Service

My church is really service-oriented. Maybe you’ve heard of the LDS church (Mormons) responding to victims of natural disasters with humanitarian aid. All my life I’ve been involved in different kinds of service projects. It’s a huge chunk of the Mormon culture pie. As you can imagine, being goal-oriented, social, capable, and energetic is smiled upon within the church community. I feel like these high-spirited people are hugely important for civilization to exist, but let’s not forget the point of service: to serve others–often those who are less fortunate than yourself.

Some vaguely-related thoughts about high school: They train us from K-12 to be obedient, productive, and economically valuable citizens that are also, with a bit of luck, unique and creative. Social success in high school is an indicator of future citizen-drone potential. Oy vey. Clearly I’m already failing society’s expectations. I hid alone in the art room or the science room during most lunches my senior year. I know what it feels like to be left out, and sometimes to want to be left alone. I have been that freak sitting alone in the lunchroom. (I’m a nice person but maybe I’m an acquired taste or something.)

I’ve already talked about my suicidal thoughts during high school and the label of “clinically depressed” I still hang around my neck. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes all I’ve wanted in the whole world is for someone to say, “Hey, I care about you. Someday this is all gonna be a bad dream. C’mere.” I’ve never known any church, school, or community service project that can dish out sincere, personal hugs just when they’re needed.

If you want to feel like your life is worth living, help someone else feel that theirs is. Organized service is great, but never underestimate the power of quiet, subtle, unnoticed acts of love. I feel like it’s a personal thing, something we have to decide. Noticing those in need isn’t enough; we have to serve them, too. It won’t be celebrated, but that’s exactly why it should be.

Thank You, Writer’s Block

Here’s to writer’s block. Nothing like some good writer’s block to get the super weird creative juices flowing. You stare at the screen, back hunched, fingers still, thoughts oozing like crystallized honey. Really, it’s so refreshing to not know what to say. Don’t you just love it when things don’t go according to plan? I’m really grateful for the frustrating little things that happen in life that cause us discomfort. I like to be shaken up once in a while.

Here’s to wallowing. It doesn’t matter how painful the breakup may be; eventually you’ll realize how lucky you are to curl up on the couch with ice cream and watch chick-flicks. I’m actually kind of a freak when it comes to wallowing. I don’t wallow in a timely manner; I usually just get on with my life pretty normally, and then on weekends when I don’t have anything planned, I pull out the ice cream. It makes wallowing a really positive experience.

Here’s to getting sick. Sometimes my body just needs a little toast, soup, Sprite, napping, and Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathoning. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for being healthy, but I feel like it’s unhealthy to be too healthy. Being sick sometimes feels like a wonderful blessing–like somebody Upstairs feels bad for how hard I’ve been working, or he or she wants to refresh my memory of funny quotes from Merry and Pippen.

 

Foolishly Happy

I am not filled with flowery words tonight, but I want to write on the topic of choosing. For example, the older I get, the more I realize I don’t know. Sometimes it bothers me that my mind, my only tool with which to perceive life, is inadequately informed about the world. But other times it intrigues me–makes me want to keep living–and isn’t that all we can ask for? I love that I don’t know everything. I choose to be interested in life so it keeps interesting me.

I used to be a very optimistic person. It used to be my natural state of being. And then I guess life happened: family problems, deaths of loved ones, a broken heart, and eventually mental illness. I lost the piece of myself that naturally looked on the bright side. Although I’ve come a long way from my darkest moments, I still tend to default back to pessimistic thoughts about humans, the world, and life.

What I’ve learned is that life happens, and you can’t always control it. When you’ve done all you can to make your life and your loved ones’ lives better, you have to rely on your imagination to look on the positive side of things. It’s your choice. It’s your responsibility. Look at yourself in the mirror and decide that the person staring back at you is worth being happy. And then, quite simply, with no self-help books, and almost foolishly, just be that way. Be happy. It’s a choice. And you deserve it.

Hats Off to DFW

My AP English teacher first introduced me to David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water.” Few literary passages have changed my life so profoundly as this one did. I hope that everyone within earshot of my cyber voice will read it and try to understand it and do something because of it. Read it–go on! It gives me chills.

He posits that we are innately selfish beings. Everything we think and know and experience revolves around us, and the default setting of our state of consciousness is to perpetually focus on ourselves. In his speech, Wallace presents a life-changing choice. He words it best:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

It is one of most beautiful feelings I have ever experienced–the realization that I am not the center of the universe. I can choose–choose, people–to care about things outside of my intimate circle of consciousness. It is so wonderful. I have the power within me to think about you, and care about my earth footprint, and try to make this world better, because it will live on after I’m gone. Of what worth is money, power, beauty, intellect? Every day we are surrounded by other people who are just as important and needed and loved by our creator as we are. That is true beauty.

“It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: ‘This is water, this is water.'” -David Foster Wallace

Laugh Yourself to Sleep

I’ve been laughing out loud all day. I don’t know why, but lately I’ve just been feeling that life is really wonderful. Laughing for the win. Anyway, so on the bus I was reading this book about the importance of sleep. My counselor lent it to me so it must be doctrine or something. She says that restorative sleep is important, which I guess makes sense because I’m usually way less stressed after a good night’s sleep.

My problem is that for the past few months I’ve been experiencing annoyingly vivid dreams. So I wake up from these dreams and tear through my day thinking and worrying and stressing because I know the dreams make me uptight, and if I have vivid dreams again I’ll get even more stressed. This worrying keeps my mind active during the night, and in a cruel twist of irony, my worries about dreaming make me dream. It’s an endless cycle and if I don’t fix it soon… well, honestly, I can’t predict the future. Probably I’ll fall asleep on the bus someday and miss my stop.

This is the book’s solution to worrying: Stop. Just relax. Don’t think of your problems as catastrophes; think of them as inconveniences. And inconveniences are manageable, are they not? Sometimes I tell myself not to take life so seriously. Maybe this is foolish, but it helps my anxiety. Keep laughing, everyone. As I recently learned from my Spanish professor, “Todo va a salir bien.” Everything is going to be okay. 

Courage

I remember back when my depression was pretty bad and I considered different ways to end my life. One particular day, as I turned left on a quiet intersection by my high school and considered slamming into another car or a stoplight, I was overcome with this feeling that my future children were with me, giving me strength to survive this intersection, this road, this drive home. Isn’t that the strangest thing? Well, I don’t have any children yet, but I’m still alive.

I used other tricks to keep myself alive. Often I told myself that I owed it to future Maney to survive this warped, confusing time we call the present, because maybe she would have something or someone to live for. If it weren’t for that thought– that wisdom that maybe it was suicide now, but really I was murdering the future self I would come to inhabit and didn’t yet know–I wouldn’t have built a snowman today with my neighbors. I knelt in the whiteness, rolled the three balls, defied gravity with the lopsided stack of too-big snowballs, and pressed in the nose and arms and eyes and buttons. And I am grateful that I was alive today to do that. Thank you, self.

Too many people deal with thoughts of suicide. Maybe it will help you to remember that your life is not really your own; it is possessed by all your past and future selves as well. And on top of that, think of all the people who love you, both on this side of the veil and the other. They share a piece of your life, too. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life if you don’t believe me. I remember that on really bad days I would tell myself Seneca’s words, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” Keep being courageous.

Concerning Love

Christmas is coming up and it makes me wonder what I want from Santa. People keep reminding me that Christmas is nine days away, eight days away, one week away… but for some reason, the actual day of opening presents doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to. A lot of my loved ones are far away this season, and I know that packages tied up with bows won’t fill the hole in my heart.

I recently talked to my counselor about caring for the people in my life. Our conversation made me think about how grateful I am to have people to love, despite the sadness and longing I feel when thinking of them. I’m so blessed to be able to love after everything I’ve been through. I have a freakish capacity to love–and it opens my heart to feel freakish amounts of pain. I can count on one hand the people I know who love as deeply as I do. It’s a gift and a curse. 

So although Santa can’t bring my friends and family home, this Christmas I love and am loved. That’s the best gift I could never ask for. I can be courageous, compassionate, and connected. I can live a wholehearted life–we all can. Even though it’s scary to open my heart, I won’t give up on love. Love makes us human; love makes us immortal. As Toulouse screams from the rafters, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”