The thing that finally pushed me over the edge was an Oprah quote. It was on my coffee cup sleeve. “The only courage you need is the courage to live the life you want.” That’s how I ended up crying outside a Starbucks at 9:30 AM.
I’d been standing at the edge of an abyss for a while, and I knew I had to get in it. There was nothing else in front of me but abyss-ness. If I turned around, I’d have to go through the same shit I’d just gone through. Come on, Grahm. Into the abyss. Into the crevasse, as Jack Donaghy would say. Jack Donaghy wouldn’t just stand here staring down into it. But the fictional judgment of a fictional character wasn’t enough. I stood there for months.
And nothing happened. I went to work. I walked the dog. I started and quit exercising. The usual.
I convinced myself that the way I was living wasn’t so bad. Maybe this was just How It Was. Maybe everyone felt this way, and one day it’d just go away. I’d wake up and there’d be a bridge over the abyss. A magic bridge. That led to a place where I was productive and, like, owned a boat. Yeah.
I’d just talked myself into believing this the night before when I ordered coffee with a side of Oprah. Well, I thought as I cried in front of strangers, there are worse ways to tip over into crisis. And now things will change.
But not right away. It was Thursday morning, and I still had to go to work.
I wasn’t very pretty; I’d decided almost a year ago that was the problem with my life. I was out of shape and had bad skin and body fat tends to accumulate on my lower stomach, leaving me more or less potato-shaped. And my friends were stunning. Looking at group photographs of us was like looking at models being photographed with… a potato. I was too potato-y. That was the problem.
And my clothes were awful; that was the problem. I might not feel so ugly and bad if I had any sense of style. Or good taste. Or enough money to pay someone to have good taste for me. Every morning over a period of months, I would put on jeans and a shirt and the same old shoes and feel like a mess. I was a mess. I was never going to be better. I should just stop trying.
And I was lazy; that was really the problem. If I wasn’t such a lazy, worthless person I’d get my passion projects on track and my apartment would be sparkling, and I’d have a job I felt fulfilled by. I’d be happy. It was my own fault that things were this way.
You are terrible, I said to myself. You don’t deserve to be happy. You’re like this because you’re so terrible. Methodically going through every aspect of my looks and personality and little, flickering soul and hating everything I found was how I got to the abyss. I realized how mean and self-destructive I was being. I hated myself for that, too. Nothing if not consistent.
When I think of these months of torture now, I picture myself leaving the house in a light jacket and starting across a field—the beginning of a journey, I think. As I walk, the land turns hard and icy. A snowstorm comes in. I am there, holding my jacket around me and screaming into the wind, “I didn’t dress for this! I’m not prepared!” Realizing it doesn’t change it, though. I do not have the tools to deal with this. And the snow just keeps coming.
If you’re going on a journey of self-discovery, I do not recommend depression as your means of getting there. Not like I think you’re going to pick clinical depression for anything ever (unless as “A Thing to Avoid”), but… I don’t know. It might pick you. That’s how it works. And the things depression tells you about yourself are lies. No great truth about me was waiting somewhere in that murk. I didn’t know it. I thought I was realizing true, horrible things about myself. I thought it would make me change; make me better.
Instead, it took everything I had. I remember the moment when the last of my will, my energy, and my emotions were drained, and I finally had nothing left in me. I was in my living room when it happened. I was heading for the couch, but when I was two steps away, the last of my ability to care about anything, including where I sat, was used up. So I sat on the floor. The love of my life got down on the floor with me. He kissed my face. He held my hands. He deserved someone so much better.
“I don’t want to be alive anymore.” It was the hardest thing I’d ever said. He leaned his forehead against mine and squeezed my arms. “I need you to be, though. You have to keep doing it.”
We sat there for a while. Us and the dog, who couldn’t figure out what we were doing and brought over every toy and bone he could find, like maybe we were just bored. Eventually—somehow—we made it to the couch. I went to see a doctor and I started taking medication. Eventually—somehow—I stopped minding that I was alive. My emotions came back, but on a duller setting. Like how a microwave has full-power and half-power settings? I was a half-power person. It seemed like a problem. I should probably solve this, I thought to myself.
But I’d made it through the worst of the storm, and I’d been so tired for so long that when I got to that stupid abyss, I thought, “Maybe I’ll just stop here for a while.”
So there I’d stayed until Oprah. The courage to live the life I want. It sounded so fucking Zen and amazing. It wasn’t exactly an action plan, though. I put it on a To Do list. Really. I wrote it down. “Find courage.”
After a couple of weeks, I wrote “Find out what kind of life you want to live” above it. Courage couldn’t come until that happened. The love of my life and I discussed it. He made a To Do list too, because we are list-y people, though his had things like “Finish software project” and “Move to Oakland” on it while mine remained the oh-so-accomplishable “Figure out who you want to be.”
You know. The easy stuff.
The one thing I knew down in my bones was that I wanted to be with him. Being with me was on his list, too. We got engaged. I landed at the bottom of the abyss. As I’d suspected for some time, nothing was down there. It was just me and a long, long tunnel out. But getting out, at least, felt possible.
What I really want is for everything to change at once. Get married tomorrow. Go on a honeymoon. Move abroad. Find new jobs. I want no responsibilities and no money worries. I want to focus on getting to the end of this tunnel 24/7 until it’s solved and done. In my mind, this only takes, like, a month, and then I’m happy forever. Reasonable, right?
Instead, I get up and go to work. I walk the dog. I start and quit exercising. On the face of it, nothing is different except I wear an engagement ring now. But inside, it’s all new. The one thing I know is on the other side of this struggle is the person I love—our wedding and the first piece of the life I want. And that gives me more courage than I ever thought I’d have.
I think Oprah would approve.