This past week, I had a break from classes for something the school has termed “student directed days.” Supposedly, it’s a time for reflection on our academic journey thus far, though I suspect its true purpose is to allow those students who’ve been backpacking for the past 21 days to settle into their dorms, reacquaint themselves with civilization, and hopefully take a months’ worth of showers before they’re unleashed upon the rest of the student body. Biblically speaking, the timing of this week was incredibly apt as it aligned with the “Days of Awe”—the ten days spanning Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur dedicated to reflection, introspection, and repentance. Given my propensity for self-examination (as evidenced by this blog) and my abiding (clinically significant) love of ritual, you might assume I spent this time deep in thought, ruminating over my first month of classes and my first year on ketamine and meditating on the new direction my life has taken. Well, you’d be wrong, so quit making assumptions.
Rather than being physically or psychologically productive, or fostering any modicum of self awareness, I chose to hole up in my house—stubborn, depressed, and devoid of all motivation—where I spent countless hours consumed with making friendship bracelets (the preferred craft of twelve year olds everywhere) and marathoning all seven seasons of Suits (not the preferred show of twelve year olds, anywhere). This might sound like a giant leap backwards, and I did entertain some alarm at the prospect of a Flowers For Algernon situation where the ketamine is concerned (the once miraculous drawing abilities it endowed me with have begun to regress and this is the first thing I’ve written in weeks—soon I’ll be listening to The Cure and scribbling shitty poetry with a stick of eyeliner again), but I also believe sulking is an important and oft-overlooked form of processing. I needed this time to mourn the parts of my life left behind in Chicago and to rail against the new ones for the mere sake that they’re new and unfamiliar and—to quote the family motto—change is bad. One of the most important truths someone with depression can realize is that it’s okay to be unhappy. You’re allowed to wallow and rage and lie face down on the floor until the carpet pile etches a temporary tattoo upon your face. Sure, it’s not healthy when that’s your only mode of existence, but if it’s not at least part of it, I would seriously question your humanity.
I’m not sure why we have this idea that unhappiness is some sort of moral failing, but its existence is pervasive and can wreak havoc on your psyche. So often we’re taught to only express our happiness and other, so-called, “positive” emotions and, in turn, we come to believe that these are the only acceptable emotions to have, period. When we dare to express anything “ugly” we are quickly shut down. It’s understandable that we don’t want to see the ones we love suffering, that we should have the urge to fix things for them and the desire to make them happy, but ultimately, these well-intentioned attempts to dispel one’s unhappiness act as a dismissal of those feelings. They signify that unhappiness isn’t an acceptable thing to feel, heaping guilt upon already difficult emotions. Yes, it’s an important tool to be able to reframe your thoughts in order to find the value in all things, but joy is no more valuable than sorrow and there is room enough for both.
It’s beginning to dawn on me that all those parts of myself, certain proclivities and dislikes that I attributed to mental illness, might just be me. My decision to return to school hinged, in part, on my belief that my dislike of school was rooted solely in the depression and anxiety I experienced during the time I was there. I figured, stripped of those mental roadblocks and with a clear lens, I would be able to enjoy school because I so enjoy learning. Well, school and learning aren’t the same thing, and while I’m making a concerted effort to reserve judgement until I’ve had more time to fully experience academia, it’s very possible that school isn’t for me. For one thing, I’m a Hammerman and I don’t do well with being taught. It’s not that I don’t trust teachers (I would never be so biased—I don’t trust anyone) or that I don’t believe they have valuable information and experiences to offer—and despite the Hammerman tendency toward know-it-all-ism (don’t even try to deny it, guys), I certainly accept that they’re far more knowledgeable than me—I’ve just always fared better when left to my own devices and given the opportunity to discover things on my own terms. Also, I have a deep, irrevocable contempt for authority that I can’t really explain other than to tell you that my mom was kicked out of the Brownies for “having a problem with authority” and, for her and her offspring alike, that was just the beginning.
It might be worth mentioning that I once had a psychologist attempt to diagnose me with a condition called Oppositional Defiance Disorder. I say attempt because my mom and I found the idea so patently ludicrous that we nearly laughed him out of the room. But despite the absurdity of that diagnosis (I was a teenager—if you’re not oppositional and defiant, you’re doing it wrong), it’s possible he wasn’t so far off the mark, personality-wise. I suppose I do harbor an inherent opposition to anything required of me by the powers that be, regardless of whether that opposition is warranted. And, okay, maybe I am defiant in a manner some might describe as compulsive, or even symptomatic. But, who doesn’t love a little rebellion for rebellion’s sake? The problem is, I’m finding that, despite my love of writing, when someone else instructs me to write my initial reaction appears to be, “Fuck you, man, you’re not the boss of me!” Admittedly, that might not be the most practical mindset when you’re taking a stab at a writing degree.
These revelations might sound like cause for alarm, or the preamble to an onslaught of regret, but actually, I’m okay with all of this. It doesn’t mean I made the wrong decision in coming here—how could I have known until I tried? When I express dissatisfaction with my current situation, people are quick to tell me I’m not being open enough, I’m not giving things a fair shake, or I’m looking at them the wrong way. And these are all valid theories that warrant examination, but you know what?—I’m allowed to feel this way. I will always strive to keep an open mind and refrain from making judgements in haste or from a place of fear or stubbornness, and I accept that the way we feel about things is fluid and should never be set in stone, but I reserve my right to feel this dissatisfaction and to form these opinions, even if they’re sentiments that aren’t popular or easy. I refuse to see my emotional state or personal preferences as psychological failings and I won’t allow myself to be convinced otherwise. I believe that success lies in the attempts made, not necessarily in their results. So, I will continue to try new things and explore the wild array of experiences life has to offer, but I will not let you begrudge me my right to decide that some of these things suck, and might warrant a period of desultory brooding in the process.
Of course, I would prefer that I was in the midst of discovering a latent love for school, rather than cultivating a morose fusion of self and hammock, but I’m going to accept this turn of events and do my best to embrace it. It’s okay that I’m not looking forward to class tomorrow. If I need to don my combative and acerbic nature like a suit of armor in order to get me there, that’s fine, so long as I show up—I can recalibrate from there. And I don’t regret allowing myself this week to shirk my responsibilities and eat with reckless abandon without an ounce of judgement. Sure, that means I spent Yom Kippur eating twenty pancakes, six cookies, two lattes, and two vodka cream sodas, instead of fasting in service of atonement—but, so be it. Only god can judge, and from what I understand, god’s a little busy helping people win sporting events and reality TV competitions.