“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’ll be honest. I don’t think I’ve been happy since I graduated from university in the spring of 2011. I’ve had good flashes, miniscule victories, and ephemeral moments where I felt comfortable with who I was and where my life stood, but I haven’t felt any sort of sustained contentment for over three years. I’ve bounced around from unpaid internships to part-time jobs to a full-time job that I could only keep for six months to tiny freelance gigs. I’ve had rocky relationships with the people closest to me. And, oh yeah, I had my fucking colon slashed out of abdomen. I’ve had to endure the worst physical, mental, and emotional pain of my life in these past three years. I thought that by now, even after my odyssey with surgery, I would be in a position where I could look forward to better things, while feeling satisfied with what I had in the here and now. That’s not the case. I’m almost 30 and I live in my dad’s house, car-less, jobless, almost utterly hopeless. Being dependent on others makes me feel like a child. A miserable, cowardly, good-for-nothing child.
I hate my life.
It’s a phrase I’ve repeated countless times in this three-year span of unhappiness. I’ve whispered it, grunted it, thought it silently in my head, and screamed it out loud when nobody was home. I’ve beat my fists into my mattress and cried into my palms while saying it, while feeling it.
I’ve fallen into fits of quiet rage where I whisper all the demonic thoughts: “I’m fucking worthless. Worthless. I can’t do a goddamn thing right, can I? Can I? Worthless. Useless. I hate my life. I fucking hate my life. I hate being here. I hate putting up with other people’s shit when I have enough of my own. I can’t do anything right. My body’s a useless piece of shit. I’m a useless piece of shit. I hate my life.” I pace around my room, whispering, wide-eyed, foaming at the mouth, spitting at the carpet.
I hate my life.
I once read that people cut themselves as a way of substituting physical pain for emotional pain that they can’t handle. Some people even get some sort of a rush out of it – a reminder that they truly are alive. I’ve never tried it myself, but I have resorted to a less acute form of self-harm – hitting. It’s almost comical when I think about it now. I’ve slapped myself on the cheeks and hit myself in the head with the bottom of my palms, out of sheer anger and sadness. But the way I see it, I’m not trying to physically hurt myself to take attention away from the emotional pain, I’m trying to punish myself for not being better. I’ve let myself down. I’ve put myself in this state of desolation. I’m the one to blame for being in a situation I can’t stand. If I were healthier, smarter, more hard working, I’d be in a better position. I’d have a better life. It’s my fault that I don’t, so I deserve to be hit. I deserve to feel pain.
I hate my life.
The anger of living a life far from what I hoped it would be, far from what I worked for it to be, resides in me everyday. But there’s more to my state of discontent than just anger. There’s a great deal of sadness as well. Much of that comes from the undeniable feeling that my best days are well and truly behind me.
A few months ago, I happened to drive past the University of Toronto at Mississauga, where I spent four mostly happy years. As I did, I felt something in my chest. A feeling as though my chest was hollow. From Dundas Street, I could see through the trees of Erindale Park and make out the buildings of the campus. Buildings where I studied and aced exams and exercised and laughed and flirted and made friends. I kept driving up the hill on Dundas Street, eastbound, away from the campus, away from the life I once had, and I cried.
A few weeks ago, I started thinking about Halifax, where I spent two mostly happy years living alone and working in radio. I remembered how lovely summer is in Halifax: the crunchy trails in Point Pleasant Park, the fragrant flowers in the Public Gardens, the basketball court and skateboard rails at the Commons, the cool ocean breezes at Herring Cove, the light green paint on the Macdonald Bridge, the candy cane striping on the smokestacks of the Dartmouth power plant, the lights of the city at night laid out in full view from the square balcony of my apartment on Veronica Drive.
I thought of going back to visit, to see my old neighbourhood, to see some friends, to see how the city had changed. But if I went back now, I would be returning as less of a human being, worse off now than I was when I left. I don’t want to be reminded of my former freedom, my past profession, the life I once had which I know I can never reclaim. It would only make me sadder.
In Halifax, and in university, I always felt as though I was working towards better things: a better job, better living quarters, better distances to run. I don’t feel that way now. Maybe it’s because when I dreamt of those better things, I imagined achieving them while I was still young. Now I recognize that I’ll be in my thirties, at least, before I can attain the lifestyle I really want, if I ever do at all. I wouldn’t exactly be old, but my youth has already evaporated, and with age come greater burdens, and fewer possibilities.
I hate my life.
I do feel lucky in that my health has improved from where it was this time last year. My diet is more open, I can run again, and I’ve gained weight, which is actually a good thing considering how sickly slim I’ve been in the past. Running is the one thing that keeps me from sliding too far down. It’s an escape, it’s a test, it’s a chance to get away from people, it’s a chance to get out of the house, it’s a chance to feel a few minutes of happiness. If I couldn’t run, I’d probably… well, I don’t know what I’d do.
I’ve spent so much time in the last few years trying to sort out my health. From different diets and medications to treat my ulcerative colitis, to the horror film of my first surgery, to the excruciating pain of a poorly constructed ostomy, to the new challenges of life with a J-pouch. I should be grateful that things have finally improved, but even so, I have to ground myself in the reality that life with a pelvic pouch is far from ideal. Relying on public bathrooms will forever be a way of life for me, as will the use of bidets and wet wipes and skin creams. I still have uncomfortable moments and burning bowel movements and interrupted nights of sleep. Knowing that’s all in store from here on out only reinforces the belief that my best days are gone.
I’m glad that my focus isn’t squarely on recovering from the rearrangement of my entrails anymore, but as such, I feel as though I live with less purpose, and as job application after job application leads to nothing, I feel as though I have less to offer the world.
I hate my life.
There’s an often-quoted line about depression: “It’s like you’re drowning. Except you can see everyone around you breathing.” My friend Weijia came up with a better line in a conversation we recently had: “It’s like you’re hungry, and everyone around you has meat.”
That’s how I feel. Not literally hungry, but yearning for what other people seem to have in abundance, and what they seem to have acquired with such ease. How come other people have meat and I don’t? Why has it been so hard for me to find meat when it seems so readily available for everybody else? Those are the questions I grapple with everyday.
Throughout my years in school, I worked hard to achieve good grades, and I got used to seeing the positive outcomes of my dedication. Put in the work, get an A, feel good about it, repeat. I’ve gone from that sense of success and self-worth to earning a few bucks here and there doing meager jobs. That’s a long way to fall, even if my body hadn’t been a complete shit show over the last three years, which it has.
What’s more, I’ve been independent before, when I lived in Halifax. I know how great it feels to leave your house whenever you want, to go wherever you want, and to come home to stillness and silence instead of other people’s annoying habits and banal conversations. How great it feels to not to be watched and criticized and treated like a helpless child. How great it feels it put in a day of work, come home, change into athletic gear, and go running. How great it feels to go out without toting wet wipes and an emergency pair of underwear. How great it feels to eat a sandwich without holding in a shit while you do. How great it feels to do the things you want to, and not the things other people guilt you into doing. I know exactly what I’m missing, and that’s hard.
I hate my life.
This post has been a long time coming, and I’m glad I could get a few things out of my mind and onto a word processor. One of the reasons I haven’t posted more regularly in my blog over the last few months is because I’ve just felt too down to bother. For that I’m sorry. I really like my blog, and I really like that people read it from time to time. I’ll try to post more, and I’ll keep running and applying for jobs and clinging on to what little hope I have that someday I’ll get the hell out of here. Just know that I’m not happy. About a lot of things. And in the warmth and light of the summer, I’m cold.
Image via Layoutsparks