About 6 and a half years ago, I was in what I would probably consider the most depressing state of my life. Not in terms of my situation, but in the way I felt. It seems to be common in our first world country to find negativity in the face of all that is a positive. We get depressed even when we live in abundance of opportunity and prosperity. It’s a point in my life that’s been a constant reminder of how helpless, hopeless, and painful life can feel.
It was December 2005. I had just finished my first semester at college and I felt confused about everything in life. Part of it was living independently for the first time, and part of it was not being ready for the shift in social dynamics from high school to college. Throughout high school and most of my life prior, I was very involved competitively with tennis and I had my circle of friends I used to play tennis with and go to tournaments regularly. I felt a sense of belonging in some way, knowing and interacting with all these friends on the court; it blinded me from how disconnected I was to all of my friends at school and the limited activities I participated in because any free time went to practicing tennis. As soon as high school ended, so did my years of playing competitively, and also the end of seeing most of the people I considered friends through that sport. It left me with a very small circle of friends who I’d always known throughout elementary and middle school.
It wasn’t until I started college did it sink in how much I had lost by not being able to regularly play tennis and have that sense of community around me. It also didn’t help that the over-achiever in me signed up for advanced courses to begin the first semester. When winter break on December of 2005 came around, I was a mess. Confused what direction the next steps of my life were taking, I had struggled in my classes and ended up with the lowest grades of my life (GPA of 0.69), I had severe social anxiety to even ask for help, and didn’t even know who my friends were anymore. I was in a state of utter despair, not having anyone to talk with or the courage to tell anyone including my parents. I let it all sink within myself as I typically do with most things. It felt like an anvil pulling the weight of my whole being down constantly from the inside. The thought of going out and doing anything felt like a major task as if I was tied to an iron ball and it would require lots of effort. I got to the point of not wanting to be awake during the day and began sleeping at 10am and waking up as the sun was setting at 7pm. I filled my days (or nights) by staying at home watching one movie after the other. I didn’t want this winter break to end or I’d have to talk to people again, but I also wondered what was so wrong with me. Why I wasn’t able to have fun like those around me or have anything interesting or meaningful to be a part of. I felt truly broken and incomplete.
I don’t remember how I found it, but I came across a book one night that winter called “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. It would be dramatic to say reading that book changed everything but it did illuminate this dark tunnel I found myself in just enough. The bhuddist wisdom within the book gave me a deeper interest in a few things and I started just reading more in general, but after that I was motivated to apply to a job I felt I could be really good at and really wanted at KU. I had been eying it for a few weeks and never had the courage to even try for it because, like everything else, I felt I wasn’t going to be accepted. To my surprise, I got contacted in for an interview and within a couple days I was hired as a member of the ResNet staff which was responsible for troubleshooting computers and helping students connect to the Internet in their dorms. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but this is what changed everything. I was now a part of something and the most important piece– I was able to offer help to others with some talents and knowledge I had. I was able to give back and in doing so received a sense of fulfillment. I met so many great people working there for over 3 years and learned and grew in ways that would have never been possible if I hadn’t had that opportunity. I’m also very fortunate KU had a special policy for first semester grades that they could be replaced if taken again only within the first year. I took all those classes again and finished that first year with a GPA above 3.
Things have not always been easy or rosy since that time, but it was such a low point that it served as a constant barometer to me ever since on how bad things could be. I also learned that it’s only within ourselves we can find the courage and strength to get out of such situations. It always starts with us. We sometimes think the world is out to get us, or we keep getting dealt the bad cards in life, but we fail to ask what it is about ourselves that is holding us back from being where we want to be or doing what we want to do. Sometimes it’s a simple act of courage walking momentarily outside your comfort zone to the sea of possibility that lies there. Life doesn’t happen to you; you are creating your life in every moment by the thoughts you’re thinking, the actions you’re making and every breath you take. Any moment it could all be gone; in a tragic upheaval, the slightest of accidents. Some people wait to accept this until their last breath but it doesn’t have to be that way.
A friend of mine recently said it was his experience that practice leads to discipline which leads to abundance, but it begins to erode if you don’t complete that cycle again by practicing. One thing that you can start practicing is being grateful for the start of every day by cracking a smile when you wake up.
The sun still shines today as it did 6 years ago. Just being alive and taking that first breath into waking consciousness is such a blessing. It’s a new day with new possibilities. We can cherish the very fact we are here in this moment, being allowed to experience it with all our senses and personal well being. Treat that waking moment with the greatest joy in this world! We are here! We are present! If we find it difficult to be grateful for anything in our lives, the simple gift of that first breath we take every morning can be a wonderful reminder of how precious it is to be alive right now. Treat that moment with a wide smile that resonates through your being and feel the gratitude of it!