No Appeal to Misery

 

amherst 4I have a bit of a conundrum at the moment. This weekend is a reunion at my former college for fellow journalistic-minded folks, people who worked and published under the school newspaper, to get together and network, swap old war stories, and inspire the next generation of journalists in the school. While I know I have no great stories to share, no wisdom to impart, power to network or even a particularly cool job to boast about, attending has piqued my interest.

What’s keeping from partaking is the history of the place.

I think it’s pretty common knowledge these days that many college kids suffer from quiet suffocation mental illness during their tenure away at school. It makes sense, considering you’re sending young people away to live on their own during the peak of their hormonal imbalances, while trying to juggle the stress of school work, the influence of newfound freedom and their peers; and the looming pressure of expecting to figure out their future.

Add in the drugs and alcohol it makes the perfect cocktail for disaster.

I like many other students had a hard time in college. Between the stress of classes I couldn’t get into, attempting to utilize an intelligence and motivation I couldn’t seem to pay attention long enough to maintain, the qualms of fleeting young love, and the emotional trials of learning how to balance emotions and alcohol, keeping my head above water during “the best years of my life” wasn’t easy.

Part of this was the culture shock. I grew up in a small town and small community where weekend interests involved taking photographs, rock climbing, and innocently eating pizza and playing videogames in a friend’s basement. It felt like stepping into a new world to be surrounded by the parties, “worldly” kids from other towns, and general disinterest the majority of the population displayed for my existence.

I felt lost. I felt alone. I poured my heart and soul into endless ideas and friendships that I barely even recognize today. I lost too much weight, slept too little, drank too much and made far too many excuses for my emotional state. I tried to be and please so many different people at times that I think there was a time where I was barely a person at all.

When I look back on old college photos of me, I barely recognize myself.

What I’m amazed about today is that most people barely, if at all, noticed. I worked through four years of feeling like the sky above me was a looming disaster while keeping a smile on my face, and for the most part, appear to have pulled it off. Which is funny, because at the time I accepted the sadness, and in fact thought it appropriate – almost idolizing it as the “artist’s way” of life. I convinced myself that being miserable was the only way to ever make something worthwhile – an ounce influence from a lot of these “worldly” folk that are mostly still mostly unemployed.

That paired with an inescapable ability to wallow in hindsight made it pretty much impossible to improve my state. In self-help cultures like AA and NA, they say that addicts who are going to quit need to “want” to quit. It’s a similar set of rules with depression and mental illness too – if you don’t want to lead a stable, happier and more successful life, there’s little to no motivation to make those changes. You’re not going to start seeing a therapist, take anti-depressants, and/or start towards a new and healthier lifestyle if you don’t want to change. And being sad is easy.

I always found a cold comfort in the numbing world of misery. And for better or worse, that location will always be a part of that world to me.

I’m a little older now, a decent bit heavier and a hell of a lot happier. At the time I loved the place, and still have some of those fond memories. But that’s just a small piece of me. I think the rest of me, the most of me, who’s built a life with new and engaging passions, motivation and intelligence, doesn’t belong there anymore. It took me a while to find my motivation to leave that emotional state, and it happened to coincide with leaving the place.

When I see my life now compared to how it was, I can’t help but feel like today I’m a new person. While I do wish I could return to some of those old memories and friendships I look at in my old photographs, part of me doesn’t want to look back. Part of me thinks that person should keep his eyes and mind where they belong – always looking towards the future.

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