I’ve been asking myself the above question quite a lot lately, but I’m not closer now to an answer than I was a year ago.
Is it really possible that you can live a good life without any help?
The question at first appears to be one of sustainability; can you sustain your life without any help or any love. When I first started watching the threads tethering me to normalcy stretch and fray that idea of sustaining my life was the hope I escaped to. Fear is intoxicating. And like all intoxicating things, it dampens our rational faculties. I was so afraid of ‘going crazy’ and ‘being alone’ that I couldn’t see beyond my immediate problems. I was looking for an answer in all the wrong places.
Over time there were fewer and fewer places to hide, and the exposure to the elements really wore me down. Soon that well of hope that I had escaped to for so long ran dry. And so I was forced to look elsewhere for answers.
So I took the problem in another direction: can you sustain yourself alone without help long enough to transform your life into a ‘good life’. O.k. great. Simple enough, right? Well, it may have been simple had it not been for my chronic illness. My health is very unpredictable. If I was healthy I would have tackled the problem by immersing myself in school work. I’d consume a steady diet of cheap inspiration and glib memoirs. And I would have probably been all-right.
When you try to solve a problem this big it’s important to take into mind all the things that need fixing; if you’re going to do it, why not do it right? So I took an inventory of all the things that are preventing me from having a good life, and all the things that could prevent me from having a good life. This was the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to force myself to do.
I have a chronic genetic disease which causes chronic pain, joint fragility and instability, poor healing, spinal problems and sleep problems. I also have no emotional support. When I started taking the time to inspect my life a little more closely I began to notice how little I had in the way of love and help. When I vowed to not end up alone and depressed and broken I had no idea what I was asking of myself. If I knew then what I know now I’m not sure I’d have made the same decision. I probably would have ridden things out, and let fate choose for me; like so many people do.
But the future had other plans for me, I guess. I was lucky enough never to have enough stability to coast; I had an abusive mom and a rare genetic disease. But I was also popular and funny and had a decent serving of wits and resourcefulness. Every time I thought I had a handle on things, some radical shift in the dynamic of life would occur and I’d spin out of control. I have had to change my approach to this quest for a good life more times than I care to count. But fortunately, each time I still had enough reserves to get me by whatever obstacle and through the unexpected turns life threw at me. But like confronting my fear of a hard destiny, I knew eventually I’d have to confront the empty stores.
Can you live without anyone’s investment? Even your own?
Throughout all of this the questions have been more valuable to me than the answers – which are themselves sparse and uncoordinated. If there’s any one thing I value about myself It has to be my ability to ask questions. It was a vague feeling, a sense of urgency coupled with a roughly sketched picture of an adequate life that started me on this journey four years ago. I wasn’t motivated by a clear epiphany or a well thought out question. Four years ago I was certain it was turtles all the way down, but now I have no idea what question lies beneath the next answer; what problem lurks below the newly solved problem.
Most of my fears have come true; I’m disabled, I’m very ill, I’m dependent without anyone to depend on, I don’t have any friends, and I don’t have any reliable family members. I can’t say that all of my fears have come true, because our fears aren’t born alongside us; we find them and we create them. What I can say for certain is that I now live a life that requires me to constantly face my fears.
Like digging for turtles, I think that the big fear that underlies many of our common, and even uncommon, fears is the idea that we’re going to be left behind. Not just by our friends and family, but by life itself. We fear death, but we fear a pointless, prolonged death even more. We fear loss. Not just the loss of friends, family, good grades or social status, but the loss of our selves. I fear the things I’m afraid of but I fear more the idea that they exist independently of myself. Pointless suffering is a heavy burden to bear, but when all else fails a person can still find peace in the truth that other people don’t have to go through the same thing. The weight of that peace is felt as justice; perhaps a pointless life isn’t a law of the universe, but a product of the chaos humans bring to life. It’s a part of the great trick our minds play on us when we think perhaps we could have been born as someone else.
That’s where my problem lies right now: somewhere between the last turtle and the worst suffering. I feel the whole weight of the world on my shoulders, but the promise of hope just one more layer down keeps me searching. But it’s always one more layer down, isn’t it?
I don’t know if I can keep going. And even worse, I don’t know if anyone could keep going. If it’s a law of the universe that some people’s lives are going to inevitably trend towards pointlessness then I need to find some way to counteract the forces of nature and the chaos people bring to life. Maybe my life to myself is forfeit. But my life is so much more than my experience. It’s an idea. Consciousness exists between immortality and mortality; in the land of the ideas. That’s where we really suffer. It hurts to stub a toe, but it would hurt more knowing you have to go on stubbing your toe forever than it would to actually stub your toe forever. Maybe the two need each-other; who knows.
Every ‘pointless’ human life matters to every other human. It doesn’t seem that way when you’re standing on their shoulders, but when you suffer you fall down into their ranks. And when that happens you realize that the real problems we need to fix are the ones you need to go looking for. It’s a law of the universe that there are going to be people whose parents hate them, who are disabled, and who have nothing but time to suffer and decay in existential terror. No one thinks they’re going to be that person – partly because of our penchant for denial and partly because that life is so uncommon most people rarely consider it a possibility; a fear to stumble upon. But every life is left wide open to suffering. When you suffer, the gap between what you think it means to be one person, versus what it means to be a person shrinks. And it keeps on shrinking until those two ideas meld. Then you know what real fear is, and why it’s so important not to thoughtlessly throw people away.
We need to help people who suffer, but we need to address suffering more. We need to make sure that people just don’t slip between the cracks as I have, to rot and decay alone. Partly because it’s the moral thing to do, but also because It could have been anyone. Most people are safe from the stuff I have to go through because fate dealt them a decent hand. But their strength is an illusion. Maybe I’m just trying to make meaning out of meaninglessness, but maybe you’re all just asking the wrong kinds of questions.