Thinking makes it so.

Automat, Edward Hopper.

For years I’ve wanted to live according to everyone else’s morals. I’ve forced myself to live like everyone else, to look like everyone else. I’ve said what was necessary to join together, even when I felt separate. And after all of this, catastrophe came. I must rebuild a truth — after having lived all my life in a sort of lie.

Albert Camus.

When does the life you lead become a lie? I think the answer is obvious: when we allow ourselves to become submerged entirely in the expectations set by others, denying ourselves to keep the peace, make others happy, or to avoid the crushing disapproval of those around us. When no one around you knows who you really are, the lie has taken over.

When we know nothing else, the lie seems very much like the truth. There may be a sense of unease, a sense of discontent and disconnection, but life flows seamlessly around us and everything is in its proper place. We hit the expected milestones and tick the required boxes. And yet.

And yet.

Catastrophe often comes and lays the truth bare. We discover that we are unhappy. We are untethered from ourselves. We do not know who we are anymore, and cannot remember where or when we lost that sense of self we had as children. Often we are already mired in our lives, buried completely under the weight of responsibility and routine, and the prospect of breaking free is overwhelming. Rebuilding ourselves while shattering the illusion seems impossible.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Hamlet. Act 3, scene 1.

Sometimes as a short term remedy, we dive into the idealized nobility of self sacrifice. The tragic beauty of martyrdom. The stoicism of self denial. We tell ourselves we will give up the dream of happiness and fulfillment, while accepting the weight of expectation again, letting go of our newly rediscovered identity in favor of happiness of others.

St. Eulalia, John William Waterhouse.

Is this a lie, choosing others over oneself? I think it depends on the person. Life happens to us sometimes, and at some point a choice must be made to shoulder the reality of our situation and have faith that one day we will be able to be free. But this comes at a price. To affect this level of change, old habits and distractions must be jettisoned, and we must never look back at the fork in the road. That way is closed.

But the danger of that discontent resurfacing is always there. With each successive rediscovery of ourselves, the possibility of new catastrophe and ramifications is likely. The consequences will be larger, the blast radius wider. Living a lie is unsustainable on a long enough timeline.

Ulysses and the Sirens, John William Waterhouse.

In the end we may not choose truth, but truth will choose us.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Hamlet. Act 3, scene 1.

To rebuild truth, we have to understand that life is lived once and once only. Do we have faith in an eternal reward, or are we grounded in this flesh, this weary life, with no hope that our lot can improve unless we make it so? Regardless of the metaphysical, action must be taken when we’ve reached the critical mass of unhappiness. When we’re chafing under the harness of our situation, stepping out from under it is imperative. Rational, logical, measured steps must be taken, fully aware of consequences and the ripple effect of our decisions.

Psyche Opening the Golden Box, John William Waterhouse.

Reconstruction is difficult and often uncomfortable, but when we’ve been changed utterly by the rediscovery of self, can we ever truly return to the lie?

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Hamlet. Act 2, scene 2.

We have one chance to become who we are, and to live the life we want to live. Which will we regret more: that which we have done or that which we have not?

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