Sometimes I feel like the odds are stacked against me, like I will only be able to inch ahead in this life because of my own challenges and inherited family traumas. Is it inevitable that I can only expect to get so far while peers who have come from less “broken” circumstances will achieve happiness and success? I don’t mean this as self-pitying or “unfair” simply as an inevitably that I should accept - What do you think?
I don’t know if this is true. I only know that it is human to think such things and that thinking such things are not helpful. When I have similar thoughts, I turn to the wisdom of a dear friend who says she’s considering a tattoo that reads “eyes on your own paper.” While I’m not going for ink, I suggested we get matching hoodies with that phrase stitched across the back.
When I’m honest with myself I know that there are times that I’ve felt elevated by comparing myself to people who are doing “worse,” but then the natural flip side is the lousiness that ensues when I compare to people who are doing “better.” I know that I have to give up the former to avoid the latter.
Still, the impulse to “normalize” our experiences in the world is real and it comes from a very human place to know that we’re not alone in what we’re feeling. There are circumstances where sharing our joys and struggles with others is affirming and saving. I have found this in poetry, in the lyrics of songs, and in prayer.
When I first experienced clinical depression / anxiety, and a well intentioned friend suggested a pint of Haagen Dazs and John Hughes films, I felt very much alone knowing that she did not understand what I was going through. But then I picked up the Slyvie Simmons biography of Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man and I felt saved when I read:
“What I mean by depression isn’t just the blues, it’s not just like a hangover from the weekend or the girl didn’t show up or something like that,” said Leonard, describing the paralyzing darkness and anxiety he experienced. “It’s a kind of mental violence which stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next.” Leonard took to spending “a lot of time alone. “Dying,” he said. “Letting myself slowly die.”
Someone did understand! And it was Leonard Cohen! I was in good company and I was going to be okay.
Trauma is real. Inherited or experienced. There are many paths you can take towards confronting it: Talk therapy, meditation, medication, herbs, retreats, support groups: You will have to decide what feels like the right path.
Recently, someone dear to me suggested that I let go of the narrative of depression / anxiety that I have experienced - that only true healing can come when you change your story. I’m sure there is some truth to this. For me, I’m not sure it’s letting it go as much as turning it into something else - creative acts, words, prayers.
Don’t resign yet, Resigned. There is so much uncertainty and mystery and wonder in this world. I don’t know what your salve will be, but I believe you can find it.
Keep going and keep your eyes on your own paper. When I was teaching I could spot the plagiarized work instantly; it was dull, canned - devoid of any imprint of character, the distinct and imperfect syntax of truth. The only inevitability is that you have to go on; choose how you want to do this.
Lastly, let me offer a prayer. When I am struggling, I pray for the strength of my ancestors, Abraham and Sara.
(They overcame great obstacles, and I don’t feel competitive with them!)
Baruch Ata Adonoi Magen Avraham v’ezrat Sara.