The very surreal feeling of wanting to end your life, especially in the loud chaos of a bustling city — a city with people and lights and billboards and cars chasing one another all day and night, headed for nowhere in particular.
The burning sensation that crawls up and down your skin as you contemplate not having to hold the world on your shoulders anymore.
The chaos, the commotion, all these perfect strangers. Motion, commotion. Emotion.
I wanted to kill myself, but instead, I sat down to write:
I keep a small revolver tucked under my pillow. Every morning, I wake up and grab the little device and turn it on all sides. I inspect it as if its power of destruction could be easily comprehended.
Sometimes I press the barrel to my right temple. My index finger curled around the trigger, I close my eyes and count to ten. Of course, the gun’s never loaded.
Nevertheless, it makes you think.
You see, this is the only power we have. True freedom, as I like to say, comes from the realization that you can kill yourself any time you want.
Sunlight slipping through the heavy curtains, casting red dots on the walls, I can feel my blood boiling inside my body. My heart beats like a fist inside my chest; the metallic coolness of the gun infects my skin.
Loaded or not, it doesn’t matter.
I’m ready to pull the trigger. I want to see God and ask Him a million questions. I press the gun to my chest and take a deep breath. “This is not my life.”
We all die and there’s nothing terrifying or great about it.
“This isn’t a life worth living.”
The gun pressed hard against my chest, right where the heart should be, I pull the trigger. That’s when I can open my eyes. That’s when I can smile. When I can feel alive just because I could’ve and yet I didn’t.
Every morning I wake up and die.
“True freedom, as I like to say, comes from the realization that you can kill yourself any time you want.”
My character’s name was Paul. A painter. An artist. The burden of his own creative genius, the pain of ideas and dreams and hopes turning to rust and stardust.
That’s why I called this story, Dream City. We often forget that nightmares are dreams too.
I also decided that Paul was going to die. He was going to place one bullet inside his gun, press the gun to his chest, and end it all.
Every morning, I’d struggle to get out of bed. I’d tell myself that I had to write this one story, that was it. Just this one story. Get Paul to kill himself. That was all I had to do. Then I was free to do whatever I wanted. Jump in front of a car or from the top of my apartment building, or take a bunch of pills. Cut my wrists open and see if real blood would pour out of them.
The more I wrote about Paul, the more I liked the guy. I wished for someone like him in my life.
We all know the classic rags to riches story. We all know the stories of successful people who had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to get to where they’re at.
And the truth is that we all kind of like to romanticize the hustle and the struggle. We like to romanticize hitting rock bottom as this place where you finally realize what you want to do with your life, and it all clicks, and you somehow manage to connect all the dots, and then it’s all rainbows and sunshine…
Well, it’s not like that. Not like that at all.
I remember being dirt poor, living on some $25 a week, deciding to take part in NaNoWriMo and write my first novel in what was my second language. Nothing too crazy. Due to medical conditions, I had no teeth, so to speak. Couldn’t chew solid food. Couldn’t look people in the eye, couldn’t keep my head high. I walked kind of funny. Weighed some 120 pounds. Strong winds were quite dangerous.
I felt invisible. I felt as if the world went on by without me. As if I was not part of this world. I had my words and my thoughts and my stories, and we often try to diminish these things that we imagine into existence, but they are powerful. Believe me. Yes, we know deep down that our stories will never come true, and this breaks our hearts every single time we sit at our desks to write, but we also hope that our stories might, just might, some day come true.
The only thing stronger than fear.
I wrote my story, and I’d dream of all these things. Selling lots of books, and being able to eat what I wanted, and…
My first novel sold two copies. That was it. Just two copies. I had a blog I gave up on after 3 days or so. I had a Facebook page with some twenty-something likes.
I quit. I didn’t know what to do.
Do you know how that feels like? To have a dream that you nurtured for eight or so years, and you give it your all, and you do all that you possibly can, and you fail nonetheless?
And it wasn’t that people hated my writing.
No one cared.
It was just so bad that no one even bothered to read my stuff.
If you give up on your dreams, what do you have left?
That was it. I’d cry myself to sleep each and every night. I tried to get a job, yet no one would hire me because I couldn’t look people in the eye, I couldn’t express myself verbally in a satisfactory manner. I think back, and I’m quite certain people thought I was rather dumb. It feels like a dream from another life now.
Here’s the thing about wanting to end it all.
You never become enamored with the idea of killing yourself. Death doesn’t suddenly become an appealing option.
What happens is this: your life becomes a burning house. You are there, within these walls that are falling apart. There’s nothing you can do but jump out the window.
The fear of what you might find outside your house doesn’t change. You never reframe that fear to your advantage. You just feel the flames approaching.
I wanted to kill myself, but, for whatever reason, I’d sit down to write my stories, and then I’d be so tired that all I could do was fall asleep.
I had two friends, no girlfriend, no nothing. Still afraid to look people in the eye, still afraid of so many things.
Does this sound like a romantic view of failure, of hitting rock bottom?
I suffered in ways that words cannot express. No one could ever invent the words that I need to define the hell I went through during my early twenties.
There’s this moment in my life. Me on the street with my mother. We were arguing. I had no food. No money. And I desperately needed some cash to buy some food. That was it. Just to survive. And she threw me some money on the pavement. I think of that as the lowest moment of my life.
Went home and wrote some more.
Life is kind of funny sometimes, because next month, I started to earn from my blog. From my books. Quite a bit. Twenty-three years, I was averaging some $100–150 a day.
I fell in love. It was good for a while. I was happy. And then my grandfather died. A week later, my girlfriend broke up with me.
Here’s the thing about suffering that few will ever admit. Not only do words cannot translate our suffering in a manner that someone else can understand, but I am sure that most of those who go through extreme suffering and pain would drag each and every single one of us to hell if the devil would agree to put their broken hearts together.
I think it is the kids that the world breaks who try to burn it to the ground, in hopes that would heal their souls.
I spent years not liking what I saw in the mirror. Years getting rejected, ridiculed, criticized, mocked, bullied. I spent years working, working out, working on myself. I spent years getting my heart broken.
This is not the usual positive personal development stuff. I did not go from one failed relationship to another with a smile on my face, nor did I go to the gym feeling overconfident in my ability to create the kind of body I’d be proud of.
Why would you ever think it is supposed to be anything but extremely difficult and painful? Why would you ever think you can avoid suffering by wishing for comfort?
You either do what is hard and suffer in order to grow, or you cling to moments of comfort and suffer for the rest of your life because of regret.
I am suffering right now. My muscles are sore. I am tired, having written post after post since 5 a.m.
I am fighting to become who I have always wanted to be. Yet, thinking back, when I gave up on my dream, when I gave up on my hopes of being happy, when I was this skinny dude no one wanted to be friends with, who ate stuff that no human in the twenty first century should have to survive on, that was real suffering.
Because I was nobody. I had nothing. I just suffered. And I kept asking life, why? Why me? Why this? Why does nobody love me? Where do I find someone to care about me?
Life gave me this answer: why not? What makes you think you deserve anything?
See, I was quite entitled. I thought I deserved something just for being alive. Just for being a human being.
It doesn’t work like that.
You either choose a dream and suffer for it, or suffer the regret of not going after it, losing respect for yourself in this mind-numbing process of procrastination and guilt.
The world changes its opinion of you the day after you do. The world cherishes you the day after you do. The world admires and respects you the day after you do. The world loves you the day after you decide to love yourself.
Rock-bottom is not a place that breeds success. The desire to never hit rock-bottom again does. The hunger to achieve, to overcome, to grow, to conquer oneself.
Every morning I wake up and die.
I knew Paul had to die at the end of his story. There was no other way. It was his inexorable destiny to place a bullet deep inside his chest.
But I couldn’t do that.
When I had to write my last lines…
I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and see Jonathan. He smiles wearily and says, “Hi, dad.”
For the first time in months, I don’t feel fear or pain. It’s just gone. I stare into my son’s eyes and I know that everything’s going to be okay.
Instead of killing myself, I wrote a story.
The world breaks us all, as Hemingway once wrote. Some are stronger because of that. Others, not so much.
What doesn’t kill us can make us stronger. Sometimes. But it first makes us wish it did kill us. It makes us want to kill ourselves.
I had a dream. Just one dream. Other than that, I had nothing.
If didn’t wake up every morning to write, I’d have been dead a long time ago.
Now I’d like to ask you this simple question, “If you give up on your dream, what do you have left?”