I’ve been going through a rough patch. I had depression in high school, but life got better when I went to college. That was situational depression — a side effect of living in the closet. This is different.
The fact is, something happened early last September, something personal in my life that I can’t talk about yet. Someday, yes, but not now. It was a hard emotional blow — the hardest I’ve been dealt. The rest of September and October were a blur. I stopped eating for a little bit. Then the holidays came around.
This city gets bitter in winter. Not cold, just dull and grey. Winds come in from the ocean and bite. But Savannah stays bright, and they hang garland from the lamposts, so it’s still beautiful and cozy in a way you don’t expect from a summer travel destination.
Last Christmas, I was working in a restaurant on River Street. Christmas Day had ice rain, and that night I went to the gay club, got extremely drunk, and sang karaoke to the barflies there. It was fantastic. Then I woke up the next day and realized I was sadder than I’ve ever been in my life. In the weeks after that, things got worse. I called a few suicide hotlines late at night while sitting in my car, scared I would do something stupid.
When you’re an atheist, you don’t have any self-comforting tricks to explain why bad things happen. Suffering is suffering. There’s no meaning behind it. Nature is cold comfort. It will exist without me — in fact, it will hardly notice if I’m gone. As for the people in my life, a few would grieve, but eventually, they’d pick up their lives and keep going. Traffic would be bad the next day. My classmates would graduate and get jobs.
After I’m gone, white dwarfs will birth in star clusters as old as the universe itself. What, then, am I? Right now I feel painfully small and weak. My depression has been taking me to dark mental places.
Religious people claim that tragedy turns people into believers, but I’m not convinced. The last thing I want to do is get down on my knees and ask for grace and guidance. I have more self-respect than that. I’m not about to grovel before some god that never bothered to answer my prayers before — the same god that allowed this to happen, the same god that permitted me to be in this mess in the first place. Who else can we blame for tragedy, if such a god exists? Who else is ultimately responsible for our pain? I want to spit at god. I want to hurt him back.
I’ve been running through town late at night. I’ve never been a runner, but lately, it’s been helping me clear my head. When you’re this sad, you’ll take any endorphin rush you can get. When you’re this sad, living and not-living appear as even choices, a coin flip, a pendulum that may swing one way or the other.
Suicide is an interesting thought experiment for an atheist. Without any implicit value assigned to life or any afterlife to worry about, the only thing you lose in death is the sensory experience of living — along with all potential, however small, to ever feel happy again.
Two weeks ago, I went for another late run. I ran down Abercorn Street under the canopy of oaks. Nobody was out, no drunk late-night revelers. I turned around near my classroom building, the one where I’m supposed to be focusing on school, and ran back to my dorm. When I got back to my doorstep, I knew I wasn’t going to kill myself.
My reasoning is something only an atheist would say: Suicide is such a waste of potential, a waste of all this hard work I’ve put in. I have something, so I might as well do something with it. Life has been deposited on me. I didn’t ask for it, but like a puppy or jury duty, it’s been entrusted to me and I’m obligated to tend to it dutifully. After all, no one else will.
Since that night, I’ve started to feel some happiness again. I’m eating better, re-reading Harry Potter — a far better antidote than any antidepressant — and have started going to the gym. I still think about death sometimes, death as this neutral thing that chases everyone around, death as an idea, and I think that’s healthy. Facing the reality of death means grappling with one’s reasons for living and deciding what one wants out of life. I’ve realized that I want a lot, especially if I’m going to keep doing this, keep going through the daily grind of getting up and getting ready and building my future.
We live so close to mortality. We face it every day and choose, consciously or otherwise, to surrender or keep charging forward.
I want life to be for my pleasure and mine alone. I want more great experiences, more sex, more travel. I want to be in the world and not just an observer of it. I don’t want to be like my parents, cowed in fervent, god-fearing self-denial. Facing the empty streets at night, I have become my own god, my own captain. What great freedom is this!
This is the first time in my life that I’ve appreciated Harry Potter. It’s easy to see why people fall in love with these books. Everyone wants to live in a world where magic happens. I caught myself fantasizing about what it would be like to go down Diagon Alley, select my wand, and fly around on a broomstick. Then I remembered how black holes work, how a universe burst from plasma into light. The godless universe is magical enough, and within it, I can be the boy who lived.