A friend of mine recently went through some difficult and dark times. He ended up doing the responsible thing and he went to see a therapist. This pandemic/confinement and horrible year we have all been through, finally got to him, as it has gotten to all of us, without exception. Anyone saying the pandemic didn’t get to them, are simply liars. Some things are absolute. We would never say so in public, but we know how much this god-forsaken year has affected us all.
I remember how much I clapped for him when he told me he had decided to see a therapist. The courage, the self-awareness, the humility it takes to admit we have a problem…Well, we usually struggle to even admit there is a problem, no matter how benign or small. My friend went a step further; he took steps to solving the problem. I admire him immensely and may he become a beacon of hope for the rest of us.
So, he went to therapy. He was nervous, uneasy, stressed, anxious and a bit terrified. Who wouldn’t be? I remember sweating when I sat in my therapist’s chair a few years back. It somehow feels unnatural to talk to a stranger about whatever is ailing us, whatever is keeping us up at night and whatever is truly troubling us. Yet, he went through the therapy experience! Kudos to him, for real!
The first question the therapist asked him was a simple “what keeps you alive?”. The question took him by surprise. He was taken aback. He opened his eyes, as widely as possible and he couldn’t answer. He seriously couldn’t, as if somebody had pressed “mute”. He then asked me the question. And guess what? I couldn’t answer either! I don’t think anyone can. I think it isn’t that simple.
If you think about it, the “what keeps you alive?” is such a penetrative, expansive, wholesome, intriguing question. I am sure you are thinking about an answer right now, and you are not finding one that would encapsulate all you want to say about this question. Now, you are looking for any answer, a proper answer, basically, an answer. Moreover, I am almost certain whatever answer you have on your mind right now, you are not sure it’s the right one. Perhaps, there isn’t a right fucking answer to this fucking question!
As flabbergasted as I was, I was still curious to know what his answer was. He told me he said, “my family”, which is one of the many typical and generic answers people give. It turns out it is the most popular answer. The list of answers includes “my family”, “my kids”, “my partner”, “my parents”, “people I care about”, and a few others I cannot remember. Well, my friend and I don’t have kids so, we both answered “my family and the people I care about” obviously. Then the therapist told him “No, don’t give me these generic and usual answers everybody gives. Search within you and tell me what keeps you alive, something that matters to you!”
He paused for a long time and he told me he couldn’t find one specific answer. I am still thinking about that fucking question and I cannot find an answer for the life of me! What really keeps us alive? I am sure we all have different answers, depending on who you ask. Yet, something tells me, those answers might also be quite similar, in the end. If you have kids, of course you’ll say your kids. Nothing out of the ordinary there. If you don’t have kids like me and you believe in God, you might say “my faith”. People might say “my partner, “my job”, “my craft”, “my ability to help people”, “my writing”, “my ability to heal souls and bodies”, “my dogs/cats” and so many other answers.
By the way, if you cannot find a definitive answer, please do not feel any shame. It’s only normal. The question is quite amazing. It is designed to gauge and somehow measure or get an idea of the person’s mental acuity, their state of mind, their priorities, their passion, and so much more. It might sound like a stupid question to most people, but it isn’t.
It is similar to when people ask you “who are you, really?”. There is no simple or one-word answer for this question either. The person we are is a mix of different factors, events, experiences, and so much more. The same goes with “what keeps you alive?”. Of course, our family is a reason we stay alive, but it isn’t just that. Of course, kids are the main reason parents don’t want to die, otherwise who’ll take care of the kids? Some people see their job as a calling, or as something sacred and it gives them meaning so they might say “my job” and the list of answers goes on.
I am still asking myself “what keeps you alive, Freeman?”. It is a mix of things obviously. It is never one thing. It is many things, to stronger and lesser degrees.
That’s how humans are; complex and complicated. I’ll just say I respect psychiatrists and psychiatry. They are not infallible, and they don’t know all but I don’t believe they ever ask stupid questions. I don’t believe they ask unnecessary questions. Every question is designed to help them and help you get to the root of the problem. Psychiatrists have a plan. I mean, they have studied the mind and human behavior. They aren’t fools or charlatans. They know what they are doing, and they deserve their praise.
My friend is doing better. Therapy has helped him tremendously. I should ask him if he found out the right answer to that question. He’s been in therapy for quite some time now. Maybe he came close to an answer or maybe he is still looking for the answer. Either way, he is doing better and that is the only thing that counts. I will never recommend therapy enough. If you can afford it and if it is available to you, stop by. You’d be surprised at the results.
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day!