George Washington said, “Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
I read this in one of my many e-mail subscriptions as I was plunging into a Monday with a natural, persistent, heavy despondency from a deep and unknowable source. (It was a despair like the many of the past days, weeks, and months, like the one David Foster Wallace describes: “The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture — a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death.”) How many times did I read this quotation, Washington’s, not Wallace’s, early this morning before the sun started to assail our dirty living room window, before I finally understood in my dim-witted fashion that not only am I a failure because of my diseases but I am a moral failure. A fucking moral failure. (Please excuse my language – this is serious.) I tried to reverse the nouns several times, but the conclusion is the same.
I’ve always wanted to be a man of integrity, a man of moral convictions, and though I have failed at times, I’ve felt predominately successful. But I don’t remember when I was last happy. To me, this quotation, if true (perceptively it feels true and the source not lacking in wisdom) means that I should not be considered human. I should resign now. I was halfway through with an essay I promised to write for a friend which would explain why I am not entirely human, and now I read this effortless quotation that seems to tell me that I am not in the least bit human. That essay is trash, replaced by this far more fatalistic and conclusive essay.
Perhaps I am only a failure at being human. People say “progress not perfection,” which is entirely true in my heart, but I do not show a trace of progress. In fact, If you go back to a time when I was three or four years old, you could demonstrate quite graphically how my life has been a decline that has been so rapid, it could hardly be called steady. It is the short-lived rise and the tremendously-powerful, almost infinite decline of Carl. Even if I look at the last 11 months and 2 weeks, a time when I have come under the best care one can find, the slope is downward.
B2 says, “It’s not very scientific.” (We have no idea why you’re not getting better but let’s not give up yet, nor should we try electroconvulsive therapy, YET.) I think she has said that a hundred times, that it’s not scientific, but the truth is I have heard it that many times and I have no idea how many times she actually said it. If it’s not scientific, maybe it is theological. Maybe certain people are damned. There are certain genetic and environmental factors, but “it’s not very scientific,” so maybe some people are simply damned. In Washington’s time, I suppose that is more literally true. The disease would mean a lifetime of lock-up. Maybe that is not as ineffective as we seem to have judged it to be in the last 70 years. I wouldn’t want to lose my freedom, but if they poisoned me with enough medicine, I might not notice.
I’m left debating if I am better ripping my nails out, clawing on the highest ridge with razor sharp granite, doing my best to hold on to slivers of hope, or perhaps better being locked up. Today, it might be furious pain, but I am doing my best to stick with the former. What seems not debatable, according to a very wise man, is that I am constitutionally incapable of being morally dutiful because it seems that I am constitutionally incapable of being happy.
I’ll keep trying. I have all of my methods, seemingly all of which I have tried today, and I have all of these wonderfully moral and supremely happy and superior people in my life who cannot see the utter shit that is inside me and who therefore find it easy to tell me it is easy to be happy, just change my mind. (Hell yes, I’d love to exchange my mind at Wal-Mart, but they won’t take it back!)
The only bandage I have is thinking of and/or working with other people who are also hurting and focusing all of my energy on them. That is my only bandage and I will keep using it over and over until it slips into the rest of the morass that is inside of me.
#1 by Kathy Boles-Turner on March 1, 2011 - 11:18 am
This post alludes to situations I’m not well versed on (your health issues, etc.), however, I feel confident in saying this: the thing or things that are inseparable from our happiness are very specific depending on each individual. For some, morality (as defined biblically) leads to happiness; for others, creating art is the only path to happiness. Still others define their happiness by achievements that come with tangible rewards like trophies and certificates. Personally, I don’t think either of these is incorrect because it is only us that can define our happiness – not the seemingly profound quotes of people long dead. While I’m not discouraging you or anyone else to abandon the hope of finding answers in religion, I’ve many acquaintances and close personal friends who’ve tried to live within the strict boundaries of “religion” rather than spirituality only to be tripped by some vague bible verse (taken out of context by teachers), and soon find themselves feeling a sense of failure and worthlessness a hundred fold of what they experienced when living solely secular lives. A very similar thing happens to many folks who set their personal goals and philosophies on the boundaries established by a certain “successful” person they wish to emulate, like a Wall Street Tycoon or the methods of a Self-help Guru. Happiness is a very personal, ultimately individual concept.
Best wishes to you in defining your happiness.
#2 by Carl on March 1, 2011 - 10:32 pm
Thank you for your comment. You are definitely perceptive and clearly aware of what can bring about happiness. This essay was written from a standpoint of reflecting my emotional reaction to the quotation, and it certainly did not do well at exploring the things we can do for happiness. Also, the religious context is more of a form of bitterness that religion, by itself, does not do well with clinical depression. Spirituality does to some extent. And most of my tools are of a spiritual nature rather than simply religious nature or biblical nature. In fact, my doctor, having seen what you describe in failed efforts to ask religion to solve these things, says that religion is no match for clinical depression. She seems to be correct about that.
The good thing is that when the depression cycle lifts, there are many things that bring me happiness, and many of those seem to alleviate pain even deep in a cycle, incuding writing.
Thanks again for your thoughtful reflections.
#3 by Evelyn on March 1, 2011 - 2:19 pm
“not only am I a failure because of my diseases”
WRONG, no one is a failure because of a disease.
“But I don’t remember when I was last happy”
I feel like I only have this thought when I am unhappy. So it cant be as long as I think.
although, Im sure their are types of happy, right?
I just said that to my husband 2 saturdays ago…I asked him if he could remember the last time I was…
“Maybe certain people are damned”
just had this conversation with a friend last week.
It makes me want to cry when you say you arent human. and maybe I am not understanding your essay, but are you saying you arent human because you arent happy?
this whole essay makes me want to cry.
And I still dont have an answer.
why do you think you arent human? if anything, these things you say make you more human.
I feel everything you write like its an instant message to my brain.
heavy stupid useless sighs and tears…
#4 by Carl on March 1, 2011 - 10:42 pm
Thank you, Evelyn, for your kind comments. As I alluded to with Kathy, this certainly was not meant to be a balanced perspective but was written from deep in a cycle. This was emotional thinking.
When rational, making intellectual arguments, of course I am human, crazy broken, but human, and I don’t believe people are damned.
I think emotional writing is not a good idea on this topic – I’ll try an intellectual approach next time…or some poetry…….:-)
#5 by Kathy Boles-Turner on March 2, 2011 - 8:04 am
While I do think you’d be successful in trying an intellectual approach or poetry when experiencing what inspired this post, I’d like the opportunity to say that this emotional, very personal perspective was beautiful and I’m glad I got to read it. Those moments in our lives beg to be recorded, just so.
#6 by Evelyn on March 2, 2011 - 8:12 pm
I agree completely.
I dont ever want you to not write something.
just do it.
buckle to peer pressure…
#7 by Carl on March 2, 2011 - 9:54 pm
Both of you help me to keep going with such generous kindness. Thank you.