The Infinite Jest: A Birthday Reflection

It’s my 30th birthday today, so I guess it’s as good a time as any to finally publish some thoughts which kept me up in the dead of the night a while ago.

I won’t go into details, but my childhood was a pretty rocky one. Like most kids, I got my fair share of being loved. But for all that my parents tried to shelter me and my bro, I was old enough and circumstances just-so that I had the dubious honour of experiencing some fucked up shit (don’t we all), some of which I’d retain to realize the significance of those traumatic memories later on. In hindsight, my circumstances weren’t the worst, but I sometimes pat myself on the back for making it through a decent (and generally happy) human being.

That wasn’t always the case. For all that I spent my entire conscious life desperately battling my fear of death, there were long periods in which I seriously considered the end. Suicide. It’s weird now finally confessing something I’d never dared breathe word to in this space, after years of honing my compartmentalisation skills.

I’ve never been one to confess my demons so readily to another warm body, but the internet is a strange place. I came across this reddit thread and the passage resonated so strongly that it inspired me to divulge a little of myself, is all:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling. – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

In the end, I guess I’m lucky to have come out of the shadows unscathed. It was mainly the constant reminders for me to try empathising with those I’d leave behind which eventually pulled me back from the edge (thanks Mum). It’s so easy to be so tired that sometimes you forget that everyone has their own demons, that there’s still something worth trudging on for, you know?

So that’s my story, however vague it is. Ottie fights the same demons differently, and sometimes chides my pessimistic outlook on most things even as I define myself to be happy; a happy pessimist, you could say. But to be honest, finding amusement at the absurdity of a glass half empty has often been how I roll – I’ve always sought solace in the knowledge that there were other people who notice just how ridiculous life was… and at some point, once a matter is out of your hands, there’s nothing else you can do but laugh about it. It’s weird because Ottie finds catharsis in submerging himself in depressing stuff, whereas my go-to is always comedy. I suppose everyone deals with shit differently – him attacking the dark straight on while I seek the light. But I for one sure as hell don’t need any more encouragement from peering into the yawning depths of misery, no thank you. 🙅 Perhaps that’s why we’re good for each other. Or perhaps not. Only time will tell.

So anyway, it’s been a hell of a journey. Happy birthday to me.


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