DOWNTIME: Digging Your Way Out of Denial

In 2007, following a deep suicidal depression, I withdrew from my Freshman year at Syracuse University’s acting program and moved into a sticky marsh of absolutely nothing.

I lived with the flies. We hovered above Appalachia or a compost heap or a summer swamp by a cottage in Ontario and we waited to die.

You could call my 2007-2008 experience, “downtime”.

I was nineteen years old. I had freshly abandoned my passion for the theatrical arts and, as an introverted freaky social outcast in high school, “drama nerd” was the only identity I had. I had no idea what else to do. I lived with my parents and worked for my father, I had one “friend” who I didn’t like but I knew from high school. She insisted we were best friends even though I had only hung out with her briefly in eleventh grade. I was one of the only people in our school to be living in Toronto after graduation and she found me. So, we were best friends. She bossed me around. I followed her when I couldn’t say no but mostly I tried to spend all of my time at home, binge eating and denying the fact that life is a continuous experience. It doesn’t pause. It doesn’t wait.

Denial.

I look back and the year is just a sticky denial dumpster.

I call 2007-2008 my down time because I was down, I was severely depressed. I lingered in the privilege of being unnecessary. I could have escaped, but I wanted someone to need me. 

I believe now that if we aren’t putting effort into life it’s because we no longer ca believe that people love us or need us. And, while I also believe that its crucial to find comfort in independence, just in case we find ourselves alone, life is meaningless without connectivity. Our existence is regressive without love and commitment. 

The proof, for me, is 2007-2008, a year where I withered, passive acceptance of my underperformance because I didn’t believe anyone cared about me. And so, I had no reason to strive for dignity. What does dignity matter if no one is even paying attention? So, fuck the mirror, right? Fuck effort and curiosity. Who cares at that point?

Fight Denial by Finding Context

If I could go back in time and to myself in 2007, I’d first of all make myself laugh because a sense of humour will get you almost everywhere. But, I would also remind myself that my family does love me because love gets you everywhere else. But the main thing I would do is steep myself in a context. Context is the vantage point from which we live. If we enrich our context, we can fall in love with our point of view and really begin life, begin joy, begin love again.

How to Find Context?

Learn history.

Learning a personal history, a family history and a global history gives human life meaning. It gives life context. And context helps us put together joy, put together memories, accept and appreciate our surroundings so that we don’t slip into a down place where all we can see is green sludge.

Read read read read read read read. If reading is inaccessible, ask the people around you to tell you life stories. Hear. Or, use whatever sensation is most accessible to you, reach out into the world and develop an understanding of it by asserting an aggressive curiosity. And grow, always grow, as much as possible.

My Example

In my current project, I’m researching the ways in which my grandparents’ trauma from having survived Auschwitz kept them from parenting my parents properly. So, maybe as a result, my parents learned a sensation of neglect and abandonment. And, maybe I’ve inherited that too: The sensation that no one cares. 

I’ve been reading countless Holocaust memoirs, developing a context for my entire existence and if I could go back in time to 2007, I would tell myself that YES my parents do care. Our history forces us to care. Sure, they learned a funny way of showing that they care which has taught me a strained inner life. But, if I can build compassion for their history and for my grandparents history, I can start to love them thoroughly. And, from there, I can witness the effort they put into loving me back.

Staying Inspired

Looking back on my downtime, I see someone lost without context. And, if I could gift her a context, I would, but I can’t. So, I write whatever I can about finding peace and I hope it reaches someone who needs it.

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