How do you know you’re alive?

I find it easy to forget that I am alive. When this happens, I trudge through my day, though “trudge” feels somehow wrong, as what I do happens more automatically, less effortfully, than the word implies. But I trudge through my day, a bit like an automaton, from one event on my calendar to the next, without much thought, without much feeling.

Sometimes, I notice this happening to me. Sometimes, I allow myself not to notice for minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months at a time. I did it for my entire 30s, in many ways.

Nowadays, I have strategies for noticing when this happens. Meditation, for example. When I’m in a zone such as this, my meditation can become flat. I curtail it, setting my timer for ten or fifteen minutes at a time I might usually sit for twenty; for twenty, when I might sit for thirty or more. And, I stop meditating before the timer rings, propelled not by urgency or anxiety or fear, but by listlessness, itself a deadening sensation.

At times, meditation can put me in touch with the awareness that I am, indeed, alive. That I breathe, that my heart pumps, my muscles ache. At my most attuned to the body, I can follow the breath through my nostrils, down through my throat, and into my lungs. And then, back again. I can feel my pulse, in my hands or arms, in my neck, in my head, sometimes even in my legs. When this happens, I feel a serene awareness of being, of being alive.

Other times, though, my breathing feels alien, as if it is happening through me, but not by me. The muscles in my body ache, but they don’t feel like my muscles. Rather, I have the sensation not that I am aching, or that aching is with me, but that an aching body afflicts my mind, and my mind feels a sort of lifeless orb.

I have other strategies besides meditation to restore vitality to my experience. Some function well. Some function maladaptively. Some function neutrally. Most don’t live in any one of those categories immutably.

Like depression, this deadness has as one of its central symptoms a tenacity, a resistance to that which might alleviate it. “Just get out of bed,” a not-depressed person says to their depressed spouse, not understanding that they might as well be saying “Just climb Everest,” or “Just run a marathon.” Or, really, “Just be different.”

The ways my deadness wants me to respond – with automaticity, with blankness – inevitably compound the problem. It takes effort. Not monumental effort, but consistent, mindful effort, to remember, in the face of all this, that I am in fact alive, and to do the things that allow me to live in that alive space.

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