Journal #2 – Ruinous Nostalgia

I lost my job a couple of weeks ago, so I've had far more time on my hands than I'd like. Because of this, I've been binging quite a bit of Dark Souls 3 content, like unabridged game dialogue and useless data. Recently, I watched a dialogue video about Karla; the “hex” tutor that you can rescue halfway through the game. There was one quote in particular that resonated with me, more than anything else:

“There is one thing that you should know: there is a darkness within man, and I am afraid you will peer into it. Whether the fear will spark self-reflection or a ruinous nostalgia is up to you entirely.”

The phrase “ruinous nostalgia” stuck with me for a lot longer than it probably should have. With that in mind, I feel like it's the perfect description for this abstract feeling I've had ever since this pandemic began. Then again, I suppose it's not correct to refer to this as a single “abstract feeling” either. It's more like a culmination of smaller thoughts that coalesce into a bigger, more abstract whole.

I turned 24 shortly before the pandemic began. My birthdays aren't usually something I pay much attention to. However, this happened right at the turn of the decade. At that point, I realised that I was a high school freshman 10 years prior. A hazy and otherwise fractured past was then made vividly clear through all the social media algorithms reminding me of stuff I posted back in 2010.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't be hung up on such a thing because there are 10-year milestones that I've otherwise never cared about. I didn't shed a tear or get paralysed in my boots at the thought of entering middle school 10 years ago back in 2016. However, I think the big differentiator here is that I didn't get into social media until my freshman year of high school. Without an archive of my past from that point in time, I wouldn't necessarily have an attachment to it.

Obviously, digging through my posts from that point in time is useless. Before deleting my Facebook account, most of what I found were forgotten petty squabbles, complaints about homework, and the occasional meme. The posts that caught me off-guard reflected ideals or goals that I once held dear to my heart; things that I'd later abandon for one reason or another.

Shortly after deleting my Facebook account, I started having this nagging thought in the back of my mind. Just how far had I fallen from the vision I once had for myself? Being completely honest with myself, I know for a fact that my goals back then were coloured by my perception of what is and isn't possible. Getting older naturally meant that I'd have to abandon some of my loftier goals when logistics became an issue.

While that little rant explains why I abandoned my goals, it still doesn't explain why I abandoned those ideals I once held onto. Thus, the nagging thought continued to pester me. It wasn't something that I actively paid attention to; though, upon retrospect, I did notice that I lost the joy I once took in minor things, like video games or writing. It took so much effort to put my mind at ease that I lost the ability to take joy in the activities that I ordinarily took pleasure in. This mental struggle happened for months as this pandemic dragged on. Of course, every dam has its breaking point.

It all came to a head for me a few days ago. One of my friends hit me up at around 10:30 PM, asking if I wanted to smoke a blunt with him. We cashed his paycheque, went to our usual spot near the cheque-cashing place to pick up some weed, and drove back to his place to roll up. He had to leave shortly thereafter, but it was no problem for me (or so I thought). What I'd later experience would be one of the worst highs I've ever had in my life.

The last time I rolled up with that same friend was during the summer. If I were too high to drive, I'd relax in my car watching whatever I wanted on YouTube until I was sober. While I still opted to do that this time around, I did so in the dead of January, in the middle of the night, where the temperature was at 0-1 degree Celsius. It was fucking cold, and I was shivering the whole time. In fairness, this was a self-inflicted problem because I was paranoid about idling my engine for fear of attracting attention from cops and/or nosy neighbours.

The combined stress of the cold, the paranoia about cops/nosy neighbours, and the fact that I was too high to drive home meant that I couldn't enjoy anything I tried to watch on YouTube. So, I sat in silence, staring at the few stars I could make out that night. That's when I asked myself the following question out loud:

“Is this really what you aspired to be 10 years ago?”

That's when everything started flooding for me. I decided to record myself speaking so that I'd have a frame of reference if I ever decided to transcribe that stream of consciousness. It sounds weird when I say it like that, but I have a habit of recording my thoughts that I picked up from a fiction writing class I took a few years ago. But, I digress. Amid the stutters, awkward pauses, and unintelligible static caused by dropping my phone in my car, there were four underlying issues that I ranted about in the recording: my dissatisfaction with the way my life is right now, my inability to be a consistent person, how I'm a slave to my emotions and impulses, and this idea that my self-loathing is entirely justified.

The first point is something I'm sure everyone has to deal with at some point or another. It's easy to pin the vast majority of the blame on the pandemic at large. However, there are some things that the pandemic can't be blamed for. Even before the entire world went on collective lockdown, I was dissatisfied with my life. I'm a college drop-out who worked minimum-wage jobs for the vast majority of his adulthood. Before that, I was an underachiever in high school whose habit of cutting class made it impossible to enter college without taking remedial courses.

I know that social media is fundamentally designed to make us feel psychologically inferior to our peers by creating a culture that glorifies small accomplishments. I'm sure some part (large or small) of that feeds why I'm dissatisfied with my life. However, that dissatisfaction with my life also extends into other parts that I'm not usually conscious of. My (current) inability to be an adult with consistent, healthy habits and healthy relationships with the people in his life was something I ranted about in painfully self-aware detail during that recording.

Here I am, well into my 20s: I'm fairly overweight, I'm lazy to a critical fault having missed deadlines and goals both at work, school, and home and feeling no real sense of urgency despite how dire my circumstances might be, I'm inconsistent with how I take my psychiatric medication, the list goes on and on. I can't even say “in fairness,” because these are problems I've been dealing with for much longer than I should be. That's not even getting into the utter trash fire that is my interpersonal relationships.

The pandemic at large has been a strain on everyone's relationships; I understand that I'm not the only one dealing with this. However, that still doesn't explain away how I shrugged off social gatherings before the pandemic began. Oh, I'm exhausted from another 9-hour shift at my dead-end retail job? So are all of my other friends, yet they wanted to put aside their collective exhaustion to enjoy one another's company, and they were gracious enough to invite me. The least I could do in that situation is stick around for an hour or two before going home to rest.

Of course, that would imply I have a modicum of self-discipline to put my own desires and emotions aside for the sake of others. Yes, I know for a fact that I'm hyperbolic here. I've gone out of my way countless times to be there for my friends, and I don't think anyone I know personally would contest that. However, the times where I decided to say “fuck this important thing I should probably be doing” and indulged my hedonism is still significant in quantity for it to be a problem. Do I really need to pass up a social gathering because I was planning on beating my meat to porn for the umpteenth time in a row? Do I really need to bail on a Discord call 10 minutes into the conversation because I just felt the urge to watch YouTube videos? Do I really need to lay about the house all day like a brick when I could go out for a short walk and get some fresh air?

I know it sounds like I'm harsh with myself here, and I'll concede that I'm probably not as bad of a state as I think I am. However, the question that made me start sobbing in the recording was when I asked the following:

“If you had the opportunity to go back in time to sit down and have a conversation with yourself from 10 years ago, do you think that teenage you would be happy with the way your life currently is? Can you seriously talk to that kid, knowing exactly what he'll go through in the coming decade and tell him that he'll grow up to become a goddamn loser? I didn't have any strong ambition growing up, but I never once thought my life would end up like this.”

I know self-love is an important aspect of becoming a well-adjusted adult. However, I can't love myself. Not as I currently am, anyway. I know I have a lot more going for myself than what I give myself credit for. However, there's a fine line between self-love and enabling your own worst habits. For so long, I've been enabling myself in all the worst ways. Maybe that abstract conglomerate of individual thoughts was some metaphor for me trying to sweep all of my problems under the rug.

To tie back into the Dark Souls 3 quote that I started with, I think that this darkness I'm currently peering into has sparked meaningful self-reflection. However, I'm hoping that this won't lead to me being stuck in the reflection phase. Reflecting is fine, but actions speak louder than complex thoughts.