The pithy, meme-like definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result. By that standard, I am completely, certifiably insane.
I do the same things, fall into the same patterns, again and again. My days all seem to blur into one, the only breaks in the monotony coming when disaster strikes, such as the death of my cousin in July. Everything in my life feels to me like a downward spiral, as if I’m swirling around a cosmic toilet bowl, and some part of me sees that analogy as all too accurate.
All that should be fairly obvious to anyone who has read some of my earlier posts on PPC. Nothing new, really, except that I think I’ve finally reached the point of acceptance. If the path to becoming a better man, to reaching the kind of life goals I want from myself, requires battling my own inner demons, an apathetic family, and a hostile world at every turn, then I have to stop and ask, “Is it even worth the cost?”
World War I is now over a century in the past, but we still remember it today. Four years of bloodshed, devastation, and misery inflicted on the entirety of humanity for the trivialities of a fading noble class. Millions of lives lost, countless others left permanently damaged in body, mind, or spirit. The entire world left upside down.
Some people see their lives as metaphorical warfare, and I often wonder which wars they’re talking about. The movie kind, almost certainly, the stylized tales of individual heroism. They see themselves as protagonists, as the lone wolf fighting off waves of Nazis, Communists, Taliban, or whoever their preferred enemy might be. In their lives, the bullets fly, but they never find their mark. Wounds are patched up off-screen, and the mental trauma is swept under the rug.
Not so for me. I feel more like an infantryman of WWI: nameless, faceless, with little hope for survival. I’m stuck in a trench, never truly gaining ground except to give it right back. Monotony and drudgery are enemies as great as the ones sniping at me, and harder to defend against.
Even the best soldier gets worn down eventually. Even the strongest man cracks under the constant pressure. I was never the best, never the strongest, so I sometimes wonder how I’ve held on this long. And sometimes I wonder if I have, or if I’ve already been broken beyond repair.
I consider myself at war in more than the metaphorical sense, however. As I see it, this whole country—no, this whole world is at war. It’s mostly a cold war at this point, this battle of good versus evil, liberty versus tyranny. We see occasional flickering flames, such as the present rioting in Australia and ongoing protests in France, but most of the war is being waged in the hearts and minds of our fellow man. We’re just waiting for our Fort Sumter, our Lexington and Concord, our Pearl Harbor or Franz Ferdinand or Dien Bien Phu. The moment in which our enemy, in this case the enemy of all that is good and just in this world, finally makes that fatal mistake and turns a cold war into a shooting conflict.
But being a soldier is hard work, remember. We in America have been in a constant state of war for twenty years running, but the last few have seen that war turned against the common people, and the past eighteen months have seen the good guys take loss after loss on the psychological battlefield.
Early research into what has, at various points in history, been called combat fatigue, shell shock, and post-traumatic stress disorder gave a good upper bound for the time a battle-ready soldier could expect to be deployed in active combat before suffering a mental breakdown. That time works out to around 280 days; curiously, about the same amount of time as a pregnancy.
We’ve been under siege for twice that, and the numbers show that we’re all starting to break at a frantic pace. Depression is skyrocketing. The same goes for anxiety. General feelings of malaise, despair, hopelessness, and similar negative emotions are so common that it’s getting almost impossible to find someone who isn’t seeing the worst in each passing day.
I have all of the above and more. I used to look at each day wondering what I could do, what I could make, and how I could make a difference. Now, though, I greet each morning with a sigh and a vain hope that it won’t get any worse. I can’t blame all of that on external factors, of course. Some of it comes from my own problems, problems that were exacerbated, not created, by current events.
Placing blame really misses the point. What’s more important is that I’m broken, I know I’m broken, and I accept that putting myself back together is beyond me. I’m a casualty of this war, make no mistake.
If I have to go down, let me go down swinging. That’s all I feel I can ask now. I doubt I’ll ever have children—another hope dashed in the past year and a half—so there aren’t a lot of reasons to keep fighting. What fight I have left, then, is in the defense of the ideals I hold most dear: liberty and justice for all, equal opportunity, the rights each of us has from birth. For the sake of those I love, I’ll fight in the name of those ideals as long as I can. Even if I can’t live in a world free from the evils of tyranny, maybe I can help make it so they can. It’s a small chance, but it’s all I’ve got, so I’ll keep on fighting for it until the bitter end.
I just can’t help but think that end is coming sooner than I ever expected.