My Journey Towards Discovering the Meaning of Life This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 21, 2011
By , Williamsburg, VA
The summer that I turned fourteen was a good time in my life. I had two best friends with whom I always had fun, I had a nice boyfriend who really cared about me, I was getting along with my parents and older sister, I was filled with lots of creativity and writing lots of stories, and I was having fun learning to skateboard. There was always somewhere to go, something to do, and some kind of fun to be had. I was the happiest I’d ever been.
What put that summer in such sharp contrast was how overwhelmingly unhappy I’d been prior. Genetically predispositioned to depression, I had started to feel its effects in the fifth grade. That was the year I’d begun to see people in a clearer light and the first time that it really occurred to me that not everyone liked me. This realization hit especially hard because I was a chubby kid, an easy target for ridicule. Ostracized from my peers, the only person who would talk to me was the best friend I’d had since the second grade, but she had many other friends, and watching her socialize while everyone avoided me was the first strong loneliness I’d felt.

The next year, starting middle school was a difficult transition. I had gone to the same school since kindergarten, and I didn’t like the unfamiliarity of my new environment. Most of my fifth grade class, including my best friend, had been districted to a different school than the one I went to, so my discomfort at a new school was accompanied by not knowing any of my classmates. I was a shy kid, and since I’d known my best friend since we were seven, I’d never had to develop the skills necessary to make new friends. Quiet and unforthcoming, I spent the sixth grade without any friends.

In the seventh grade, I returned to an environment more familiar but no more welcoming. Everyone else’s friendships already in place, I was an outcast. However, not long after the school year started, a girl in a few of my classes befriended me. Lonely and anxious for company, I was glad to have a friend, and we quickly became close. Naïve and trusting, I didn’t see the effect she would have on me.

As anxious for approval as I was, perhaps even more so, she took a different approach than mine. In order to elevate her character and make her seem more impressive than she was, she lied constantly. Not seeing her deception, her stories of older friends, parties, substance abuse and sex filled me with a sense of inadequacy. Subsequently, I began to match her stories with ones of my own, and leading myself into a web of lies made the seventh grade a time of discomfort and guilt.

Also in the seventh grade, I got my first big crush on a boy. I thought the long hair he flipped all the time was adorable, and his cynical sarcasm made me laugh. Too shy to let him know how I felt, I spent the year hoping that he would make the first move, but he never did. He was always a little bit rude and dismissive of me, but I didn’t see it at the time, and so I ended seventh grade disheartened, hoping that the following year would be better.

The summer after seventh grade stretched out endlessly for me. Without many friends or pastimes, I was confined to my house, anxious for companionship but receiving none. I spent my days hiding under my covers with my bedroom door closed and my curtains drawn, afraid to face the outside world, sleeping through the days and crying through the nights, yearning for an end to the empty days that stretched out before me.

It was in that lonely summer that I began to seek an escape. Unable to achieve the love or friendship that I was so desperate for, I wanted a way out, no matter the consequences. And it was in that deep hole of loneliness and depression that consumed me that I first began to cut myself.

Cutting myself began as more of an experiment than anything for me. I’d had the idea long before I’d carried out the action. Before I had first done so, the idea of harming myself as a form of relief seemed illogical, unlikely to work. But I was further down than I knew how to handle, and at that point I was willing to try anything that might help, feeling that I didn’t have much left to lose.

The calm struck me from the very first time a blade pierced my skin. I had been expecting pain, but rather, an intense numbness spread over my entire body. When I controlled my pain, it seemed, the pain wasn’t apparent. It wasn’t happiness, certainly, but it wasn’t sadness either. And any relief from my mental hold of misery was what I craved. I became addicted. Every day following, I was anxious to retreat to the solitude of my room and open my wounds. It was an even trade, I figured, physical harm for mental stability.

I returned to the eighth grade scarred and unsure of what to expect. That year, rather than seeking company, I shied away from interaction, not wanting to have to explain my scars. I figured myself doomed to solitude, assumed that friendships were impossible for me, and withdrew into myself, stopped trying to make friends.

But perhaps a light does appear at the end of every tunnel, for that was a year of transition for me. As I ceased to seek relationships, they found me of their own accord. I had an English teacher who gave lots of writing assignments, and who praised me for my writing ability. It was the first time I’d ever felt truly skilled at anything, and that was when I began to write creatively for the first time. I began writing stories that year, and I was happy with my creations.

In a strange, roundabout way that year, kids began to talk to me. I don’t know if I changed, or they did, or if perhaps we all matured a little bit. Nonetheless, friendship found me, and I found a skill to be proud of in my writing. I began to talk to people more, and slowly, I began to have plans more and more. Just as I was ready to give up, hope found me.

My happiness began to climb that year, slowly but steadily. Within myself, though, there was still a part of my past that was unresolved. No one had known of my struggles, my suffering, my loneliness, and the memories haunted me. A part of that loneliness still resided in me, and I didn’t know how to release it. A boyfriend, I thought, but my affections were still directed towards the same boy who didn’t want me. So I passed most of that year perfectly happy on the surface, but with the faint pull of that misery still tapping at my mind, trying to find a crack through which to force its way in.

And then, that May, everything changed. A new boy entered my life, and he turned my world upside down. I was his, from the first time I saw his beautiful smile, heard his unrestrained laugh.

I don’t want to reveal his name here, but for the sake of relieving pronoun confusion, I’ll call him M.

M was more than what I’d wanted, better than I could have imagined. He was truly what I needed, the final puzzle piece that fit perfectly, completing me and fulfilling my happiness to its greatest possible potential. He was happy, he was joyful, he was wild, he was free, and he passed on his good spirit to everyone who crossed his path. He was happiness in his simplest form, perpetually optimistic, letting the bad things in life bounce off him and making the most out of the good, enjoying life to its fullest. From the first time we met, I was entranced.

I was out with friends and had lost track of them, he was on a skateboard. He stood talking to a group of kids I vaguely knew, the board on the ground before him. For lack of anything better to do, I stepped onto the board and asked him to teach me how to skate.

From my first moments on a board, I fell in love with skating. My balance was horrible, I couldn’t figure out how to turn, the board flew out from under me every time I tried to propel myself, and I fell on my ass more than I actually skated, but I didn’t care. That first night, those few moments that I was upright, the wheels rolling under my feet, my hair blowing back, wind whipping against my body, I felt like I could fly. My surroundings blurring with my speed, adrenaline coursing through my veins, it was the closest to magic I’d ever gotten. And that was worth the falls, the scrapes, the bruises, that was what kept me getting up just one more time than I’d fallen down.

M was there with me for the whole thing, and that night, from the moment I met him, I knew that he was a little bit magic too. He let me hold onto his shoulders as I first got my balance on the board, he held my hands and guided me through the motions as I first began to move, he caught me as I stumbled, and he helped me up when I fell. His touch was unlike any other I’d experienced; as my skin met his, it felt like electricity shocking me. When he hugged me goodbye that night, I realized that I didn’t know where he lived, his phone number, his last name, even, and I wondered if I’d ever see him again.

My question was answered the following week when I came across him amongst a group of my friends. He’d asked after me, it seemed, and we spent the night together. We skated together, taking turns on his board, my falls becoming less and less frequent. I laughed, I flirted, I made my interest clear, and by the end of the night, he’d asked me to be his girlfriend.

From that night on, we were together. If we weren’t hanging out, we were talking on the phone, if not that, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I heard from him. M was what I needed to be my full self; he gave me the confidence to believe in myself, to realize my worth.

The corner of my mind that contained its misery didn’t disappear, but M gave me the confidence to face it. He saw the scars, but he never asked about them until I’d initially brought up the subject. There were lows in my time with M, but he held me through the tears and talked me through the grief. M had an innate way of knowing exactly what I needed, just what would make me feel better, and with him, I emerged from the sad periods whole and with my happiness intact.

I finished out the school year, and spent my summer with M. We skated, we walked, we laughed, we talked, we kissed. And eventually the kissing progressed, and that summer, I lost my virginity to M. It’s not a decision I regret, for who better than M? He laughed with me, he cried with me, he supported me, he comforted me, we finished each other’s sentences. He completed me, and I loved him. However, even with my lack of regret, I do wish we had been more careful.

It was later that summer, in mid-August, that the worrying started. I hadn’t kept track of my period, but it seemed like an awfully long time since I’d had it. I wish I had told someone, but I wasn’t sure myself, and I didn’t want to worry anyone, so I stood alone in a pharmacy checkout, clutching a pregnancy test and trembling.

My fears were soon confirmed, and I didn’t know what to do. I was barely fourteen, in no way ready for a baby. I knew I had to tell M, but I was terrified. I wished the whole mess would just go away. There was no way of getting around it, though, and I resolved to tell him when I saw him the next day.

The next day arrived, and M with it, and I didn’t know how to make myself say the words. I procrastinated, wanting just one last perfect, carefree summer day before everything had to change. And so it went, and everything did change after that day, but not in the way I’d envisioned.

That day began as all the days before it had that summer. M and I were together, we were laughing, we were skating. And then we came to a hill, steep as it was long, and I wanted to fly just one more time before I had to face responsibility.

M cautioned me against it. It was dangerous, he said, the board would get too fast. I didn’t have a helmet, he warned, I would hurt myself. But he didn’t know what I knew. I wanted one more chance at fun, at happiness, and at being a kid. I wanted to feel the last of the magic before I had to grow up. And so, despite M’s attempts to protect me, I stepped onto my board and flew down that hill, and that was when everything changed.

I don’t remember the next two weeks after that. The first thing that floats into my consciousness from that time is the memory of a hospital bed. M’s warnings had been all too accurate. I had indeed fallen off my board, hitting my head on the curb in the process. The speed that I’d been going at had caused the impact to be severe, causing brain hemorrhaging and nearly resulting in my death. Flying didn’t have quite the same meaning for me after that.

I was slightly alarmed at the amount of medication that the hospital staff had me taking daily. I called a nurse over, told her that I was pregnant, asked her if she was sure that the dosages were safe for a fetus. She looked uncomfortable, left my question hanging unanswered in the air, and a pit dropped in my stomach as she hastened to get a doctor.

The doctor confirmed my fear, so opposite the one I’d had just a few weeks prior. Head trauma as serious as mine could provoke many natural reactions, she told me, and mine had. I had miscarried.

I didn’t want to believe it was true. Much as I had been fearful about the prospect of a baby, I’d grown more attached than I’d realized. Much as I’d wished the situation would disappear, I’d loved that baby. No one else had ever known of its existence, but I had, and I hadn’t realized how much I valued the tiny life inside me until it was gone. As unprepared as I’d been for it, I still had the capacity to love it.

I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I wanted to pretend that the situation didn’t exist, and unlike the previous predicament, I had the option to do so. The next few passing weeks were strange, empty, filled with the loneliness of mourning someone whom no one else could. When M visited, I wanted to cry every time he laughed. We stood on opposite sides of an abyss, me staring into its depths, wanting to call out to him but unable to, he with his back to it, unaware of the long fall so close to him.

After a little more than a month, I was released from the hospital. I went home, tried to fall back into my old routine, but I couldn’t. The changes kept coming after I got home, but even if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to pick up where I’d left off. I was a different person. Inhibitions crowded me, and I saw the world through different eyes. I was separated from the world by an invisible curtain, and I was the only one who knew of its existence. The loneliness was back to engulf me.

M had been acting a little bit strangely towards me throughout my hospital stay, though I’d been too preoccupied to notice it much. It struck me very clearly after my release, though. His light, carefree manner was weighted. Something was on his mind, and when I asked what was wrong, he skirted my questions and avoided me. Eventually, fed up and suspicious of his motives, I asked him if he was going to break up with me. He replied that maybe we would be better as friends, and two days after I had gotten home, my relationship was over.

‘Let’s still be friends’ is a breakup cliché that’s rarely followed through, and so I braced myself for life without M. He’s one of the most honest people I know, though, and he stayed true to his word. He was still a player in my life, not the everyday role he’d played before, but often enough to brighten my weeks and allow me to maintain the resilient mentality that he’d showed me how to accomplish.

Even though I had been discharged, I was still recovering, and because brain injuries can cause lapses in judgment, my doctor recommended that I be placed under constant supervision. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house by myself, I couldn’t hang out with friends unless an adult was nearby, I never had a moment to myself.
I was isolated from the social scene, in a position with the potential for intense loneliness, and I certainly wasn’t as happy as I’d been prior, but I wasn’t as sad either. Confined mostly to my house, if I had visitors, we sat on the front porch where I was visible through a window. Many of my friends rejected this lack of excitement, forgot about me, but M was there. At least once a week he came to visit me, and though he didn’t want the relationship we’d previously had, he proved to me that he still cared for me, truly did want to be my friend.
Brain injuries can affect the body and the mind, and my initial damage was to both. Along with my many injuries, the filter in my mind that enabled me to choose what information to keep from which people was temporarily disabled. I was an open book, willing to tell the full story to anyone who came along, unable to consider the consequences.
I inadvertently revealed a plethora of information to my unsuspecting parents. Out spilled details of my life, my sister’s, my mother’s, and immediately conflict ensued. It was like spilling a glass of water and trying to get the liquid back into the glass exactly as it had been before. The secrets I hadn’t meant to tell started a long, difficult, irreversible chain of events.
My sister is a person of extremes, always trying to push limits, bend rules, disregard authority. She cannot accept people exercising control over her, and she believes herself to be ungovernable, free to do anything at her whim, accountable to no one. Thus, her actions paralleled this belief, and she was doing all sorts of things not appropriate to her age.
She had a boyfriend whom she harbored an unhealthy obsession for, and he was at the center of all her misdeeds. My father travels a lot for his work, leaving an empty house, and she would on those occasions tell my mother that she was staying with a friend, the proceed to spend the night with her boyfriend in my father’s vacant house. She took interest in the bizarre, though uncommon and uncondoned actions elevated her personality, and had been having loud sex with her boyfriend in my presence, or at least earshot, since I had been twelve. I in no way desired this, but there was little I could do to stop her. She believed that being unusual made her cool, and so I was an unwilling witness to her exploits and her boyfriend, who was eighteen and a legal adult, consequently exposed himself to me on multiple occasions.
My parents were blissfully oblivious of these events for over a year since they began, but as my unconscious mind informed them of all the things I’d never wanted them to know, everything snowballed. My father, suspicious and seeking confirmation, read my sister’s diary. She consequently flew into an uncontrollable rage, telling him she hated him and screaming continuously, unable to be reasoned with.
My father, thinking his actions were justified and unable to control her, eventually told her to get out, that she could come back once she’d calmed down and could talk rationally. She left in a rage, went to go live with my mother full time, and still has barely spoken to him since, even now, a year and a half later.
My father, distraught by the whole situation, searched for a solution and came to the conclusion that my mother was an unfit parent. He criticized her lack of supervision, from her being at work all day to going to bed early to staying overnight at her boyfriend’s. My father said that this lack of parental involvement gave my sister and me the liberty to behave exactly as we pleased, and in my sister’s case, he was correct.
He confronted my mother about her parenting, and she, prone to the same type of reaction as my sister was, became very angry with him. Insulted by his questioning her ability as a parent, she defensively told him that there was nothing wrong with her parenting and did nothing.
Consequently, my father, feeling that it was unsafe for me to live there and thinking he had no other option, took my mother to court to dispute their custody agreement. He sought full custody of me; she wanted no change to the current agreement, in which I spent most of my time at her house.
It was a long, tedious process, filled with tension and insult and hurt. I was the only person in my immediate family who was still on speaking terms with everyone else. My parents were furious with each other, my father and sister were at an angry stalemate, both unwilling to compromise and refusing to believe that any blame lay upon themselves. The court case was filed in September 2009, and has only come to its close last week, February 2011.
I was bounced back and forth between houses throughout that time, everyone wanting me to side with them, everyone angry if I defended the opposing side. My neutrality frustrated everyone, so firm in their belief that their viewpoint was correct. But there was no side for me to choose, because both perspectives had a valid point. My mother made my father worry for my safety through her inattention, but my father insulted her and embarrassed her, put her through a year and a half of court hell. My father invaded my sister’s privacy, but she disrespected him, disregarded his rules, and put herself in the position to form potential for harm. Both sides are justified, all parties had cognitive reasoning, and it was too convoluted to be able to place firm labels of right and wrong.
I was basically asked to choose between my parents in the process. I refused, and so the end result was switching between houses on a monthly basis. Peacekeeping was difficult, and it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. Nietzsche has said that what does not kill us makes us stronger. I’m a better person for coming out of this situation still retaining good relations with everyone involved. Though the experience was difficult, it’s hardened me, assured me of my ability, made me believe in myself more while simultaneously causing me to form new beliefs and learn to be firmer in my convictions.
I’ve been through a lot in the past year and a half, faced conflict and sadness and despair, and coming out of it whole has given me a lot to think about. If I can get through that, not unscathed but not broken either, I think I’ll be able to get through a lot. It’s been a test of sorts of my strength, and having the knowledge of how strong I am fortifies me through difficult times, will help get me through whatever life throws at me.
I’ve learned self-reliance, but I’ve also learned how important it is to be able to depend on others. No one can stand strong on their own all the time, and accepting the support of others can only make you stronger. My support came in the form of M, the fun, vivacious, optimistic, impermeable, effervescent angel that skated into my life. He’s been behind me through it all, always ready to catch me if I fell. He’s been my hand to hold, my shoulder to cry on, the echo to my laughter. He’s taught me the meaning of love, friendship, support, happiness, resilience. We’ve laughed through life’s difficulties together. He’s built my strength along with me, shown me how I can rely on myself and still have a safety net.
I’ve learned the importance of moving on from life’s difficulties. There’s no way of going back to the things we don’t like our memories of, no way of changing what’s already happened. The only way of moving is forward, and we have no choice but to move in that direction. But we can choose whether we live in memories, playing out all the hypotheticals and not appreciating the present, or if we can accept that the past is impermeable and step forward decisively with the intent to make the future the best it can be.
I’ve learned how to forgive. My family put me through a lot in the past year, but I recognize that they suffered too. Life isn’t always fair, and you can try to place blame for the things that happen beyond your control, or you can simply accept that fact and make the best out of how things are.
I’ve learned how to believe. A life without belief is difficult to find the meaning in. There’s always something to believe in, always a reason to smile, always a chance at hope. I believe in hope. Hope is effervescent, shines through the worst of situations, betters even the most grim predicaments, and hope is always possible. No matter how bad things get, no matter how sad I get, no matter the circumstance, after my experiences, I’ll never stop believing, and I’ll never stop hoping.
I still skate, even after all the bad it’s caused me, because it’s caused me so much good too. I still believe in magic, and I don’t want to give up on what sparked that belief within me. Because what causes magic, what allows me to hope, is getting up just once more than I’ve fallen down. Skating has caused me to fall, but as long as I keep getting back on the board, it’ll keep causing me to smile.
Life’s path is like the trajectory of a Superball, soaring high and low, bouncing up and down, bumping into obstacles that change its course. Some of us are thrown up to begin with, and will continue to soar higher as we go, but there’s always a point where we have to come down at. Some of us are thrown down to begin with, and continue to drop lower, but there’s always a bottom to bounce off of, always a point at which we begin to go back up.
Some of us are thrown hard, whether we go up or down, and continue to go in that direction for a long time. Some of us are tossed lightly, and change direction quickly. Some of us run a straight path up and down, others bump into a lot of things along the way and our path runs diagonally, curving, fluctuating. There’s no predicting how you’ve been thrown, no way of knowing when you’ll begin to drop or bounce back up. Sometimes new force is added to a path already in motion, sometimes a path has no stimulus and makes small flights and falls.
The only constant in life is change, and the best way to get through life is to remember that change will always happen. Enjoying happiness but remembering the potential to drop at any time lessens the impact of the fall. Remembering that bottom to bounce off of, keeping the eventual journey back up in sight while you’re headed down shines light through a gloomy existence. We soar and fly through life’s challenges and joys, and whether it’s good or bad, the intensity of the journey is memorable.
My journey’s been a rocky one, filled with dramatic falls and amazing highs. I’ve traveled to death’s door and back, physically through my hospital stay and mentally through my struggles with depression. I’ve come through beaten, tired, and scarred, but I survived. I’m not perfectly smooth, and I’ve lost parts of myself along the way, but I’ve discovered other parts of myself too. Change has happened, as it does in all instances, and change is hard, but I’ve come through it. Change doesn’t lend itself to perfection, doesn’t allow for a smooth, glossy finish, but it can allow for happiness in imperfection. The more you go through, the more you survive, the more perfection you lose, but the less perfection matters. Imperfection is resilience, strength, accomplishment. Mentally and physically, I’m scarred, and I’m proud of my scars, for they remind me what I’ve made it through, what I’ve survived, how hard I’ve tried, and everything I’ve accomplished. I’ve gained strength as I’ve gained scars.
Two summers ago, I had as much of a change of dying as I did of living. Dying was the easy choice, the outcome that required no effort, but that’s not how it turned out. I lived, and recovery was difficult, but I did it. I didn’t do it alone, but the support I had was what allowed me to achieve my effort, and that was what was most important. No matter how many hands support you, if you want to accomplish something, you have to make an effort. Support eases effort, makes it more achievable, but the importance lies in the effort itself. I made that achievement, and it was for a reason.
So what’s the meaning of life? Right now, I don’t know. What I do know is that there is one, and that I’m going to discover it. If my life were meaningless, there would have been no reason for me to live. Death was the path of least resistance, the easy way out, but it wasn’t what happened. There’s a meaning behind my struggles, an explanation for why I lived when I could just as easily have died. There’s something I haven’t done yet, something that kept my life going, something I’ll go on to do.
Nietzsche has said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in that suffering.” I survived, and I’m in the process of finding that meaning. I’m still a kid, and so I haven’t discovered it yet, but I have no doubt that I will. Having made it through the experiences that I have, I’m convinced of a deeper meaning behind it. I’ve been through so many trials of resilience, and I’ve come out intact. I’m covered in holes, pieces of me have been carved out, I’m scarred, but I’m still together, and that has to be for a reason.
Everyone has a meaning of life, but there’s no one clear-cut definition of what that is. The meaning resides in us all, but it’s not the same for everyone. The reason there are so many different people is because they all have different meanings.
The meaning of your life isn’t handed to you. You won’t be told what it is. You won’t stumble across it. The decision rests solely with you. You have to set out to discover your life’s meaning. It takes effort, and it takes time, but discovering a meaning is possible for everyone. Your life can mean whatever you want it to. You have the power and the responsibility to make the decision. My journey’s been long, but it’s not over yet, and someday, I’ll be able to state my life’s meaning with conviction.

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