I have been living the first 19 years of my comfortable life as an unashamed cynic. Optimism isn't funny, and cynicism gives me a chance to call 'bullshit' on anything from X factor to alternative medicine in a way that makes me laugh (no promises for any of you lot). Whilst this is an undoubtedly useful skill, I left my cynicism unchecked and uncontrolled. This lead to a spiral which resulted in a lack of self-esteem that resulted in me genuinely hating myself - taking away all my hope and motivation.
The thing that was missing was gratefulness.
'Productive cynicism' has to be a double edged sword; not only acknowledging how unfair life can be for some people, but at the same time acknowledging how lucky you are. My sort of uncontrolled wallowing in the futility of all things material meant that rather than motivating myself to take action on the behalf of others, I engaged in a self-obsessed critique of how inherently evil and offensive my very existence is. I think it's fair to say that I didn't make for a fun drinking companion.
There were times when without an ounce of shame or dignity, I would spend hours ranting about how awful I was purely because of my whiteness, my maleness and my middle class-ness - on a first date. Whilst some people find this sort of self-deprecation attractive, there is no romantic reward worth putting myself under that much pressure and scrutiny. I was no longer voluntarily engaging in self-deprecation as a part-time hobby to come across as 'different to all of the other guys', I was living and breathing it full-time. Eventually, I ran out of steam.
In the depths of this depression, I realised that my brain was trying to tell me something. It was time that I realised that even though life throws a lot of shit at everyone it can, if you're smart you can use that shit as a fertiliser for growth and beauty. People in the first world are generally pretty inept at this; we seem to think we're entitled to a shit-free existence 100% of the time.
The simple fact that we even exist is so random and unexplainable; just being able to open your eyes in the morning and automatically transform light photons into a coloured image in your brain is a miracle beyond comprehension. However, I found myself just sitting around and complaining about the fact that everything stank of shit, metaphorically.
I am not in any position to lecture people who have been through dark times to 'chin up and smile' - far from it. We each experience our own difficulties and it's important that we tackle them in our own individual way, but when things get really tough, it's worth remembering all the things you take for granted every single day.
When I finally got up out of bed to brush my teeth and 'sort my life out', it was easy to focus on the hateful, punitive face looking back at me in the mirror. But now, before I start the day by considering the offensiveness of my own existence, I look down at the tap and just think about everything that has gone into making the running water I take for granted possible. Even just the tap itself; one day a human looked at a rock and thought "I can get something hard and shiny out of that", and 100s of years of innovation later this abstract piece of 'metal' spews out the most essential molecule to our existence - at least whenever I decide to appreciate my existence enough to clean my teeth.
We have a big say in which narratives we allow to persist in our day to day lives. We can complain that the bus is late, or we can wait in excitement about the fact we're going sit comfortably in a giant metal box that magically carries us from A to B. We can complain that our wifi isn't working, or we can sit down and just try to comprehend the fact that for most of the year we don't think twice when we send invisible messages, by tapping on a piece of glass, that can instantly travel across the globe.
"Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy" - Louis CK