And then, another voice in me said “well, what’s the big deal, right? I mean, if you’re going on and on about ‘we’re gonna die, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you’re sure that there’s something just waiting for you, then why don’t you just go back to sleep, and just let it happen?'” And I could feel, I could feel this, this thing inside me, this thing inside me that was resisting that, and that was me. It wasn’t a parasite, it was myself. And there was this drive that I felt. I was not going to let myself fall asleep again. And it’s a drive that we all have. We live; we keep living, and if death comes into the neighborhood, we’re going to fight it. And that is true. That’s a rule, and it’s real.
— science writer Carl Zimmer, in a 2011 episode of Story Collider called “Holes in the Net,” also a Radiolab episode entitled “Sleepless In South Sudan”
Over the past few weeks, after having learned about Radiolab, I’ve worked backwards, starting with the newest episodes and getting to progressively older ones. Earlier tonight I heard that short, which is a live storytelling that Carl Zimmer gave for his podcast about four years ago. Carl has been on the show multiple times, and they’re always great, but this one struck a particular chord.
All of my life, I’ve kind of struggled with depression. It’s a common story with people now, since people are sort of “coming out” more about it, but for everyone who lives with depression, you understand how lonely and… trapped inside your own head it makes you feel. Listening to Carl talk about his descent into this sort of spiral of morbidity and death after a really huge loss felt very familiar to me. In my life, I have been no stranger to death. By the time I was in my 20s, I had been to more funerals than I cared to try and count. Some of them were more devastating losses to me than others, but all of them were losses just the same. In the span of two years in my teens, for instance, I lost my dad and two friends. Two to accidents, and one to suicide, and there’s only been continuing losses as I’ve gotten older (as would be expected).
So I suppose it’s sort of odd to lose so many, and feel sort of lost yourself—to the point where maybe you think the world would be a much better place without you in it—which is where that bit of Carl’s story pulled me back to. Years ago, sitting in my room, dragging a pocket knife across the flesh of my wrist. Wanting to end it all because of sheer loneliness, but that drive he spoke about? It kept me from cutting deep enough to do any irreparable damage. It’s a very conflicted feeling to want to die, try to die, and not want to die all at the same time. It’s not a case of “well, you obviously weren’t really suicidal. You were just trying to get attention.” Not true. I really did want to end it… I just… couldn’t.
I suppose now, looking back, that I’m glad that I didn’t. I’ve met a lot of really great people (lost a lot, too) and learned a lot of really interesting things. I’m still mostly bummed out the majority of the time. Life is a never ending cycle of drudgery, it really is, but it’s also a never ending cycle of wonderment, laughter, silliness, intuitions, discoveries, victories, friendships, weirdness, and myriad other things. Life is this giant, absurd, chaotic ride, and as a human being I view it all filtered through a meaning engine. The brain takes all of this random shit and tries to smash it together into this coherent, purposeful story. Even when I know there isn’t a purpose to be had other than the one that I manufacture, I still can’t help but be a prisoner of that meaning engine. Drug along against my will, and finding things to stick around for on the way.