There are people that exist to us solely as text on a screen. Our precious technology acts as agar that nurtures the growth of relationships that span miles and continents. They ebb and flow, rise and fall, flame and fizzle. Some are fleeting while others develop into deep, meaningful connections that surpass any that “real life” has to offer. As I’ve discussed HERE social media grants us the ability to interact with individuals that we would otherwise never have the privilege to encounter. That said, the nature of this interaction has some inherent limitations. Nothing stirs feelings of helplessness and inadequacy faster than the realization that a treasured someone is on the other side of digital words, hurting. Suffering. Struggling for breath in a cold sea of despair. I’ve seen a fair amount of this pain, strangled appeals to the void, seeping through. The virtual hugs, the brief reassurances feel woefully insufficient to address such very real human feelings. As such, I would like to offer some words, in the hope that someone, somewhere might find a glowing ember of comfort within them.
Let me first address the absurd. Because… the existentialists are kind of my thing, and Camus has been floating around in my mind of late, disembodied and muttering (I had to confiscate his cigarettes). For those of you well-versed in my dear Albert’s absurdism, please feel free to skim ahead. To break this down into bite-sized pieces, Camus asserts that there is no inherent meaning to life. Despite the human tendency to search endlessly for a reason to trudge along, the endeavor is ultimately futile.
“This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.”
In order to deal with this reality, we have three options. We can adhere to the standby human coping mechanism, religion and spirituality, which blatantly disregards the concept that our existence is without reason. Rather, it invents one and peddles the warm fuzzies of eternity like snake oil. However, this equates to planting one’s head firmly in the sand. Sure, it’s sun-warmed and sugary…But eventually, you crunch down on a mouthful of silicon.
The second alternative is suicide. This is to truly acknowledge the meaningless nature of life and to deem it worthless as a result. Hard stop. Neither my friend Camus nor I think that this is a valid solution.
“At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery. In itself weariness has something sickening about it. Here, I must conclude that it is good. For everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.”
Meaning of life aside, our daily existence is fraught with challenges, trials, and aches. Moments of happiness can seem fleeting and too infrequent to matter when faced with the monotonous struggle of the journey. It can be daunting just to climb out of bed and face the day under the best of circumstances. And, just to slap some mustard on the tribulations, a great number of us are besieged with medical, mental issues … substance abuse… depression.
There is loads of information out there about mental health. But we as a society are doing a shit job of ensuring that adequate treatment and support are made available to those who need it. And while we’ve come a long way from the days when such matters were hushed and quietly trundled off to institutions, the stigma remains. These conditions are real. There is no weakness, no lack of constitution at blame. It doesn’t discriminate and appears across every iteration of humankind. Some of the brightest stars mask the inkiest sorrow. Mental illness is something that should be approached as any other medical condition that requires treatment and healing. The invisible wound is capable of inflicting great pain and deserves the same respect and care that would be granted to one whose flesh and bone is torn, broken. To shame or question a precious scrap of humanity who is reaching in the dark for a lifeline is both appalling and despicable.
There is a fragile silver lining, however, because, with the recognition of mental conditions as treatable, some answers gleam in the dark. Management is diverse, and there is no panacea that will guarantee success. Rather, via painstaking trial and error, a combination of treatments can be utilized to ease symptoms and render life navigable. Please refrain from judgment when it comes to discussing what does and doesn’t work. (I’m looking at you, purveyors of “natural” products who scorn mainstream pharmaceuticals….but that’s another topic altogether.) As with all generalizations, they are generally wrong.
So now I return to Camus and the third option for coping with the futility of existence. He urges us to consider embracing the absurd. Face the universe head-on. Accept into your deepest core that we are here without purpose; ephemeral, fragile beings clinging, bewildered, to our special chunk of space rock. The absurd is the human need for meaning and permanence, juxtaposed with our inability to find any.
“To work and create “for nothing,” to sculpture in clay, to know that one’s creation has no future, to see one’s work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries—this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating on the one hand and magnifying on the other, is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors.”
Essentially, with acceptance comes a new measure of the successful life, a new method with which to seek some kind of happiness. If I paint with the expectation that my canvas will be handed down through the centuries and stand as a testament to the fact that I was here, it is painful to consider that it will likely be relegated to the landfill by whoever purges my dwelling upon my demise. However, if I paint because it makes me smile; because it floods my heart with bliss, the significance of long-term benefit fades and blows away, a leaf in the wind. The worth, Camus muses, is in life lived for the sake of it.
Far be it from me to suggest that a shift in perspective represents the cure for all troubles. No one thing can lift the veil of sorrow, heavy and obscuring. But when it comes to finding the energy to draw breath, perhaps the prospect of personal ability to revel in small pools of happiness is enough to survive the next moment. Permanence, global impact, external perceptions of success… I give you permission to toss these concepts skyward, to be caught by a passing breeze. Your version of the absurd can be both a firm grip on reality, and an embrace of this pointless life, lived well, in whatever manner you deem worthy.
Be well, my friends. I’m here if you need me.