February 21. “The happiness of most people we know is not ruined by great catastrophes or fatal errors, but by the repetition of slowly destructive little things.” (Ernest Dimnet)
Recently I was reading a blog post about 10 things that people in their 20s do that “ruin” their lives. It was written by a Christian outreach group, and it included things like believing your ideas don’t have consequences, living outside your mean, addictions, and more. As I read the list I was disturbed, and even angered, because the writer made things seem so hopeless. By using the word “ruin” to describe the outcome, it left no room that I saw for redemption and forgiveness. I thought then, and do now, that telling people in their 20s that their lives are “ruined” because of their mistakes breeds hopelessness and despair. I posted comments on the blog with my concerns, which were quickly deleted.
There is a quote from Mohammad Ali that says “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out. It’s the pebble in your shoe.” He and Ernest Dimnet are talking about very similar things. One from the perspective of being worn out, the other from the perspective of losing one’s happiness.
When I reflect on my life I can see that when I have been unhappy, when I have been depressed, it wasn’t because of one specific event, or even a handful of big events. When a tragedy strikes, or when I have made a colossal mistake, there is a very acute set of issues arise. There is an intensity of emotions that swell up. The pain is great, to be sure. I have felt the pain of disastrous decisions, and catastrophic events, and in the time immediately after, I was clearly unhappy. But those things were dealt with, and in time healing takes place. Eventually happiness is even restored.
I have been at the bottom of the trough of the depression. It has happened a few times in my life. Each time it happens, the first thing that people around me want to know is “what is bothering you?”, or “what happened?” There is a human nature response, I think, to want to compartmentalize depression and assign a specific event as the culprit in creating it. But the truth is that isn’t how it works.
When I have been in that valley, I have never been able to point to one single thing that helped me get there. I haven’t even been able to point to a small handful of things. It has never been the catastrophe in my life, or the mountain I have climbed. It has been those “slowly destructive little things”, those pebbles in my shoe that have done me in. Part of what makes getting out of depression so difficult is letting go of the idea that there is a “problem” to be fixed, that there is something acute to deal with. Finding the small things, and changing my outlook on them is far harder to do.
When I was making the comments on the Christian blog post, one of the things I was most concerned about was the notion of hope. When I was in my 20s, I made some of the mistakes noted on that post, and to be sure there were consequences. My life’s course was altered by those consequences. But, I am a living example of the notion of redemption. With the love of my friends and family, and my own perseverance and application of my Faith, I have overcome those mistakes. My life wasn’t “ruined” by my mistakes. I could make the argument that in some cases I am a better person today for having gone through the consequences than I would have had I never made those mistakes.
I want to close today on the notion of hope. I am a firm believer that a person is only defeated when THEY allow themselves to be. When a person loses hope, that is when all can be lost. I believe the greatest gift I was ever given in my darkest times was the reassurance that there was hope in my life. Clinging to that hope allowed me to rise up, rebuild, make amends, and restore happiness to my life and those around me.
Always have hope!