I live on borrowed time.
4 years and a couple months earlier, I returned from my first hospital stay, unsure of my future, but sure that things would improve. Shortly after, my mood dipped again, and I started to realise that this was a long haul thing – especially when I couldn’t focus on my tasks, my suicidality went up again, and I struggled with simple things. I could no longer be certain that things would even improve – for as long as my malady was acting up in my head.
Ironically, my blog was born during that time, and later that year, Depressed Dave would make his first appearance.
But it has never been possible for me since then, to think of the future and not quail. (Not the bird, the action!) I remember attending one of my first and only peer support group sessions, to be challenged to have a goal, “because without a goal, we have nothing to work towards.” Cue the expectant looks at me, and while I did manage to demur and say that I can’t fix a goal, because I can’t think past tomorrow, the damage was done. I tried once more to attend a group session but I simply couldn’t find myself feeling that it wasn’t helping at all.
Suicidality, as my therapist and I have come to understand about me, remains a coping mechanism. A strong one. It remains there because there is a layer of “logic” that comes from part of my past. That particular logic goes, as long as a person is of no economic or quantifiable value to society or family, then they are in effect, useless. Society doesn’t need them, and can do without them. It becomes perfectly logical then, to want to end my life because I am just of not enough value to society OR family, pre-depression, and definitely in the midst of depression.
The problem is that while I spent a large number of my childhood and even adult years combating this train of logic especially as a Christian, I was not able to completely shake its hold on my heart. There was a constant and consistent fear that in holding to my own values, I was not actually grounding myself in reality, even if life was proving that I was actually doing alright. I had my dear wife by my side to remind me that I was headed down the right path, even if sometimes, words would get in from others who I thought were dear to me, or who meant well. Especially those who would sit me down and say things like “If I don’t care about you, I won’t even bother about you.”
So the constant nagging and reminders from my youth and at some stages of my adulthood started to tell, even as I was trying to hold true to the values I had developed on my own from childhood, and the values I had learnt from my adulthood. And torn in two directions, I could only break into pieces.
The two types of logic cannot be more polar opposites. On the one hand, I was being taught that how we should value ourselves was solely based on what we can bring to the table. Love was conditional, even if there was a small base layer that was “relational” – meaning if we have a fixed relationship, such as family, then that base layer cannot be removed. There was a constant refrain, that blood was more important than other relationships – I can always marry another wife, but I cannot choose say, my sibling or my parent, or my uncle. But it felt very much that even that base layer could shift according to whatever results I could produce, or how much compliance I could bring. The unceasing lesson being taught, in this worldview, was that as long as you could perform, you could enjoy yourself. “Earn enough to enjoy this, or don’t enjoy at all.” “If you have not stored more than enough away, you don’t deserve to have anything good.” If you didn’t perform – eg you didn’t earn enough money, or you didn’t get the good grade – then you had to deprive yourself of good things. People who don’t earn enough don’t deserve to enjoy anything. People who don’t perform, don’t get to enjoy themselves.
But as I grew older, and found out more about the world for myself, it didn’t sit right with me. It made sense that I had to deprive myself for the sake of others, but it didn’t make sense that others had to deprive themselves for me. It made sense that I shouldn’t enjoy anything good unless I earned it, but I could not, in all fairness, hold that measure to others, especially for those who loved me unconditionally. Bit by bit, I met up with people who held different values, and I found their way of living more warm, and more appealing. But the contrast was huge. (Yes, I’m aware there are already some… missteps in this paragraph, which I’m still working through in therapy.)
Here were people who loved and cared for others because they were people, first and foremost. Some standards were still held, naturally and wisely. Such people were able to disagree, forgive and move on, without disparaging the nature of a person who disagreed with them. There was more to them than money, and life was not just about getting the next bit of enjoyment out of what they could get. Instead, enjoyment was right in front of them, in their current experiences, in their contentment. CONTENTMENT. That was actually possible! Enjoyment didn’t mean that you had to earn everything before you could sit back, kick your feet up and start to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
So naturally I wanted that for myself – and for the ones I loved. But the old lessons would not be forgotten – and when life circumstances made me doubt my choices again and again, I crumpled. And the old lessons came roaring back.
Of course, I’ve summarised these worldviews and their challenges into a few short (long?) paragraphs. These are things that were developed or changed over a period of over 30 odd years. There are a lot of nuances and complications that I can’t put into words on a blog that’s open to the world. But they describe one of the main struggles which I have, that constantly and consistently causes a fight in my head. The usual question, is “am I enough?!”. And the answer is usually, “NO” with exclamation marks removed because they’d swarm the page otherwise.
My wife constantly reminds me that love isn’t transactional. As a Christian, I understand that theologically – my God sent His only Son to die for our sins, so that I might live, not due to anything that I’ve done. But also as a Christian, I have been shown evidence that other Christians don’t think so. I’ve heard a pastor sigh and say that they hope that Christians who commit suicide had done enough to make up for things before they passed. What do I believe? I have no choice but to believe what I know of God’s word from before my depression, and what my wife assures me is true, and the voice of my therapist and the voices of my friends who love me. And if love isn’t transactional, even if it can be ill deserved, then I can stop trying to work for something that I can’t earn.
But at the same time, I am very well aware of the other voice, the screaming bully, my inner critic. He is formed by multiple other voices of people who have touched my life, but he is mainly my own voice. I fail his measures because he consistently and constantly holds me up to a standard I can’t reach – and ironically am kept from reaching because I can’t even have the space to get myself out of this hole of despair. He is the one telling me that I’m not enough and that I’m a burden on society because I can’t accept the cruel reality that life is this way. Yet if life were truly this cruel, I would not choose to live on. In the same breath, because I cannot meet his expectations and he abuses me constantly in my head, I am not able to stop being a burden on society. He also gets frustrated when I do listen to him, and end up being frustrated with myself!
Which is why lately my therapist has taken to saying “We don’t need to hear from the critic any more. There’s no point.”
So from the time that I left the hospital, I became well aware that I am living on borrowed time. This life I have is not mine to live, in many ways. I have not earned this reprieve – I have been given it. I did not earn my wife’s constant care and love – she has given it. I have not earned any charity or love from my family or my church – they have given it. I need not be treated with the respect and care that my healthcare team has shown (even if they get money for it, it doesn’t even begin to cover what they’ve done for me). I have many friends who show support and care in ways that are helpful. I have done nothing at all to earn any of that.
So I’m on borrowed time, and have been shown constant grace. By my God, by my friends, by my wife and children, by my family members. It’s why I write and draw, largely, to try to give back a little of what I’ve been given. Suicide remains a constant specter, suicidality a companion, because the part of me that thinks I don’t deserve any of this, is constantly working to make me think I really shouldn’t continue to waste the time of others. But in the same vein of stubbornness, I’m insisting that to pay others back for what they’ve given me in this time of need, I cannot – must not – allow myself to give in to that voice.
Though at the same time… the constant suicidality is a grim reminder, of how much borrowed, and possibly tenuous, my life really is.
Borrowed time may sound like a bad thing. But remembering that my life is not my own to give, helps me to remember that I must look to my God and others, before I decide to let go on my own. As of now, I still can’t look at myself or my purpose, without feeling like I’m not enough.
And hopefully one day I can learn to enjoy something because it’s something I enjoy. Until then, I shall continue to borrow time, and hopefully make something out of it – that may not earn anything financially valuable, but hopefully valuable in other ways that pleases someone.
Other than my critic.
That guy sucks.