KSS is pleased to be publishing our sixth article in Finding Your Purpose.
I guess I should let you know this first: I don’t believe that there is some grand meaning to life. I don’t think there is an objective reason we are here. I didn’t come to this conclusion following any great revelation. I am not a religious or spiritual person, and maybe that’s why I never gave in to the notion that somebody or something was orchestrating life, assigning valuable meanings to every little action.
Now, let me tell you what I do believe. We ascribe our own meanings to life, ultimately allowing us to enjoy existence that much more. We also use our own meanings to answer questions about existence. I think people want to believe that there is a grand scheme because it assigns value to all things, good and bad. Some people want to believe that there is a reason we experience deep tragedy, and so the meaning they ascribe to life acknowledges this. On the other hand, I think life is life. Things happen, good and bad. That’s just the way the world is. This leads me to my own personal reason for existing: to collect things.
I think of life as a giant collection that I am constantly adding to. Every memory with my dad goes in there. So do new interests, past lovers, and place I have visited. I see life as a checklist. I visited my grandparents in Arizona. Check. I went to Sedona. Check. I fell in love. Check.
I think the reason for this is that I always need a goal. I often find myself thinking, “What’s the point?” I hate spending my days doing nothing on the couch. I want to be working toward something, even if it’s just more travel, writing a new article, or gathering more information about a topic that intrigues me. For me, motion inspires motion. I need constant motivation.
My biggest problem with ascribing this meaning to my life is the reality of mental illness. How can somebody so anxious about trying new things reconcile this with depression that lingers when I don’t make any progress? How do I find meaning to add to life when what I really want to do is hide under the blankets in bed out of fear?
Sometimes, I don’t know where the motivation comes from. How do other people find the momentum to keep on rolling, when sometimes I really feel I’m just flailing around? When I’m able to actually get going, I have to make a list. I have lists of everything. Things I want to do before I turn 26. Things I want to accomplish in 2016. Things I need to do before I move. My bookmarks are sorted by day so that I always know what I need to do to stay on schedule.
Without this type of planning, I just lose steam. Can you imagine how annoying that is? If I don’t feel like I have a trip or adventure planned, I seep back into a pool of depression. I feel empty, blank. I want to sleep the days away, just letting things pass by without interaction. I get moody and irritable, and things get cloudy in my head because I become so frustrated with myself.
Being a prisoner of your own mind can be agony, especially as you find yourself in a cycle of self-hatred. Sometimes I hate myself for being depressed, but then I wonder if I’m depressed because I hate myself. You can’t get away from the person making you miserable. You can only try to change it, find meaning in something you love.
But then, there’s the social anxiety.
I once took a solo road trip from California to Alabama. I stopped so few times on that trip, chickening out of getting out of my car because I was afraid. Sometimes I sort of just thought, “What’s the point? I’m alone.” I drove through eight states, and the only thing that isn’t fuzzy is the Texas-shaped barbecue grill I saw at a rest stop. I kick myself for not soaking it all in, not collecting the experiences available to me. I would freeze, sometimes sit in my car and assess the scene. Were other people going to judge me for being alone?
Now, I think back to this sad time of my life. I was moving through the world without actually seeing it. Much worse, I actually thought I needed somebody by my side to enjoy it. I wasn’t living for myself. I let other people control not only what I did, but what I got to collect. Who were these people to stop me from doing anything? Why the hell would I let somebody else’s opinion stop me from building the collection I so desperately needed? When I think about it now, I’m so angry at the way I acted.
Even now, there are times I can spend an entire day inside, working. Hell, I could spend a whole week without leaving the house sometimes. I have to pry myself away from work, which gets easier as time goes on and money gets better, to enjoy everything the world has to offer. Why work as a freelancer if I am not at peace with the freedom to explore? Wouldn’t that be better for my work, after all? What is the point of making money, if not to use it to experience the world? What is all of this even for?
I still have so many things to collect. Education, relationships, travel destinations. I want to go to Europe. I want to fall in love and maybe get married. I want to buy a new dress that I love. I want to see my little brother and sister graduate from college. I want to see my cat play with a new toy. I want to take a road trip that makes me fall in love with the world again.
Your memories are among the only things that are truly yours. They can disappear if you don’t capture them, and I want to live in those moments forever. I want pictures. I want to write about them. I want to talk about them with people I care about. I treasure my memories, the ones nobody can take from me. Those make up my collection, my meaning.
When depression reaches out to me, I still sometimes accept it. I let it take control. I also let anxiety grab me, sometimes forcing me to give up control when control is exactly what I am after in the first place. Getting my mind out of the hole it’s in is easier said than done, but it is all so much easier when I think about collecting each piece of life, one by one.
Thinking about building a collection makes me want to be alive. I want to see so many things, and I can’t let mental illness stop me. I have been my own worst enemy before, and I can’t let that happen again.
Read more of Ashley’s work.
Read more of our Purpose series.