I've prattled on a lot over the years about personal mythology and connecting with your life's narrative. I do believe that viewing our lives through the narrative lens is the most effective way of building a meaningful life. However, there is a danger, which has existed for as long as we have told stories but has become more obvious in recent years. That danger comes when one blocks out or ignores those things that don't fit their personal narrative.
A person naturally clings to a personal narrative. As such, the study of personal mythology is an extention of something we already do. We see the world through our particular lens in a particular way. When information becomes available, or events unfold, that take away from or contradict the view we've developed, then the information is ignored, trivialized, or rejected. Events are downplayed and explained by "alternative facts" that fit a narrative that goes along with how the individual views the world around them. It is how conspiracy theories are born and how cults are formed.
Even in the face of an avalanche of information that is verifiable and fully accepted by others, a person clinging obsessively to a narrative does not give up. This happens on both the personal level and how we view outside events. On the most basic level, the guy who obsesses over a woman who isn't interested in him and has repeatedly rejected him, who believes he can eventually "win her over" is little different than the person who refuses to accept information about a celebrity or political figure they greatly admire that shines a less than positive light on them. They simply refuse to believe it is true because it doesn't fit their narrative. They grew up watching Famous Star Man, came to love Famous Star Man, watched all his movies and shows, met him in person, and consider themselves one of his biggest fans. When they find out Famous Star Man killed his wife and kids in a fit of drug-fueled rage, none of it can be true. Famous Star Man is their lifelong idol. Famous Star Man symbolized goodness and qualities this person emulated. A conspiracy theory is born.
Conspiracy theories are the deus ex machina of the personal narrative. They may seem outlandish and absurd to an outsider, but for those who rely on them to keep their personal narrative about the world around them going, they are invaluable. They very neatly solve all the problems of what you believe being proven to be false.
On the personal level, putting aside how we see and interact with the outside world conceptually, we automatically build a narrative. This happens when we set goals, pursue dreams, or begin a relationship or career. We automatically see these things as building blocks towards something.
When events unfold and your narrative starts to fall apart, this induces a moment of panic. "What do I do?" In most cases, it is what is commonly called going back to the drawing board and starting over, but for some, the loss of that narrative, or that part of the narrative, is not accepted.
My suicide in 1994 came after a five year struggle with depression and grief. During that period, what was happening was that my life's narrative was coming completely apart. Everything I'd come to believe in and accept as important parts of a building narrative was coming apart. When it all comes apart at once it is overwhelming. Usually, one or two narrative strings in your life story will come apart but other strings remain intact. You break up with your partner of many years, but you have your job, you are financially okay, and you have good friends and family being supportive of you. The loss of that string, the end of that meaningful relationship, is handled better when the rest of the narrative remains intact. You are still building your narrative and working towards the goals and dreams you had before, but now you'll have to do it with someone else standing by your side.
When all those strings come apart at once, or seem to all be coming apart, it is horrifying. In 1989, in the early morning hours of my 24th birthday, my entire narrative exploded and then slowly burned for the next five years.
I had a narrative of my life, and that narrative was starting to come into focus. My narrative went something like this at the time:
In June of 1989, I had moved into a new place with my fiancee. We had lived together for a time in the apartment she shared with her roommate, which we came to call the Three's Company arrangement, although it really wasn't. We renewed our plans to marry and this was a bigger commitment. We'd signed a lease on a very nice townhouse, she was finishing graduate school, after which I'd return to school for my degree once she got the promotion the degree would give her. Everything was working out perfectly until the morning of my 24th birthday, when I found my fiancee having sex with another man in our living room. She went on the next day to tell me she was leaving me for him. This began my five year descent into depression.
That was my personal narrative at the time, and throughout the period of my depression. This was how I saw it, as the loss of a beautiful dream that came out of nowhere, caught me unprepared, and set off a chain of events that left me in great financial trouble, ended my college plans, and left me feeling alone and rejected. A more honest version of the narrative of 1989, which is one I can now see when viewing events through a historical lens rather than an emotional one, sounds more like this:
My fiancee and I nearly broke up at the end of 1988 because our relationship didn't seem to be progressing. After a couple of years of having a really great relationship that led to us getting engaged, the relationship stagnated. I was living with my father at the time, and he announced he was moving out to be closer to his girlfriend. He simply assumed I could go and live with my fiancee, who shared an apartment with a roommate, and since I had no other options, I moved in with them and we decided to try to "make the relationship work," mostly out of convenience and the circumstances at the time. Throughout 1989, it was a fairly loveless relationship and we went from a very active sex life to one where we often didn't sleep in the same bed, as she developed a preference for sleeping on the couch. We'd renewed our pledge to get married because we decided to live together once my fiancee's roommate went to California, and we'd decided to do so out of a combination of habit, and because the only way to get a place as nice as we did was together. It had become almost inevitable that one of us would parachute out of the relationship once an opportunity arose.
Two different versions of the same events, and the truth is somewhere between the two, lost to both time and to the perverse nature of memory.
What is most interesting to me in this archaeological dig is how, throughout 1989, I completely rejected everything that didn't fit my narrative. It was a fairly simple narrative that involved a plan to get married, build a successful career, and then have all the trappings of what is considered to be a comfortable and happy life. As the emotional distance grew between my fiancee and me, we didn't really talk about it and acted like everything was fine. I was able to convince myself that everything was on schedule. The narrative would be fine. We weren't becoming more distant. We hadn't become less intimate and we hadn't stopped talking about anything other than surface topics. This was just how it was with relationships after a while, they become like a comfortable old shoe. I was young and had no frame of reference as this was essentitally the first real relationship I'd had with a woman in my life. I didn't need a conspiracy theory because I convinced myself all the problems with the relationship were just part of the way things were in life.
Ignoring or trivializing those things that don't fit your narrative is dangerous, and when it comes to your personal narrative it can be devastating. It is like the man who refuses to leave a building where a bomb is going to go off. Everyone else has evacuated, but this man refuses to believe there is a bomb because he has an important job he needs to do and he isn't going to leave his office over a made up story about a bomb. Then the bomb goes off and kills him.
The personal narrative does not exist in a vacuum. Your personal narrative interacts constantly with the personal narratives of everyone you encounter and interact with, and those interactions cause minute, barely noticeable changes in your narrative. It is like the appearance of another character in the story, and the appearance of a new character changes the story. Who they are, what they do and say, impacts the story. Writers are, in general, too lazy to create characters who aren't vital to the plot. We generally live with the same sort of laziness when it comes to living our personal narrative, so meaningless and trivial interactions with people, while they do exist, never make it into the narrative. No one is interested in hearing about how you nodded and said "hello" to a stranger in passing unless that stranger then went on to jump off a bridge after writing a suicide note saying he was doing it because you nodded and said hello to him.
The narrative is what survives in memory as well as in practice, and we never see the whole scope of our narrative because of the endless number of possible interactions as well as the variables that come with unpredictable or unexpected events. Our narratives are tainted, distorted, and never completely true. We don't do it on purpose. We can't help it. The mind is a terrible thing to taste.
One needs to evolve a narrative over time, just as one needs to evolve opinions and beliefs over time. I don't see "evil" as the enemy in my life's quest. My enemy is stagnation, which I believe is the true death of the spirit if we become forever mired in it. That comes with a refusal to change, adapt, and evolve over time. The guy who used to work at a factory that closed 20 years ago and keeps waiting for it to re-open knows it is never going to re-open, but he has no alternative narrative, he clings to his identity as someone who works in that factory. It is maddening when we meet and talk with people who are clinging to a belief they know is a lost cause and hearing them go on in fanciful ways about how it will all work out. We see it in relationships where the obsession with a particular outcome is most obvious, but it is the same as the guy who is waiting for the closed factory to re-open, even after it was converted into condos, as he drinks himself to death in the local bar. They were never able to accept change in their personal narrative and now it is destroying them.
My refusal to adapt and change after the narrative I was living went completely to hell led me into depression. I had to get back to where I was before my fiancee betrayed me and left me for another man, and to do that I needed to find a new fiancee and do it right. That would make everything fine again. It was an obsession that was at the root of my decision to end my life. Things were not going to be fine again. My friends were betraying me now, I'd been laid off from a job because they were cutting staff, job interviews were going poorly, I had mounting debts and was barely staying afloat working two full-time jobs, and no one wanted to be in a relationship with me. Things were never going to work out. Why were they never going to work out? I was still clinging to a failed narrative. It was like trying to rewrite a novel you've been writing and re-writing that you know is too problematic on too many levels to ever work instead of trying to start a new story from scratch. Sure, you put months of work into it, but it sucks. I'm sorry. It was a great exercise and hopefully you learned something from the experience, but stop trying to fix it. Stop trying to reboot from last save. Run some new software.
The realm of my unconscious, Rancho Nuevo, reflects my life on a metaphorical level. The mythological reading of my suicide held the key and showed me what I was unable to see as I clung to a failed narrative:
The Three Kingdoms of Rancho Nuevo had fallen, beginning the Great Angel War that turned Rancho Nuevo into a wasteland. The Jack of Rancho Nuevo wandered hopelessly, abandoning his role as both champion and peacekeeper, leading to the fall of the kingdoms and the destruction of the realm. The Jack serves the Queens. The Queens serve the realm.
It was where I was. Everything in my life had fallen apart. The question was, as I entered the desert in death and saw what had become of me, did I accept this? It wasn't really about whether I wanted to continue on through death or go back. The question was whether I accepted my existence as the wasteland I'd become convinced that it was. Is this all there is to a fire? If I couldn't write a new story, this was the only ending I was left with. The wasteland. Eternal stagnation.
You need to dump that shit novel in the trash. Set it on fire. Urinate on it. Just never forget it. There is something to be extracted from it that will serve you well in a future narrative. My rejection of stagnation and complacency is a direct result of my acceptance of it in 1989 prior to the collapse of my narrative. I don't stay in a situation just because it is the situation I happen to have fallen into or sought out after the story is played out. I've become acutely aware of when it is time to move on, even if I do tend to seriously procrastinate most of the time.
When it comes to life, no one wants to read a story where there is no conflict, no crisis, no problems to be resolved. There are reasons why people who seem to have it all, who have fame, fortune, and success in all their ventures, lose their minds or start doing crazy things that bring about their own downfall. If your life is a story, it has to be as interesting to live as it is to read, but most convince themselves otherwise.
Appreciate your life's conflicts. Use them to alter your narrative, to evolve it, and to become more empowered. Without them you're just a kid in a candy store with no supervision eating candy non-stop and never getting sick or growing tired of candy. Death by orgasm with no frame of reference. Ecstasy means nothing when it is your baseline.