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I am not even 30 years old, but I feel like my life cycle is nearing its end. Every day I have to convince myself not to give up, and I don’t know that I can continue to be convincing much longer. I don’t even know if you have any advice for me, but I don’t have anyone in my life I feel I can ask.
Like many people right now, I am unemployed. I have been almost all of the past year. I am about to run out of unemployment insurance benefits, and do not qualify for an extension. I apply for, on average, three jobs in my highly specialized field every day, to no avail. I interview, feel very good about it, and then am told without fail that I am either underqualified (for job roles that I have years of experience in) or overqualified (for pretty much everything hierarchically lower than the previous category). It seems I am stuck in a Catch-22 where nobody will hire me without experience … which nobody is willing to hire me without. Unless I begin lying on my résumé or have an instance of nepotism work out in my favor for once, this seems unlikely to improve.
I would commiserate with friends, if I had any; a sea of professional acquaintances and sexual partners I barely know is there, but no one who I believe thinks of me as their friend, not genuinely. It’s been so long since I connected emotionally with anyone, on even a platonic level, that I now wonder if the friendships of my childhood were all in my head. I wonder if anyone has ever really cared about me in any significant capacity.
I used to be an artist, and could always rely on painting to ease my mind, but I am too despondent to even look at the stack of empty canvases in the corner beneath my easel. My last two attempts to find relief there ended with me a sobbing mess over the utter dearth of inspiration.
Not that the latter two issues (lack of friends and the death of creative catharsis) bother me as much as the job issue, which means I will become essentially homeless on the first of the month when I cannot pay rent. I think that, rather than move into my car (where I will endure the same misery with an even lower chance of spontaneous improvement), I would prefer to end my life.
I do not see any sign of conditions improving, and every time I look for a sign that life is worth living, I end up coming to the conclusion that it is not. Try as I might, I cannot come up with a single redeeming thing about my existence. I have been holding out for nearly a year that some single good thing would happen to me, some fruit would come of my labor, that my luck could be anything other than abhorrent. But I’m still a failure, personally, professionally, romantically and artistically, and it’s becoming apparent that I only have a limited capacity to deal with all of those things simultaneously.
Like I said, I don’t know if you have anything to tell me. Aside, of course, from the rote “suicide is not the answer/think of all the people who would be hurt” script I think professional advice-givers are obligated to lead with in such situations. What recourse is there for me to better my lot in life, or hell, even prevent it from getting exponentially worse at this point? I am tired, Cary, so very tired of trying to forge ahead in this life. Why should I?
Tired of Being Me
Dear Tired of Being Me,
I have been clinically depressed before, and what you say reminds me of how I felt. I came through it after a year of psychodynamic psychotherapy. It is possible that I might have emerged from it otherwise but the pain was so overwhelming that I sought help. I am glad that during those periods I did not kill myself. For now I know that these periods come and go, and that afterward, life can be sweet.
To endure you must only know that it will end. We know such periods will end and that life will resume. So we persevere. It is often possible, these days, to change how one feels during such a period, through modern medication and psychotherapy. But it is also possible to simply endure it, as artists have for centuries.
You say you feel that your life cycle is coming to an end. It may be true. Before the age of 30 it is hard to see life’s larger cycles. While you cannot see it from your vantage point, it may well be that one cycle is coming to an end. This may be your first experience of the process by which a life cycle ends and then another begins, a kind of death-in-life and then a new beginning, a rebirth.
It is a dark feeling, no question about it. You may feel some days like killing yourself. But this will end. This will pass. You will feel whole again.
Let me suggest a couple of practical things to consider. You do not have to live in your car. Call someone and say you do not have rent money and are facing homelessness, and ask to stay in their house. Do not live in your car if you don’t have to. And get some help from a mental health professional. You can adjust your behavior and your thoughts so that this is not as painful. When you come out on the other end, you will be wiser. You will know what emotional suffering is like, and you will be kinder and more accepting of others. You will know what people have endured throughout history; you will know what the saints and poets and painters are talking about.
The illusory comforts of youth are customarily replaced by the illusory comforts of work. But something has gone wrong in our culture and many young people like you are spit out into the world with nothing, no support, no recognition, no ritual to confer value upon you, no reassurance that your culture, your human family, cares about you.You are getting a glimpse of what it is like to have no illusory comforts at all. It is truly terrifying. So let me say that the world does care about you. There are millions of us who do care about you and what you are going through. There are many who care and cannot speak. We have been deprived of speech. We have seen our culture of caring break down. We do not know how to say we are responsible for each other, or how to put that into action. But we do hear your suffering. And you will get through this. Tell your friends how you are feeling. They may need help breaking through, for they also are afraid. They are afraid to speak, or they have no language to say that they care, but they do care. You are not alone. Millions of us care. Try to hear our voice.
You are enduring a test of the spirit. You are like a man in war, deprived of all hope and all comfort. Yet you are alive and can walk. You can walk, as it were, off the battlefield — wounded and weak but walking. So walk to a place where you can get help. Ask for help. Get support. Take meds if advised to do so by a psychiatrist. Endure.
Why endure? Because life is dirt for a while and then the glory returns. That is the ineluctable rhythm of life: Dirt. Glory. Dirt. Glory. Dirt. Glory. Dirt.
This is the dirt time. This will change.
p.s. “There is evidence that a chronic inability to self-regulate negative emotions, such as sadness and fear, may play a pivotal role in the genesis of clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental disorders. (Davidson, Putnam, & Larson, 2000; Jackson, Malmstadt, Larson, & Davidson, 2000.” From “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Neuroscience: Towards Closer Integration,” by Nataša Jokić-Begić, in Psychological Topics 19 (2010).