So the coast shapes the water, the water shapes the coasts. These are the equal yet opposite forces that combine to form the self. I believe we are, within approximate boundaries, birthed by nature and solidified by nurture, still amorphous and malleable — each wave imperceptibly alters us with each successive crash. Memories are sand washed out to sea. The maps we draw to chart our terrain, distorted by our own projection and myopia as all maps are, become the seafaring stories we tell ourselves about our selves.
Within our souls lie secrets. Secrets we keep from ourselves. Truths buried at the bottom of the sea by trauma and the tales we tell ourselves. The restless, raging ocean roars above — altered and unnerved. We float above the trenches. Sharp, stinging suffering erodes into dull, aching melancholia. Our stories become our truths. Our maps become the territory. The sea comes ashore: inevitable as change itself, yet individual as the breathing vessels of blood, brain, and bone we can’t abandon. And in the ocean of my self, this is how it all began.
For the better part of three decades, I have struggled with the twin-barreled blast of depression and anxiety. I don’t remember when it started. I don’t remember how. Around the time of the Gulf War and the Buffalo Bills’ Sisyphean Super Bowl run, our classroom sent handwritten letters to Western New York troops serving overseas. I remember, even now, claiming my life was like the stock market: finally on the uptick after years of depression. Yes, at age eight. This memory is seared into my brain.
I took the letter home to finish, and as my mother read it, she accosted me: “Johnny, why are you writing things like this? Your life is not that bad!” And, to her credit, she was right — my life was not that bad, yet my impression and assessment of it was. Depression cares not for objectivity. Emotion pays reason no mind. Just two years later — a fifth grade graduate, on my final day of school before moving some 176 miles down the I-90 from Niagara Falls to Utica — I was voted “Most Happy” by my classmates. It was all a ruse.
I walked on eggshells. I drank to parade on them instead.