“So, you’ve never taken antidepressants or been to a shrink, really? I find it hard to believe, I mean – what did you do then?”
It was 2009 when I was visiting a close friend of mine in his old wooden apartment in Turku, Finland. Located in a historical district, we were just few hundred metres from one of the grandest and oldest churches in the country. Merely walking there was a calming practice, especially during winter. I could always smell the cozy smoke coming from the nearby buildings as people were heating their old saunas and fireplaces. Through frosty windows I could see silhouettes engaged in daily activities, illuminated by warm light, moving slowly.
This friend, then a new one, was an enigma. He had been through something. That’s what I could see from the get-go. That’s probably why I befriended him in the first place. Gloom draws people together.
We would sit in his antique apartment, an overly expensive home for a second-year student, and just talk for hours and hours. Most of the time the living room was filled with thick, aromatic smoke from pipes. This one time, under the influence of scotch, we started to dwell in the past. It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was a place neither of us wanted to really revisit.
Painful experiences had scarred him; he had taken SSRIs and was about to start psychotherapy. For some reason I wasn’t or hadn’t and he couldn’t fathom this.
His question started to haunt me. At times, I revisited it with pride: Yes, exactly, apparently I had managed to do something on my own, something I wasn’t supposed to. Other times I felt as if I had made a great mistake. Had I taken a shortcut that would, in the end, prove to be my demise?
I had my books, my conversations and my Providence, the latter being then just slightly less unfashionable as it is today.
From Kierkegaard I had learned about the three stages of life (I was balancing between them all, just maybe visiting the aesthetic one a bit too much considering my lazy spirituality). Kant had planted in me a stern sense of duty, an unwavering sense of never compromising values. Ellis provided me a caricature of self-obsessed humanity, enslaved by temporal cravings. It was a caricature of the outside world, a place where I didn’t feel at home.
My antidote against the evermore complex and alien world was a triumvirate of culture, faith and a handful of beloved friends (and the remains of the lost ones, those conversations I carried with me).
To a degree, things haven’t changed. I am feeling better than ever, but still experiencing alienation. Reading Thoreau’s Walden or Krakauer’s Into the Wild, I feel like there is no place for me here. Somewhere closer to nature, maybe? It’s a naive idea but it’s pointing to the right direction. Nature or the abstraction of it: Letting go and sticking to the basics. This is what keeps me going.
It never fails me, and however wretched I feel, I gain strength from the idea that there’s something nothing or no one can take away from me.
Thinking back now, that scene in 2009 contained everything important. It’s like a snow globe, a small world where everything is at its right place. The towering church, the picturesque café, the library, the friend. Instead of disappearing like everything else in life, it’s still with me. I carry it everyday, just the milieu changes.
And when all else fails, I remind myself that if I can never serve my own life, I can at least serve those of others. In the end, we are all here to serve. Just the masters are better or worse, and hopefully we get to select ours.
Words by Sebastian Koskinen
Image from Koshy Koshy