Just typing the word desperate makes me feel uneasy. It’s a word I am wholly uncomfortable with because I do not identify myself that way. I’m capable, self-sufficient and charming. Who would want to identify themselves as feeling anything like desperation? (Just ask Teri Hatcher or Eva Longoria.) But yet, we all hold a kernel of desperation within us, otherwise the condition would not exist in humanity. Whether I’m ravenous, helpless to kick an addiction, inconsolable after the end of a relationship, hungry for fame, drunk with power or so afraid of being hurt I build a wall around my heart. All of these impulses are aspects of desperation whether I like it or not.
I have some past experience with this state of being and, frankly, I find it repulsive. But after careful reflection, I realized that repulsion is itself a little desperate. Which really pisses me off! When you’re raised by someone with a mental illness, drama becomes something you are forced to deal with at any given moment. They will go to great lengths to make you aware that they are in pain, that they are the only person with feelings that run this deeply, and you could never understand how bad it is. Nothing you say will help, yet they expect you to listen to their repetitive stream of unconsciousness again and again. For most of my life, I willingly engaged and empathized with my father’s every dark thought or cruel word, believing wholeheartedly I could make a difference. That my love was strong enough to overcome any obstacle he might put in my way. That this love could actually heal him.
It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old and after being yelled at in the middle of a party about elephants, lions and abortion that it dawned on me. Depression is a bottomless need. Nothing I would ever do would help him because he wasn’t interested in getting help from anyone.
When a baby cries–for mom, breast, sleep or diaper–there is a biological urge that goes off inside. When a puppy, kitten, or any newborn animal whimpers, it’s normal to want to respond because they’re cute, fragile and unable to do it for themselves. When an adult cries, it’s different. The impulse is still there, but reason, mood, intention or guilt (I could go on) can easily get in the way. For example one day, you may walk over a homeless man, feel bad, turn around and give him five dollars. The next day, you wave at him to remind the man, “Hey it’s me! We met yesterday and I gave you five dollars.” When he doesn’t remember you, how do you feel? Do you walk on by justifying to yourself that it’s not as cold outside today. Do you just give him more money? What if he calls you a bitch? What if he says, “Have a wonderful day no matter what?”
Homelessness seems like a desperate situation, especially in a Chicago winter when the wind chill at night drops below zero. But, isn’t it just as desperate when you’re the richest person in the world? You’re expected to always be THE richest. Anything below where you are seems like a huge failure to the person experiencing it because concepts like failure and success only exist in the mind.
So the best way to not feel desperate? Embrace it. Once I accepted that I have longings and needs that are unrequited without judging them as ridiculous or terrible, something great happened. I could see the same feelings inside everyone around me and at the same time it no longer mattered. Since I am the water as well as the pitcher, I am never empty.