Apathy – Matthias Schricker
There was a man. He felt apathetic. Which isn’t actually feeling anything. Which isn’t actually possible.
When his mother told him she was worried, he paused. He should smile. He should shake his head. He should deny things weren’t well. Or. He should nod, agree, sigh. But, he was engaged with emotional dissuasion. An absence of things that other people felt or identified with. He lacked interest or concern. He was an existential impostor. Disassociated. Without. He stared blankly back at her and they were quiet.
Elsewhere, there was a woman. She couldn’t reconcile the promotion she’d received. Haphazard luck. Other people knew what they were doing. They had reasons. Or they didn’t. Maybe they just did what they thought other people wanted them to do. She observed how people interacted. Everyone entreating everyone for validation. She didn’t disdain that. She didn’t want that either. The couple kissing: Nothing. The couple screaming and cursing at one another: Nothing. She walked home and didn’t turn her TV on.
She faintly remembered she’d enjoyed the flavor of her tea before. She also remembered feeling discontent before. Sometimes content. And now, just, nothing.
It was weighty. It was numbing. It was being barely afloat on rolling waves in the middle of the Pacific, with no sense of direction. There wasn’t really a point in moving any longer. He wouldn’t say he’d chose it, but he couldn’t say he felt like things should be any different either.
He didn’t feel sorry for himself. He didn’t feel angry. He didn’t feel seen or unseen. He simply didn’t care. He didn’t nap, nor did he react when he met peoples’ eyes.
Once upon a time there were fairy tale lives with things like worry, eagerness, bliss, anticipation, wanting more. He used to be afraid of everything. She used to care what everyone thought. He’d designed a tidy identity as a such-and-such. She fell in love a few times. He wished he could fall in love. She wished she hadn’t fallen in love.
Strangers liked their smiles. She smiled with the corners of her lips and with her eyes. He smiled and his whole face crinkled. He remembered not caring about things when he was younger. He remembered the plot in any Transformers movie better than he remembered carefree days, but he remembered them. She remembered the first time she realized she mattered. She remembered wondering why she’d had to realize it.
He got overwhelmed with work, family, friends, failed relationships, drinking too much, working too much, talking too much, thinking too much, being overwhelmed too much. He smoked cigarettes and then he didn’t.
He didn’t forget how to do his job, so he did it. He didn’t forget how to make jokes, so he made them. He didn’t forget how to pretend like things were okay because no one honestly wanted to know that things weren’t.
She finished school. She went to her graduation for her parents. She went to interviews and answered questions. She tried new foods, new friends, new ideas, new conversations. She tried swiping right more. She painted. She went to holiday meals, visited when asked, checked-in. She learned to smile with her mouth.
She remembered the first time she realized she felt empty. She’d walked to a spot that she’d felt drawn to time and time before. And this time the sunset didn’t register. Tears didn’t come to her eyes. The information she retained was no information. That was when she still turned on her television.
He thinks he’s unbalanced, so, he talks to a shrink. Even when he says how he’s feeling, he feels like it doesn’t matter.
She thinks she learned her apathy. She’s reacting to things. She’s tired. She’s in a phase.
He doesn’t want to kill himself, he just doesn’t think it matters if he dies.
She starts crying and doesn’t even realize she had been thinking about anything.
I don’t know why.
I don’t know why we get here. But, we do. To the place that it doesn’t matter how many times you hear:
“It’ll get better.”
“Things are just down right now.”
“I hope things look up.”
“Hey, you know we love you – right?”
“Don’t be so distant from us. We love you.”
“There’s so much good in life!”
“Wow, isn’t that beautiful?”
“I think he likes you.”
“Dude, she’s looking at you.”
“Everyone loves you.”
There’s too much absence. There’s too much nothing. There’s no point. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, just, honestly… things are empty.
Things are empty… except when they’re not. And I don’t think it’s magic. Or maybe it is. But, I think it’s the polarity of the subject. Apathy is the anthesis of the fullness of love. Almost more pointedly than any other thing that it isn’t, apathy is the void to love’s matter. Worthwhileness. Value. Joy. Peace. Place. Fearlessness. Hope.
I think, at least in cases I’ve seen, apathy is the reaction to wearying of asking: “Am I enough? Am I worthwhile? Do I have a purpose?” It’s feeling like the impostor in anything that’s good. It’s the multi-faced god of self preservation. It’s making sense of a world in which things seem constantly cold. It’s an answer to helplessness. It’s a mask that despair wears.
But. We still feel. We still move. Even the drastic acts we exhibit, or inhibit, because ‘nothing matters’ are interactions with feeling. The sensate nature of life, of seeing, of thinking, of being remains.
We still talk. We still hear. We still register other people. We still register things outside of ourselves. We still feel the absence of things which is in itself the recognition of things. But, everything, still, is overwhelming. So, apathy. And it’s perpetual. And even if it’s not there, it threatens to be there. It threatens to knock down the paper-thin constructs of our lives. It threatens to evict our dreams and inhabit our day-to-day.
We’re an apathetic generation because we’ve lost love along the way. We’re paralyzed but still have to keep moving, so, we do. But we don’t. Because moving for the sake of moving isn’t actually moving.
I get it. I don’t know why you might be apathetic. I don’t know why I can be.
I think that whatever apathy answers – it can be answered differently. I think that realizing you don’t feel things or no longer feel things is realizing those things exist. And realizing those things exist is enough to pursue those things, isn’t it? The moment you realize you’re not the person you want to be, you get to realize who you do want to be. The moment you realize the person you want to be, you’re immediately them. Every choice from then on is just affirming or avoiding that.
Apathy is an accepted state. It’s an accepted paralysis. An accepted answer to existence. And, it’s the wrong answer.
You’re worthwhile. Even if you’re the only one that is trying to answer if you’re worthwhile, that’s enough. Because? It has to be enough. Because someday it isn’t going to be about you. Someday it’s going to be about answering that for someone else. And apathy won’t let you do that.
So, love yourself. Love other people. Don’t talk at them. Don’t talk at yourself. Don’t love like that. At arms-length and unsure. Don’t love like gentlemen and ladies. With rules that say “I don’t want to intrude, I don’t want to invade, I don’t want to know what you don’t want me to know.” (But, do be gentle and kind and compassionate). Because that isn’t love. That’s being afraid of love in the absence of love.
Love is going to where people are. Love is staying around even when they can’t say what’s wrong. Love is not enabling emotional or existential disability, but not condemning for it either. Love is a choice. To answer, “Am I valuable? Am I worthwhile? Do you see me? Do you really think I matter?” Yes.
To be able to honestly answer love, you need to be honest about needing it yourself as well. Because apathy happens. Depression. Discouragement. Emptiness. And, sure, many of us can still exhibit loving attributes even when we’re empty. But, it ends. Always. It will end. We are not endless. We need love.
It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be exhausted. It’s okay to say the life you have isn’t the life you want. It’s okay to say you were wrong. It’s okay to say you were hurt. It’s okay to say that the future scares the crap out of you. It’s okay.
You’re an infinite answer to an infinite world. You’re necessary. Things are hopeless, because, you exist. You’re alive. And, maybe right now, you feel nothing; but you’re feeling. Choose life. Choose love. Seize it.
He wants to feel again.
She wants to feel again.
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