Imagine living for fifty years and still feeling unsuccessful, in any sense of the word, personally and professionally. Imagine if you felt as though the life you lived had no meaning, and if you were never born, it wouldn’t have made a difference to anyone or anything.
“Oh, here goes another story of woe about how hard his life was because of mental illness and how he could never catch a break.”
Okay. Yes, I do write a lot of stories that start this way, and maybe this one will have a bit of woe, but I know you will be pleasantly surprised if you read to the end.
Let me elaborate and clarify.
Imagine living fifty years, being unsuccessful in every sense of the word, feeling like your life had no meaning and that you made no difference, but still feeling like you won at life!
I can’t assume you’ve read any of my previous stories so I should explain how I got here. If you’ve heard this a million times from me, I apologize, but this is necessary to set the scene
I was a complicated boy who grew up in a strict Jehovah’s Witness-type family life. As I passed into young adulthood, my nervous habits turned into full-blown anxiety and depression, and a tendency to be awkward in social situations. I also heard voices but never told anyone because I was afraid of being shunned and bullied. It was a little more than imaginary friends play as I would carry on complete conversations, and the voices told me what to do in most situations.
Considering my upbringing, I most likely would have been accused of talking to demons by someone in my church, and they would have blamed everything from my parents to the music to which I listened. There was a lot of ignorance about mental illness back then, especially by those who claim to follow a god of love.
I was also sexually abused by a neighbor, a fact that I repressed until sometime in my 30s. Therapy has never given me answers to how the abuse harmed me mentally, but I always throw it out there in the chance that someone can relate to how I feel.
I married young and tried to live a normal life, but after a late start at college, I spiraled down a rabbit hole, where I remained the rest of my life.
I’d always wanted to be a writer, ever since the first time I read Lord of the Rings and didn’t sleep for days. I spent much of my young life filling notebooks with stories and journals.
As the misfortunes of adulthood built up around me, I often escaped into writing to calm the demons.
As soon as I discovered the internet, even before there was such a thing as WordPress, I had online journals. In those days, I wasn’t a particularly good writer, but I was honest and wrote about things that nobody else would dare talk about. When diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I wrote about it. I would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as well.
It wasn’t until my thirties that I had a label that covered all my illnesses — Depressive-type schizoaffective disorder and anxiety.
All this time, I wrote about what was happening to me, both privately and publicly. But, as much as I wrote, it never turned into a career until much later in life. I spent years in food service, furniture sales, designing and building websites, and even entrepreneurship. As sick as I was, I was still an overachiever. I was like cream — I always rose to the top.
It wasn’t until I’d reached my forties that I thought about writing for a living. After my first marriage ended, I packed up my life in Arizona and moved to the Philippines, where I’ve been the last eight years.
I’ve learned some lessons along the way, both about writing and life.
You can’t have a difficult and eventful life and not learn anything along the way. As I prepared to write this essay, I jotted down a few of the things that stand out to me.
My experiences, both good and bad, have shaped me in a way that no amount of book-learning could have. My wife would say I’m street-smart, but I just say I’ve swum through a lot of shark-infested waters.
Lesson One: Don’t be a dick!
When I was younger, like many men of that age, I was an asshole. Over the years, I’ve calmed, matured, and learned one thing.
Life is short. Just be nice.
I’m not saying I’m perfect (I’ve had my moments where I lost my composure or judged too harshly), but I try to be kind to everyone. I do it whether anyone thinks they deserve it or not. I see so many people these days trying their hardest to be nasty to one another, and I want to take each one aside and explain that it will get them nowhere in life.
You can’t be happy if you spend all your time making sure everyone else is miserable.
Lesson Two: Be honest!
I’m not saying I don’t lie, because that wouldn’t be honest. Everyone lies about something, and if you try to tell me differently, I’ll call you a liar.
Try your best to be truthful to everyone, especially the people you love. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first marriage was that I wasn’t honest. I was not all to blame, but I had a big part.
I try to be honest with everyone I meet, because dammit, people deserve the truth whether they can handle it or not! One thing that comes from being honest is that you expect it in return from everyone else. For goodness sake — hold everyone accountable!
Lesson Three: Don’t complain. Life will get harder
I’ve spent the best part of the last few years working on how much I complain. Don’t get me wrong — there is a difference between complaining and being honest. I still talk about how I feel. I just don’t want or expect sympathy. I stopped the daily pity-party.
Before something comes out of my mouth, I analyze whether it’s worthwhile to say in the first place. I’ve said it many times — life is short. Don’t spend all your time complaining about things you can’t change and instead do something about improving your future.
Lesson Four: If it doesn’t make you happy, get rid of it!
After embracing minimalism, I think carefully about the things I buy and the things I do. Minimalism is not just about possessions, but your whole outlook on life. I’ve simplified much of what I buy and do (even though I talk about how busy I am) and continue to do so every day.
If you are thinking about buying something you don’t need, figure out if it will bring you joy in the long run. If not, don’t buy it. If someone asks you to do something, like working on a new project, figure out if it will make you happy. If not, don’t do it.
These four lessons are simple, but that’s the best thing about them!
Every day for me has been about improving the person I was the day before. Some days, I fall backward, but that’s okay. If I have patience and point myself in the direction I want to go, I’m happy.
So, despite the bad things that have happened to me, the good always outweighs the bad. Even though I’m not rich, or particularly successful in my professional life — my life is good, and I’m very happy.
If you know me, you can tell I’m happy.
Success is all in the way you look at it. I know I won at life!