While watching a short overview video on the life of Soren Kierkegaard on Youtube, I was struck by this concluding remark from the narrator because of how true it was of my own life — he says:
“Kierkegaard is one of those few philosophers that we can turn to when the world has badly let us down and we are in need of a friend who can fully understand the dark places we are in once the sentimental illusions that normally keep us going fall away.”
When I discovered the writings of Soren Kierkegaard almost exactly one year ago, I was feeling this idea deeply; I was in that dark place in life, seeing those so-called “sentimental illusions” crumble beneath me. It was indeed dark, and was certainly worrisome, but Kierkegaard’s writings gave me hope in the fact that I wasn’t the only person alive to have ever experienced this “angst” (a word Kierkegaard himself coined). In fact, I found out that a whole branch of philosophy addressed this tension, to which Kierkegaard’s ideas were widely credited as a foundation for, called existentialism.
Over a year, I’ve dived into existentialist thought; mostly Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, but also a little bit of Nietzsche (whose name is a serious trigger word for some Christians) and Satre.
I digress, though.
To me, Kierkegaard’s musings point to a fundamental problem in my life that I find myself dwelling on unceasingly, probably almost to the point that Nietzsche himself did before he went mad (that’s a telling sign). It’s this idea of disillusionment. And not in this bullshit hip kind of disillusionment that people make fun of us #millennials for, but that kind of disillusionment in which Kierkegaard wrote of when he said “when I opened by eyes and saw the real world, I laughed, and haven’t stopped laughing since.” I’m glad K could laugh about it, because instead of laughing I have been intensely despairing over this disillusionment.
Now, putting aside my convoluted explanations of some philosophical ideas, here are ways that I’ve experienced seeing through these “sentimental illusions,” mostly in the realm of how I interact with people, and how it continues to affect me. I’m not proud of some of the conclusions I’ve come to or my reaction to those conclusions, but this is an honest look at the last year of my life and what has been going on internally with me. I find it disconcerting and comforting at the same time (oh the wonder of paradox) that there have been tragic thinkers that lived before me that have experienced this, but they have been a guide to me during this time.
Let’s start by talking about relationships. Look, this one is tough. How are we supposed to relate to each other? Well, over the past four or five years, I’ve really learned a lot of great lessons about this. I’ve seen firsthand the beauty and the wonder of friendships that are built on trust, acceptance, and a really joyousness in the others’ presence. I’ve felt comforted in the most emotionally and spiritually difficult times in my life, and I’ve been able to reciprocate that care in a way that continues to humble me to this day.
However, the last year of my life has been an extremely lonely time. Sure, I’ve gone out with friends and have had “fun,” but the majority of my days and nights are spent in isolation (partially of my own choice, partially not), with just my overwhelming thoughts and loneliness to accompany me. The reason I say that this isolation is partially of my own volition is because sometimes I sincerely cannot handle being in relationship with pretty much anyone right now. Being with people makes me feel lonelier than when I’m alone and it has taken me a long time to understand why.
As the great #millennial prophet Lorde sung on her recent record, “They say ‘you’re a little much for me, you’re a liability,’ so they pull back, make other plans, I understand, I’m a liability.” I resonate with what Lorde is talking about. This idea that I’m a liability, I’m a little “too much” to handle, that I have the propensity to be antagonistic to the desires of the people around me. If it’s in the context of church, I’m questioning a lot of the ideas presented. If it’s in my friendships, it’s because I don’t want to party or look at memes all day. If it’s romantically, it’s because I’m way too sentimental or emotionally intense. It’s not that I can help these things, it’s just a bi-product of this disillusionment of the relationships I’m in.
Somehow within my friend groups and the friend groups around me, you are cared about when you are useful or when you look the same as everyone around you. It’s this weird cause-and-effect thing. For instance, in response to everyone around me constantly getting shitfaced or high instead of talking through the things that are happening in their lives, I’ve really lost any and all desire to touch alcohol or weed in my life. It’s not based off of some random holier-than-thou sentiment or moral conviction on drinking or smoking (I have none), but rather a reaction to the things around me that make me feel alone. And because of that, I’m usually not around my friends when they decide that’s how they want to spend their time (which is around 99.8999% of the time) because during those interactions, I feel increasingly isolated and saddened.
Another example of this type of cause-and-effect idea in my relationships come in the way that I connect to people. I’m a very, very, very, very, very emotionally connective person. What I find in almost all of my relationships now is that people have a desire for a shallowness in the relationship as to protect energy levels and as a way to divert any thoughts towards things that are causing anxiety — the problem with that is that I am innately wired to confront those anxieties or problems within my own life and the lives of the people that expect to be in relationship with me. During the week of my birthday last year, as the room was going around with “affirmations” of myself and another person in the group for our birthdays, a roommate of mine said that I was “a black hole of no bullshit,” that people that got near me would be sucked into my no-bullshit zone. While it was a flattering compliment indeed, it revealed to me how people saw me; they saw me as somebody that would go 0-100 real quick. I can see why people avoid depth with me, but nonetheless, the distance I feel people will put between themselves and myself is worth despairing over, mostly because I fundamentally can’t (or have any desire to) change that part of myself.
Spiritually, I feel isolated from the majority of people physically that are around me. Most around me are either going through this “cool” rebellion of a faith they’ve ditched over the past few years because it was hip to do so, or they are holding on to a ridiculously bastardized and Americanized version of a “faith” that is doing a lot of harm to people across all aspects of life. Of course, these are gross oversimplifications, but nonetheless, I find myself in neither camp. Yes, I’ve been disillusioned by a lot of the American church, but my deconstruction (and subsequent reconstruction) of my faith has brought me into a place where I have to move into the realm of podcasts to find a community of people that continue to help me grow spiritually. While this is a blessing in and of itself, it does wear on me that this community is all online and that in my physical space I am still left to myself, listening to these podcasts into the night.
Art is another way I try to make this emotional connection within my relationships, but even on that front I find my interactions to be unbearably shallow. The books I’m reading, the podcasts I’m listening to, the movies and shows I’m watching, all of these conversations last for about five minutes until I can see the person I’m attempting to engage with move on to something else in their mind. On the flipside, those same people will come to me to talk about the art that moves them and I will listen and engage for hours. So then I’m left to my own at night. To read those books and watch those movies by myself, to talk to no one about them, and lament over this dying energy within myself. I’ve had one friend in the past who-knows-how-long that has engaged with me over some art and ideas that have been impacting me, and who could guess that conversation with him was also one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had in a while.
This society has made me feel so lonely. I’ve made myself feel so lonely. I have friends that I love dearly, that I know love me, that I don’t really connect with anymore. I have people in my life that I thought were going to be great friends that have stopped engaging with me because my life doesn’t look like theirs. I have friends in my life that I believe want to connect with me, but don’t really know how, despite my constant communication that I can’t be surface-y with people I love and that I need people to care enough about me to engage in the things that move me with me, because I will certainly engage with the things my friends love in order to show them that I care.
I guess, despite all of this, I’m grateful that philosophers long dead have been able to be a companion to me, that Lorde is singing about these things, that there are people online that engage in these conversations, and that I have the opportunity to write about all of this.
I’m grateful that in some cosmic and abstract sense, I’m not alone. I just feel like it often.