The studio apartment was dark and smelled of stale cigarettes and convenience store cup-o-noodles. I had long since stopped throwing away the trash that accumulated in the kitchen, and the puke-brown carpet was dusty because I couldn’t afford a vacuum.
The eight-inch black and white television I had fished out of the dumpster along with a wobbly recliner and threadbare mattress stained with an unknown fluid were the only furniture in the place. The TV was sitting on a red milk crate I’d stolen from the grocery down the block. The standard white walls were empty save for the yellow smoke film near the ceilings where they never bothered painting before I moved in.
I guess they figured since I was a smoker, I wouldn’t mind.
I was standing in the center of the room staring at the sweaty man answering his final Jeopardy answer wrong, and one of the voices who tortured me daily screamed, “IS THIS ALL THERE IS TO YOUR LIFE, YOU LOSER?”
I was crumbling under the constant bombardment from the voices and the depression and anxiety that always followed, after splitting up with my first wife for the first time. Her and our kids lived in an apartment across town that I paid for, and I lived in the only roach motel I could get for under $300.
Everything had been my fault, from the bomb that I dropped on her when I told her I never wanted to be married, to the 18-year-old I started seeing after we split. I couldn’t hold my mind together well enough to be a husband and the father my boys needed.
I felt worthless.
Not for the first time, I contemplated tying a necktie in a noose, putting it around my neck, and hanging myself in the closet. I found I couldn’t manage a loop through the tears in my eyes, so I just tied a double knot and tightened it around my neck.
But something stopped me.
It must have been 9 pm because Star Trek was starting. I’d been watching it the past few nights because it was the only station I could get with the wire hanger I used as an antenna. I’d grown to like the show so much that even in the pain I was feeling, I wanted to see what happened on that night’s episode.
I pulled the makeshift noose from around my neck, grabbed a cold Coke out of the fridge, and sat gingerly on the broken recliner.
It may have only been an 8-inch black and white image, but it was my lifeline, and I wasn’t letting go.
Trek to Obsession
TNG saved me more times than I can count because it gave me something to look forward to. I had grown close to Counselor Troi, Wesley, Captain Picard, Data, and all the rest in my many nights watching reruns. I never even cared if I had already seen the episode. I just watched it again.
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched every single episode in the series.
Not only that, but I spent the weekends cruising the swap meet for Star Trek: The Next Generation series novels because I found I could read one a day, every day after work.
I even bought the action figures and the Enterprise model toy that lit up and made four different noises, so I had something cool to look at in my dismal apartment.
One fall, a Star Trek convention came to town, and I had the pleasure of meeting and getting the autograph of Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi). She was more beautiful than I imagined and also much shorter than I envisioned, but it was indeed one of the best memories of my life.
After the convention, I was riding on a high for weeks, and it was worth the time I spent and the money I wasted trying to fulfill my obsession with the show that saved my life.
It Will Always Be My Favorite Show
Eventually, I moved on to other things, but I always kept a place in my heart for the people on the show because they were a massive part of an extended portion of my life.
The toys moved on to my children, and the books I traded for others or donated. The autographed pictures sit in a box in my parent’s shed in Tucson, because I couldn’t bear to get rid of them when I moved my life to the Philippines. The Arizona heat and dust have probably ruined them after nine years in that shed, but I just couldn’t bear to sell them.
Recently, I came across a few essays by Wil Wheaton on Medium (he played Wesley Crusher on TNG) about his own battle with depression and his mental health advocacy, and all those feelings from that time in my life came rushing back. I remembered Wesley’s brilliance and ingenuity always saving the Enterprise and how the show saved me from the worst parts of myself, and I tear up a bit thinking about the pain and hopelessness during that time in my life.
I feel a bit of a kindred spirit with Wil and hope one day I can have a conversation with him to tell him about the difference he helped make in my life.
Where is the Lesson in All This?
I always try to make it a habit of leaving the reader with something that can benefit them.
I wonder if hearing my story sent you back to a time in your life when everything seemed hopeless, and something or someone came along to shock your system and make life worth living?
It may seem not seem like a television show should have such importance in my life, but when you are at the end of your rope, and you have lost everything else that had meaning, even something simple can come along and make you think twice about hanging yourself in the closet.
If you are struggling and feel alone, hopeless, and worthless, start looking around for things that could mean something to you. You may be overlooking the obvious person or even the not-so-obvious thing that could save you from yourself and your situation.
Look outward, and get out of your own head. If it’s anything like mine, there is nothing that will bring you comfort there. Keep your eyes open because you never know which direction help could come from.
Thanks, Star Trek: The Next Generation, for giving me a reason to live.
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