Thursday, July 5, 2012

Relax; You Are Probably Just Hungry

There was one day in my life where I was just weary. Existence seemed to be a burden. Anything I read that I disagreed with seemed like malicious stones hurled at the house of cards I happened to prefer in those days. And everything I did agree with just reminded me what a loveless view of the world I had. Everything was just so... bad.

I remember standing there in my room looking at the floor and thinking morbid thoughts to myself. I thought about how hard life can be. I thought about how unsatisfying a day could be. I thought about how cold and indifferent the universe. I thought about... how long had it been since I last ate?

I took my morbid, dark, brooding (and, at the time, significantly overweight) self to the kitchen and microwaved something. I ate it while contemplating the futility of all human endeavor. The ultimate oblivion that awaited us. The cruel joke that was played on humanity by making our nature love existence while also promising to one day take it away from us. And after throwing away my ready-in-five-minutes chow mein container and returning to the poorly lit lair where I spun together my nihilistic indictments of our cruel universe (with Batman stickers on the wall), I realized that things did not seem so bad anymore.

I hadn't eaten for about 12 hours, not counting the time I spent sleeping. My body was unsatisfied and that produced a sensation of need and longing. I just didn't know what I needed and longed for. So everything I thought about was seen through the lens of dissatisfaction: thinking about life made life seem empty, if I had thought about something else that something else would have also seemed gloomy and drab. While I embellished a tad for the sake of being nominally entertaining, this is essentially a true story. I really was in a dark and depressed mood, all my thoughts were tending toward nihilism, and then I gave my body some calories and started feeling better.

After I noticed this, I decided to test the extents of this. I purposely went without substantial food for three days, only allowing myself water and the occasional energy drink. But this time I did so while expecting a morbid mood to seize me. It may have been a self-fulfilling prediction, but it worked. By the third day the world seemed gray and unfriendly to me: squabbles on the internet seemed more hateful, interaction with people seemed more frustrating, the universe seemed a little more indifferent. But I had the conscious thought that the world was not the way it seemed: I was purposely mucking with my own body and purposely producing impressions that were more antagonistic than they would ordinarily seem. I walked to a nearby restaurant and ordered a 1500 calorie breakfast while scribbling notes in a little notebook I brought with me. I walked out jolly enough and ready to continue being a human; the color returned to the universe and I walked home satisfied.

Ever since then I have always been skeptical whenever I or anyone else provides an explanation of their moods and emotions. You may think that the reason you feel anxious is that you feel you are surrounded by uncaring people, but maybe you're mildly dehydrated: go drink 32 ounces of water and see if you still feel unloved. Maybe you feel that the world is small, you're never going to go anywhere in life, and you're just spinning your wheels until you keel over. This may very well be true and you should certainly try to do something about it, but maybe you should get some sunshine first and see if you still feel that your lot is so terrible. I'm not saying that you are wrong, I'm just saying rule out biological explanations before you resign yourself to shouldering a new emotional burden.

We are insulted when someone says that our deepest and more personal (at the moment, anyway) struggles are just biological issues. It's insulting the way it is when someone disregards your discontent as being the result of hormones or someone saying you're only aggravated because you have high blood pressure. We are insulted because, dreadful though they may be, these morbid perspectives and perceived struggles seem real to us and we feel that treating them as less than real is a kind of retreat from the harshness of reality. Yet, maybe you have it backward, maybe reality will return once you get a little fresh air.

I am not saying emotional disturbance does not exist. I am not saying that it is impossible to be deeply troubled by what one finds in the universe. I am not even necessarily saying that those dark thoughts you have from time to time are false. What I am proposing a simple maxim, a helpful guideline that has worked for me: Whenever you're anxious, irritated, nervous, or troubled about something, make sure you are well-fed, well-hydrated, well-rested, and in good health and then see if you are equally anxious, irritated, nervous, or troubled.

You might be surprised how much can be solved by a hamburger and a bottle of water.

Mmmm, existential comfort.

Note: This blog was inspired by me coming home from work irritated and anxious for vague reasons. As I sat in my bed expecting a sleepless night followed by another shift at work I realized I was sweating from the heat of the house. Then I realized that my only hydration came from a Starbucks Doubleshot I had about three hours earlier. I started this blog anxious, paused to drink two 16 oz. bottles of water, and finished the blog more or less completely at ease.

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