We Now Love Differently

People across the globe are suffering the collective trauma known as COVID-19. Life is far from normal. At some point, though, we’ll be free to leave our homes, greet our neighbors, and hug our friends and family members. We’ll all be trauma survivors.

I’m always in the mood for philosophical discussions, but today I’m especially interested in thinking about the meaning of life. I found a quote from Keith Ansell Pearson’s How to Read Nietzsche particularly helpful right now.

Describing Nietzsche’s approach to life after trauma, Pearson writes, “It is certain that our trust in life is gone, and gone forever, simply because life has become a problem for us. Nietzsche counsels us, however, that we should not jump to the conclusion that this necessarily makes us gloomy. Love of life is still possible, but we now love differently” (38). According to Nietzsche, rather than giving up or succumbing to despair, we must remember to appreciate the gift of being alive, no matter what life brings us.

Stuck inside, we already love each other and ourselves differently. As long as we’re here, let’s be thankful for our suffering as much as we’re thankful for our joy.

Safe Words

Last month I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I’ve been on medication to treat symptoms that include fatigue, weight gain, depression and general shitty-ness. My mood has improved and there’s a spark in my soul. It’s got me thinking about beauty again.

I spend a great deal of my life maintaining an illusion of control. My room must be in order; my to-do lists must be up-to-date; my schedule for the next three days must be fully spelled out, etc.

BORING.

A life immersed in beauty is the only life worth living. There’s no greater power than submitting to a beautiful song, a beautiful poem, a beautiful play on the baseball field, a beautiful woman shopping in the grocery store. I’m overcome with joy at the thought of what terrible things a gorgeous woman could do to me in private if I just said hello.

So here’s to a break from bleakness and despair. Here’s a YES, an unequivocal HELLO to all that might be, if I gave up control.

Cosmic Insignificance

Nietzsche on the nature of reflection:

When we try to examine the mirror in itself we discover nothing but things upon it. If we want to grasp the things we finally get hold of nothing but the mirror. This, in the most general terms, is the history of knowledge.

I could use the bulk of this post to conduct a close reading of the above quote, to pick apart its internal logic, illustrate its underlying tensions. But today I’ll concern myself not with what Nietzsche says, but instead what my choosing of this passage says about me.

Essentially I want to know why I’m drawn to philosophy in the first place and how this interest relates to my depression and anxiety.

Does a depressed way of thinking lead me to agree with Nietzsche that attempting to know something is futile? This sounds simple enough. My misery loves the company of Nietzsche’s pessimistic worldview.

In addition, does my anxiety recognize itself in Nietzsche’s thoughts on the impossibility of knowledge? Do I suffer from metaphysical hypochondria—the constant fear that reality isn’t real, that I have no self, that the world is an illusion? The vertigo of knowing that nothing can be known for sure? Makes sense. Afraid I’ll float away, I ground myself in doubt.

But the psyche is an ocean and so far we’ve only touched the surface. I argue that choosing this quote reflects a deep-seated existential angst that manifested itself long before any symptoms of my illness appeared.

I suffer from depression and anxiety because my entire being is engaged in an existential crisis, and has so since birth. My illness is both an expression of and response to this crisis. When I’m depressed I feel nothing because I am, at my core, Nothing. When I’m anxious I worry this Void will consume me.

Some people lift weights, get high or go to the shooting range as a means of coping with their cosmic insignificance.

I go to the library, where great minds thrive. And there I find Nietzsche. And there I find joy.

Make A Wish

As another birthday approaches, I find myself looking at the big picture. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve suffered through–and survived–some rather terrible things. Some experiences stung more than others. Their intensity and duration often overshadow all those amazingly beautiful moments that seem to fade so fast.

But I can’t allow myself to forget the good or relinquish my hope. Depression, by its nature, doesn’t leave the depressed much room for optimism. There have been many times in which I’ve encountered a challenge and thought, “OK, how am I going to fuck this up?” And then I’d find a way to crumble.

Lately, though, I’ve been working to flip my default switch from negative to positive. After all the pain and sadness I’ve endured, what if tomorrow will be better? What if the worst is over?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of strife and heartache with which I’ll have to contend, but I’m now operating under the assumption that the really shitty stuff has passed. And I’m daring myself to accept the possibility that not just a reprieve of suffering lies ahead, but genuine joy. That’s my birthday wish.

Dog Days

As I sit here writing my blog, our new terrier mix, Luna, is sleeping quietly through her first night at home. Our early moments together have been amazing, and her presence has lifted my spirits.

Yet I can’t help feeling sad as I replay the events of today’s adoption process.

My father loved dogs and owned many throughout his life. One morning in May 2006, as he prepared to leave for the hospital (and struggling to breathe), Dad said goodbye to our rambunctious beagle, Betsy. Unaware of the severity of my father’s illness, I thought for sure he’d see her again. He died the next day.

Betsy had her own health issues, and they got worse after Dad was gone. In January 2008, we had to put her down, her suffering too much for us to bear.

It was, of course, a terribly sad event, but it arrived with a competing emotional force. In the midst of dealing with Betsy’s passing, I recalled images of my father tossing her a coveted tennis ball, feeding her forbidden table scraps, and laughing like a child at her endearing “hound dog ways.”

All of this brings me to Luna–right now–and the realization that in joy there are often hints of sorrow; in heartache, traces of love. It all comes back to family, and in our house dogs are family too.