Hell is a Warm Bed
Human suffering comes in an unexpected form.
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I'm going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” - Marcus Aurelius
Last year was one of the best years of my entire life. At 31 years old it felt like I'd come to the surface for the first time, breathed air instead of polluted black scum. I had spent so long feeling like an alien creature, something unworthy of the sunlight, and all of a sudden I recognized myself for what I'd always been. This was my world as much as anyone elses, and I had the right to belong here.
Strangers on the street started to call me "beautiful." People in coffee shops and waiting rooms began to strike up conversations with me. I went out on the weekend with my husband and stopped feeling dread at the thought of being surrounded by people who were always wanting something from me.
I could look up and enjoy the moon again.
I could point to a lot of reasons this happened: My regimen, my new diet, my therapist, the EMDR, the Oklahoman country air, my new wardrobe. But it really came down to one single fact:
I decided that I was going to be better no matter what. I wanted to be a better writer. I wanted to be someone who could be a good mother. I didn't know how I was going to get there, not exactly. The road in front of me was clouded with dense, unlit pathways and stormy breaks in the sky.
This was quickly followed by one of the worst years of my life. I had a traumatic experience that prompted me to move to Austin and after that things for me quickly went downhill. The path in front of me closed up.
It was so easy to fail. It felt good to fail, actually. I could sit in my room drinking vodka straight from the bottle or sit in the back of my friend's car drinking from a glass of wine while we drove around at 3 in the morning. There was no effort in that kind of failure. Even the misery was a kind of relief. There's no expectation in depression. There's only a long, slow tumble down into an inertial pit.
The center of hell in Dante's inferno isn't a world of hellfire. It's a frozen ring where nothing can move. That's really the essence of hell itself. Not the chaotic, frenetic movement of the people buffeted around in the outer rings of suffering, but in the place where you can't even lift a finger to save yourself.
Besides, when you get right down to it - the aesthetics of suffering are pretty glamorous, aren't they? Half-starved, shaking with a cocaine comedown, bruised knees, half-lit rooms full of beautiful and broken people. What people don't tell you about giving into depression and violent hedonism is that it's fun.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
I should have been happy, but mostly I felt dread. I knew what I needed to do to get back to where I used to be. Mechanically and logistically I knew it was possible. But every day I climbed out of bed and looked at everything on my to-do list with a sense of unease.
I felt choked by entropy. All my usual methods for climbing out of my depression weren't working anymore. I felt stuck and on a shortened timeline. It was like the noose of my own life was tightening around me.
But I had forgotten a simple fact.
None of this was supposed to be easy.
I was working to fix my life just so I could climb back into bed and pull the covers over me. I cleaned the kitchen, and went to work out, and wrote, and shopped for baby clothes because ultimately - I just wanted the universe to leave me alone and let me sleep.
But hell wasn't the work. It wasn't even the pain. Hell was the quiet bed in the corner where I could enfold my limbs and grow still. It was the idea I had in my mind that I could make all my problems stop somehow, if only I worked hard enough.
But the problems were never going to go away, and the work was never going to stop.
Human beings can only conceive of a problem if there's a solution. And having problems is a sign that we're still alive. We're machines designed by nature to order and restructure the universe around us. We're one of the only creatures on this planet who have the ability to see an obstacle and transform it so radically that it becomes a bridge.
An animal that doesn't perform its function, that has no purpose, can only lay down and die. So it is with us.
The answer to suffering isn't calmness. That's just hell with freshly washed sheets and a cool pillow. The answer is to keep going, until you can't go anymore, and to be thankful the work never ends because if the work ends that means you do too.