Am I enjoying this?
In my early teens, I was big into surfing. I wore surf clothes, read surf magazines, thought about surfing all the time. Every chance I got, I went out on the board.
One day, after riding a wave, I had a sudden thought that came out of nowhere, a question of life-changing importance:
Am I enjoying this?
The answer has plagued me ever since. Terrifyingly, I didn’t know. I wasn’t smiling. I wasn’t feeling a sense of elation. I wasn’t feeling anything at all.
I figured that I must be enjoying it, because I was doing it. It’s not like somebody was forcing me to surf. Every time I caught a wave, I rode it as long as I could, then swam back out to catch another. I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t enjoy it, would I?
I felt driven to surf, I concluded, but that wasn’t exactly the same thing. It was a psychological compulsion, then, a decision I had made and wanted to see through, regardless of how it actually made me feel.
Surfing provided me with an identity, parameters to define who I was, what I thought, what I should feel. It made me seem interesting to the other kids at school, and gave me something to talk about. I didn’t surf for the enjoyment of surfing – I surfed to be a surfer.
This effacing of my self, the subsuming of my identity into another persona, is something I’ve struggled with all my life. I do things not because they make me feel good, but because I feel driven to do them; to become someone or something other than me. I see people doing something they enjoy, and I emulate them, thinking that if I act the way they do, if I become them, maybe I’ll feel the way they do.
This is what depression does to you. It strips away your feelings, dislocates you from your emotions. You become a stranger to yourself. You second guess your decisions, your behaviours. Everything you do in your life becomes a stop-gap, a way of filling the void until you find something that actually makes you feel good – however nebulous and ill-defined that might be.
So I drift from activity to activity, persona to persona, always doing, but never being. The best I can say about my hobbies and interests is that they distract me from feeling bad. I felt nothing when I was surfing, but compared to how I usually felt, feeling nothing was an improvement.
Now, when I ask myself if I’m enjoying this, I have my answer ready.
Not feeling bad is enjoyment enough.