There are times when I am in the grip of a mental illness flareup that I fear that I make no difference. I sometimes fear I make no difference in anything I do. I fear I make no difference to my friends, family, neighbors, peers, etc. I certainly fear that I make no difference with this blog even though I’ve poured my heart, soul, and life into it for years.
One of the things that makes me doubt myself and fear I don’t make a difference is that I constantly repeat myself. As much as I repeat myself, especially when trying to share some positive news of what is going right, I get convinced my words and actions fall on only deaf ears and blind eyes. I get burned out on telling people what is actually going right and that most of the doom and gloom that is the accepted spirit of our times are really temporary setbacks and not the end of the cosmos. But no one outside of a handful of people are listening and what I say means nothing. At least that is the impression my disease infested mind keeps giving.
Most times I can’t read a person or what they are thinking at any given moment. I can’t easily gage the moment the moment thoughts even if I can easily trace long term trends and possibilities. I suppose it’s similar to a military general who isn’t good at winning individual battles yet ends up winning an entire war simply because they are excellent long term planners. Even as a child I was a much better long term thinker than I was on a short term. And it used to irritate my friends, teachers, bosses, and parents real bad. Anytime I tired to explain that they were sweating the small things while losing sight of the entire picture, well I was condemned for having problems with authority and being a hopeless dreamer. Very few appreciated the fact that I was a long term thinker outside of a few cool teachers, my two best friends in high school, and my grandparents.
Of course this learned apprehension about not making any difference, at least not short term, has been made even worse by the mental illness. I try my best to remind myself that I am making a difference and I am making people think and question why the status quo is the way it is. And when I am not in the grips of the illness I know I am. Sadly, when the illness wins out, I seriously doubt my own abilities and if I am making a difference. I suppose it’s like a rapid version of the change of seasons or even high tide and low tide. The human mind is that powerful in that it can make false or distorted perceptions into an individual’s reality. We think, therefore we are I suppose.
I try telling people about the struggles involved in mental illness. But during moments of weakness I fear I make no difference. I know it’s not considered manly to express or feel fear or express and feel anything for that matter. But I no longer care about the expectations of others. Haven’t since I figured out at age seventeen that nothing I did would be considered good enough for some people. Some people will never be satisfied with what I do simply because that is the way they are. Such people are lost causes not worth even talking to or thinking about as far as I am concerned. I deal with such people only when absolutely unavoidable.
I try telling people about the advances in science, tech, humanitarian efforts, etc. But it makes no difference to most people. I remember a line in The Matrix were an AI named Agent Smith stated to the effect that humans find definition and meaning in misery and suffering and are incapable of accepting happiness and peace. I find this to be true in many of my day to day interactions with others, even with close friends and family. I hope it’s the blinders cast by the illness that makes me think this way. I really do. Maybe we vastly overestimate how much can be done on the short term but vastly underestimate the changes that can be done medium to long term.
Perhaps that is why the days at a dead end job or raising small children drag on forever but the years and decades pass rapidly. One day you’re 27 years old and get a bad annual review and a demotion from your boss or your two year old is screaming like he’s demon possessed because you won’t buy him a candy bar in the Wal Mart check out. Those days feel like a torment right out of Dante’s Inferno. But, wake up and you’re in your fifties and you’re the boss giving out bad annual reviews or you’re an elderly man on your death bed looking out at four generations of offspring from your marriage and feeling kind of bittersweet for not taking more time to appreciate your kids when they were asking endless questions or for foregoing summer vacations and weekends to work a thankless job that, not only didn’t miss you when you retired or got laid off, but can probably be done by a machine or algorithm better and cheaper.
Every cemetery in the world is full of people who never could imagine a world where their labor or delusional self importance wasn’t needed. We are living in that said world. Billions of dead people who couldn’t imagine a world as it is now and getting along just fine without them. Our descendants will live in such a world that won’t remember us for what work we did or what stupid arguments we were part of or anything for that matter. Because of genealogy, some people might get their names remembered for centuries. But no one will remember or care what they believed, how they worked, how they treated their kids and spouse, how they voted, etc.
Rather than being saddened by this fact of life, I am actually encouraged by it. I don’t have to save the world by myself. I am not the center of the cosmos (thank God). I am not responsible for the short sightedness and ignorance of others, only my own. And I needlessly worry about how others live their lives, especially if it doesn’t directly harm me or those I care about. I am not a superhero who has to save the world. I’m essentially an independent scholar with numerous interests trying to encourage those I encounter in this adventure we call life. Yet, because of my illness, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that I am just one man among billions of humans and that I don’t have to win all battles or save the cosmos on my own.