Nesrine Malik wrote an interesting story in The Correspondent:
Something strange has been happening to me since lockdown started. In slow motion, bits of me started falling off. Little by little, things that made up my personality – my values, my ambitions – fell away. Even some bigger foundational chunks of my character broke off, building blocks that were so integral to me that I never fully saw their contours. When I say broke off, I mean that over time, the way I lived my life stopped making sense to me.
This has been the case for me for years now, I think around 2017/2018 it started to really intensify. (My) life doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I can still find joy in it, I’m not suicidal, but by and large I can’t find a good and sustainable answer to the question of why. What is this all for? And in contrast to the rather positive tone of Malik’s article, I have yet to find a way to properly deal with this lack of sense. I changed a lot of things in my life over the past few years and I’m sure that most of the changes were for the better, but the utter meaninglessness of it all still always creeps back in sooner or later.
As the ongoing pandemic required drastic changes to our lifestyles I sometimes couldn’t help but feel a little spite when observing how other people struggled with it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish anyone ill, and I genuinely feel for anyone who’s suffering – in whatever way that may be – due to what’s going on. But part of me enjoyed that everyone now got a taste of how life has felt to me for years. Isolated, boring, meaningless, hopeless. As we all should feel, because that’s how things are. Or at least how they feel to me. Mostly.
Maybe I am severely underestimating my depression – but I don’t think there is a one-way street in causality here. Depression definitely makes it harder to deal with things like the climate catastrophe, the rise of fascism in the United States (and elsewhere), tech giants taking over the world, etc. – but all these things are huge contributors to me being depressed in the first place.
I often think back to a scene in one of the later seasons of The Sopranos. The older daughter of the family, Meadow Soprano, is off to college in NYC. One of her friends has a psychological condition that makes it impossible for her to deal with everything that’s wrong in the world – to a degree where she can’t function normally and it severely impacts her ability to live her own life. If I remember correctly, she has a mental breakdown just from seeing a homeless person asking for spare change, because the simple fact that homelessness exists causes her so much anguish. When I watched that episode many, many years ago, I felt two things: First, I was really sorry for the pain she was in – because The Sopranos is the best show ever, and even something that sounds like a random detail in the show is portrayed so well that it touches you emotionally. But second, I had a very strong reaction, thinking that this could never happen to me. I thought that even though I saw plenty wrong in the world back then already, never would I let it overwhelm me like that – because what good does that do? It just cripples me, and then I would be powerless to change the world for the better.
It’s almost haunting me how self-confidently I “judged” this fictitious college student. Little did I know back then, that I’d be fighting that very battle myself years later. These days, the tables have turned. Now it seems irrational to me how people can live in this world without going insane. There is this lame old joke about someone driving on the wrong side of a highway, listening to the radio warning other drivers about himself – and he wonders why the radio is only warning about one driver, because from his perspective everyone else is going the wrong way. That’s how I feel. On some level I know I’m going the wrong way, but I can’t help internally screaming into the void about everyone else going the wrong way.
Luckily I’m still able to write smart-ass observational blog posts about it, so it seems I have not lost my mind completely. Mostly, it just takes a lot of energy to try and keep living “a normal life” through all this. Sometimes I want to shake people, and demand an answer as to how they can live a normal life. Going on as if nothing was wrong. As if we didn’t need drastic change. Not just incremental patchwork, but ripping out the entire system and replacing it with a new one – a system more like Nesrine Malik describes in her story.
On bad days, this urge of me to get answers from others is driven by contempt – how can these selfish people justify living a normal life despite all of this? Luckily that is very rare and I’ve learned to let go of it quickly, because I don’t like thinking like this. More often, I would just like to hear their answer so I could maybe copy it and have an easier time myself.
Please don’t think that I consider myself a shining example for anything. In the end, I’m also just “going on like this”, because what else can you do? What I can’t really grok is how easy that seems (!) to be for most people. Why and when did it become so hard for me?
For example, I’ve wanted to write about my thinking back to that scene from The Sopranos for probably more than a year. All in all, writing this post took me about two hours – no big deal once I started. But when everything feels pointless and of no use, it is so hard to start and do things. Just thinking about it is exhausting me, because I have to get over the mental barrier and ignore the voice in my head that keeps telling me that nothing matters anyway. Deep inside, I still know that starting and doing things is the only way to change something. So I guess I’ll just have to keep trying.