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  • stephencurro

Monkey in the Middle

I've struggled with anxiety all my life. When something bothers me, like really bothers me, it hovers like a cloud that keeps blocking me from the sun. It doesn't help that I also experience OCD and depression, and sometimes these three circle around me like I'm stuck in some vicious game of Monkey in the Middle.

For the most part I've been able to manage my conditions. I've been through therapy and I've taken meds. Most importantly, I've been blessed with family and friends who care about me and support me in my struggles. But that doesn't mean it's easy, and sometimes things that shouldn't bother me, do. I fall into a feedback loop where I can't relax until the problem is resolved, but the trouble is I'm worried about BIG world probelms that won't be resolved today, tomorrow, or even in the next ten years. Compound this with multiple jumbo-sized problems and I've got myself a three-course meal of turmoil.

Anyone can see the world is an utter mess. Russia continues to pummel Ukraine, and China is toying with invading Taiwan. America is caught in its worst political divide in decades with little sign of healing soon. Global birthrates are projected to drop due to economics and possibly pollution, setting up the century for unprecedented turbulence. Too many people in power are doing harm to minorities when we should be supporting those groups instead. And let's not forget the spectre that is Climate Change mercilessly making life on Earth that much harder...

All of these problems are huge, serious threats to our global stability. In the past I've been able to step back and acknowledge that they probably won't go away anytime soon, that they'll take years to sort out. I remind myself that these things are not only slow-moving but also major team sports. It will take everyone to clean our planet and stave off tyranny. But over the last few months I saw how these things are just dragging on, as if the tunnel is stretching to keep us from seeing the light. I keep asking, "When does it get better? When does humanity actually grow up?" My trio of mental health diagnoses found the perfect opportunity to make me feel miserable.

Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you I'm usually the optimist of the group. I've stubbornly held on to the idea that one day we'll get over this nonsense, form something like the United Federation of Planets, and achieve a golden age where love beats hate and community beats greed. But for the first time in my life I felt, well, doubtful. What's the problem with our species? Why aren't more people concerned with all these problems? And if no one cares enough to make real change happen right now when it's needed...should I stop caring, too? If there is no hope for fixing this crazy world, then what is even the point of living? Why not set off every nuke on Earth and get the hard stuff over with?

That's when I realize, I'm starting to think like one of those people. You know, the guy who insists that humankind is rotten to the core, that there is no hope for the future and the sooner we go extinct, the better. That guy cloaks themself in weapons-grade pessimism. Understand something--and I don't say this lightly--I hate pessimism.

Mind you, I'm not talking about a reasonable level of doubt. A little cynicism is good for keeping yourself grounded in reality. Skepticism keeps you from rushing into bad situations or falling for traps. My father and several of my friends are there to warn me, "Well, that's not how it works..." or "You need to be realistic..." I'm not bashing that kind of thinking. I'm talking about being an all-out cynic. I flee raw cynicism because it's so damn depressing to see the worst in everything, everywhere, all the time. How can anyone think that way and function?

So when I start to feel I'm growing a cynical skin, I realize that's when the darkside wins. Satan, evil, our own inner darkness; call it whatever you want. It's been hounding humankind since our birth, and it wants us to give up. I don't know why exactly we're here, but I've always been convinced that life is a gift (from God, the Universe, whichever deity you prefer). Life is too precious for us to relinquish without a fight...

And that's when I remember humans are the best fighters. I refuse to say we are the most special species, but we certainly are the most tenacious. We are the species that compensated for its feeble strength by sciencing the bejeezus out of our problems. We formed a rock into a wheel. We learned how to build shelters and grow food. We outlasted the latest Glacial Maximum. We regrouped after the Bronze Age Collapse and the Bubonic Plague. We figured out how to split atoms and sequence DNA. We've never needed political or tactical reasons to sail across oceans or fly to the Moon; we do these things anyway because we're that damn curious.

It's true, we've made asinine choices with many of our discoveries. We're capabe of barbaric violence. But you know what else we're capable of? Love. Love! It's what makes parents do anything for their children. It's what makes people worry that other people are suffering in war. It's not enough to simply live; we all want to love, and to be loved. Love has continuously pulled us back from the precipice over and over. Humans are heard animals, and despite everything I have yet to see a point where difficult times actually break us. Somewhere, at some point, people realize they can't do this alone and band together. It's in our DNA, and no amount of politics or Climate Change or social media will change that.

And just like that, now I'm noticing all the things that are right with the world. The UN just signed a landmark deal to protect 60% of the world's oceans. Russia has not won the war, and probably won't. The studies about pollution-linked infertility might be flawed, and even if they're not, humanity is known for using ingenuity to get itself out of a jam. I recently had a fantastic conversation with two friends; we differ dramatically on religion and politics, but we found what we have in common and don't shun each other's differences. There. Is. Hope.

Things aren't going to be where we need them to be for a while. But we guarantee our own doom by professing we are powerless. We're not powerless. Can I singlehandedly solve the world's insanity? No. But I can make a difference, and so can you. I'm not going to be a victim of my own despair. I'm going to fight, even if I end up going down swinging. I'm going to keep writing positive stories in the hope that it will inspire people to not get stuck in a cruddy game of Monkey in the Middle. In other news, I've made a few new publications for your enjoyment:

--I have a new battery of scifaiku in both the Online and Print versions of Scifaikuest! February 2023 includes single poems and my haiku sequence "A Year Invaded". (Funny story, they accidentally printed one of my poems twice on the page! Oops!). You can find those HERE and HERE. --I am also excited to announce that I've published a poem with Mayfly Issue 74! I am honored to join their ranks of poets. The issue is in short supply, so order a copy HERE ASAP! --I am further excited to announce one of my haiku has debuted with The Heron's Nest! You can find that here (page 16!)

--I've got a new flash fiction with 365tomorrows! My bite-sized sci-fi tale "You Don't Buy New Family" can be found HERE. Don't give up. You're stronger than you can imagine, and the world NEEDS your magic! Until next time!

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