Requiem

Music has the power to stir the soul. A song can change our mood, can push our emotions to new heights. Never is that more true than during those times where we are already emotional, whether from joy, grief, or somewhere in between. I’m often moved to tears by music, and I feel that everyone should admit, at least to themselves, that it’s possible for them to feel the same.

Over the past few years, I have shared some of my favorite songs, albums, and musical stories on this site. On this dark night (I write this shortly before 1 AM) I would like to do so again, but this time for a different purpose. I don’t intend for you to listen to these four songs because I said so. No, I’m telling you that a day will come when they will be played for me, and I won’t be there to listen. Whether the time until that day is best measured in months or decades, I can’t say. I know that they have summoned some of the strongest emotions I’ve ever felt, so I want them to be heard at the one time I’m certain people will be emotional because of me.

These are in no particular order. I know they also don’t exactly go together, but I’m a complex man. I have many facets. Not all of them meet at straight edges.

One

Avantasia – “Cry Just A Little” (Youtube link)

One of my favorite bands, and one of my favorite stories told through music. I’ve talked about The Scarecrow before, and I devoted considerable space to this song. But that’s because it deserves every word of praise I can give. It’s hard to do a metal ballad right. It’s even harder when that ballad also has to tell the story of a man rejected by society and willing to sacrifice his very soul for one shot at the life and love he dreams of.

The nameless protagonist begs not to be loved—he believes himself unworthy of that—but simply to be acknowledged. Why don’t you at least lie and say that you care, or that you even know I’m there? Believe me, I’ve been there many times. I don’t believe in the existence of demons or devils, unless you count the evil men and women of the world. There have been times, though, that I wished I did, if only to make the same offer of myself.

It’s not about love or fame or wealth. It’s about being remembered. It’s about having someone who cares enough to remember you. Too many people don’t have that, and I often wonder if I’ll number among them when the time comes.

Two

Breaking Benjamin – “Dear Agony (Aurora Version)” (Youtube link)

I specify the Aurora version of this song solely because of Lacey Sturm’s angelic vocals. “Hauntingly beautiful” is a phrase I use too often, but it’s very appropriate here.

Again, I’ve mentioned this song before on here. I’ve used it as a post title, added in the lyrics, and referenced it multiple times. I’ve dreamed myself and the woman I love singing it together. That’s how much it has affected me in the scant two years since its release.

I live each day in pain. I have for years. I don’t always let it show. Even my closest loved ones never know the true extent of it, because I learned long ago that few people want to hear about depression, and even fewer want to help in a way that relieves the agony for one precious moment.

A song about fighting with each breath until the pain finally does stop, until you reach that final moment where you know you’ll never have to feel again, that speaks to me. Coming from an evangelical family, I often heard my elders say of the dead, “At least he’s not hurting anymore.” As a child, I never truly understood that. As an adult, I certainly do.

Three

Anders Osborne – “Higher Ground” (Youtube link)

To speak further of pain, this song might be that feeling personified. The last time I listened to it was in January 2014, the night my cousin died. To this day, I can still recall the anguish of that cold, dark evening. I couldn’t bear to look at him, so I stayed with my grandmother. I locked myself in her bedroom, threw my headphones on, queued up Black Eye Galaxy, and just cried.

The singer was dealing with addiction (probably heroin, considering “Black Tar” is the name of another track); that’s what the whole album is about. But the message of this closing track is universal. We all want to find that higher ground, that way of rising above the aches and pains of earthly living. For those of us who aren’t religious, it’s much harder. We lack the comfort and certainty that come with faith. We can’t be sure, and that’s scary.

Once again, I have to refer to my family. As far as I can tell, none of them have ever had to struggle with that kind of doubt, and that means it’s something I can’t share with them. I can’t talk about it to those I’ve known the longest, because we’re so far apart on the matter that we just talk past each other. And that only feeds into my perception of being alone. In this case, I really am.

Four

Allman Brothers Band – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Live)” (Youtube link)

Despite what you might think, this is technically not a religious song; it was originally written for a secular purpose, and the religious trappings were added later.

I’m a Southern man. Always have been, always will be. And this is a Southern anthem, part of that collective unconscious we share as a culture. Especially when it’s performed by one of the culture’s greatest acts.

Really, what else is left to say? I love who I am, where I live, the people I’m able to call neighbors. There’s no other part of the country or the world that I’d rather make my home. While I can’t share in every part of what it means to be a Southerner, this is a common ground, a place in the middle where I’m willing to meet. And it encompasses all of the themes I’ve been trying to speak here. The pain, the grief, and the hope of something better for someone, if not myself.

We all need to let these things out from time to time. For me, music gives voice to the thoughts I find so hard to speak. I want that to be true for as long as I live, and even beyond.

May I be deserving

For me, one of the hardest parts of depression to recognize and combat is the feeling that I’m just not good enough. This isn’t quite the same as Impostor Syndrome, which is more the feeling that others think I’m not as good as I claim. No, in this case, I’m the one questioning my ability, my prowess, and my worth.

I have had a few good things happen to me. I can’t deny that. The problem is, I don’t believe I deserve them, so I can’t accept them for what they are. I assume there’s an ulterior motive at work, or that something will happen to knock me back down to where I feel I belong. And the inevitable stumbles only reinforce that belief, proving (in my mind) that I was right all along.

In reality, I’m the CTO of what is potentially a billion-dollar company. My mere presence, according to investors, is worth eight figures. Next week, I’m going to be interviewing someone who may become the newest member of our dev team. In other words, someone who will do nothing but take pressure off of me.

In my mind, I’m a mediocre programmer with no formal training and a wandering mind, whose biggest software release was a recipe book app that racked up 20 sales over three years. No matter what my boss says—or how much he would prefer I call him something other than that—I constantly feel as if I’m one mistake or one missed deadline away from being fired.

In reality, I love and am loved by a woman who has been blessed with seemingly infinite patience. She understands me better than I ever have. She brightens my world, even as she expands it. Just seeing a text from her lifts my spirits and sets me at ease.

In my mind, I wonder how anyone could ever love me, and why, after all I’ve put her through, she hasn’t kicked me to the curb yet. She tells me there’s no one better for her, while I think she could throw a rock from her front door and hit a better man.

At my darkest times, I simply feel that I don’t deserve any of it. The love, the trust, the patience…what have I done to deserve it? Certainly nothing material. My biggest accomplishments of the last ten years in that department are a few novels that almost nobody outside my little circle has ever read, much less enjoyed. Mentally, I know I’m very high on the intelligence scale, but when have I had the chance to use that?

With everything happening in the world and nothing happening in my life, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that my time isn’t running out. I’m 38 years old. Since my birthday three months ago, I’ve often wondered whether I would make it to 40. On the worst days, though, I started wondering whether I wanted to. Whether it was worth going on when I knew in my heart that things weren’t getting any better than they are now. And, even if it was, whether I deserved it.

The broken mirror

In the face of dreams I had
Grimaces of pain
Now I am turning helpless
Callous and alone
Waiting for a storm to brew
To wash my dream of love and sins away

The lyrics (and post title) are from “Blizzard On A Broken Mirror” by Avantasia, and they’ve been stuck in my head all day. Why? Because there’s a storm brewing, and I’d really like this morning’s dream washed away.

Alwan is a medieval-like village housing around 250 people, and it’s one base of operations for my Otherworld series. Karston, by contrast, has a population ta least 20 times that, a century or two more in the tech department, and it belongs to the Hidden Hills novels. They’re two different places. Two different worlds, neither of which is Earth, both of which I would gladly take in exchange for this rock I call home.

In my dream, they were much closer. So close, in fact, that a person could take a short train ride from one to the other. Never mind that neither setting has trains; dreams don’t care about petty things like continuity, after all.

I was in the little village, along with most of my family, and we were getting ready to start what must have been our Christmas party. While I was walking around outside, waiting on the last straggler—my mother, as always—to arrive, I got a call saying that two others were on their way over, coming from said town of Karston via said train. Sure. Merry Christmas to all, and the more, the merrier, right?

One of my cousins has grown very…estranged in the last decade. He became a cop, then almost instantly turned dirty. You know how it is, that arrogant, holier-than-thou attitude shared by everyone with a badge. He got into bodybuilding, had an affair with his trainer, ditched his wife and three kids, and all that was years ago. This morning, the dream version of him wanted to make amends by joining the rest of us in our celebration. And I have no problem with that.

The second unexpected visitor, however, is the one who left me reeling. She texted me, then called me, then showed up, all within the span of a few minutes. One moment, I’m walking around whatever dreamscape building we had set up for the party. The next, I’m going into the dining room to find her standing there. Her greeting came in the form of a punch to my shoulder as she said, “That’s for not talking to me for two months.” Then she hugged me like all was forgiven.

But it isn’t. It can’t be, because forgiveness has to be earned, and I haven’t earned it yet. In the time I have remaining, I don’t believe I will.

Sometimes a dream is a message. This one was read loud and clear, I’ll admit. I would say part of it has to do with the holiday season. I as a strong believer in the idea that December (whether you celebrate Christmas or any other early-winter holiday) is a time to open up, to embrace the positive. Charity, goodwill, even salvation, if you’re so inclined. Those are what this time of year is for, and that transcends the social boundaries we put up. You spend time with your family, with those you love, if for no other reason than because it’s good to remind yourself that they’re there. Yes, you should consider that all the time, but not everybody can, so at least try it now.

Yet some wounds are too deep to heal, some bridges burned beyond repair. We make them that way by our actions or inaction. And that, I feel, is the message meant for me this morning. I’ve been on both sides now. I’ve suffered such a wound, and I’ve caused one. I am, as the Scarecrow said in this post’s theme song, helpless, callous, and alone.

And Acedia, the inner demon I share with this character, puts a line on his lips that rings so true for me. “Love will come in time, but I am always late.”

Lamentations

I loved her. I still love her. As much as it hurts sometimes, I still think of her, and I’ve cried myself to sleep a few nights because of such thoughts. Wondering where I went wrong, what I could have done differently, and if I’ll ever have another chance.

Or if I was ever worth the first one.

Love is a powerful thing, I’ve learned. Its greatest power comes from being strong enough to make you forget. That’s what happened to me. I got so wrapped up in the emotional high, in the dreams of what may come, that I forgot who I was. What I was. I ignored my glaring flaws because I was talking to someone who saw past them, but they were still there. They never truly went away.

Eventually, that haze faded. I saw that I had yet to move forward, that two years had brought me no closer to a solution for the problems plaguing my life. I reached the point where I realized I was adding nothing positive to the relationship. No matter how much she said otherwise, I couldn’t help but feel that I was dragging her down. A partner is supposed to be an anchor, but the kind that keeps you from drifting away, not the one that pulls you into the abyss.


I’ve been playing Sunless Sea lately. It’s a great game, perfect in its atmosphere and worldbuilding, but one part leaves me troubled. The sun-kissed island of Aestival, with its port called Lesley’s Harbour, hits me like a punch to the gut every time it comes into view. Sure, the name’s spelled differently, but it’s close enough. And it’s fitting, because she really was the single ray of sunlight brightening my darkness.

I know I’m broken. I know I turned away from the one who had the best chance of putting me back together, or at least filling my broken spaces, joining with me to make something greater.

Why would I run from that? I don’t know. Maybe part of me doesn’t truly want to be healed. Maybe I’ve been broken for so long that I can’t imagine myself any other way. It could be that I don’t consider myself worthy of that sort of salvation; after all, what have I ever done to deserve it? Or it’s nothing more than the realization that I tried too hard, that I made promises I couldn’t keep, and the hurt I caused hurt me in turn.

That light feels warm on your face, but you have to be careful. It might just blind you.

What’s left of me

(Avantasia again, but now taken from The Mystery of Time, an epic of an album in scope and confusion.)

We’re coming to the end of another year. This one has been rough. Maybe not quite as bad as 2020, but it’s pretty close. We still dwell within the dystopia of a false pandemic, now with the added bonus of the powers that be attempting to force a harmful, useless, and potentially deadly drug down our throats. (Or, if you prefer, into our arms.) Tennessee has begun to stand as a small beacon of hope in a darkened world, which might be the only positive thing going at the moment.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality, specifically my own. It’s not that I’m old (38 isn’t even middle-aged, is it?) or that I’m scared of the bioweapon that kills 1 out of every 1000 or so. I don’t fear for my life. I just don’t see it lasting too much longer.

It looks as though I have everything arrayed against me. Although this state has taken a tentative step forward in barring public functions and private businesses from requiring the so-called vaccine, there’s nothing stopping them from reneging on that pledge of liberty. Add in an economy spiraling down, indeed put into a nosedive by those in control, and the stress of working a job that relies on cars being, you know, a thing, and I don’t see a lot of wiggle room. Literally everything has to go right for me to even have a chance to tread water. Advancing just doesn’t seem possible from where I sit.

Part of that is mental, I know. Depression colors my thoughts at all times now, but a rational breakdown of those thoughts will show that not all of them can be attributed to the darkness clouding my mind. Our world really is in bad shape. We’re beset by demons, though of the metaphorical sort—you can’t make me believe the literal ones exist.

My worldview relies on that rationality. It relies on the notion that a person’s value is proportional to that which they create in humanity as a whole, that creators are inherently more beneficial for our species than destroyers, and that they will be rewarded as such. Most of all, it takes as axiomatic the idea that the single most human act is the creation of another.

If I can’t do that, I might as well not even live, because what am I contributing?

This is not a suicide note. It is a simple statement of fact, of my sincere beliefs. I don’t intend those beliefs to cover anyone but myself. This is how I view my continued existence, rather than a general judgment. I would hope that others recognize the value of it and see it in a positive light, finding ways to incorporate the essence of it into their own system of the world, but I am content to hold it in isolation if necessary.

I accept my position and its consequences. To that end, I now view the coming year, 2022, as a final chance to put certain things in order. Most importantly, I want to take those twelve months to create…something big. Many things, rather, things that will outlive me. If my lineage will not survive, maybe my legacy can.

One legacy may come from employment. The project I’ve been working on these past two months has the potential to become a viral sensation. Even if it doesn’t, it will most likely provide a strong base for future projects in the same vein, and a platform that can endure. Although I have not once thought I was worthy of bringing it to market, I would be happy to put my name on the finished product.

The second is far more personal. I want to take time in 2022 to develop my philosophy of “technetism” for two reasons. First, I do believe it is beneficial as a whole, and will inspire others to think of the world and themselves in a better light. Second, I hope it can do the same for me. Spiritualism in any sense has never worked for me, despite decades of trying, so I don’t see many other options. As always, the only course I feel is open to me is going it alone.

The third on the list comes from a longtime hobby of mine. As I’ve repeatedly stated on PPC, I got into fantasy writing in part because of my hobby of language construction. In the 20+ years I’ve been tinkering with my own linguistic creations, I’ve expanded into related fields, and I want to do something big in that vein. I’m not sure what that is just yet, but I have a few ideas I’m going to explore in December. If I come up with anything, I’ll be sure to let my readers (do I even have readers?) know.

The writing itself comes in fourth on the list. I regret that I probably won’t be able to finish Orphans of the Stars, Otherworld, The Hidden Hills, The Occupation Trilogy, Endless Forms, or even Modern Minds. Honestly, I doubt I could finish them all even if I lived forever. But I would like to leave enough behind that others are inspired, and maybe a talented author could complete what I left incomplete.


These are the things I want to do. Not all of them, mind you. Many goals I would like to reach are no longer possible. Many avenues have been closed off. Thus, I take what I can get and ask for no more, because no amount of asking, begging, or pleading has ever gotten me anywhere. The items I listed are, to me, the bare minimum that I feel I need to complete before calling my life well-lived.

Those four hopes are, in a sense, all that’s left of me.

Inner turbulence

(Title mostly from Dream Theater’s Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, probably one of the most personally meaningful albums I’ve ever listened to.)

Someone posted this just as I sat down to get a few things out of my head, and it struck me, because it was very closely related to what I was going to write here anyway.

Yes, the possibilities for anyone are nearly infinite. That’s the beauty of free will: we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we do know we are not bound by some cosmic force pushing us onto a predetermined path. Our choices are our own, although our opportunities are not.

The problem lies not in the paths available to us, but the very real possibility that none of those many paths lead us to what we seek. When no road takes you forward, what then? Theists have no answer but to tell us to keep trying, that it’ll all somehow work out in the end. Nihilists can’t even offer that much. Neither extreme is fulfilling in any real sense. If we have no purpose, why bother continuing on? And if our purpose has already been set, why bother playing along? In both cases, we are not the masters of our own destiny, so can we say our lives truly belong to us?

I have been on that road to nowhere for a very long time now. Unlike the creator of the above picture, I don’t see infinitely many paths ahead of me. Rather, I see them, but I can find no way to change my lane to get to them. Those paths, as far as I can tell, are for other people, stronger people, people who haven’t been beaten into surrender and submission by the world around them.

Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process, we’re told. I now wonder if it is the final stage of depression itself. Should I accept that I’ll never stand at the altar beside my beloved, that I’ll never have the chance to hold in my arms the child I fathered? Do I accept that I’ve failed in my attempts at building a life for myself, and try to create something of the wreckage that is left?

None of those paths look very promising, if you ask me. Yet I can’t help but think all the good ones are already closed off to me.

All that was

(Title is a song by Ayreon that is more than just amazing: it actually fits my mood perfectly.)

It’s hard to think, harder still to act. Lately, the pressure has just been growing and growing, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any end in sight. I’ve come to the conclusion that the end of my journey is looming in the distance, coming ever closer with each passing day.

On some of those days, I’d almost welcome it. That’s how bad things are getting for me.

This isn’t only about depression. It’s not merely a reaction to the violations of human rights I, like billions around the world, have suffered in the past year and a half. No, this is a combination, a culmination, an amalgamation of everything that has happened in my nearly 38 years of life.

We are the product of our experiences. In my case, I’m the product of a world that never cared to care, and that world has worn me down. It has eroded my spirit almost to nothing, washed away my hopes and dreams in a torrent of tears, and drowned all but the strongest emotions. I’m not angry at the world anymore, because it’s nearly impossible for me to feel anger at this point. Instead, there’s just a numbness, an emptiness where such feelings used to be. So it goes for joy, desire, and self-worth, as well. I feel as if I’m nothing, but only because everything that makes me, well, me has been taken away.

I wanted to make the world a better place. To leave it in better shape than I found it, as the saying goes. Over the past few decades, I’ve had innumerable ideas on how best to do that, but the last few years have seen them coalesce around a few pillars.

One is my writing, whether fiction, opinion, or fact. I’ve written over 60 completed stories and worked on 2 nonfiction books, including one that has reached a finished draft. I’d like to do more, because there are still a lot of ideas I’ve never had time to get around to writing. I just don’t feel I’ll ever have time. (Honestly, that would be the case if I knew I would live forever. Such is the life of a dreamer.)

Second on the list is, for lack of a better term, making. I mean this in the “maker culture” sense of creating, DIY, and so on. I have a 3D printer, for example, and a CNC router has been on my wishlist for a year or more. Making things interests me, and I’ve constantly looked for ways to use that interest as a positive force. That has taken me to a lot of different places, researching things like post-apocalyptic prepping or sustainable architecture. Not because I believe in the necessity of such things, but because they overlap with an interest. So they clearly have some purpose, right?

Closely related to this is the software angle. Specifically, I’m a big proponent of decentralization on the internet. I support the so-called Indie Web, the fediverse, and various retro-style applications and protocols such as Gemini. These are things that will help the world, if only they can gain traction. Resistance to censorship is vital today, as anyone who has ever dared to express an unpopular opinion on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube can attest. Technologies like cryptocurrency are also sorely needed; that’s another road I wish I’d had time to explore.

All of it, however, comes back to one simple thing: freedom. I believe in freedom, in the inalienable human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness expressed in the founding documents of our nation and the Enlightenment from whence they came. No one should control my life but me. That’s my firm opinion, and it’s the closest thing to dogma you’ll ever hear out of me. The vast majority of my depression, I’ve found, comes from the knowledge that I have essentially zero control over my life. And we have a term for people who have no control over their lives: we call them slaves.

Every single one of my goals, then, boils down to emancipation. Liberation for myself, liberation for others. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion. The power to speak one’s mind without fear of censorship, whether government or corporate. The ability to defend oneself, including defending ourselves from our elected officials, if necessary. Autonomy of body, mind, and spirit. Freedom of association, to choose those people we would prefer to align ourselves with.

Having no power over my own life, I cannot begin to tackle the larger issue of giving others that same power. I’ve tried. I do what I can, but it just isn’t enough. One man can’t take on a million.

In such dire straits, some turn to faith, but that’s another thing I can’t do. Faith is anathema to me, whether it’s a traditional religion or the new cult of scientism. I have to know. Or, if I can’t know, then I have to know that something is knowable. To do otherwise, in my opinion, is trading one set of chains for another.

No, I really don’t have an easy out. I’m caught, imprisoned, stuck in a place I can’t escape. And it’s my nature to be an escapist. Thus, every waking moment is painful. I can’t be who I am, who I want to be, who I was meant to be. That’s the kind of denial that hurts on every level, and it has taken from me until I now have nothing left to give. It seems that all I have left to hope for is to go out in a blaze of glory, with a bang instead of a whimper.

The oath

The most important words a man can say are, “I will do better.” These are not the most important words any man can say. I am a man, and they are what I needed to say.

The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says “journey before destination.” Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward that we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us.

But if we stop, if we accept the person we see when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination.

To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.

Earlier this evening, I read a post where someone was talking about Dalinar, a character in Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy series The Stormlight Archive. Specifically, they referenced his climactic scene in Oathbringer, the third book of the series. In that scene, Dalinar confronts Odium—for better or worse, the books’ equivalent of evil incarnate, but also passion. Emotion. Fury both angry and righteous.

Odium, much like the common conception of Satan, is a tempter. Though armies loyal to him are slaughtering the human forces, he offers Dalinar an out. Freedom for humanity (of a sort, as they would be in service to him) for a simple price: the pain one man keeps inside.

When I first read Oathbringer, I didn’t think much of that scene. Now, however, I think back on it and see it as a mirror reflection. All I have to do is give up my pain, and the world is saved? Honestly, I’ve been willing to offer exactly that in my darker moments.

But Odium is offering a drink from a poisoned chalice here. It’s not merely pain he’s demanding, but a part of the self. We are the sum total of all our experiences, good and bad alike. Change any one part, any one action or inaction or feeling or memory, and we wouldn’t be us anymore. We would become someone different.

Pain hurts. If it didn’t, painkillers, antidepressants, and alcohol wouldn’t be so commonly abused. What we have to do, then, is give meaning to the pain. Learn from it. Instead of burning us away, let its fire temper us and therefore make us stronger. Otherwise, we’re hurting in vain.

Dalinar was tempted. Who wouldn’t be? In the end, he understood that all of it, all the pain he had caused and had endured, had a purpose. And so he stared in the face of a literal god and said, “You cannot have my pain.”

I only wonder if I could do the same.


I have stumbled. I have been tried and found wanting. I have failed and hurt those around me. Family, friends, those I love in any way, they have seen me fall. Worse, they have seen me not want to get back up. They have seen me ready to lie down and let the journey end.

We aren’t dealing with genocidal deities, supernatural storms, and semi-sentient hordes in our world, but the battle is no less real. It’s no less painful. While I certainly hope the destination is a good one, I can’t say for certain, so the journey really is all I have. If it ends, so do I, and…I’m not sure I’m ready to see my journey’s end just yet.

To everyone I’ve hurt, everyone who has seen me hurt, I can’t put into words how sorry I am. I don’t know if I’m ready to speak “the hardest words a man can say” yet, but I believe I could get there.

Not alone, though. Not without a lot of help.

As it’s getting too late tonight, I’ll start reaching out on a more personal level tomorrow. Until then, know that I’m thinking of all of you, and it hurts to see what I’ve done, how I’ve failed to live up to the ideals I’ve adopted.

Life before death.

Strength before weakness.

Journey before destination.

Help me find the conviction to speak those words, to believe in them and take the next step, the most important step. And then I know I can swear that oath: I will do better.

Defense mechanism

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?”

History lesson

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.

Last stand

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.

I alone

(Title is, of course, from the song by Live. I’m a 90s child.)

“You’re not alone,” people always say. In your darkest, weakest moments, they’ll offer those three words as some sort of panacea. It’s intended to be a sympathetic gesture, an acknowledgment of your suffering. It’s meant as a comforting truth.

In reality, it’s nothing but another lie.

We, as humans, are alone in many ways. You’re born alone (unless you’re a Siamese twin) and you die alone (unless you’re a member of a cult or something). Whatever awaits us in the hereafter, if you believe in that sort of thing, we must face by ourselves. And the far more pressing concerns and pressures residing within our minds are likewise something no one else can help with.

That’s a simple fact. Nobody knows exactly what I’m thinking, as my words will always convey only a subset of what’s truly going on inside my head. Another person, looking at me from the outside, can’t comprehend that mass of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and concerns. And I can do nothing about that. To quote one of my favorite songs, “Stop saying, ‘I know how you feel.’ How can anyone know how another feels?”

We carry on with the illusion, though, because we’re human. We have a natural need to empathize. In that, emotions are contagious. Whether or not we intend them to spread, they will. The people who don’t feel along with us are rightly seen as abnormal: we call them psychopaths.

But that doesn’t mean those who feel these emotions along with us are facing the same causes we are. Not at all. They only get the effects, and those effects are very often prone to misinterpretation. Is he happy because he got a promotion? Because his wife’s pregnant? Or just because he watched a funny video? We can’t really say for sure. All we, as outsiders not privy to the internal monologue, can say is that he’s happy, but that’s enough for most people to feel their own burst of happiness. The same goes for any other emotion, sadness or anger or whatever you choose.

That’s why “you’re not alone” rings so hollow in my mind. My partner has said it on numerous occasions. So has my boss. In both cases, while I’d like to accept their words at face value, it just isn’t possible. I know that I have to face some things alone. I have to fight some battles alone.

For me, most of those battles are against my inner demons, that multitude I’ve discussed at length here. No one but me can see them, let alone fight them. As I know I’m not strong enough to do that in my current state, it leaves me in a conundrum.

There are battles we can fight together. The fight for freedom, for instance. But those battles are against external foes, people or groups or ideas we can point to as enemies. We can have a war against mandatory vaccinations, or against communism, or against progressives. Those are battles we can (and must) fight en masse.

The war inside my head, however, must be fought by an army of one. I can get advice and aid from others, but they can’t stand in my place. I alone must face my demons, whatever my friends and loved ones might say.