“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
Over the past two months I have been listening to an album written by a man who has lived a life far more complex, more arduous, and heartbreaking than my own. The acknowledgement that another life may be more burdensome than mine probably sounds quite strange given that I have devoted so much space on this blog to writing about my struggles with anxiety and depression in an effort to understand them. But what I have overcome no longer seems so insurmountable in comparison to a man who has lived through similar battles to my own whilst also suffering from physical ailments.
Since the album’s release in March I have often lay awake at night and pondered its lyrical content, asking myself what it must have felt like to live through some of the moments sung and screamed about in harrowing detail. This is nothing new for me. Music has always had a huge impact on my creative process. I draw more inspiration from singers and songwriters than I do from authors and poets, and I consume far more albums than novels or magazines.
But for the past two months, two lines separated by seven songs have resonated with me much more deeply than anything else in recent memory. At first I thought that I had simply fallen in love with the songwriter’s vulnerability, but then I came to realise that they have made me begin to examine the dualism in my own existence far more closely than I ever have before.
Before we go any further we should probably pause for a moment so that I can bring you up to speed. I’m alluding to an album and talking about lyrics, yet I haven’t actually told you what those lyrics are, or why they are so important to me…
As I said above, this entire post was inspired by two lines separated by seven songs on an album written by a man who has found the positives within his suffering. The first line goes like this:
In every way that I am strong, I am also weak.
The lyrics are growled with so much angst that you can feel their weight pressing down on the signer’s chest as he attempts to jettison the heartbreak from his body before his lungs runs out of air. And then, seven songs later, he inverses his previous sentiment through spoken word, uttering the line:
In all the ways that I am weak, I am also strong.
The first time that I heard these two lines, I felt something inside of me fracture. It was as though someone else had found a way to articulate the war of contrast that often rages inside of my head. It pained me to hear that something that has always seemed so complex could be summarised with such simplicity. But now I realise that in some ways I have always subconsciously understood the role of both strength and weakness in my life, it just took the words of another writer to bring that understanding to light.
As I write this I’m sitting on a mattress in Indonesia tapping away at my computer so that I can try to make sense of a few ideas that have been rolling around in my head for some time…
Tomorrow I will be flying to London to commence a solo journey around Europe for two months; during which I will be living out of a backpack and sleeping in over crowded dorm rooms filled with people that I have never met. When I originally booked the trip in December of last year I was in a bad place. After a relatively fruitful 2017 I had relapsed into a mindset that left me feeling depressed, and damaged my willingness to create. The trip was something positive to look forward to in a life where I suddenly felt worthless and as though I didn’t have a place where I belonged.
But in the months since deciding to flee the constraints of my own existence, my mindset has shifted once again. Whereas a few months ago I felt vulnerable and weak; I have since rediscovered the strength inside myself that has previously allowed me to grow from boy at war with himself into a man. In doing so I have reignited my desire to write, overcome the reemergence of my anxieties, and began to view a trip that was originally born out of fragility and a desire to escape from my realities as a journey of self-discovery and emotional metamorphosis.
This dualism; the constant movements between feeling worthless and being virtually fearless in my creative endeavors and self will undoubtedly continue for as long as I shall live. At my best, I’m a supremely confident writer who believes himself to be on par with the literary industry’s best. At my worst, I’m a self-depreciating masochist who undermines his own successes with negativity and doubt. But even though I have learned to embrace them as part of who I am, these contrasts in thought are not uniquely my own.
Every man, woman and child to have ever walked this earth has experienced similar moments of elation and despair in their lifetime. Each of us is continuously transitioning between success and failure, hope and heartbreak as if we are adrift in this great ocean that we call life, pulled towards the shores of our strengths and weaknesses by the winds of change.
So why is it that we often neglect to acknowledge the dualism of our existence? Why is it that we refuse to acknowledge the strength in every weakness, and the weakness in every strength? And why is it that after overcoming my anxieties more than once, I still struggle to remember that my lower moments will pass when they inevitably arrive?
The answers to those questions aren’t easy to quantify. In truth, it’s almost impossible to understand why the human brain functions as it does. You can ask any neuropsychologist and they will tell you that we as a species have barely begun to fathom the intricacies of the mind. Yet despite not fully understanding why the brain functions as it does, we can still be mindful that for our lives to have meaning we must experience, and embrace, both our strengths and weaknesses.
For me personally, some of the weakest moments of my life have allowed me to develop strengths that I never could have dreamed of possessing. Had it not have been for the failed romances I have lived through, the heartbreak of book deals turned sour, or anxieties that almost claimed my life, I would never have become the person that I am today. I wouldn’t have the courage to write what I write, speak how I speak, and love with the reckless abandon that I chose to love with had I not have experienced weakness and loss.
And had it not have been for the relapse into a depressive mindset that occurred in December of last year I wouldn’t be preparing to face this new challenge of adventuring through Europe on my own…
While I originally booked this trip to escape a period of self-loathing, I’m now planning on using it as an opportunity to experience a world beyond my own comfort zone so that I can continue to grow as an artist, and more importantly, as a man. I’m thrilled by the knowledge that over the next two months I will become hopelessly lost in numerous foreign lands, and that my mind, imagination and creative impulses will be redefined by my experiences.
But thanks to an album written by a man who will never read this, I’m making a conscious decision to remember that in all the ways that I am strong, I am also weak. Throughout my adventures I will inevitably experience moments where I feel lonely, or afraid, or as if undertaking a solo trip to find myself was a monumental mistake. When those times do arrive, I’ll try my hardest to remember my strengths, and to allow myself to accept the importance that fragility has on my personal growth. For had it not have been for a moment of hopelessness and despair, I would have never had the opportunity, nor the strength to allow myself to become so wondrously lost on my own.