Life in the bonus round
I've written about my teenage years several times before: about how my childhood shaped my choice of career and how the internet helped me connect with people and how it got better. I've mentioned in passing that I was, as a teenager, depressed and suicidal. But I've never written about how that period changed me in a very specific and important way: I live my life in a bonus round. It's fundamental to the way I think about myself, so I wanted to write it down.
Firstly: there is a different between being suicidal and just being a moody teenager. I was the first kind. I had written the notes (lots of them), and I had not just a plan but a backup plan. I also had a specific date: the day before my sixteenth birthday.
In the end I didn't do it. That day wasn't too bad, so I didn't think about it that day, and then I'd missed the date. But the intention to do it was so strong, so clear, I had spent so much time imagining exactly how it would go -- the rush of the air, the crunch as my neck hit the concrete -- that it made me think: what if I *had* done it?
What if I did die that day? I don't believe in any kind of afterlife, so death is just the end. Everything that's happening to me, good or bad, ends. All the dials go to zero. And I thought: what if I could then, at that point, make a decision about whether to keep going? Like in a video game, where you die or the game ends but it gives you the option to keep playing. What if life had a bonus round?
In a bonus round it doesn't matter how you do. There's no score, you can't win or lose, you're just playing for the fun of playing. You can stop any time. There's no time pressure and no ranking.
See, until that point in my life I had been judging myself relative to a pretty strictly defined idea of my own future. I was a straight white male in good health, from a well-off family and excellent opportunities for education. I knew how my life was going to go, and it was going to be great.
Discovering I was gay changed that. I still had a lot of internalized homophobia back then, so my idea of what being gay meant was a lot harder than my life has actually turned out to be, but there's no denying that being gay threw this perfect life I'd imagined for myself off the tracks it had been running on. There were roadblocks and obstacles I'd never expected. The game was no longer on the easiest setting. Don't get me wrong, my life has still been really easy relative to most people, but it was hard to think about it like that back then, when I was weeping myself to sleep every night, mourning my future.
But thinking about it as a bonus round allowed me to change my perspective. Okay, life #1, the perfect one, that was gone. That kid killed himself. Now it's bonus round. Everything that happens now just happens for fun. Every achievement can be measured relative to "nothing happened, because you were dead". Doing anything at all is better than doing nothing, no matter how well or how badly it goes. And if it ever becomes unbearable, well, you already died. That option remains available.
Does this sound sad or scary to you? I don't really know how it sounds to somebody else. But to me it's always been a comfort. In this life the scoreboard is turned off. I can't win or lose. I'm just playing for the fun of it. My life is, forever, the bonus round, and I'm still enjoying the game.