By Joseph Cox

I was 15 years old when I self-harmed for the first time. In media, there’s always a pale character shimmering in the darkness of the room. The knife slides through the flesh off-screen, the camera zooms in on the neck as it gasps in succulent relief, and the character fades into sleep as all the troubles slip away and the blood reaches the comfort of the sheets.  I found relief, but it came only from the shock of the moment. It wasn’t the cut, but the bitter realization that suicide was drawing near.

Every year as the clock ticks by, the candles get more plentiful, and I venture just a bit farther from home, that kid with the knife gets a little bit farther away. I remember the days when I’d stand in front of a crowd and shake so much that my skin would beat against my baggy jeans, but that boy gets buried a little deeper with every presentation, speech, and leadership role I encounter. Though, all the drifting feelings can’t hide the reality that the boy is never too far away. He was wrapped in the same blanket I’m tucked beneath as I write this now, he wore the same watch, he sang too loud in the shower to the same music, and, truthfully, the same things scared the hell out of him. The people that didn’t care about him then don’t care about him now, he didn’t stop caring about the people he loved, and he stubbornly refused to have apathy for just about anyone, yet, somehow, he became much happier. He rose the tired body that he detested out of bed every morning, tried to fix the hair he could never get right, brushed the teeth that pounded with brace pain, and put on polos that looked atrocious on him only to drag his depressed self to the high school that had zero chance of improving his happiness. I just turned 19, and I think back to what I’d say to that kid now.

I’d tell him that the sweaty palms and resounding thuds of his heart won’t go away no matter how many times he stands in front of a crowd, writes down words he hasn’t heard someone else say, or talks to a girl he finds attractive, but it won’t matter that he can’t quell his heart. His heart is what makes him feel alive. Even when he horrendously massacres a social situation, he’ll learn to laugh at himself, and he laughs quite a lot. Sometimes, he screws it up just for the fun.

I’d go on to explain that I don’t blame him for anything he’s feeling right now. He lives in a society that’s rigged with systems built to retain commerce instead of happiness, and high-school is a breathing example of a system that went horrifically wrong. I’d also know that he spends every day surrounded by people struggling just as much, if not more, than he is. Then, he comes home to watch the news that belts a cheerful, “Good evening world,” while proceeding to tell him all the reasons why the evening is not good at all. Also, his parents ask him, “You okay?” so many times per day that he’d love to have something go right in life just to have something else to talk about. I’d tell him that life is incredibly tough at times, and I don’t blame him for wanting to die for a fair portion of it.

I’d also tell him that his polos and overly large jeans aren’t hiding his chubbiness from anyone, that his brown polo he used for picture day in middle school made him look like a UPS salesman, that the roundness of his face is hilariously more accentuated when his hair is short, that he’ll forever have a hatred of sandals and flip-flops unless they are worn by Spartans, and that he’d probably hate himself less if he just went to the gym instead of dissing muscular people that have the bodies he wishes he had. Also, I’d tell him mac-n-cheese is delicious, and even though he’ll go on a ridiculous diet plan that no one should ever do, learn the convincing rationality of veganism, and come to despise the drowsy feeling he gets from consuming cheese, he should keep eating it for the fun of it.

I’d tell him these things because depressed people aren’t always blameless. People confined to wheelchairs aren’t always nice, veterans aren’t always cool, policemen don’t always shoot unarmed people, and small children don’t always bring me to tears with their high voices, so no one should be treated a specific way due to one characteristic.  Don’t get me wrong, life became immeasurably more enjoyable upon graduating from the cesspool of self-loathing that is the average American high-school, and some mentally ill persons are dictated by the terms of their respective diseases. But, it’s not as if the universe delivered happiness to my life. As much as I wanted it to happen, happiness never burst through my door in Kool-Aid man fashion with an “OH YEAH!” no matter how many times I said, “Oh no.” to the life I so desperately hated. Why? Because depression doesn’t come from having a terrible life, it comes from the perception that life will always be garbage. Hence, we kill ourselves to avoid the insurmountable avalanche of trash coming our way. No suicidal individual ever had the final thought of, “I’ll bet life would be great if I was living tomorrow, but nah.” The truth is, I always defined what happiness was for me, but the kid I was had no idea what that definition might be.

What I did know is that other people weren’t bullied, other people weren’t chubby, and other people didn’t struggle with the immense amount of other troubles that are too personal and lengthy to mention to an audience that didn’t ask for any of this. I also knew that I felt sorry for everyone else, didn’t want to be worthless, and wanted every person on the planet to be happy. Yeah, of course I was going to be sad when that’s all I was consciously aware of.

Look, what I’m trying to say is being purposefully antagonistic to any ill person, mentally or otherwise, is probably one of the least cool things you can do as a human being. It’s right up there with kicking the crutches out from underneath someone and hitting a dolphin with a boat; cruelty and misunderstanding to any ill person is no bueno. However, bashing the ill person over the head with empathy until they feel helplessly defined by the ailment isn’t a better alternative, for we should strive to listen and care for the people that need it rather than berate them with empathy. Had I received more understanding, perhaps I would have learned to define my own happiness sooner. Instead, I was caught in the world that always loved to come crashing down.

Obviously, I’m not asking anyone to walk up to a cancer patient and go, “Hey pal, I empathize and understand the severity of your situation, but walk it off, homie. It’s just cancer!” because anyone who says that should be kicked in the left knee repeatedly. What I am saying is that empathy, as rare as it may be, is only the beginning of a decent conversation. Empathize, think through the situation, and respond accordingly. Don’t just hit him or her with an, “Aw, I’m sorry, but life will get better soon.” That’s about as useful as reacting with glee at any cat video; it’s an automatic reaction now.

So, in conclusion, I’d tell my 15-year-old self that he’s incredibly strong for enduring the pains that his perception, and the things that caused such perceptions, had brought him. I wouldn’t blame him the least for wanting to kill himself either. But, most of those crappy things aren’t going to change quickly, and life is still going to be insanely difficult regardless of what he does. However, with some work, some great friends, and a hell of a lot of mistakes, he can manage to work his way through life. I won’t propose that there’s some one stop solution to everything, but I will propose that life gets to be much more interesting when you leave that dark room, that desolate high-school hallway, and the daily drag of allowing yourself to have the exact same thought patterns. Start small, kid, because each step makes the next step a little easier.

You’ll probably never figure it out, but that’s what makes it all so entertaining.

Political Rant Part 1 – To The Liberals

Photo Credit to PBS.org

By Joseph Cox

Disclaimer: The views reflected below do not represent the collective beliefs of UWF Infinite Wisdom, nor do they represent the collective view of its writers. We possess writers of various ethical and political backgrounds, so the notions expressed here should be viewed as my own.

Disclaimer having been made, I’ll note here that I’m making no attempt to remain unbiased, for I believe the only way to move forward is to express one’s opinions raw and openly. Argumentation, debate, and learning is what will drive our nation forward, make it great again even, but cowering behind an unbiased opinion moves us nowhere. Consider this a combusted start to an open dialogue.

There’s only one word that comes to mind when I view the photo above: pathetic. Though, contrary to the opinions of the many who oppose Trump, as well as the newest piece of healthcare legislation, the word pathetic does not pop into my mind because of the miserable forced smiles of 200 men. The word pathetic doesn’t arise when I contemplate the fact that millions of people may soon lose health coverage, nor does it squirm in when I contemplate the enumerable numbers of people that may soon be swindled into increased healthcare prices due to past conditions they have no hope of controlling. No, what is so endlessly pathetic is not this conglomeration of political backwardness because I expected that. It’s not as if we weren’t warned of the atrocities that Trump would come to commit in his reign, and anyone that expressed even the slightest bit of shock from the recent political events clearly paid no attention during the election. No, what’s pathetic is not the foreseen raging tide of the Conservatives on Capitol Hill, but the American nation. Our bifurcation of politics has not only allowed such a miserable piece of legislation to occur, but has utterly annihilated any sense of open dialogue among the parties. Many rational minded Conservatives have been driven into hiding for fear of the public ridicule they’ll receive upon emerging as a Republican, and that, my fellow Americans, is what strikes me as pathetic. It is not the retreat of these rational individuals that is pathetic, but it is the behavior of the opposing side that strikes me as pathetically incorrect.

Before I delve deep into the rant, let us get one thing straight, we live in a representative democracy, meaning that those 200 men pictured above, the Democrats that accompany them, and the senate, are what represent America to the foreign world. It’s not the posts of the Liberals who claim that Trump is, “not my president,” it is not the attendees of Trump rallies, and it is not any particular American city or state, for that’s the point of having representation. We, as a collective, elect the individuals that best reflect our beliefs, but many of us have forgotten what representation means. For all purposes, being in a representative democracy means that your beliefs only hold relevance when they’re influencing those that represent you. From the mayors of cities, to the house, to the senate, to the POTUS, each representative is elected to act on behalf of the collective. America elected the men pictured in that photo, for the Conservatives did not act alone.

Definition of representative democracy aside, it’s time to talk about what’s pathetic. To every Liberal that has ever posted that Donald Trump is not your president, that mysterious blob of spray tan is, in fact, your president. To any Liberal that has dared to disagree with this healthcare bill only to point fingers across the aisle at the Conservative party, this bill is your fault too. Finally, to anyone, including myself, that has ever forced someone to feel idiotic for holding beliefs that they may never have fully investigated, you’re the real idiot in that equation. Yes, I’ve been an idiot before too.

My point here is simple: as a part of a representative democracy, what Trump and the Botox faces do is our responsibility as a collective. There is no Conservative or Democrat to the rest of the world when they see America because all that’s in sight is Trump. The election is over, yes, but the lessons that needed to be reaped from the process have clearly been left in the ashes of Clinton’s dreams. Democrats are every bit as responsible for every action Trump takes as the Republicans are, even if a Democrat voted against him, because that’s how a representative democracy functions. As a Liberal, your responsibility is not to belittle the other side into submission, nor is it to shame those that have defeated you. Any attempt to shame your counterparts is a direct contradiction of the beliefs you claim to hold, literally. Here, I’ll prove it to you. The following is the definition of Liberal: open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values (feel free to google it for yourself if you don’t believe me).

What’s pathetic here is not that the Conservative party is fulfilling its promises, but that the Democrats have dared to act as if they’re powerless to stop the tide of red. The facts are blatant. Facebook posts, whining on Instagram, yelling at your Conservative friends, festering in the wonders of groupthink with those that think like you, and tweeting about how much you just can’t stand those tight faced white dudes in suits isn’t going to get you anywhere. The Republicans didn’t win the last election because Americans are ignorant, but because they were the only people that showed up to the fight. If you want the egalitarian world you so desperately desire, then you may well wish to start talking about it to the people that think your views are ridiculous. Your Facebook friends don’t need convincing, but the thousands of people passionate enough to attend Trump rallies, as well as the millions of people passionate enough to vote for Trump, do need to hear what you have to say. Neither Conservatives nor Liberals are necessarily immoral due to their party affiliations, but backing people into corners until the only voices they hear are those shouting the loudest will certainly convert them to foolishness much quicker. If you think the other party is doing stupid things, maybe blame the individuals spreading the rhetoric and beating you at your own game, as opposed to the innocents that are merely buying into the arguments that are continuously presented to them.

It’s insanely counter-intuitive that the political dogma that so vehemently speaks for equality has collectively grown to have the voice of a nagging 5-year-old that won’t bother to hear what the other side is saying. Belittling, whining, walking away from the difficult discussions, and telling your friends about it isn’t helping, but dialogue with those that are different can, and does, change the world. Debate, engage, and start conversations amongst the people that have the power to sway your representatives in your desired direction because this healthcare bill won’t be the last abomination.  Need proof of my arguments? LOOK AT THE PHOTO because they’re beating you for a reason.


What did you think of this article? Leave any feedback in the comments section down below.

The Definition of You

Quote and illustrations by Dr. Seuss

By Joseph Cox

Definitions are endlessly interesting to me because so few of us seem to examine what they really are. In modern society, we love to have opinions on any concept we can begin to grasp. Politics, the news, science, religion, abortion, drugs, welfare, and student loans are all things being debated everyday by people with minimal education to people with doctoral degrees, yet we pay such little attention to articulating our definitions before we bother to debate. We take such stupendous amounts of information for granted that we often wind up accepting terms that we never agreed to, being swooned by people we trusted, and agreeing with statements we have never fully grasped. I hope to elaborate more on the philosophical and political implications of our society’s specificity problem, but for now, in the spirit of finals week, I’ll focus on just one application of definition: what defines you?

As a college student, I’ve been hit with that rusty train on numerous occasions. I refer to the defining task as rusty because that’s what the question feels like when it’s asked, and what the advice sounds like when it’s given. Being asked to define myself is like a rusted pile of metal painfully screeching its way through my brain in a pattern I’ve seen a thousand times before. I’m always just waiting for the train to pass. Biding my time before I finally explode to explain all the reasons bothering to define myself is a worthless endeavor for two reasons. One, the definition should have relevance to only me, and secondly, the act of defining isn’t permanent. The definitions of people, as with the definitions of words, are flexible objects that change with the flow of life. Well, here’s the explosion of my reasoning.

What I define myself as, should I choose to apply such a strange limitation to myself, is relevant only to me. Applications, tests, and interviews are all designed to delve into some strange, falsely universal, method of uncovering who we are as people. Finals week presents no better time to point out the uselessness of tests in defining who someone is. Around me every day are future scientists, communicators, teachers, and parents of differing cultures, beliefs, religions, and experiences, yet I observe most us, myself included, worrying about things that we allow to define us. The effects of test scores have little practical implications in our lives beyond the powers we grant them. Say I’d like to be a scientist. What about failing all 5 of my exams would stop me from achieving that goal? Sure, it would be preferable that I succeed now, but my future success isn’t entirely dependent on the scores I receive currently. My point here is simple. In the scientist scenario, I’ve assigned a definition to myself: I’m a future scientist. Such a construction was, hopefully, created entirely by me for my own sake, yet here I’ve been all week worrying that someone might take that definition away from me. The fear of test scores does not come down to a mere fear of failure, but to a fear that something might strip away the definitions we’ve afforded ourselves. Though, the truth is much more frighteningly beautiful: the only thing that can strip away that definition is whatever assigned it. Test scores can’t touch your dreams, institutions have, at best, limited power over you, and the only person that defines anything in your life is you. Feeling stressed? Change your definition of success. Don’t want to change your standards for success? Better define the requirements you must meet to reach such success. Test scores have only the powers that you grant them, so define the scores however you so choose.

Furthermore, perhaps the most overlooked point of defining oneself, is that definitions of all kinds are infinitely flexible. Few people ever stop to consider how words themselves come to be defined. Take how the word ‘red’ came to be defined for example. How did that color come to be established? It’s not as if there was some objective concept of the word before humans came along. Sure, the color red may or may not exist independent of our perceptions, that’s a whole other debate, but the word ‘red’ certainly doesn’t exist beyond the human use of it. Red, therefore, was created because of a lexicographer, or the equivalent of one at the time, who decided that’s what the color should be called, and that’s how every definition has been created. Meaning assignment is an empirical science that fluctuates with changes in human society. Words change along with the human usage of them, as will the definition of one’s own self change with the continuation of time. In English, my argument against exam worries, as well as defining people in general, is simple: who cares?

The definitions of people are relative, meaning that they’ll change with the circumstances that surround them. Today, you may be defined by a couple of letters on a piece of paper accompanied by a percentile ranking. Tomorrow, you’ll be defined by how funny your pun was on snapchat, how dank your Instagram post was, how attractive your smile is, or by one of indefinitely many other variables. In ten years, you’ll be defined by whatever the heck it is you’re doing with your life. The point is simple: defining yourself is a task made for you and by you. Don’t let anyone or anything, especially an exam, take away that privilege. The test scores don’t define you; you define you if that’s what you wish to do.

Of Knowledge

Image result for socrates

By Joseph Cox

            We’ve built great walls, forged empires, decimated other species, built nations on the ashes of those that came before, and have written, pictured, or otherwise described a preposterous amount of information. We’re able to conceive of infinities, pin ourselves down in the depths of perspective, and alter the fabrics of time with spoken words, yet inside us all there lies the greatest trickster of them all. That trickster has caused the massacres, the enslavements, the wars, the joy, the art, and the beauty too. At the end of it all, the human mind is the greatest trickster of them all. Never has a species so advanced used their minds so mindlessly.

I do not aim to assert that humans are stupid, but I do wish to assert that we are wired to make sense of a senseless reality. Such little time is granted to the idea that we, as collectives or individuals, may be much closer to knowing nothing than we are to knowing everything. Here we stand, constantly at the cutting edge of technology and scientific advancements. Our phones talk to us, our bodies are fueled by genetically engineered foods, our cars are becoming electric, and our lives are becoming increasingly convenience based, but what do you know, truly, about the world around you? I don’t possess the faintest idea of how a phone works, how my text messages manage to zoom through space, how my food is crafted, or even how my car manages to propel itself onward using gasoline. Yet, here I am, preparing to tell you about why you may know nothing at all. Perhaps, at this moment, you’re feeling as though you know this article will do nothing to suede your perspective on the world, or perhaps you’re pondering whether or not this article is a waste of your time. You might even reach the conclusion that some wacky, philosophic, college kid hasn’t the slightest chance of blowing your mind. Deep down, you might even think that you know I could do nothing to alter your reality. At least, I can’t do it in the written word. Though, before you go, I do hope that you’ll consider the following question: how does knowledge feel?

How does it feel to know that I can’t change your mind, or how does it feel to know that I might? Even better, when you turn on a burner, how does it feel to know that it’s hot? I’d imagine there’s at least some sense of certainty to these various thoughts, or a comforting sense of undoubtedness about the world around you. I typically consider my knowledge of burners to be secure. I seem to know that if I touched the burner, I’d be burned. Surely, such a fundamental aspect of human life could not possibly be doubted. When we get hit by buses, we should feel pain. When we drop a pen, it should fall to the earth, for gravity should cause it to do so. It’s almost ludicrous to imagine that any one of these basic facts about human nature would be false, even if it were just for one real occurrence. Certainly, one could imagine a bus striking a man only to find that the bus was crushed at the man’s might. A folded metal tube lying pathetically at a confused man’s feet certainly isn’t an impossible thought, but we should know that such an occurrence could never take place in reality. There should be a certainty about such ludicrous ideas, for we should know that they will never occur. Buses should always hurt people, burners should always burn, and pens should always fall. Shouldn’t they?

Now, here’s the kicker, all three of the conclusions I just named aren’t reasonable. You can’t know that a bus will hurt when it hits a human, that a burner will burn a human, or that a pen will fall to the earth the next time it is dropped. You can’t know any such conclusions, should knowledge require certainty, because each conclusion is based on inductive reasoning.

How does one know that a pen will fall when dropped? Well, in all my prior experiences of a pen being released from my hand, the pen has fallen. Thus, the next time I drop a pen, it should fall. Gravity should always cause the pen to fall, but what does gravity look like? Can we experience gravity? Can we be certain of its existence? When I see a pen fall, I do not experience the gravity that causes it to do so. Rather, I see the pen being released from a hand, and I see the pen hitting the earth. I do not see, nor do I experience, the gravitational force that pulls the pen down. As a human, I am not under constant duress from the force of gravity. I do not feel bogged down by gravitational force, nor can I see, taste, smell, or hear it. One might assert that I’m experiencing gravity by not floating away into the distance, but there’s no experiential reason to assert that gravity keeps me grounded. Subatomic fairy princesses could be keeping me grounded, and that conclusion, if we trust our experiences alone, would be no less plausible than the gravity explanation. I cannot experience the subatomic fairies, nor can I experience gravity. One explanation merely appears more plausible than the other, but why? I assume that gravity exists, because it’s the best explanation as to why things fall when they’re dropped. There’s no sensation based justification of gravity. Rather, gravity is merely the best explanation for all of my previous experiences of pens falling, planes crashing, and planets orbiting.

Better yet, how can I know of any causal power? How can I know that the burner will be hot when it is turned on? Even more radical, how can I know that heat will always be hot? Heat is nothing more than the accelerated movement of particles, but I cannot see heat itself when I watch particles move quickly. I may be able to feel the heat radiated by the movement of the particles, but there’s no guarantee that the feeling will always remain the same. Nothing about the fast movement of particles dictates that they must cause me to feel a burning sensation, and nothing about a burner dictates that it must always burn the person that touches it next. If we can’t experience causal powers, like heat and gravity, then we can’t be certain that pens will always fall and burners will always burn. The only knowledge we have of such occurrences are formed through habituation. A potentially indefinite number of burners have been touched only to be followed by painful misery, but that does not mean the next burner touched will have the same effect. At any given moment, a pen could take off from a desk, a burner could freeze a human hand, or a bus could hit a human only to cause the human to morph into molten lava. If knowledge must be certain, then we may know nearly nothing.

Philosophers refers to this phenomenon as, “the Problem of Induction,” and it remains an unsolved riddle to this day. In all our wonderful endeavors to better ourselves and the world around us, it would be horrifying to think that the guiding entity of all our actions could so blasphemously assert its own rationality. How crazy, or how wonderful, it is to think that the mind may be the most mischievous entity of all. The thing you are meant to trust beyond all else may be the thing that deceives you most. Interesting, eh?

Welcome to the realm of philosophy.


Question (2)

By Joseph Cox

It was in the moments of grim contemplation that a pit plummeted itself in the depths of my stomach. The black hole spawned from the recesses of my thoughts and burrowed its way inside with nothing to halt its insatiable progress. But in due time, I had no desire to stop the consumption of my heart, for it was within its depths that I began to feel free. I felt the power of nothing as it spawned from nothingness.

When I was young, I’d pray to God every night to ensure the protection of the loved ones I believed to be with him because the comfort of eternal life felt blissful to me. The ones I had lost weren’t rotting in the ground, for they had become angels to guard me up above. The people I held most dear had relinquished their life with me to bless the souls of those they would come to interact with, and in that selfless attitude I always found comfort. It was this selfless nature that fueled my recovery from the first major blow of grief in my life: when I lost my grandfather. I knew that wherever my grandfather was, smiles were sure to follow. I had wished I could be the one smiling, but this selfishness was easily vanquished. Something was made happier by my loss, so everything became sensible.

The protective veil of eternity encased my life for quite some time, but skepticism crept its way under my covers. I’ve watched the pain a car accident can bring, heard the words of those caught in the abyss of depression, felt final touches, talked to dying children, felt the blade of self-harm, and I wondered how any God could watch its creations writhe. Philosophers refer to the sentiments I just expressed as the Problem of Evil, and to a believer, such problems are easily explained away. The suffering is merely a test. Passing the test brings no shortage of reward, so endurance must be shown throughout one’s life. Perhaps even more controversial is the notion that such sufferings are merely a part of the plan. In God’s plans, the good always outweighs the bad, so one must merely stick around to watch the rainbow after the hurricanes. I felt safe as a part of a plan, safe with every action a means to an end, safe under the covers with my prayers every night, but safety would be fulfilling only for so long.

I write to you now as an atheist that has found more comfort in the idea of nothingness than in the grace of whatever Gods may be because an endless story is a boring one. The problem with the idea of eternal life is that it doesn’t allow for much life at all. Everything becomes so helplessly trivial when perpetual happiness is guaranteed, so long as one remains a decent human. Problems become mute, fear is useless, happiness is monotonous, hope is worthless, and nearly all other emotions become a morphed blob of uninteresting worthlessness. There’s no sense in fussing around with the seemingly minuscule problems of everyday life when one day I’ll be waltzing around an endless wonderland, nor is there a reason to fear anything when the worst thing that can happen to me is happiness. Though, the blade that slashes the negative emotions of life cuts deep into the joy of our existence as well. Happiness during our time on Earth must pale in comparison to what heaven can provide, so it would be irrational to savor the moments of happiness we felt. Hope is useless, because there’s nothing to hope for that’s better than an eternal paradise which has already been promised to each of us. I was raised to believe that eternity is what would give my life its meaning, but instead I felt as though I was being sapped of what makes me alive. The beauty of life is not to be found in perpetuity, but in its finality.

Nothingness is utterly terrifying, and that’s what makes it eerily wonderful. Every nuance of life is to be savored because each minuscule piece is only temporary. Experiences, no matter how grim or how magnificent, come to be enjoyed due to the nature of their occurrence. Even the depths of misery become bearable because at least there’s something to feel. Nothingness is a bitter, indifferent, and fantastic motivator. It pushes everything it presides over to yearn for more because more is exactly what we can never have. Every second becomes something worth acknowledging, because that second might be your last. The fear is what makes me feel alive, and an eternity could never match the thrill of the temporary.

As for those that have already been lost, the permanence of their non-existence is a horrible pain to endure, but an endless life would do little to dampen such agony. Whether elsewhere or gone forever, those we have lost are felt most in their effects. The stories we share, the lessons we take, and the inspiration we absorb from the deaths of those we hold dear are what give them life beyond their ends. As a child, I had not realized that my grandfather had done all he needed to do to bring smiles into the present day because the stories I share with him are some of the best I tell. Though the dead may not receive eternal paradise, nothingness need not be some evil counterpart to eternity, for nothingness is merely the absence of something. No pain, no suffering, and no ills exist in nothingness just as the eternal paradise promises. Nothingness is just more direct in asserting that no good can come from it either. Though, as I’ve asserted earlier, an eternity anywhere doesn’t seem to bring much good either.

You and I are going to die one day, and that’s an uncomfortable thought. Would you want to learn to cope with the cruel indifference of a godless world by witnessing the hidden beauty that it holds? Or maybe live in the pursuit of the love of a God? A goal that, in some circumstances, can be quite noble, or perhaps you may wish to take your own route too, and find meaning in your own path. Whatever you choose, I hope that you come to savor each second as it passes you buy, live each moment as if your only responsibility were to enjoy it, and come to find that, at the end of it all, nothingness sounds like a much-needed rest from a life well lived.

My Black Dog


By Joseph Cox

“Antonin Artaud wrote on one of his drawings, “Never real and always true,” and that is how depression feels. You know that it is not real, that you are someone else, and yet you know that it is absolutely true.”

― Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

Depression, as well as several other mood disorders, is interesting in the manner through which it is understood. With physical illnesses, understanding is mechanistically simple. Runny noses, aching bones, sore throats, lesions, migraines, and shattered limbs are things that everyone relates to, or, at least, can easily conceive of. Mood disorders do not have a wonderful simplicity to them. Each one is a unique, entirely subjective burden that toils on each person it presides in. We know of these pains through observances or metaphors. Through the works of Van Gogh, perhaps, one can reach a simplistic understanding of what a bipolar mind can contrive. Through the observance of the schizophrenic individual, in clinical settings or on a dampened street corner, one can come to contemplate the unknowable turmoil of a shattered mind. Depression, like its counterparts, is difficult to convey in plain semantics. I could speak to you of how depression feels indefinitely, contriving countless adjectives along the way, but all the adjectives in the English language wouldn’t make me a tinge more relatable. Depression, it seems to me, is best known through metaphor. The metaphor of my choosing is the black dog.

Before I expel my experiences with depression, it’s important to note the context of this article. Since coming to UWF, a question has pervaded itself into my life, so much so that my thesis is, to a large extent, dedicated to it. Most people don’t enjoy asking this question, because they find it to be too personal, or too difficult to answer at times. The question often lurks behind the thin veil of security that’s present in most psychology classes that analyze disorders, and it’s a simple one. Why do people kill themselves?

Through my metaphor, I hope to shed a certain degree of light on this question. Though, I find the exact answer to be impossible to reach with certainty. The reasons for taking one’s own life are one’s own. Each person is an individual entity with subjective experiences, so I find any attempt to provide a universal answer to the posed question useless. However, perhaps with my metaphor I may contribute to the de-stigmatization of suicide itself, and provide some insight into what goes on, for some people, in the moments before making the choice…

Whenever I’m asked why I pursue a career in psychology I usually give a response like the following: I had a bad night, and I don’t want anyone else to have that bad night. That’s the annotation my brain has assigned the night with the dog to keep the memory at a distance, “the bad night.”

My dog had a muzzle and a chain to keep it at bay. My muzzle was selflessness, and I did not use it sparingly. I was constantly plagued by thoughts of worthlessness, so any selfless act I could perform muted a fraction of the dog’s bark. If I was up until 3 a.m. speaking to someone else about their depression, then I was having a wonderful night. The dog was muzzled in its house, because it knew I couldn’t care less about its whining for that time. Most of my days were spent trying to keep the muzzle on. I’d probe my way into the lives of those around me not just because I cared, but because I physically needed to hear their problems. Every question I got, every confession I received, and every ventilation I handled kept the muzzle on for a few hours longer. On most nights, the dog would squirm its way free, and howl to keep me awake. But on the good days, the days where I could listen to the problems of three to four persons, the muzzle would hold for the night, and the dog would give up for a change. The beast would kneel in its home with only the faintest whimpers. I became addicted to that ‘do good’ feeling. I still am today, though the reasons are different now.

The chain was made of relationships, because each one I hopped into managed to stop the dog from tearing me apart. If I had someone to give absolutely everything I had to, then I had no time to worry about myself. I had no time to contemplate my existence, or listen to the dog bark, because I was too busy doing everything I could to please my significant other. I portrayed myself as the perfect boyfriend, because I was willing and ready to do whatever it took just to see a smile. I romanticized my position numerous times, but the result, in hindsight, was always the same. My care was suffocating, and it took me years to realize it. As a depressed ex-boyfriend, people loved to feed me useless information in a vain attempt to console me. “You did nothing wrong,” was always my favorite quote, because that claim was never made with sufficient evidence. Perhaps I had done nothing wrong morally. However, no relationship executed with my method could ever hope to be right either. Even if I had done no wrong to those I was with, I had wronged myself through willing subordination. I wasn’t Joe at those times, because I was too busy being a boyfriend. To an extent, I knew of my situation. I saw the unhealthy signs in every romance. After all, I was interested in psychology, but every chain was better than the alternative. Anything was better than letting the dog loose.

The dog feeds on the cruel indifference, apathy, and gluttony that we often feed it, either intentionally or by our forced hands. The might of the dog grows in the moments that no attention is payed to it, and it is within that ignorance that it comes to dominate every fiber of one’s being. My dog was sickened by the cruelty I had shown it, and once he’s free, he can consume the world.

In the bleakest moments, there isn’t a world beyond the dog. There’s no friends outside, no support lines to call, no exercise to do, no release to be found, because absolutely every nuance of the mind has been consumed by the power of the dog. Every thought becomes a gravely howl that seeps into the body to render it motionless.  If it wasn’t howling, then the dog would just preside over me with its breaths. A relentless monotony of constant misery that there’s no escape from, because there’s no distraction from an endless sound. If you’ve ever been kept up by the barks of a dog late in the night, then you can relate to the feeling. Except the barking is in your mind, rather than outside a window. Every second brings another bark that screams inside the mind, and shatters existence itself in all its fragility. Barking, howling, slobbering, and with the scent of its warm breaths heaving over me in cascading motions, the dog towered above me in the darkness. There’s only so much to feel when the dog eats the world. Sometimes the sweet release of numbness ushers itself in, and the barks, the roars, are silenced. The dog is still there, slobbering above me in all its glory, but the sound is mute. I’m pinned down by his mass, but no longer shattered by it. I’m just there, alone in the collapsing darkness.

Though, there are times when the numbness doesn’t come, and there are only two options left: Face the dog that has come to single handedly dominate every aspect of my life down to the most fundamental thoughts, or stop dealing with the dog at all. This is how it felt to want to die. The choice is no longer life versus death, happiness versus sadness, or a continued story versus writing the end, because the choice is just dog or no dog. Facing a seemingly insurmountable object, or escaping into the vastness of the dark that had consumed me to feel the revelation of silence.

Perspective is everything when choosing suicide, and it is my belief that no one should have to face that dog, or any darkness, on one’s own. What seems insurmountable when pinned down by outrageous misfortunes may be conquered swiftly with the power that kindness can bring. Though it may never leave entirely, the black dog can come to be trained. Through repetition, one can learn to coexist with that demon within, but the process is no easy incursion for anyone. From the clinically depressed to the grieving to those agonized by the happenings of life, we all have a black dog in common. We all must learn to cope.



By Joseph Cox

The wind wisped through the tree in an eerie flow and whistled through the depths of my hallowed soul. The willow hung dreadfully over me, as a fitting blanket for a lonely day. The table on which I sat had aged. When I was here last, the polished tan oak stood in contrast of the olive-green grass, but the graying wood now fades into the deepness of the green. I’ve faded too over the years, for time is rarely kind to the body. I had not wanted to come here again, but here I sit with the splintering wood jutting into my tailbone, as I helplessly prop myself on the table top. I slump over with my feet stamped into the seats of the table, and stare at the horizon. I do not know what I was looking for, but I knew this was the only place that it could be found. I cannot see my breath in the fading daylight, but I know it is cold. The air is much cooler than the last time I was here. It has an icy thickness to it. I took comfort in its steel embrace, for it reflected what I held back.

She didn’t take long to arrive. I heard her coming, as the wind wiped the moss along the bed of grass behind me, but I did not bother to turn around. She sat down behind me. Her body filled the small space left in the old table, and it creaked beneath the weight of a new wandering soul. At first, she sat upright to let me savor my final moments in the chilling tranquility. Soon, she would begin to pry her way in, and I played into her hand. I pushed my body upright, clenched my eyes, and felt the air seep into the goosebumps on my skin.

That’s when I felt her touch again. The contact was nothing more than a graze. She had pushed herself into me, but only to the point that her back lightly met my own. I could feel only the wool of her sweater, but that was enough. In just that graze, she had cut through the cold. She had ice picked her way inside me again, and I forgot why I had ever let her go. The chill within me melted down to the bones, as if my muscles had become rigid from ice. I could not remember the last time I had truly breathed. Everything felt limp, and I seeped into her, as I had done years before.

We sat back to back now. Our breaths in sequence with one another, and our hearts beating with the new-found freedom. Her head rested beneath mine, and her hair weaved its way onto the back of my neck. Amid this winter evening, she was the breath of spring. Her scent dug into the air around us, and encompassed me. I was caught once again, and had no desire to let go.

Here, in this warm embrace, we sat for what felt like hours. The time I had spent without her seemed distant now. The setting sun eclipsed on the horizon, and I felt tears well up in my eyes. I felt the warm water drift down my chilled cheeks, and began to breathe in bursts of exhalations. Weight escaped my shoulders with each passing moment, and each breath brought decompression to my constricted lungs. I thought I had lost her for good this time.

“Why did you come back?” Her voice wisped with the fairness of the wind. For a while, I did not answer; I just smiled, like a parched nomad that had finally found fresh water. Part of me did not want to reply, but bask in the glory of the moment. “Because I thought I had lost you for good this time,” I said to her between my deep exhalations. “I could feel my heart beat, but did not know if you were still there.” I had been broken, but with her I could heal once again. I could be free once more.