The following is a dialogue I am having with a friend over the past few weeks. The dialogue is ongoing and I will post more as it unfolds. I am choosing to post this now because I believe it is an important discussion to be had by more than just two of us. My friend will remain anonymous and their portion will be posted in italics. In case you’re wondering, it is being shared with their permission.
Depression is very serious. We all struggle with various levels of depression or other mental health issues from time to time. It’s an important discussion and I hope by posting this you can see you’re not alone.
I’m fighting to keep up in this game I’ve been forced to be a part of. Why?
Do I have to keep playing?
Is it all an illusion, something I am only experiencing in my mind?
What happens if I stop playing along?
Do I get to move on to the next level?
Is there a next level?
Or am I just fighting for nothing?
If I keep fighting, will I eventually win?
What kind of outcome is there if I do win?
What is the purpose of this game?
Does anyone win?
Or is that an illusion too?
I did not choose to be a part of this game.
It seems futile, pointless.
A lot of times I’m told I should keep playing for the sake of my children, but then I think if I can’t see the purpose of all this, what is it I’m doing for my children?
My children have been thrown into this game they did not choose to be a part of either.
Are my children here for me, or am I here for my children?
Why is it that life of any kind (from ants to fish to plants) fights to survive?
Why are we told we have to survive?
If, for some, life is mostly just a negative experience isn’t it selfish of others to force those who are miserable to continue living in misery?
Why can’t those who are miserable just be allowed to quit this pointless game called life?
As has happened to every form of life preceding us, we are all going to end up dying eventually, so why should I prolong the inevitable if it’s not a good experience?
I’m merely just a grain of sand on the beach of mankind that will not change the beach at all if it isn’t there.
These are all beautiful questions and I’m beyond thankful you sent them to me. I understand when you wrote these questions you had no intention of sharing them with anyone so you may feel a slight touch of embarrassment. Please don’t. I can’t convince you to feel one way or another but I hope by sharing these questions with me it brings you relief instead of embarrassment.
I’ll start with your question, “Do I have to keep playing?” No, honestly you do not have to keep playing this game you’ve been forced to be a part of. You can quit at any time. How might you quit? You could end your life (which is the question I think you’re asking here). I hear reservation in your questions about ending your life, though. I sense if you really wanted to you would have successfully done that already. What I really hear in your questions is a longing for more. You want more out of this life and your experience but you’re desperately tired of the way it’s going so far. I get it!
Depression sucks! There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Depression takes over your brain and leaves you in the dark with no hope that tomorrow will be any better than today. When we hold the conviction that tomorrow won’t be any better than today our depression turns into despair.
I want you to know, I have been there. I have walked the dark tunnel of depression and blindly felt my way along the cold rough walls of despair. People would be surprised to know I struggled for several years with depression. I had so many of the same questions you wrote. It almost felt like you tore a page from one of my old journals.
The fact that you are even asking these questions gives me great hope for your future! There are so many people who feel the same way you do but never verbalize it or even admit it to themselves. Sure, they may not openly contemplate suicide, but they are dead nonetheless. How many people do you know who have simply just “checked out” of life? They are just going through the motions from one miserable day to the next without any hope of a brighter future so they turn to booze, drugs, porn, entertainment, exercise, or religion.
The questions you’re asking are common to every man and woman on the planet. We all find ourselves left on this planet with no owner’s manual. We have no clear reason why we’re here. Man has attempted to make sense of his existence since the beginning of time. We make up stories and rituals and dogmas to help us feel better but they still don’t take away our anxiety.
Finding meaning and purpose is solely an inside job. It’s one we must strive to discover for ourselves. And by ourselves I’m not saying we have to do it alone. Nothing about finding meaning and purpose for ourselves is meant to be lonely.
But that brings up an assumption on my part: I sense you are lonely. I sense you are lonely because you have been handed a belief system that doesn’t work for you. You have been handed a script that you are supposed to act out in the big screenplay of life. The only problem is you don’t really like the script you’ve been handed. You have been forced to wear a mask that doesn’t suit you. You have been told to believe there was an exact way the screenplay began and an exact way the screenplay will end and your part is already set in stone so you might as well accept it. I assure you, this is bullshit.
Those who have shoved their well-meaning certainties down your throat are themselves not wholly convinced deep down. If they truly are certain, with no doubt or no questions, then they’re either ignorant or deluded. Like I said, man has tried to make sense of his existence since the beginning of time and mass movements have surfaced all throughout history to help make sense of it all. We must remember, though, a delusion shared by millions still does not make it true.
Sorry, I digress.
Back to some of your great questions. “Is it all an illusion, something I am only experiencing in my mind?” Yes and no. Most of what you choose to believe about yourself and others is definitely an illusion. Let me explain by asking some questions: Where do your thoughts come from? Who (or what) places your thoughts inside your head? Is it mandatory that you believe each and every thought that comes floating along into your head from who-knows-where? These are important questions because I want you to grasp something.
Your brain is an organ inside your body that is simply doing its job. Your heart pumps blood; your lungs inhale/exhale air; your eyes see; your ears hear; your brain thinks.
If my eyes are for seeing and my ears are for hearing than why should I be surprised when my brain is for braining?
Do we judge our eyes for what they see?
Do we judge our ears for what they hear?
Your heart pumps blood through your body nonstop—pump after pump after pump. Your brain pumps out thoughts one after the other—thought after thought after thought after thought.
We assume because these bad thoughts are coming from inside our head, then we must be bad. Here’s what we fail to realize: We have a choice whether to believe our thoughts or not. We have a constant story going on inside our heads and our thoughts either confirm or deny this story. So we believe the thoughts that agree with our story and we throw out the thoughts that disagree with our story. But what if we changed the story we believed about ourselves? Wouldn’t that change the thoughts that we choose to believe? I think it would.
If you had a difficult past (which I believe you have), then there are very deep fundamental questions that I’m certain you wrestle with on a daily basis. I don’t have the first clue why hardships fall relentlessly on some people more than they do on others. I assume there comes a point where you begin to ask yourself why life isn’t fair. I totally understand.
I’m aware of your growing discomfort with the worldview you were raised in. I’ve been there and done that. We have been told that if we would just turn to the proper religion and believe the right thoughts then all our problems will be sorted out. I don’t know about you, but I see countless “religious” people who have just as many hardships as the nonreligious. And interestingly enough, the well-meaning religious person attempts to sell you their version of truth much the same way a used car salesman tries to sell you his Honda Accord. The following is a paragraph from Erich Fromm out of his book Psychoanalysis and Religion:
Man’s problem is we cling to the belief that we are happy. But as life plays itself out we are faced with contradictions. So religion has been man’s search for security in an unsecure world. The question is not whether man returns to religion and believes in God but whether he lives love and thinks truth. Religion is dangerous because it prohibits critical thinking. Prohibiting critical thinking impedes the power of reason. Religion threatens reason, the reduction of human suffering, and morality. The norms and ideals to believe in are: Love, Truth, and Freedom.
I recently read in an Alan Watts book that “objecting to pain is pain.” This reminded me of all the Byron Katie books I’ve read and videos I’ve watched of her on YouTube. She talks about how anytime we want something other than reality we create hell for ourselves. It seems way too simple and almost unbelievable, but if we can shift our thinking to accept our current reality the hell will evaporate right before our eyes. As a homework assignment, look her up on YouTube and watch the people who are obviously in their own personal hell at the beginning. Immediately their stress is lifted the minute they change their thinking. It’s totally crazy but I see it working in my own life now that I pay closer attention to my thoughts. I’m excited to hear what you think about her videos.
I’m guessing something: simply the process of having an open conversation about your depression and your struggles has already made a difference. When I was going through my darkest days, one of the only things that made a significant difference was having a nonjudgmental friend available to hear my raw unfiltered emotions pour out of me (similar to your questions above). There is a mysterious power that is unleashed during our vulnerability. I can’t really explain how or why this happens but the more vulnerable I was, the less heaviness I felt surrounding my depression.
I have so much more I would like to say but I will bring this to a close in case I am boring you to death. But one last thought: Even though you may not be able to currently see the astonishment of who you are and the beauty this life has to offer, I want to reassure you it’s there. You are amazing! You are a one-of-a-kind irreplaceable individual who puts a smile on every face you encounter (especially mine)!
I promise you there are brighter days ahead. You are not alone. And we will get through this together! I’m honored to share life with you and I consider myself the lucky one to have you as a friend.
I have a long response I wrote right away, but never really finished because my depression got such a tight grip on me. I also just wrote a short response today. You can use, edit whatever you want.
My short response:
Ok, so where does this leave me? Yes, I do feel very lonely and completely, irretrievably broken. Life doesn’t care if you’re whole or broken; it still keeps going and going. I don’t feel I have all the right pieces to keep up. I’m struggling for something I don’t even see a point in. Everyday I’m at war with myself trying to figure out why I still keep fighting for something I will never win.
My long, unfinished response:
It does help a lot to know you’ve been in this dark place too. People who haven’t seem to have no understanding at all why I feel this way and that I must be choosing to feel this way. But I’m certainly not choosing this. Who would?! It’s a horrible place that no one would choose to be in.
I do realize I don’t have to keep playing this game, but I can’t help worry what would happen if I did choose to quit, mainly to my children. And I don’t necessarily mean that quitting would be ending my life, although that’s definitely the easiest way to quit. I sometimes fantasize about running away to the wilderness or to a deserted island, somewhere far from people and society where this game isn’t being played and I can just enjoy the beauty and wonder of life. I guess I feel like this “game” is something people, or society, have created. And this game takes away the meaning and enjoyment of life. And if you don’t have the right pieces to play a strong game, then it’s a miserable game and you lose. What makes it even worse is if you look like you have the right pieces, people think you’re just not trying hard enough and look down on you even more for not keeping up your game. I have a strong healthy body, higher than average intelligence, and I even have decent looks. I look like I have all the pieces, but I don’t. None of those physical pieces matter because my emotional pieces are missing or have been broken. Maybe I was born without some, but most of the pieces have actually been broken by those who were supposed to love me. It leaves me feeling very handicapped, like I no longer have what I need to win, and I just want to quit.
And Yes, you’re right. I do feel very lonely, painfully lonely. Some of the loneliness isn’t by choice, but some of it is. You see, after those people who were supposed to love me broke my pieces, I got too scared to allow anyone else to love me. I learned from my past experiences, anyone who does “love” me will eventually break what’s left of my now very fragile pieces. I’m already losing as it is, I can’t afford to lose anymore pieces! But I also know I’m not strong enough on my own. So again, I just want to quit.
I’ve never really looked to religion to find a purpose or the meaning of life, because religion doesn’t make the least bit of sense. Churches teach that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. If he is, then why would he create a person who will exist for just a blip in time, with the ability to think, wonder, and ask questions only to send them to eternal hell if they don’t believe without question? Since he’s all-knowing, he knew they weren’t going to believe before he even created them, didn’t he? That question alone was enough for me to stop believing in religion.
So where does this leave me? I’m stuck fighting to keep up in this game, a game I see no purpose in, one that I don’t have all the right pieces to play and make it.
Wow! Your response was again so beautifully written!! I’m simply in awe of your writing! You really have a gift and I have loved this exchange with you so much!!!!!! I’ll be responding soon.
OK, friends, this is one of many ongoing discussions I’m having recently. I hope by sharing this it will help and give you the courage to reach out if you are struggling. Much love!
More to come.
Peace my Friends!