As I laid in bed meditating this morning in the arms of my beautiful partner staring out into the surreal snow covered landscape I was left with this incredible feeling of gratitude.
How did I get here, how could my life possibly be so good?
Was it luck, hard work, did the universe finally reward me for decades of suffering? It’s really hard to tell.
I consider myself a depression survivor. In many ways it’s kind of like being a survivor of something more like cancer, but for people who struggle with depression most of American’s attitude is ‘just get over it’. Not only is this incredibly unfair, it’s also unrealistic to judge others harshly for a condition that they really have little or no control over. I read a statistic online that said 50% of Americans will struggle with mental illness at some point during their life. If so many people suffer from it then why is there so little support and compassion for it?
Thilde just spent the last month photographing homeless people in Las Vegas. It was an incredibly trying time for her and the thing she has seen time and again in her work is that a large number of homeless people suffer from mental illness. 50 years ago there were actual institutions to deal with people who were mentally ill, but now due to budget cuts most of those are gone. For people who suffer from mental illness, there are few places they can turn for help unless they have lots and lots of money. Most of them just end up in jail or living on the streets.
America’s mantra for health care is that people should get a level of healthcare that they can afford. I’m not going to go into how insane I think this is, but suffice it to say Americans pay 3x as much per capita for healthcare as most of the Scandinavian countries with a single payer system. For the mentally ill that we turn out on the streets and turn our backs to, they end up costing a lot more with their constant emergency room visits than they would if they had a stable place to live.
My brother George suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia and I turned my back on him for most of his life. He always acted like he hated me, and I was not brave enough to risk his wrath by trying to become his friend. The last 5 years of his life he was stricken with non-small cell stage 4 lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. In the last 2 years of his life, I made a concerted effort to reach out to him. What I saw in him was deeply disturbing on a profound level, but I still pushed through insistent that I would get to know the real person behind the fear and delusions. In the end, I found a gentle scared little boy trapped in a world of demons and voices that caused him to behave in a way that for many people was incredibly frightening. Knowing my own brother in a way helped me to know myself and to understand that most of my fears about myself and others were not really real. I had to move past them if I was going to achieve peace of mind and happiness in this life.
After I got out of my last relationship 4 years ago I hit a pretty deep depression. I was sure that I was never going to find someone that I could be happy and compatible with. Instead of wallowing in my own self-pity I attacked the dating game with a voracious intensity. I turned looking a partner into a full-time job. After about 8 months of dedicating about 40 hours a week to the endeavour I found Thilde. I didn’t sit around waiting for her to fall into my lap, I did the work. I have no regrets about the time I spent looking for a partner, in my opinion, it was time well spent.
Together Thilde and I have carved out a lifestyle where both of us keep different houses and bank accounts. We rarely if ever fight about anything, whatever she wants goes at her house and whatever I want goes at my house. Because she has the final say and veto power there is never these endless tug of wars that I see so many other couples get stuck in. Our relationship works because there is always interesting and rewarding work for each of us to do, and a lot of the things we do just don’t overlap.
Together we have undertaken the chore of building a big garden together. It brings me a so much joy to plant a seed and see a little seedling pop up. The process of gardening has unlocked something inside of me that I never knew was there. If you haven’t done it I encourage you to try it.
I’m sure that the future will hold more suffering and trials for me, but for now things are really good. We make very little money but also spend very little, and in the end, we have enough to provide for our needs. I’ve found that happiness has very little to do with money and even less to do with possessions. The things that make me happiest are spending time with the people that I care about and having interesting work to undertake that gives me a feeling of purpose and meaning.
Bring on the future, I’m ready.