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I’m afraid to turn 23

March 26, 2010


I’m losing my mind.

The last two years have kicked my ass.  My issue goes back a further than that, but in the last two I’ve really started to be affected by my life-to-the-present.  (More exactly, I can almost pinpoint a moment when I started to “lose it” in August of 2008, but events from earlier that year precipitated that specific event.)

Looking back on your life for the past few years and realizing you don’t know where the hell they went is an uncomfortable feeling.  I don’t even know exactly how many years I’m talking about here.  (It’s not two.  Two is just the amount of time I’ve been getting my ass kicked.) Is it five—the number of years since I graduated high school?  Is it three, when I last took a college class?  Maybe it’s three-and-a-half.  Yeah.  Fall 2006 seemed nice.  When I was 19 I think I actually became me, if you understand.  So what have I been doing since then?

I’ll get this out of the way right away: I do feel like I’ve “accomplished” at least one thing in that time—since I’ve been me.  This will sound stupid to a lot of people, but I feel like I’ve successfully started living like an animal.  I’m not one for the human–animal dichotomy, but to go with it for a second, I’m definitely not  living like a human.  I feel like this is a good thing because I’m getting rid of the need to be human in this world.  I’m not obsessively laboring.  I’m not worried about bills.  I spend every day doing as I please, even if it’s not what most pleases me—like an animal.  My cat spends much of every day sleeping, and much of it outside doing whatever it is cats do when they are outside.  My life is a mirror of this, somewhat.

(Getting away from that dichotomy, it could be said that there is no way for a human to live other than like a human.  This is right.  And throwing the dichotomy out, humans have to live “like animals” because that’s what we are.)

The downside to this is that I’m living like a domesticated animal.  I lounge around and don’t fret about status or wealth or other human things, but my food is still placed in front of me and I don’t have to do work to get by.  This isn’t how wild animals live; they have to work to provide food and water and everything else they need, for themselves, or they die.  The next step is therefore, obviously, to start living like a wild animal—and that means undomesticating myself, rewilding.  I’m going to struggle with this, if I do it at all, not necessarily because it will be hard work (I can’t imagine that it won’t be), but because  I don’t have any fucking idea how I’ll do it.

Going back to what I’ve already said, I don’t have any idea what  has really happened to me in the last—what’d I say?—three-and-a-half years.  But two things are explicitly clear to me.  The first is that I’m slowly cracking under my own pressure, and the second is that every year I’ve felt more lonely.

I mean this in all ways, too.  I think a lot of people my age complain about being lonely, but I think most of them (at least from what I can tell) say they are lonely because they lack a companion, spouse, significant other of the (usually) opposite sex.  This is part of my loneliness, of course (and I’ll get to that a little more), but for me I’m lonely in pretty much every other area too.

I spend the vast majority of my time completely alone.  This alone contributes most to what I can only describe, completely without detail, as “losing it.”  Some spans are more without interaction than others, but I think it’s safe to say that more than half, probably more than two-thirds, of my time awake is spent completely alone.  This has been constant for years, too.  I remember sometime in 2008 I posted on a message board about how, after literally going days without seeing or speaking to anyone, I would often start to speak aloud things that needn’t be spoken aloud.  It wasn’t talking to myself per se, just talking.  I theorized that it was just my desire to hear a voice.  I can’t say for sure whether or not this was the case, but it made sense to me.  Now we have a cat so I just talk to him.

In the fall of that year I felt very strongly that if I were trapped at home all winter long I’d go mad.  I stayed with friends for three weeks, but it didn’t help.  Instead of being really lonely at home I was just really lonely somewhere else.  Most days I would walk around town (alone), read (alone), watch episodes of The Dog Whisperer (alone), and eat apples and peanut butter (alone).  Being at someone else’s house didn’t help one bit.  They’d come home anywhere between six and seven o’clock, and most nights they’d just go up to their bedrooms immediately.  There wasn’t a complete lack of interaction, but not significantly more that I was experiencing at home with my family, and it wasn’t more fulfilling.  When the Wii was downstairs they’d play some games they rented sometimes.  And then some TV shows once in a while.  That was pretty much it.

From spring until fall everything continued in much the same way it had previously, and looking back on it I’m a bit surprised I handled it so well.  (I guess I was enjoying my alone time in the woods enough to make up for a lack of friends.  I guess.)  I worked once a week at the record store, occasionally coming in on Saturday or something in addition to Wednesday, but I lost enthusiasm for that as it became increasingly business-only and less helping-out-a-friend.  In the middle of the summer somewhere I started hanging out with someone I’d kind of known for a while, and we quickly became good friends, but then he left town for a few months for school.

When this last fall came around I wasn’t as worried as the year prior even though it would much the same.  My mental and emotional state was different for reasons I’ll get to.  As of December I had a friend around again, so that helped some.  Hanging out once, sometimes twice a week was better than not.

This new year, 2010, is already kicking my ass.  Hell—the few weeks we’ve had since the snow melted have been kicking my ass.  Having a friend once a week isn’t enough.  It was never enough.  It was better than having a friend once every few weeks, or every month, or sometimes longer, but it still wasn’t enough.  I’m cracking, and for several reasons—some that I can elucidate, some that I can’t.  So with that simplified outline of the last two years as they were out of the way, I’ll do the two years as they ought to have been, explain some things about myself, and then speculate on the future.

In the fall of 2007 I really started to like the idea of dropping out, I was getting interested in primitive skills, and just increasing my viability as an adaptable person in general.  I really wanted to spend some time in a tent in the woods.  I figured a month would do.  I figured the spring would be a good time, once it was warm enough at least.  This didn’t happen.  As summer (2008 now) came along I still wanted to find a way to be outside developing Tony the Adaptable Person.  Looked into “interning” at a CSA farm.  I didn’t have a tent of my own so I didn’t go (which is a nice way of saying I was too flaky and/or I wasn’t that interested in doing it).  I got a tent eventually, along with some other stuff, and figured I’d spend some time in the woods later in the year.  By winter I’d slept outside maybe two times, but I seem to remember only one.

In the next months I developed a new plan: get away for a while.  By a combination of biking, picking up car rides, couch-surfing, and wilderness squatting I could drop out and in the process see a bit of this continent.  I had most of what I needed, even some bucks to give me a little bit of wiggle room.  I figured all I’d need in addition to what I already had was a used laptop for setting up rides and couch-surfs.  Through a frustrating series of events I don’t care to elaborate on I didn’t end up with a working computer until July, and by then my funds were near zero again.  I was finally ready to go by August, but then I was doubting the trip.  I was mentally prepared (or at least I had told myself I was) to leave in the spring and run out of money in the summer; I wasn’t prepared to leave in the late summer/early fall and run out of money in the winter.  I didn’t go anywhere.  I went into the winter thinking I’ll just go next year. Next year is here, but I don’t think I want to go anywhere.

I really do think I could do it, but I don’t really want to.  At the moment I have $200 to my name compared to the $400 I had in early 2009.  I have no experience dumpstering, though I’m sure I could manage to get some food that way.  I have a minimal experience foraging for wild foods (I have a field guide and have eaten wild foods maybe 3 times), but I wouldn’t count on that for dependable food procurement.  With those two facts in mind, it seems logical to assume I’d need to buy most of what I would be eating, and I don’t know how far I could stretch $200.  I could no-doubt score free meals a number of ways, but I think it’s safe to assume I’d lose weight and my health would deteriorate.  That doesn’t sound fun.  And somehow I seemed to forget that I’d be incredibly lonely.  How I could have overlooked that I have no idea.

So I come back to loneliness, and to the point at which I explain some things about myself.

1. I don’t make friends very easily.

I just don’t.  I never have.  It’s not in my nature.  I’m not as social as some people are.  In childhood I had friends, enough friends, but never more than one good friend at a time.  From seventh grade until eleventh I had two good friends and a few less-good friends.  From tenth grade until a year after graduation the majority of my time was spent with a girl I thought I loved who didn’t love me and was emotionally abusive.  Then ’til now has been kind of interesting.  At certain times I’d hang out with one or two people a lot, but I never really formed close friendships.

Signing onto Facebook, when I do (I’ve been going a week or two, sometimes a month without using it), is always a rather pathetic event.  Every time I use it I’m harshly reminded of how unfulfilling my life is and how laughable the concept of social networking is when you can’t even get social right.  Some people have the experience of having a very active online social life at the expense of their real social lives.  My experience is that I have neither an active (or fulfilling) online social life or an active real social life.  Every time I sign on I sign on to nothing.  When I post things they rarely even elicit responses unless I carefully craft them in such a way as to provoke comments.

It’s not that I don’t like people, and it’s not that they don’t like me.  I get along with almost everyone I meet, and some actually seem to like me quite a bit.  I guess the problem here is that I demand a lot out of people I consider good friends, and rarely do they meet my standards.  The close friends I had growing up met those standards then, but they don’t meet them now.  Therefore it’s very clear why I’ve only had a handful of close friends, only one at the moment, and none prior to that for years.  I guess there is a bit more to it than that, which is my next point.

I want to hang out with people.  I’d prefer to have more close friends, but since they aren’t easily picked up, I still want to spend time with people I like in some ways.  The reasons I don’t basically all boil down to one of my character traits: I don’t like to intrude, ask for things, or invite myself along, and since I have nothing going on in my life, ever, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want people to ask me to hang out.  The way I look at is this: if I am never doing anything, and everyone else is always doing something, isn’t it OK for me to wish for a phone call once in a while?  They all know I’m always free—so why don’t they call?  I’ve been told for years that I need to ask people to hang out, but given another trait of mine—my frugality, or you could say cheapness—asking people to hang out usually means, “Hey, want to go walk around and talk or something?”  For acquaintances who value fun a lot more than I do, this is rarely an exciting prospect.  Basically, expecting to be called rather than doing the calling makes sense to me.

This does, however, lead to two problems.  The first is that I don’t hang out with anyone.  The second is that I’ve often been picked out as “compatible” by people who do the calling when in reality we are less compatible than it may seem.  They are always looking for someone to hang out with, I’m always free, and so we’re obviously going to become best friends.  In the past few years this has happened a few times, and it’s never an easy position to be in.

2. I’ve never been in an intimate relationship.

I mentioned that emotionally abusive girl that I hung out with a lot from 15-18 (and then briefly while I was 20).  Maybe I’ve been in one horrible, awful relationship, but we were never actually dating.  She treated me like her boyfriend some of the time, people almost always thought we were together, and while a bond had formed between us there was no physical component—just a very bumpy emotional component.  And that relationship has left me stunted.  After her I have only shared mutual interest with one girl, and that was when I was 17.  We didn’t date because (a) GIRLS HAVE COOTIES and (b) she was more religious than I thought would work.  This was never communicated and she just started to see someone else.

I feel like I’m screwed now, because I could never figure out all of those boy-girl things I was supposed to figure out when I was a teenager due to being in a relationship that wasn’t really a relationship.  There aren’t any social situations in which a guy in his early 20s can figure out things he should have figured out when he was 15.  Putting aside the fact that I’m rarely truly interested in anyone (see “I demand a lot out of people”), I don’t know how to interact with women I’m interested in.  I don’t even know how to express it.

But then pulling back that fact I just  put aside, it all seems rather inconsequential anyway.  I recently saw what I’m about to get at put this way: (Paraphrased) You meet thousands, maybe millions of people throughout your life, and so far you’ve only bonded with a few.  You really think you’re going to meet a girl who makes the cut?

3. I have no motivation.

It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.

Really, the things I want in life are very simple.  I would like some land on which to live, a small home, a garden, a woman to grow old with (maybe a wife, maybe not—doesn’t matter to me), and a kid or two.  Ideally we would be in close proximity to other people we like, love, and care about as well.  Access to food and family are two of our most basic necessities, but I don’t know how, or even if, I can get them.

Legally obtaining land is predicated on paying for it.  I could squat, of course, but I don’t think that’d be an ideal situation for a family.  Basically that means: pay for it, or, if you don’t want to pay for it, forget wanting to have a family.  If I pay for it I will literally have to sell years of my life to do so.  If I forget about having a family I don’t personally see a point in having land to begin with.  I find it rather lose-lose.  On the one hand I have to surrender years of my life to someone else, and on the other I have to forget living a life I would find fulfilling.  How do you motivate yourself to do one of two things you don’t want to do?  I certainly have no idea.

And the other side of this is just money.  I know I have skills that could make me some money if I applied them in the right ways, kissed an ass here and there, told some lies, and generally just acted unlike the way I act.  But I don’t want money.  Literally.  I just don’t want it.  I understand that I’m pretty much stuck in a situation that requires its use, but I don’t care for it.


None of this is really about the distant future; it’s about right now.  Right now I’m losing my mind.  Right now I can’t find fulfilling things to fill my days with.  I find it hard to get out of bed, and I take a long time doing it.  In fact, I take a long time doing pretty much everything.  It’s kind of like milking the clock at work, only the job is getting through the day.  When I cook I do it slow and I make more food than I need so I can make more than one meal out of it so I can make the whole ordeal span a few hours.  I shower two or three times a week, and usually I take long showers.  Whenever I go into the bathroom I spend a while looking at myself in the mirror, looking for dry skin, hairs (from my head) stuck in my beard, and contemplating the shape of my face, the color of my eyes and hair, and whatever else.  A little while ago I spent an hour-and-a-half—an hour-and-a-half!—changing the cassette on my bike (I could have had it done in less than ten minutes).

I want to clarify something: I don’t do things slowly because I am lazy; I do things slowly because I have so much day to fill and so little to fill it with.  I read for about two hours every day, but I get worn out.  Lately I have ended up watching reruns of Seinfeld more often than I’d like to because I have been spending less time on the computer.  Anyway, I want to clarify something else: I’m not depressed.  I can get mopey, but I’m not regularly sad, angry, upset, or anything else on that list of bad emotions.  I’m just bored.  And lonely.  And feeling incredibly unfulfilled.

Sometimes I think about relocating, but I don’t know to where and for exactly what reasons, and I don’t know if that will even do any good.  And it’s always with the assumption that I’ll come back anyway.  It’s just that I love northern Michigan too much.  It’s not completely unspoiled, it’s beautiful, obviously, and part of me likes the fantasy of bioregional warfare and protecting Great Lakes water with my life.  The reasons I consider it, though, basically come down to accepting the situation I’m in: I live in an area that, while beautiful, can’t really give me the things I want and need right now.  I know one person that is like me, and finding your tribe—that’s what I’m trying to do here: find my tribe—means finding more than one person.  To get that future I want requires three things: (1) that I become a wild animal, (2) that I somehow gain access to land, and (3) that I fall in love.  The land comes into play much later, and I find the odds of accomplishing either of the other two while I remain here at-or-near zero.

By that logic the conclusion seems obvious: relocate.  But to where, for how long?  And what the hell am I going to do when I get there?  If I can’t find fulfilling tasks to fill my day now, by what logic am I to think I’ll magically find fulfilling tasks to fill my day if I live anywhere else?

I’ve kind of spent these past years just expecting to stumble into something, but as time goes on it’s becoming clear that it won’t be that easy.  And then some part of me has also just been hoping someone would come to me and say, “Hey, Tony, you’re a smart and cool guy and I/we have/know about this smart and cool thing that’s going on that you could help with/start/do/become a part of.”  But reality hasn’t suggested this will happen either.

(Going backward for a minute, I realize a contradiction in advice people give.  While the above—just waiting for something to happen, hoping someone will give me a place somewhere—is something nobody will tell you is reasonable, the same advice, or reassurance rather, is given when it comes to relationships.  “You’ll meet a great girl, just you wait,” I’ve been told more times than I care to recall, but it’s the same fantasy.  I’m sick of hearing that because it’s unrealistic and stupid.)

A few years back someone I got e-close to used to, somewhat jokingly, would occasionally send me links to websites for various ecovillages and tell me to just go.  I’ve looked around at various “communes”/intentional communities, but none of them seem like a fit for me.  I do like the idea of “rewilding communities,” but it doesn’t … well, it doesn’t seem like there actually are any.  Rewilders are much rarer than hippies, and I don’t know of any solid “communities.”  I’ve been told to look into wilderness survival schools and stuff too, but have you ever looked at the prices for those places?  Tuition runs as much as colleges in some cases.  I spent a lot of time looking around the website for Teaching Drum in northern Wisconsin today.  It looks really cool and incredibly involved, but nothing I could ever afford.  They have one-month classes that cost $800 dollars, and an 11-month class that costs $7000.

I don’t know what to do or where to go, and “I don’t know” is an awful answer to any question.  Honest, but no less awful.


I’m afraid to turn 23 because when I was 16 I told that emotionally abusive girl I spent a lot of time with that I was giving myself seven years.  Why I chose seven years might seem arbitrary, because it is indeed.  Looking back on my likes of the time together with my state of mind I’m pretty sure that I can construct the actual reason I chose seven years—but for the most part it was arbitrary.

For non–math geeks, 16 + 7 = 23.  Well, I’m 22 and guess what?  I’m not happy with my life.  This by no means suggests that a mostly random date for happiness that I came up with when I was a dumb teenager actually means anything—but that doesn’t mean I’m not freaking the fuck out.  While seven years was arbitrary, it actually made sense, and I still think it makes sense.  In my mind, originally, it was “mid-20s.”  Twenty-three is definitely the low side of mid-20s, but it makes it.  It didn’t need to, though.  Basically, given the blessed advancements of modern medicine I generously gave myself 100 years; something around 25, my middest-of-mid-20s, therefore, would be a quarter of my life gone by, and, personally, if something doesn’t show a little bit of promise a quarter of the way through, I give up on it.  Maybe that’s unreasonable of me.  Maybe not.  (More recently I’ve decided that 100 years is unrealistic, but maybe 75 or 80 isn’t.  So “mid-20s” then becomes a third of my life.  A little more reasonable I guess … no?)

The point is that I’m 22 and I’m not happy with my life—so what am I going to do about it?

And this is why I’m scared: I don’t have a fucking clue.  But because of the arbitrary age I picked when I was a stupid teenager, I can’t get around thinking that this year is the only year that matters for me.  If I can’t make a step in a direction I’m happy with this year, I personally find it safe to assume I never will.  That’s why 23, an age that really means nothing, made so much sense to me.  In my 16-year-old brain I had calculated that I would have been graduated from college for two-ish years, and with a fancy degree if I didn’t have a kickass job yet I’d at least be on my way.  If I wasn’t at least on the path at 23, I also wouldn’t be on the path at 24, probably not at 25, and if I wasn’t on the path then I obviously wouldn’t be at the goal—being content with my life.

I’m not on any path, and that is, I think rightfully, starting to scare the living shit out of me.


Afterword: All but a few paragraphs of this post were written in the late hours of March 25 after a week of only seeing my mom and sisters for a few minutes each day.  The weather was crappy and I felt crazy.  I have been feeling cheerier since then, but the bulk of this post is just as true now as it was a few weeks ago.  I don’t want to make it public because I doubt it will be as cathartic as I’d originally thought it might be, but against better judgment I am.  Getting it all down on e-paper wasn’t, so I doubt anyone reading it will be either.  If anyone is going to offer me a clichéd “things aren’t so bad” platitude, I’d rather be punched in the face.  Hard advice would be OK,  but if it’s “Get a job!” I’m going to punch you in the face.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonah permalink
    April 26, 2010 6:49 pm

    I’ve never written anything here on your site but I felt that had to say this:

    1)Friends just happen. None know how.
    2)Happiness just happens. Contentment is caused by success in volition. Here is what has helped me.
    3) I wish I could say to you come and join my tribe but I am in similar state as you.

    I don’t know if this helped. If you’ve any questions you’ve got my e-mail right?

  2. Jarno permalink
    May 7, 2010 4:18 pm

    One more tribesman. I am in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, finding your post insanely recognizable (honestly the most recognizable thing since Alex Supertramp, except he went out and did it, which I still haven’t).

    I want to post a lot, but I am drunk and tired so I’ll put a random thought. I just had an old friend over (we’ve met three times in the past two years) and really went nuts with the groceries. 17 euro for one meal. I found myself standing in the store thinking “what the fuck, do I really want to do this? I could eat off of this money for two weeks” but decided I should invest in the evening. It was fun, but part of me wishes people would go nuts for baked potatos and onions and water.

    • May 7, 2010 10:04 pm

      Chris McCandless also ended up dead, for what it’s worth.

      On money: I go back and forth between spending my money freely and hoarding it. When I spend it I don’t buy silly and frivolous things, of course, but the idea, in my head at least, is just these dollar bills are just abstractions, and to worry about accumulating them is stupid; spend away.

      Anyway, it’s good to occasionally hear that I’m not alone in thoughts, even if my “tribe” is spread across the world. Presumably you’re young, and that means you’re another on the growing list of like-minded, potentially wild young adults just hoping to find something that works. The bad news is that life doesn’t give us things without some work when we lack so sorely in life experience, but the good news is, if we can get our shit together the world might not be ready for so many wild young minds and bodies.

  3. Jarno permalink
    May 8, 2010 7:35 pm

    26, here. I’m excited and scared at the same time to explore this sense of uneasiness with the conventional human M.O. and move beyond that old crap.

    Money, I do always keep in mind what I did to get it. 10 euro is an hour of work, generally, and I spend my money with this in mind. I often wonder at the absurdity of it, though. Some crappy house in my neighbourhood would go for 250-500,000 euro, while the time it would take me to earn that is so abundant that I could build a far nicer and more agreeable structure with my own hands. (I love Thoreau’s administrative detail.)

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