Really. It's a lot better than that. But it took self-reflection, therapy, antidepressants, and amazing friends to realize this.
The Myth, The Pain
At age twelve, 30 was a myth. At age 15, it represented the oldest a person could be. At age 20, it was a threat. At age 25, an inevitability and the source of all fear, should I not accomplish all I could by that ominous day.
At age 29, fear became doubt. To me, turning 30 seemed a poor marker of adulthood and an awful predictor of success. Changing ages this time would be the same as last year: one more revolution around the sun, one more year wondering if the veil of chronic anxiety would lift.
When you've been battling something since age seven, milestones are momentary: a glimpse of who you are in a loved one's face, a day that unfolds just so and rewards you with a minute or two of satisfaction before that voice returns to tell you it could have been better. My anxiety is a reaction to the chronic fatigue and anhedonia of omnipresent depression, and my "fight" against it will always rage. Because slowing down means being alone with demons you're not yet equipped to reckon with. Because not "performing" leads not to feelings of disappointment but to an acute deluge of self-hate so strong it threatens to overwhelm the imperative to keep breathing. Because a single misspoken word to or from a loving friend leads to rage instead of empathy.
Solipsistically, I assumed this is how everyone feels. Selfishly, I wondered why friends and relatives feel the need to usher in 30 as a boon and a challenge instead of an albatross. I was lost, confused, and offended by this impending marker of maturity. I'm to be harder on myself at 30 than I am at 29 when I don't have enough spoons to get home at the end of the day without collapsing? In light of my perpetually heavy affect, viewing 30 as anything other than another day seemed insane.
In October, everything changed. Literally everything. It started when I realized I couldn't give Clark the focus it deserves to flourish. Starting my own company has been the most challenging thing I've ever done, but nothing has been harder than looking myself in the mirror and knowing the man looking back didn't have the energy to provide my team with momentum and inspiration. These amazing humans trust me, left jobs for me, believed me when I said we'd build something transformative and positive for the world. And until October I felt like I was phoning it in even in moments of smashing success.
And then I got into a huge fight with the woman I've been with for over six years. She didn't deserve it. Neither did I, really. It was something stupid, but boiled down to:
Her: "I need you to do X"
Me: "I want to, but I can't."
Six years, two cats, countless days of shared travel, experience, laughter, and love, and I'm crushed under the weight of not having enough energy?
I realized that without change, turning 30 was going to be another unmet expectation, an ephemeral moment leading to decades of regret. I owed it to myself and those around me to find a way to coexist with my depression and anxiety. So I went to work.
Irony is realizing you've been too hard on yourself in every way except as it pertains to finding effective coping mechanisms. One session in talk therapy uncovered this fact, so I kept going. I sought out antidepressants and began physical therapy for my knee so I could get back to running, my favorite meditation. The work is a daily effort, but I've kept with it. I don't see progress on a daily basis, and I've had to change my outlook in order to do work that sometimes feels counterproductive.
I started listening to the way I talk to myself. I began bargaining with myself to give up control. I decided to let my friends show me what I was worth and started listening to the way I interpreted the words they said to me. I decided to rely on other people and open up to the possibility of rejection in the process. I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday. I asked my girlfriend and two other friends to plan a party, and it was nothing short of life-changing.
Five breweries, one scavenger hunt, dozens of loving, happy people, and one completely amazed me.
We padded softly over the newly fallen snow. "Where are we going?" I asked, repeatedly. "You'll see," they responded, coyly. We eventually arrived at Gun Hill Brewery, our first stop, and friends began arriving. They surrounded me with their positivity for the next twelve hours and for the first time I was in a place where I could enjoy it.
I have never felt more loved. I have never felt more energetically happy to be alive. The outpouring of support and community I felt was completely new. Last saturday was the first time I was ever able to to grok the depth to which interpersonal connection affects the human soul. In my 30 years it's only been since November that I've felt that my energy level comes close to matching my ambition for activity. It's only been in the last week that I've realized how platonic love really works. These last few months have marked the first time I've felt unadorned hope for the future. Irony of new hope in the face of the rise of American Fascism aside, the man I see in the mirror now more closely resembles the man others see when they look at me.
It was a small change: in every moment, your body provides your brain with feedback. With the right amount of energy, each moment reinforces your capacity to get to the next moment. Without it, each moment is a question of survival. I only know this because in October, my capacity began increasing and it's still growing. It's such an omnipresent factor in life, a low-level change that affects each action I take. It's a supremely enjoyable relief.
The effects are myriad: I feel equipped to have conversations, so I no longer feel anxious about how long they'll last. I feel able to do the tasks in front of me, so I no longer ruminate over which ones I won't get to. I feel the desire to speak with other people, so I no longer question why they speak to me at all. I see the micro-desires in my own affect when speaking with people I love, so I no longer wonder why people want to have a relationship with me. I see other people succeeding and failing, over and over, day after day, so I no longer feel that a failure on Monday means certain doom on Tuesday.
In short, I'm building a foundation, and people are noticing. My girlfriend has commented on my reasonableness and go-get-'em attitude. Clark is growing rapidly, and it's no longer a fight to stay focused (instead, I fight to push the envelope on what we can do as a team). Friends (I hope, you tell me!) notice my willingness to connect. I feel my rage decreasing, my empathy increasing, and my future brightening. The anxiety is still there. The depression is still a part of my life. Both will probably never disappear. We all have our struggles, and it's never as simple as a cure or "getting better." You always owe it to yourself to try, as hard as that may be. Pick a milestone that's meaningful or make a milestone meaningful by creating it. Either way, if you're suffering, find a way to make change in your life a priority. Changing yourself will change your world, too.
This is just the beginning of the journey, but 30 is going to be great.
For Those Who Still Suffer
It took so much to get to where I am today, most of it attributable to pure luck. I'm lucky to be high-functioning despite my mental issues. I'm lucky to live in New York and have a great education and to have broken into a career that I'm suited for both in skill and demographic (i'm a white dude in tech–bit of a cliché, really). And more than that, I am lucky enough to have health insurance. It's a human right we can no longer take for granted, and I can't stress the privilege I have by merit of finding funding for the hard work I've put into Clark.
Even if you have the support you need it's not a given that you'll find success in your first attempt to manage your demons. Please, keep trying. Something will work, but what does may surprise you. For me, it was a medication, a new diet, two doctors, and waking up every day to do what I love. Don't give up. And when people tell you not to be so hard on yourself, try to listen. They don't see what you see when you look in the mirror, but they still see the real you.
If you're in crisis now, don't wait. Get in touch with Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741. Help is closer than you think.