Thursday, August 18, 2016

Even Heroes Suffer

I've written before about depression and suffering. And I've written about addiction and why I quit drinking. Some folks are born happy and obscenely full of joy. They read this and think, "just squeeze a puppy and cheer up!" Most mortals can relate to unabatable anguish though. It's tempting to think that rich, famous, or very successful people are immune to unhappiness or pain.

They are not.

I'm a little slow on the draw with the Rio Olympics. But I read a recent article about Michael Phelps and how he recovered from hitting bottom to go back to winning, just, all of the gold medals. To many people this is gossip - tabloid material. Not to me.

I'm not an elite athlete, not even close. But I train a lot. I've run 54 miles in the past 4 days, and I'm pretty sure I'll hit 90 miles in 7 days by Saturday. That's going to be a record for me, and it's a huge amount of volume. A big reason I push myself this hard is to deal with the fact that sometimes I just don't like myself.

Nobody could push themselves as hard as this guy!

I wanted to pretty up those words somehow, but screw it. I often feel like a failure at life. So I exercise, partly to make myself a better person, and partly to punish myself for sucking so much. It works though. I feel better after a hard workout. And I feel proud of myself when I succeed. Exercise is one of the few things that can make me feel that way. Thankfully it's something I can do whenever I want (until I break myself).

I used to drown my bitterness in alcohol. A lot of people do that. It's not a coincidence that so many celebrities get into rehab all the time. I'm not saying that every successful person works hard and parties hard because they hate themselves. But quite a few.... do. Nobody in this country wants to talk about mental torment. They dismiss it as something that doesn't effect them.

It does.

A guy can come home from work and drink 20 beers and a bottle of whisky and nobody cares because he's not famous. A woman can go knock herself out on drugs for three days and nobody cares because she's not famous. A person can push themselves so hard that they end up in the hospital and nobody cares because they're not famous. It's easy to ignore these instances. "Oh Bob. Yeah, hahaha. Whoops! Silly guy. Anyway, wanna get margaritas?"

It's something I take seriously though. I've seen many friends suffer. And it's not because they're bad people. It's not because they can't handle their $hit. It's not because they're lazy, or stupid, or just somehow lesser. It's because they're human. And when I read the article above about Michael Phelps, it inspired me.

Inspires... and not just for this.

It made me realize that everyone suffers. EVERYONE. But that you can learn from it, fight it, and beat it. That you can persevere, work really hard, and succeed.  Anyone can fight, and anyone can win. Champions and the common man alike.

I'm not a swimmer. In fact, I'm a terrible swimmer. It's a marvel that I can even stay afloat long enough to complete the swim in a triathlon. I'm definitely jealous that Phelps seems to be crossbred with a marlin. But what he went through - and likely still goes through - binds us as humans.

We all fight the same demons.

There's a lot of "us versus them" attitudes suffusing our society right now. The 99% versus the 1%. People of a certain skin color, religion, or political persuasion versus those who are different. Regular folks versus law enforcement. And it's all trash. Just convenient scapegoats to deal with our own pain and failure. And I didn't mean to insinuate that I'm taking sides on any of the examples above.

But I hate to see so much anger and violence. So much of it. Everywhere. But I get it. Because I commit violence too. Except in my case I do it to myself. I turn it inward. I cause myself a lot of pain. But that pain teaches me. It makes me very aware not only of my own feelings and hardships. It teaches me to empathize and appreciate it in others.

I wish we had more of that: Empathy. Because if we accept the reality of our shared battles, we can help each other. But when someone sweeps suffering and depression under the rug, they hurt themselves and they hurt others. They refuse to see it in themselves and to learn and to grow. And they look down on others who struggle.

When they see a famous person who falls off the wagon, I wish instead of saying, "there goes another celebrity," they'd say, "I know what they're going through."

Because I do, and it sucks. But through hard work, deep introspection, empathy, and a willingness to share in the common human experience and to help one another through it, we could all become much happier.

In the meantime, I'll just stick to eating ice cream. Because that makes me super happy.

Image credits:
  •  Hercules fight with the Nemean lion, Pieter Paul Rubens.
  •  By Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil -, CC BY 3.0 br,
  • By Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil -, CC BY 3.0 br,

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