The other day, I read this article about how opiate overdose kits are being given out in Halifax. Long story short, there are kits containing a drug that if administered when a person is having a overdose, saves their life. The kits cost $7 to produce and they estimate that for every 100 kits given out, about 10 people will be saved from overdoses. That’s a pretty good result.
Anyway, after I read the article, I did the thing one should never, ever do. I read the comments on the article. I don’t know why I do this to myself because I know that while there are often some very thoughtful comments, for the most part, comments range from outright trolls, to those firmly standing on the top of Mount Stupid.
In this particular case, there weren’t all that many comments but there was the inevitable, ever so helpful “or just don’t abuse drugs” comment.
That got me thinking about something, and I hope you’ll indulge me in a little bit of a digression.
My oldest kid will turn 15 in less than two months. Having teenage kids makes me frequently want to wax nostalgic about things, partly because I’m prone to nostalgia to begin with and partly because I remember my teenage years very well. If not for the aching knees and the mortgage and job, I’d pretty much still be a teenager. To me, 15 doesn’t seem like it was 30 years ago and I honestly have no idea where the time went. So I find the age my kids are at very relatable.
I remember my teenage years quite fondly, for the most part, especially in retrospect. I had a ton of fun. There was a great deal of angst and sadness and drama, but mostly, it was a good time. But one thing I remember really clearly from being a teenager is a feeling of being restrained. A feeling of being tied down by all the expectations and rules. A feeling of not having control over my own choices or actions or anything. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be on my own do I could do whatever I damn well pleased and be away from the control of my (totally reasonable) parents. Being an adult looked pretty easy to me and I was super smart so I was going to absolutely excel at adulting, and I couldn’t wait to get there and experience all of its glorious freedom.
Here’s what I didn’t realize at the time. Life is actually really brutally hard. Like crazy hard. Now I’m not saying that life isn’t also beautiful and magical and breathtaking and just an amazing ride, because it is all those things, but ultimately, life is ridiculously hard and I had absolutely no idea. I don’t know if nobody told me, but even if they did I wouldn’t have believed them because there was no way that my life was going to be hard, even though maybe life was hard for some other people.
When I was 15, if someone had told me that in 30 years I’d have married someone, found out he was gay, got divorced, had kids who have autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression and gender dysphoria, I would have thought they were crazy. If they told me I would spend about 10 years of my 23 year career absolutely loathing what I did, another 8 spent in general apathy and indifference and only about 5 actually really engaged and loving it, I would have thought they were just being negative. If someone told me that I’d have friends and family who have battled horrible diseases and had huge parts of their bodies removed, friends whose children were diagnosed with cancer, and that not all of those kids would survive, I would have thought they were just being cruel.
But all of those things, and more, have happened. Lots of great things have happened too. Many, many wonderful things. But overall, life is often a really rough ride. And I’m pretty sure my experience isn’t unique. Life is hard on people, and we’re all pretty magical unicorns for getting through it.
So to the guy who says “or just don’t abuse drugs”, here’s my response.
Life is often brutally hard and we all abuse something sometimes to cope. We’re all addicted to something. Maybe it’s not drugs or booze — the things we like to look down on people for because clearly they just don’t have enough willpower or sense to stay away from that stuff. But we’re all abusing something, at least some of the time. Cigarettes or food or spending money we don’t have or gambling or sex or porn or cheating on our spouses or binge watching Netflix or staying up too late or exercising too much or working all the time or spending hours sitting around reading stupid shit on the internet. Everybody is abusing something. Life is hard and we’re just looking for ways to deal with it. The people that aren’t addicted to something are the exception. We want to feel better and those things make us feel better, even if only temporarily.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that people with serious addictions didn’t start down that road by saying “hey, I think I’ll get addicted to heroin today.” Nobody wants the horrible parts of addiction, or the bad feelings associated with abuse. They just started out trying to find a way to deal with the fact that life is hard. We tend to be awesome at telling people what or what not to do (don’t abuse drugs), but not so awesome at telling people how to do it. If I hear one more person talking about how happiness is a choice, I’m going to go dig up that pole up there and beat them with it. Don’t make me go dig up that pole. I’m not especially fond of digging. Life is hard enough without having to dig.
And on top of life just being generally hard, about 33% of people have some kind of mental illness, which makes life even harder. And 35% to 55% of those mental illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated, and I’m sure that statements like “happiness is a choice” which while well intentioned, just add to the stigma people feel about seeking help.
It’s miracle there aren’t more people addicted to drugs and booze. It really is.
So instead of judging people who are doing whatever they can to get by and make life a little more manageable, it would be great if we could just be more empathetic. We’re all in this mess together, really. Sometimes it’s a beautiful, glittery, rainbow coloured mess. Other times it’s a pile of stinking slime. So maybe we should all just cut ourselves, and others, some slack. Offer someone a hand to get out of the slime. Give them some glitter. We’re all magical unicorns just for making our way through this life.
Or in the words of Bill S. Preston, Esquire, in a favourite from my late teenage years:
Be excellent to each other.
If you enjoyed reading this, please share it. Be excellent to someone else!