A lot of feels on Oppo tonight... (long post)

To start, I don't mean to undermine any other posts tonight. Instead, I hope to reinforce what's already been said and shared.

It's late, so I doubt many of you will get a chance to read this. Hell, I don't know if I'm even going to hit "save" once I'm done, or just close out of my browser. I'm going to write what I've never written before, in an attempt to get the weight of it all off of my shoulders. I hope that this message gets across to somebody. Just know that you're not alone.

Fuck anonymity. You guys are family. More-so than my biological family, or any other online group I've been apart of.

I'm Chris. I'm 22, I live in Flagstaff, Arizona. I never smile in pictures. I tell people it's because I don't take pictures seriously, but I honestly think it's because I've forgotten how. I've constantly been told that I should be happy. I was born into a well-to-do family, had everything I could want or need growing up, and am in good health. None of that relates to happiness, or mental stability. I've been through my ups and downs. I've witnessed tragedy firsthand, and I've saved lives.

I've never had luck with relationships. I've had my heart broken, I've been cheated on, I've been dumped via text message and Facebook relationship status update. For the time being, I've given up. It's too much effort for not enough reward. There's someone out there for me, we just haven't crossed paths yet. Besides, I'd rather spend money on race car.

Jokes aside, I believe this rejection has had a negative effect on me. Between that, and other factors (that I may or may not get into later), I've almost lost the ability to feel or express emotion. I feel cold, with a faint light somewhere deep inside. Don't get me wrong, I still care for people. I just lost the words or expressions to truly convey how I feel.

When I was 9, my aunt and uncle died. We were all headed to my grandparents house for Thanksgiving, 2001. A few of us went to the airport to watch them fly in. As they were coming in on final approach, one of their engines burnt out. The crash happened fast. There was a moment of speechlessness, followed by the usual cold, methodical calculation that usually accompanies my family. Nobody talked that Thanksgiving.

Just a year later, another uncle died of a drug overdose. How do you respond to a 7 year old girl, telling you she's going to jump so she can be with daddy again in heaven?

Two years after that, we had our wreck. I've gone into detail before, so I'll save the details. Long story short, my mother nearly died. While my world was falling apart around me, my family thought they'd "protect" me by avoiding any open conversation about what was going on. A few weeks after the wreck, I was back in school. I would zone out in class. I failed tests, assignments. During that time, nobody asked me what was wrong. Nobody knew that my mom was in a hospital, thousands of miles away, still in a coma. Nobody knew that I stayed awake at night, crying, wondering if I'd ever get a chance to tell my mom I love her.

To this day, I occasionally wake up screaming in the middle of the night after vivid dreams recreating the events. I have night terrors of my mother dying in my arms.

It wasn't long after that that I started high school. By then, my mom had returned home and made an unbelievable recovery. I had a healthy group of friends, and things were finally looking up. Two months into high school, and we get an announcement. Joshua Lee Shipman, one of my best friends, had taken his life overnight. He succumbed to the ridicule and name calling, and he let them win. I got up from my desk, and walked out. Friends collected where we all used to hang out, and we migrated to my house. My parents had gotten the news by the time we got there. My dad called me into his office, looked me dead in the eyes, and told me "People die. Get over it."

To this day, I haven't forgiven him.

We planned a memorial garden at the school in Josh's honor. Our friend Jesse led the charge. Six months into the planning process, another still morning at school. Rumors start to spread of a car wreck. Then an announcement. Jesse Higginbotham passed away due to injuries sustained in a car accident. The bandage had just barely stopped the bleeding, and it was ripped off once more. I didn't even bother talking to my parents.

Jesse's parents picked up where there son left off. Ground was broken, and a memorial garden was planted. Hannah, a mutual friend of Josh, Jesse, and I gave her afternoons tending the garden. She and I got to know each other. After a string of break-ups, Hannah felt like solid ground. Until one day, after photography class. May 5th, 2009. The last words I said to her were "See you later, drive safe." She never made it home. Senior year came and went, but not without more tragedy. Laura Sharma, the younger sister of my friend Neil, took her life. More mumbled condolences, more silence.

I thought things would get better in college. I left the state, determined to leave my past behind me. I found myself in a po-dunk town, filled with narrow-minded, racist hicks (to put things lightly). I started drinking. School didn't go so well, so I quit and moved across the country.

After all of this, I've built a wall around my heart. I refuse to find any meaningful relationships, because I'm afraid I'll get hurt again. I laugh and smile, but never tell anyone how I actually feel. I get wasted at weekend parties so for just a few moments, I can forget about everything and try to be happy. But every night, I go to bed wondering if the wreck will come back to haunt me.

To a certain extent, I'm almost glad when it does — because when I'm falling asleep, choking back tears, I can actually feel something.

Through all of this, I've tried to stay positive. I look towards the brighter side, and try to find happiness. I'm putting all the effort I have left into things that make me happy. Mountain biking. Snowboarding. Sailing. Cars.

Throughout this post, I've pointed out nothing but the negative elements of my life. That's not to suggest I've ignored the good parts. But to anybody reading this, I want to stress the fact that you're not alone. You're never alone. There's 7 billion people on this planet. Half of them are men, half are women, and all of them have experienced sadness in their lives.

I'll share some advice I've learned along the way:

- Nobody is perfect. We all have flaws. I hate the sound of my voice. Some people think they're too fat, or too skinny. Some people identify with the opposite gender. During your life, you will meet people who will drag you down. They'll point out your flaws, and laugh because of them. But know that they're doing it to hide some insecurity they have about themselves. I'll say it again: everyone has flaws. Learn to accept them.

- Forgive and forget. This one, I'm still working on. I still haven't forgiven my dad. But don't hold on to petty shit. Don't hold grudges, or ruin friendships over a $5 debt. Accept apologies, even if they don't mean it. The more you pile on, the more you have to carry throughout your life. There's a reason I don't check baggage on airlines — I'm more free when I'm down to a small carry-on. The extra weight, and extra stress of maintaining enemies, remembering debts, and being sour will eat away years of your life, and slow you down while you try to live it.

- Love yourself. No matter how shitty your current situation is, you can always count on yourself. That slimmer of hope can get you through the most challenging times. When you're beat down and broken, remind yourself that if you give in now, you're letting everyone else win. And you're not here to let them win. You're here to ensure you're own happiness. If you can't love yourself, nobody will.

- Don't be ashamed to cry. Showing sadness isn't weak. It's human. Don't let your emotions get the better of you, but don't bottle them up so much that the pressure causes you to explode. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on at times.

- Be the shoulder to cry on. It can literally save a life. Listen to your friends when they come to you with problems, even if you think yours are worse. You never know who might be standing on a ledge.

- Fix what you can, accept what you can't. If something is causing you stress, ask yourself: can you fix it? If so, fix it already. Get out of that harmful relationship. Find the help you need to budget your finances, and pay off your debt. Go to the gym. If you can't do anything about it, then why are you wasting the time worrying about it?

- Live. This seems like the most obvious, but it's amazing how few people seem to follow this guideline. Ruts can be depressing. If you don't like your job, quit it. Pursue your dreams. You only have one go at life, why waste it somewhere where you're not happy? If financial stress and family keep you where you are, then consider the 8 hour vacation. Call your boss in the morning, and tell them you're sick. Now get in your car, and drive. Go for 3 or 4 hours, in any direction. Go somewhere you've never gone before. Now grab some lunch, and enjoy the drive back. Spend the evening at the movies, or just lounging around the house. Get your mind off of work, and off of your stresses. You'll go back to work the next day feeling different, I promise.

I'll end with some suggested viewing material. I'll start with the "To This Day" project, by Shane Koyczan. The video is about school bullying, but the message is clear, and can be applied throughout life. Next are a few movies. 500 Days of Summer got me through a lot of relationship bullshit. Just remember that there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. Perks of Being a Wallflower couldn't have done a better job at explaining my inner dialogue. "I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be." Lastly, V for Vendetta — a movie about anarchism, but it contains a quote buried in a letter:

I shall die here. Every last inch of me shall perish. Except one.

An inch. It's small and it's fragile and it's the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don't know who you are. Or whether you're a man or a woman. I may never see you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope that you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again.

With that, Oppo, I thank you. This group, with one common interest, has brought people together from every walk of life. No matter our upbringing, our personal beliefs, our vendettas, our fears, or our dreams, we care for each other. Regardless of if we like domestic or import, we're all here as one, and we're all here for one another. We put aside our differences, and find common ground.

Thank you.

- Christopher Barnett

— As an open offer, if anyone needs someone to talk to (anything from venting about life issues to discussing your favorite beer), feel free to contact me: cab591@gmail.com