How a Dark Moment Inspired Me to Reach Out Through the Screen
I sat, alone and drunk and high and in the dark. The TV was probably on, but at that point in my life, under those all-too-familiar circumstances, I would often leave whatever I was watching paused for long stretches — during which I would ruminate.
It always bothered me, to feel both compelled to “relax” and yet unable to remain engaged by these activities long enough to stop with the constant pausing.
The truth, I think, was that I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be watching something on the TV screen. Not at that time. Not in that way. I wanted to be making something that would get played on the screen.
And I wasn’t.
So, instead — and I say this without judgment — I turned to fear, self-pity, and the procrastination and self-destruction that all too commonly finds its roots in each or both of those feelings.
On the particular day in question, I was ruminating on my loneliness. My hopelessness. The alcohol and the drugs, as they’ll do, lent both feelings added weight.
It was an especially hard time for me, then. Since I’m an independent artist, money had always been an issue. At that time, I was coming out of a post-recession stretch wherein the issue of money had become especially painful and frightening — and I’m a white man with a college degree.
I was having trouble writing. I was unhappy at work — and only barely grateful to have work at all, due mostly to my fury at the injustices of said recession, and the disproportionate way in which the fallout hit the middle and lower class more than the upper. I was angry with myself, for being naïve, and for making the choices I had made that led me to such a dark and hopeless place. And then I got angrier about that anger, because it was misplaced, and damn “them” for making me question myself.
All this to say that, in that moment, it felt like there was no way out. I remember, sitting there, thinking and thinking through the haze, about all of it at once.
There was no way out. There was no way out.
And then I thought of one.
The Last Way Out.
And, I swear, immediately after that thought occurred to me, it felt like my blood had stopped in my veins.
Ultimately, obviously, I did not pursue the idea to any sort of conclusion.
But I still think about that day, sometimes. The day when things got bad enough that the thought of ending my (pretty good) life manifested, out of all that dark ether, as a real solution to how I was feeling. For a long time, in thinking back to that moment as I am right now, it hurt — realizing how deeply lost I was then, despite all outward appearances.
More recently, though, I started reflecting more on that follow-up reaction. I’m (thankfully) able to do that, today.
I remember how it felt to really consider The Last Way Out as a solution. I remember the chill that seemed to stop my pulse, almost as if to provide a warning sample of what it might feel like to “get free” in that way.
It would all stop, yes, but it would all stop. The good with the bad.
I now believe my reaction was proof that I was (and am) meant to stick around. A gift, from some healthier part of me, to get me through that moment.
That day was not the first time I had entertained notions of death with some relief. But it was the first time I began to fully take the hint — that I needed to put more time and effort into my mental and spiritual health.
I was already in therapy, but my perspective after that night slowly began to shift in my sessions. It further shifted when I began working to heal and recover — as hard as this was — within groups.
And that’s when I really started to experience change. Community, real connection between people, is fatal to hopelessness.
It’s one of the hardest things about being human, the fact that we need each other so completely, despite the parallel truth that we also, many of us, feel so desperately alone much of the time. Or misunderstood. Angry. Resentful. Simultaneously entitled and undeserving of… a better life.
I believe, in many respects, this general condition has been worsened, here in America, right now.
We haven’t fully healed from the emotional toll of the recession, just as we haven’t from the horror of that day in September 15 years ago.
I don’t mean to suggest the remaining work left to be done in these respects necessarily represent failings. I don’t know if you fail at something until or unless you’re ready to face the pain in the way of the task.
What I’m trying to say is that… I think I get it.
I get why the average American, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, or where they live or what they do — I get why they might be angry, hurt and compelled right now, by fear, towards stasis.
A lot of the time, these days, we’re alone together wherever we go.
Whether we’re at work, at home, even sometimes while on vacation, we choose to and/or are goaded to continue fueling our feelings of separateness, by sticking our faces into any of a number of screens. We chase after, and lose ourselves in, virtual, fantastical realities. We choose these virtual realities over the perhaps less easy but ultimately much more affecting and rewarding truths of… real life.
That’s not a judgment. I do it, too.
As a filmmaker and a storyteller, I play with reality for a living. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t. It’s a constant dance, attempting to stay true to life and yet employ fictions to put forth ideas that suggest alternative viewpoints, that might eventually, hopefully be of service to others struggling to see things clearly themselves.
But I’m able to do it because something else happens on those screens, as well, other than the peddling of fantasy, and outside the realm of broadcast control of the status quo. And that something is essential to that other, beautiful, life-saving truth of what it means to be human.
We connect through our screens. We can’t help it.
We need it. We’re social animals. The drive to connect is coded into our DNA — no matter whether or how tragically faultiness finds its way into this code.
Due largely to the lingering effects of the collective trauma we’re arguably facing as a society, in considering our history — never mind how we are changed and affected by evolving technologies — I believe it has become a real challenge, today, to foster and maintain the connections we need in life, such that we might grow, thrive and find and maintain mental and/or spiritual health.
My own journey, from isolation to connection, began shortly after that dark night, wherein the best idea I could come up with was one of the worst ideas imaginable.
Again, I don’t judge myself for that night. In fact, today I can even identify (and continuously pursue) that part of me that pushed back at that time — that saved my life.
It was love.
To be honest, I don’t know if I was able to feel much love for myself at that time. But I think I was (thankfully) still able to feel the love others had shown (and still show me) despite my struggles.
So, slowly, with help, I started to crawl out of the hole.
Therapy continued. I found a community of people who understood me and who could help. I started taking better care of myself. I learned, slowly, how to be vulnerable. How to trust — where and when it was safe to do so.
And I started reaching out, here on the web, through my screens.
In the face of constant cynicism, and a mainstream news cycle interested in and driven increasingly more by control (and/or survival at all costs), than in civil education, I decided to take a positive view of the constant virtual connectivity so many of us turn to, every day, but perhaps don’t enjoy or utilize towards the most effective (or affective) results.
I started a blog. I joined Twitter. I kept in touch on Facebook with friends and family who I couldn’t always see in person, because I was still struggling to make ends meet, and to keep working as a writer and filmmaker (not an easy thing to do).
And, slowly, life got better.
This growth enabled me, at one point, to write and direct my first film in years, a dramatic sci-fi short about a lonely someone who (wait for it) – was struggling to leave their apartment due to feeling of anxiety, isolation and dread.
I started writing fiction again, too. And, finally, I decided to leverage as much of my growth and experience as possible, with what resources I could gather, and join with my wife in producing “The Videoblogs,” a feature film about a woman coming out of a depression and, eventually, finding community and acceptance — through a combination of leveraging technology towards personal expression… and pure chance.
It was not an easy thing to do. The process was long, difficult, and it left me feeling both physically exhausted and emotionally raw. But I believe we accomplished something important, in making and releasing the film.
We gazed into the darkness of the everyday, together with our collaborators, and identified a ray of hope. We sought to capture that hope, to the best of our ability. Based on the reactions to the film so far, it seems as if we have at least partially succeeded. We’re also paying it forward by helping tomorrow’s artists express themselves in regards to their own struggles.
Because that’s what I’ve learned, to this point, in my ongoing journey to figure out how to keep on keeping on when life gets hard. Mental health isn’t much different from physical health — no matter the vast differences in amount and quality of attention we as a society tend to show the latter, versus the former.
It takes daily work. Dark days come. But we are, increasingly, never alone.
Reaching out via the screen, if not a complete solution, can be a step. Risking vulnerability, and thereby enabling others to comfortably do the same, can close the circuit of loneliness among and between us, even as we are separately struggling.
Community and mutual support is as much a fundamental aspect of being human as all the rest.
Image via The Videoblogs