I am not okay.
No, this isn’t a cry for help. I’m not depressed or suicidal. Nothing terrible has happened.
Still, all is not well. In a nutshell, I’m empty. Things that once brought me meaning no longer do.
Let me be clear: I’m not writing these words to elicit sympathy or solutions. I simply have to get this off my chest. I’ve attempted to write about a myriad of other, more positive topics over the last few months. Each attempt has felt like a tacit falsehood. My well has run dry.
So here I am. Empty.
I hate feeling this way for a multitude of reasons. For one, my life, from an outsider’s perspective, is going well. I’m mostly recovered from my 2019 accident. I’m back to traveling, hiking, and doing the things I love.
Unfortunately, these things no longer make me happy the way they once did.
As I write these words, a college friend of mine battles stage 4 colon cancer. Another friend grieves in the wake of her husband’s sudden drowning. A college classmate, perfectly healthy, just died of COVID two days ago. People I love are facing enormous hardship. Meanwhile, here I sit at my condo in Puerto Vallarta, México, living the dream, for all intents and purposes.
The only problem? It’s not enough.
I’ve faced plenty of difficulties over the course of my life. Lost one of my best friends in a freak accident in college. Lost numerous friends to suicide. Lost uncles, cousins, and friends to cancer. Had my heart broken. Broken others’ hearts. Made more mistakes than I can count. Bit my tongue off mountain biking. Tore my Achilles. Battled Lyme Disease. Fell 80 feet and broke 21 bones.
Through it all, I managed to keep a positive outlook, to see the bigger picture, to find the silver lining. Until…well, now. Now that things are actually, for all intents and purposes, going well.
This is the emptiest I have ever felt, and I can’t seem to figure out why.
I don’t get it. I’m not sure what changed. I feel weak and guilty for being unable to pull myself up by my proverbial bootstraps like so many times before.
Have you ever noticed that it’s uncomfortable to talk about current problems? Current pain? Current issues? Everyone wants to share their success story, not their present struggles. “I used to be addicted to painkillers.” “I once was an alcoholic, but I’ve been clean and sober for eight months.” “I battled depression before I found Jesus.” “I once weighed 305 pounds, but through hard work, I’m down to a healthy weight.”
Not many people know how to handle hearing someone say that they’re not okay. Right. Now.
When your arm is broken, people flock to sign your cast. When your spirit is broken, people run the opposite direction.
I’ve built my life on the premise that we are here to give love and bring joy to others. I’ve tried (and often failed) to do so for as long as I can remember. Now, I feel like I don’t have much, if anything, to give.
What’s it all for? Why am I here? Does anyone actually care? What’s the point in even trying to be a source of light for others when there’s so much darkness, darkness both within and without? Why do I consistently fail at being the kind of person I long to be?
Instagram is life. Everyone is trying to present the best versions of themselves to everyone else. Even those who strive to appear authentic still have to work hard to project authenticity. What is real? Who is real? What’s the point of even trying to play the games required to succeed in this picture perfect plastic place?
We all spend our lives chasing dreams, goals, agendas. We succeed. We fail. We make friends. Lose them. Fall in love. Get our hearts broken. Work hard. Get laid off. Retire if we’re lucky. And then? Then we die.
I’ve worked hard to get to the place I’m at in life. Now that I’m here, I realize it’s brought me exactly zero meaning.
Until quite recently, I simply refused to talk about this emptiness that’s been gnawing away at my soul. In refusing to do so, though, I felt like I was living a lie, felt as though the walls of the empty pit I’ve been in were only growing taller and more insurmountable.
I tried everything. Hiked more. Drank great craft beer with good friends. Booked trips to Colombia, Sweden, Latvia. Prayed. Read books. Spoke extensively with my counselor.
Finally, after a week of struggling to get out of bed (which if you know me, is antithetical to everything I am about), I knew I had to break my silence. I decided that whenever someone asked how I was doing, I would tell them the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it made either of us.
The first time I shared the state of my heart with someone who wasn’t expecting it, I was surprised by the outcome. I took a chance and was honest with my former boss, a happy-go-lucky individual that I’ve never actually had much of a serious conversation with in over seven years of friendship. “I’ve actually been feeling exactly the same way,” she said. “I work, I raise my daughter, I go to bed. Then do it all over again. I can’t seem to find meaning or purpose.”
Then it struck me. Maybe I’m not the only one feeling like this.
I opened up to a few more people and experienced the same result. An old friend, recently sober, who has found strength in sobriety but is still looking for meaning. A family member, who I love dearly, who teaches others about God but struggles to find Him or to know that He actually cares. A former coworker, once an unwaveringly pious Christian, who, as she put it, has realized that nothing makes sense, and that after Proverbs comes Ecclesiastes. Another family member, shunned by her own daughter for reasons her offspring won’t divulge, trying to find a way to move on.
Could it be that we’re all in this together? Could it be that we are all fumbling through the darkness, trying to patch together a life of purpose as best we can?
The moment we think we have everything figured out is the moment we stop learning, stop growing, stop asking honest questions.
“In all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other,” Carl Sagan succinctly said. I am incredibly grateful for those in my life that have given me a space, a shoulder, and an ear.
Sadly, not everyone in my life has been interested in meeting me where I am at. When I brought up my emptiness to several Christian friends, they placated me with overly simple answers. “You’ve got a God-shaped hole inside of you,” they said. “Maybe it’s sin that’s keeping you from Him. Or selfishness. Maybe He’s trying to teach you something.”
Maybe all of these things are true. But maybes aren’t getting me any closer to happiness.
Plus, God never promised we’d be happy in this life. He did promise peace, but I’m still waiting for Him to fulfill that promise.
Also, the answers of a couple of my non-Christian friends weren’t any better. “Slow down,” they said. “Relax. Do more of what makes you happy.” The only problem? The things that used to make me happy no longer do.
I’m a solutions guy. If there’s a problem, yo, I’ll solve it. It’s frustrating to be here, without a road map, without a game plan. I struggle with being alone with my thoughts. Maybe that’s why I’ve kept so busy this year, taken on so many remodeling projects, picked up two more part-time jobs.
Silence can be deafening. Echoes carry the farthest through an empty space.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know. I have zero answers, and that is hard for me to admit. Maybe I need to volunteer again, to give of what little I have left in service to others. Maybe now that health issues have forced me to retire from playing music, I need another passion to pour my heart into. Maybe I need to surrender to God the things I’m holding onto. Maybe I need to take my counselor’s advice and try different approaches. Meditation. Medication. Maybe I need to practice gratitude and fake it till I make it. Maybe I just need to bury it all deep down.
For now, I sit here, empty. This chapter in my life doesn’t seem to have a happy ending. In my heart, though, I still believe that blessed are the empty, for they have room to be filled.
My only hope in writing this is that maybe you can relate. Maybe you resonate with some, or all, of what I’ve said and how I’m feeling. Maybe you need to know that you’re not the only one who feels empty, feels lost, feels discouraged.
If you find yourself where I am, reach out. Maybe somehow we can help each other find some small piece of the meaning we are looking for.