It Gets Better. Really.
“LIFE’S NOT FAIR! WHY CAN’T things be easy?!”
We’ve probably all been guilty of thinking, saying, and believing that. But the hardest thing to accept about growing up is this: life, with all its ups and downs, is never going to be a smooth ride, for anyone, of any age.
Question: Why does life have to feel like such a struggle at times?
Answer: Because without the struggle, the triumphs wouldn’t taste as sweet. That’s why it’s important to praise the up parts of life—hold them close and keep them in mind, especially when going through the downs. In my experience, you can’t hide from the low periods and merely hope they go away. Instead, you must look them dead in the eye, say, “I’ve learned from you, but I need to go up now,” and begin climbing that hill back to the top. Understanding the rhythm of highs and lows—that one will follow the other and alternate back and forth—can overcome a lot of angst. It’s like knowing that after every storm, the sun will shine again. People don’t question that truth of Mother Nature, even the ones who live in Seattle. In the same way, we should trust work in progress our own nature. Many people first encounter struggle when they are teenagers. The trials and tribulations that coincide with adolescence form the kinds of lessons that teachers don’t provide. No one writes on the classroom chalkboard, “Life is going to be hard. Get used to it.” In fact, the truest lesson of them all is that our experience of suffering— and, perhaps, our first taste of the blues or depression—begins in high school. Be it heartbreak, bullying, anxiety, stress, or general sadness, we will all graduate from school with a diploma in tough emotions. It is our training ground for that grueling part of life they call adulthood. It’s a necessary evil we must go through, and it sucks. It really does.
The very struggle that turned me inside out was also my educator.
I experienced real heart-heavy sadness when my inner voice started telling me I’m gay. My attempt to deal with it alone was, in hindsight, not smart, and yet the pain, confusion, and years of absolute hell contained valuable lessons. The very struggle that turned me inside out was also my educator. Here’s a quote from Israelmore Ayivor that makes this point for me:
Whenever you feel a little stricken down in pain, think about this: the knife has to be sharpened by striking and rubbing it against something strong before it can become useful. You are going to be great after the struggles!
Going through any struggle sucks. Going through a struggle alone sucks ten times more. My high school years were a struggle in silence. Due to the brave face that I wore, no one could have guessed I was crying myself to sleep some nights, at the mercy of my own thoughts. No one could have guessed the demons I was fighting. I couldn’t see work in progress an end in sight. What is wrong with me? Why do I have to be like this? Will this ever be over? I asked myself those questions every single day, tormented by the lack of an answer.
By the time I went to college at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, all my suppressed sadness, together with low grades throughout my freshman year and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, led to a slight depression. I needed an out. I wanted to drop out. I did eventually, after completing my sophomore year, which turned out to be the right decision for me (though I don’t recommend it for everyone). But until that point, I felt wave upon wave of sadness. I didn’t want to go out with friends and didn’t feel like talking to anyone about anything in case it triggered a sensitive topic.
Nothing aids and abets depression more than being left alone with negative thoughts. That is where a spiral staircase lies, leading to the pit of misery. And I kept going down and down and down, unable to stop. Nothing could make me happy, not even my YouTube career, which began to thrive. Nothing was capable of lifting my spirit. Things felt so gloomy that whenever I found myself doing well, I’d check myself and soon return to bad, negative thoughts. That’s what the blues do—they send you in a maddening loop. I could never break the sad cycle for long.
But ultimately I realized that the only person capable of pulling me out of this cycle is me. We each have a choice when feeling down: we become the helpless victim or the self-empowered conqueror. We stay down or get back up. After determining the root cause of my sadness and after admitting to myself and others that I’m gay, the clouds started to part. Once I made an effort to overcome that fear, everything else fell into place. I began to see life through a different lens and went a little easier on myself. Gradually happiness started to take over.
Today, little things make me happy, like going for a walk, getting coffee with a friend, or creating something original. Really, I find happiness in everything now. Having been disoriented for so many years, it’s the strangest thing to smile at random times and allow myself to feel good. I had never allowed that before. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like I’ve rediscovered an emotion I had lost, or I’ve been reunited with a best friend after many years and can’t stop grinning. We all go through grim times. But instead of resisting the struggle like I did, embrace it, accept it, and give the matter time to figure itself out. If you trust anything, trust this one fact: nothing lasts for forever. Whatever’s bothering you today may not be a problem tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year. One day, your struggle will be over and you will move on.
So, yes, life has its up and downs. But those who learn to climb out of the downs and reach the ups will prosper. What are you waiting for? Start climbing.