I worked hard on the necessary science-magic needed to send a messenger pigeon back in time. Pigeon’s are not meant to fly in wormholes. (Nor should you pigeonhole a worm, though that’s advice best for Stephen Hawking’s gardener, methinks.)
Sadly, you’re not reading this. I know you. You’re wasting a pigeon’s brave effort.
In your mind, you’re telling me to go fuck myself because things suck in your now and there’s no guarantee that the same universe unites us. You like to be left alone, even cringing at the intrusion of a letter from the future. I’m you; I get it. But here’s hoping your curiosity overrules our natural tendency to be alone in small rooms, reading, sleeping, obsessing, etc.
As your older self, the most important thing I can advise you to do is laugh. Fucking laugh. Laugh a lot. Find people to laugh with, of course, because laughing alone sounds like insanity to people passing you by, but find the people and the things that will make you laugh. Find ways to laugh organically, not artificially. Laugh at things, with things, to get you through things.
Don’t laugh at everything, don’t laugh too much, of course, and don’t laugh when you’re really trying to be serious. It’s tough, but you should make sure to save the laughs for things that are truly funny and joyful not the things that make you nervous and anxious.
Laugh because, honestly, it’s hard enough to get by, even with all the privileges you have. Sorry, you’re privileged. White male American. You’ve got many advantages you aren’t aware of that ease things for you left and right.
Privilege doesn’t mean you’re happy or that you can be happy.
Don’t be misled.
But you have to acknowledge what you have been granted simply by being born.
Look, not to Marty McFly this shit, but we eventually are diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, so at least there’s a reason to the tint and scratch on our lenses. Yes, mental illness takes the shimmer and sheen off of life. Makes apples taste like shit, makes it hard to concentrate, etc. But we’ve got time and space, music, movies, books, shelter, clothes. We also have friends and family, a few of whom might understand if we spoke out against the constant claim that we are fine (a claim we make, but also one that’s made for us).
Is that diagnosis bland? Perhaps. I know there’s a spicy variety of mental health illnesses available to human DNA, but be thankful you don’t see the flames of demons under your skin or have uncontrollable urges to tap your forehead a certain number of times. Some of those illnesses have rooted themselves in the bloodline, you know. That and a healthy dose of alcoholism, of course. You’ve drawn the clinical depression and anxiety card.
So, now you know.
A therapist named Susan will tell you this eventually. Maybe too much later, considering how important she is to our survival. You’ll get to her and she’ll get you to the next phase of life: depression management.
It’s a good phase.
Quite relieving, actually.
Not cured. Oh no. Not sure that’s even possible. Still: relief.
But, don’t ruin the surprise! Let Susan think she’s telling you something you don’t know. She’s good at what she does and might not appreciate you being a fucking know-it-all if you hear her diagnosis and then put on a smug duck-face and say, “Yeah, I was already diagnosed by a future version of myself via a letter delivered by a wormhole-traveling-pigeon, Susan. So. Tell me something useful and new.”
Think about how crazy that sounds. You’d be institutionalized. Or elected to county government. At the very least, they won’t let you near pigeons.
When you hear your diagnosis, though, you’ll probably cry. I did, on the first go round. I get teary thinking about the relief of therapy. It’s okay to cry when someone confirms your suspicions about your lousy brain. Your brain isn’t broken. It’s just different. It functions in a manner that doesn’t quite fit in this crazy little thing we call reality.
Call it sensitivity.
Call it evolution’s need for some people to be more sensitive and others to be more decisive. Eventually you’ll stop swimming in your self and get busy living. In your manner.
The blissful ecstasy of the no-longer-clinically-depressed is not your future. Crowds still agitate us; small insults still snowball and then haunt us for months. Your son will make you cackle joyfully; his very existence will also fill you with worry. You can’t have one without the other. So take both.
Don’t expect miracles; do expect to change. You’ll need to.
You do have to take things seriously: your own feelings, your important relationships, your chances at feeling calm.
I can list a dozen things you might like to know in advance, but it won’t matter. (You aren’t reading this anyway.) You’ll go through it all. You have to. The real truth is that some people fall into the heart of darkness and other people peer over the edge and can pull back. Some people face real darkness — poverty, abandonment, terminal illness, sexual abuse, physical abuse. Some people don’t pull themselves back. Some people can’t. Some get pushed. Some have no one to reach back to.
You will be pulled back. You can. And when you see the people around you, those who will grab your hand when you’re teetering, you’ll see that you’re lucky. Really fucking goddamn lucky.
So laugh, when you can.
Then learn to tell the right people that you’re not always capable of laughing.
Via the wormhole,
Evan Roskos lives in New Jersey, a state often maligned for its air and politics but rightly praised for its produce. One of Narrative’s Best New Writers, Roskos’s short fiction has appeared in Granta’s New Voices online feature, as well as in journals such as Story Quarterly, The Hummingbird Review, and BestFiction.org. His debut novel Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) debuts in March 2013.