through however many likes I’ll get from a picturesque post to Instagram.
This desire for connection stems from the juxtaposition I recognize between my current state and the way I felt just 24 hours before. If you scroll through my photos from that morning, you won’t see any images of me trying to capture the guilt I felt about abandoning my writing to surf the Internet because of my tired brain’s inability to concentrate. Nor will you find a video that documents the dread that took hold after seeing the tragic news that Anthony Bourdain, the prolific chef, author, and travel documentarian, was dead of an apparent suicide, just days after the beloved fashion designer Kate Spade hanged herself with a scarf.
I think back to that previous morning. As soon as I read the headline, I could feel the stress chemicals diffusing through my body like cigarette smoke in a ventless room, and before I knew it, I was lost in the hauntingly familiar ruminative trance.
I thought about my attempted suicide at 16 years old and wondered if it was a premonition of things to come. I was depressed then, I could be again. If Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two people who lived creative lives and brought joy to so many, ultimately succumbed to sadness in a single moment, what hope did I have to protect myself against its slings and arrows? Maybe that’s all it was for them; a moment of “This is too much,” and then it was over. How could I ever be sure this wouldn’t happen to me? I had all the prerequisites.
Just last year, my obsessive thinking regressed to the point where managing my emotions felt like a full-time job. I became so adept at thinking I could read other peoples’ minds that paying attention to anything they actually said felt like a full-time job. I was convinced that any time I had difficulty recalling a word it represented the early stages of CTE and finding new ways to test my memory and intelligence became a full-time job. I was still getting used to the effects of taking insulin at every meal after being diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic and handling my health felt like a full-time job. The problem was: I already had a full-time job. One that I actually liked. But I was exhausted, and anxious, and lonely, and desperate, and it’s hard to like anything when you’re that overwhelmed.
It took me a year to fully admit to myself that self-discipline wasn’t enough to get me out of the hole I was in. By that point, I realized I was stuck in a well pulling on an endless rope with no one holding the other side. As much as I wanted to be self-sufficient, I needed other people.
I loved New York, but recognized that my closest friends were still in LA, and decided it was time to move back. I spent the six months remaining on my lease getting curious about the different options I had to improve my life. I re-entered therapy, read books on dealing with OCD, took a class on memoir writing where I shared my stories of struggle, and began to wrap up my life in New York and figure out how to get back to LA.
When I got to LA, I set up an appointment with a well-regarded psychiatrist. During our first appointment, we talked for two and a half hours. I gave him the full rundown of my history with mental illness and the trauma I’d experienced in my life. He listened as I droned on about my early struggles with OCD and cutting, getting stabbed at 15, attempting suicide at 16, becoming a full-fledged opioid addict by 19, watching my dad die at 20, having my heart broken at 26, being diagnosed with late onset type one diabetes at 30, and all the baggage that came with each of those. After taking all of it in and giving me a few psychometric tests, he looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “Yeah, you’ve got some stuff.” It felt good to hear it from someone of his stature. It was less of an indictment against me as a person and more of an acknowledgement that the issues I’d been dealing with were valid. Instead of speaking to me in condescending way and presenting my pharmaceutical options as miracle drugs, he actually acknowledged the limitations with the current medications and reassured me that he’d tinker with dosage and drugs until we found something that worked well with my brain chemistry.
Next I went about trying to find a therapist. After a few false starts with people I didn’t connect with, I found a woman who’s made me feel safe and understood. She’s lent an empathetic ear on the weeks when I’m feeling overcome by my anxieties and fears, and helped me begin to direct the kind of compassion I have for others towards myself.
But the medication and the therapy don’t hold a candle to the biggest factor contributing to my wellbeing over the past few months: My friends. After living a somewhat solitary life for the past few years, being back with my crew has made me internalize two wonderful facts about life. Happiness increases when you have more people you have to share it with, and, perhaps counter intuitively, sadness dissipates in the same manner.
Oftentimes I’ll write my personal stories as if they’re all things I struggled with in the past. But I sit here at my desk, the same guy who was able to find humor in a story about getting stabbed as the one who looked up at his mom and brother from a hospital bed seven months ago and cried out in earnest, “I think something broke in me when I got stabbed!”
I still struggle. I still have days like Friday when I feel overwhelmed and scared, and then days like Saturday when everything feels right again. I share these things here not because I want pity nor to prove I’ve got it all figured out, but because I want to let other people who are struggling know they’re not alone. I share because I recognize how much it means to me when other people tell me something that lets me know I’m not alone. I share because Instagram has enough pics of people living their best lives, and not one of them has ever made me feel the least bit better about my own when I’m having a shitty day. I share because I know deep down, whether we’re sailing in the sun or hiding in the bow of a ship waiting out the rain, we’re all in the same boat.