The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Origin of Feces

I was just looking at my personal website from five years ago when I had retired. (I had backed up the website to my print server.) It’s amusing to see what I wrote then – some of it was kinda retarded, some of it was prescient, and some of it is still true today! Here’s something I wrote then:

The Origin of Feces

This is the tale of one man’s journey through chronic depression, a world of helplessness and of hopelessness. A world composed of grays and bland flavours, of music without melody. It is despair founded upon self-delusions. It is regret born of failed ambitions.

Our story takes us back to his university days. There, he was a geeky kid entering college, following in the footsteps of a childhood friend in physics whom he revered. Fresh from a high school degree distinguished by soaring grades in his last two years, he had high hopes of conquering the scholastic world, of becoming a great scientist or engineer.

But this boy, not yet a man (and never to become one), suffered from two enormous afflictions. First, he was addicted to television, a mental narcotic if ever there was one. It consumed a great deal of time, a resource that was crucial to meeting his ambition.

Second, he was by nature as lazy as one can imagine. Lacking in self-discipline - and believing he had resolve where there was none - he suffered a humiliating defeat in his first year of university. This shattered his illusion of scholastic invincibility. He realized that he had coasted through high school and that his impressive grades had come only from his native abilities, which can only take you so far in the much more demanding environs of a world-class school.

As he struggled through his physics curriculum, his grades continued to slip year after year. In his fourth year, it finally sunk in that he had no hope of entering Graduate School; nothing could be done to turn things around.

So invested was he in the notion of becoming a scientist, he saw no other course for his life. He viewed himself as an enormous failure, and thinking that he had no alternative options available, on a cold wintry evening he contemplated suicide.

Few people could understand the depth of the low that he experienced. It was as if a dark veil had dropped over his world, hiding all that existed outside of his academic dream. It was worse than any nightmare. It was emptier than any void. It was the end of all things.

In a sliver of time that was almost too short to measure, two decisions were made. First, he decided to take his own life. It is frightening to think how easy it is to cross that threshold between light and dark; this highlights the fragility of life in no other way you can know.

And, then, an instant later, he decided not to throw his life away. Somehow, something somewhere within his spirit found purchase and he gained enough courage to step back from the brink.

Moments later, he felt a wave of fear wash over him. It had been too close. It had been perilously easy. And he vowed that he would never allow himself to become so vulnerable again.

He had given no thought to his family, to how they would deal with his demise. Suicide is a purely selfish act, the ultimate manifestation of ego. He was so relieved not to have created this alternative timeline. For the sake of his family and friends.

He learned several things from his experience. From now on, he would always have some empathy with, and understanding of, desperate people seeking final relief. He also learned one of the key reasons for suicide: the inability to find one’s direction in life. Without purpose or destination, life is but an interminable hunger. The emptiness one feels becomes increasingly unbearable, if you haven’t found the strength to steel yourself against it.

And this marked the beginning of his decades-long depression. To always hold back the emptiness drained him of so much life energy that life became colourless and apathetic.

As the years rolled on, another demon raised its ugly head: the need for intimate companionship. Because he lacked social skills, as well as self-confidence, he was never able to connect with women. This was further compounded by a mental disconnect between what was realistic and attainable, and what was fantasy. He regarded women, first and foremost, as sex objects and this limited his choice. A long string of failed attempts to contact all kinds of extraordinary women ultimately destroyed his motivation and drive.

This was an attitude that remained unassailable for all of his life thus far and it explained his depression for most of the last two decades. As the end of the millennium approached, he sought therapy for his depression. While it helped, another development surfaced that ultimately provided the solution to his decade-long funk: he became financially independent.

No one is suggesting that money can buy you happiness, but having been freed from the travails of earning a living, he acquired enough time to mount a campaign to change his life around. Recognizing that his physical health had become of paramount importance to having a tolerable retirement, he focussed on improving his physical fitness. He took up karate training and (miracle of miracles!) was able to maintain a strict regimen. This was all the more remarkable because all previous attempts to get into shape over the years had failed due to lack of self-discipline.

The difference this time, however, was two-fold. First, he found a remarkably good martial arts school that was highly conducive to regular training. And, second, he used ‘imagery’ to reinforce his motivation.

This imagery was based on the legend of the Batman, the Dark Knight. It sounds silly, but it worked! By picturing himself as a Batman figure, he had something to work towards, something to aim for. The imagery was very powerful and more than sufficient to motivate him over his usual lethargy.

Today he no longer suffers from chronic depression. He has found his way out of his despondency. While he still doesn’t have a direction in life, he is now optimistic that he will eventually find his way. As for intimate companionship, well, he at least continues to harbour hope…which means he should be able to work towards it. He may never find it, but that is not nearly as important as trying. The first step in what he expects to be a fairly long journey is to build up his self-confidence. And who knows what will follow then?

Small moves. Combined with hope and optimism, this is the first time he can say he is actually living. This is as close as he has ever come to achieving ‘happiness,’ for you can hear him humming tunes all day long as he goes through his daily routine. (How many of you hum tunes throughout the day?)

Small moves. Reduced to its basic simplicity, life is pretty good. And, so, the journey continues.