I’ve been doing some soul searching over the past few months. I’ve been depressed, which went unnoticed until recently. Spontaneously, the thought materialized in my head: I’m not that happy, and I need to be happy with my life again. Simple enough, right? Maybe not. Let’s go on a short journey that many of us might not realize we share.
Symptomatically the depression I’m experiencing is common, not at all different from the signs of clinical depression that many people experience at least once in their lifetime. For many, these symptoms seem to clear up after a period of time. For others, however, the depression doesn’t go away. When I was a teenager I was in the latter group. Trapped. Alone. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to motivate or stimulate. All the signs of clinical depression. The family doctor called it something doctory, and so I was put on medicine. The medicine that was chosen for me at the time didn’t seem to help the dullness and in fact worsened it. The depression set on from an existential crisis which I won’t go into, but eventually overcame. I was fortunate, able to get off the medicine by making some life changes which started with the relentless pursuit of my dreams. I no longer felt depressed.
That was when I was a kid. Now, I find myself less than 30 days from entering my 30th year as a person on this great planet, and again I’m depressed.
Adulthood depression seems different. As a dependent of your parents, childhood depression is a lot easier to cope with. There are no bills. No debt. Little or no peer expectations. No carrot, no stick. Lots of stress, but little of it truly immanent. Just you, alone with your thoughts, trying to figure out why the world around is so complicated, hoping that an answer will eventually present itself. It’s as much of a growing experience as it is a waiting game.
I found myself going back to the doctor, not sure what to expect. I figured, at best, I would feel better in a few days, and at worst, I’d try some medicine again. In the end, if I could hide the sadness with some medicine and plod on like a normal adult, everything would be fine. After all, there was no reason for me to be sad. I had everything anyone could ever want. There should be absolutely nothing preventing me from feeling happy. My job? Stable. I was making almost as much money as I ever had. My home-life? Stable. Meranda and I make a great team. My hobbies? Stable. All my favorite activities are out my front doorstep. I suppose I could swap the frequency of alcohol in exchange for frequency of exercise, and there was the mountains of debt, but otherwise, my life was stable.
The soul searching really started when I had the first doctors visit. She of course told me that I was depressed. Not surprising. I mentioned that medication was a last resort. She mentioned they had an on-staff counselor so I gladly asked if I could explore that option first. I met with the certified counselor.
He told me, surprisingly, I was not depressed, and he was not going to recommend medication. That alone was a welcomed relief. He said I need a new life goal. Surface deep, this made sense to me. What else besides making a change had ever made me happy? It’s hard to imagine what, if anything, ever had. It’s always been a move, too. When the Montanan dream wasn’t dreamy enough, I moved to San Francisco. When the materialism of San Francisco was too materialy, I moved to Denver. When the suburban hell of Denver was too suburbany, I moved to Bend. I’ve only been here a year, but recently, I’ve been contemplating that next move.
So I set out on my two week journey between visits to the counselor man, who told me it was my mission to come up with a real life goal by the next time I saw him. Not one work related, one more personal. Not to move anywhere, or change jobs. One that had meaning to me because the middle class paradise I had accidentally achieved was, somehow, not satisfying. Some people choose travel, some choose kids. Some people choose wood working, some choose adrenalin sports. Some find fulfillment in public masturbation. What was mine?
Mountains of debt. That’s what kept haunting me. For every new goal that was attractive, I had to spend money, which seemed to elongate my road to debt freedom. Like many Americans, the path I followed to where I currently am is landmarked with poor decisions which compounded an ever increasing pile of debt. Once I abandoned my kid dream of being a film maker, subsequent decision making happened almost instinctively. But what instinct? Was it a conscious decision to take absolutely the highest paying job for which I was qualified? It just sort of happened. Was it then a conscious decision to spend all of that money living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, splurging at every opportunity to achieve that next rush?
Everyone knows that rush. It’s a lovely experience. We’re programmed to love these sorts of achievement. The capital you’ve acquired through your hard fought effort can be exchanged for experiences and things. The better I am at my job, the better the experience or thing, And of course, I have pride in, and want people to know I’m good at, my job. Better food, better seats. Better cars. Better apartments. More freedom to do the things I want to do. All of the people I barely know on social media reaffirm my experience and attachment to things. The bombardment of 5000 daily advertisements fuel the perpetual motivation to achieve. But why? It never seems to lead to greater happiness. Just the desire to make more money so you can afford more experiences and things.
It should be common knowledge how social media has evolved since its introduction back in the ‘90s. Social media began as a place to connect with friends. Then, they had to pay the developers and keep the servers warm, so social media got ads. Over time, ads became very lucrative as more and more people shared more and more information about themselves. Social media then could sell the people to the ad companies. Social media continued to grow and soon, using the very nature of people, social media became the ad company and made the people into ads.
For every Instagram photo showing off someone’s vacation, an expensive meal, the chromed out wheel of a new car, those dope ass fingernails, there are thousands of people who subconsciously desire, if not that exact thing, at least something in that price bracket. Because, well, I have pride in my ability to acquire things. I’m good at my job! The post that glamorizes the thing just reaffirms it’s the right thing to want. I know roughly the level achievement it took to get that thing. I may not be able to afford it now, but eventually I’ll get there. The career path of most money is followed. When enough capital is amassed (or capital enough for a down payment), the question isn’t asked, “What can I afford?” It’s “How much can I afford?” And which Instagram filter looks best to share this pride with my friends?
It’s not social media that made us this way. It does however offer a profound multiplier to our instincts.
When I stepped back and took invintory, it started to feel like I was no longer in control. Not living that intentional life that I always told myself I’d live. I love work, and I want it to mean something. My occupation should do more for me than propel the acquisition of goods. Filmmaking was to be my great platform to tell stories about humans. Filmmaking to me was never about having a career, but wanting to control my own life. That’s what I have to regain. Control of intent.
What will be my next big step, then? What’s my life goal? It’s beginning to become apparent the next most important thing for me will be to get back to living an intentional life. It’s time to divest of things and reinvest the mental capital those things consume in myself. It’s not an overnight task. I’m not going to sell everything and live out of a backpack. I look at this period as a form of parole. It’s time to readjust to being intentional.