We preach about weight loss and disease prevention and other aspects of physical health but we rarely talk about taking care of our mental health.
While it’s generally accepted that we all struggle from time to time, very few like to admit they might struggle more often or to a greater degree than what might be considered the norm. But if no one talks about their struggles, how can we even define a norm?
I’ve always tried to be transparent with my struggles with depression, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It’s because I want others to know they aren’t going through it alone. One of the worst parts of mental illness is how isolating it can be. I’ve often felt that no one could possibly understand my loneliness, fear of people, the compulsion to binge eat, or my deep-seated self-hatred. But I’m not the only one. So many people deal with it every day. And knowing that doesn’t fix the problem but it does take some of the pressure off it. And it makes you feel a little less alone and a little more understood.
And because we don’t like to talk about it, you never know who’s going through something difficult. Money, class, and religious affiliation does not exclude you from depression. Just think of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams. They have access to the best psychiatric care possible and it didn’t help them (assuming they sought treatment). And through the years I’ve learned the people from high school who I thought had it all were in actuality suffering greatly. One classmate killed himself about a year ago and another, arguably one of the most popular girls in my grade, is currently in treatment for severe anorexia. I’ve even talked to people who said they thought I had it together but I’ve always felt like a huge mess.
You just never know what someone is going through in secret. So why do we make it so hard to tell each other? Why do we make it so difficult on ourselves to reach out, to give a helping hand or to ask for one?
I got to a point where I knew something had to change in my life or I just wasn’t going to have one. So I sought counseling. I’ve been in therapy for about a year now and while none of my problems have been magically erased, I do believe it has helped.
One of the best things about it is just knowing I have a safe zone where I can rant, cry, and ask questions without the fear of being judged or shamed. But really that’s something anyone with a good friend can do. And let me tell you, therapy ain’t cheap. So if you do have a good friend with a willing ear, use it. If you’re in a position to go to therapy, use it. If neither of those are an option, research online resources.
I don’t have as many destructive thoughts anymore. I don’t automatically tear myself down when I make a mistake. I’m insecure and I want positive attention and reassurance and companionship. I want to make a difference, feel like my life has meaning. I’m also scared of being left behind, scared I’m not good enough for people, scared to stand up for myself. I can be aloof or distant because I don’t want to be abandoned again. I let others reach out first because I don’t think anyone wants to talk to me and I don’t wanna be a burden. I have high standards and low self-esteem. I love giving advice but can’t take criticism. I’m hard on others and extremely hard on myself. But it’s only because I know we can all do better.
And all those good intentions and bad habits make me human. And I realized there’s a difference between wanting to be better and beating myself up for not being perfect. I’m never going to get it right every time, whether that comes to people, work, or art. But that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of the good things life and people have to offer.
One of the things I’ve learned in therapy is to love myself, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done, something I never even thought I should or could do. But it makes sense. When you don’t love yourself, you allow other people to dictate your actions, your mood, and even your self-worth. But the more you love yourself, the less others have control over you and the more you get to have a say in how you live your life.
We make the easiest things in the world so hard for others. And ourselves. We keep affection at a distance because we don’t want to feel vulnerable. We attack others’ choices because it makes us feel superior. Pain begets pain and, well, that’s just not cool. But I get it. I want to lash out at people sometimes too. Not because I want them to hurt like I’m hurting but because a lot of the time I don’t think people realize how badly I am hurting.
But I guess that’s when we need to take a step back from our own pain to recognize other people’s paths. If only we could use our experiences to help guide instead of gun down the hard times of others. Pain isn’t a pissing contest. We all have it crappy in one way or another. And as long as we can keep our crap and everyone else’s crap in some kind of perspective, it might make things easier on all of us.
I get very confused about people and how to relate to them. What’s the difference between flirting and just being nice? What’s the difference between standing up for myself and just being a jerk? I haven’t always been so out of sorts. I used to be well-liked. And I used to think I had a grasp on grafting myself onto others. Then depression settled in and I withdrew my social self from the world. And instead of experiencing people, I just observed them. And by the time I wanted to step back into human relations, it seemed too late.
I think the best way to understand humanity is through both research and relation. I only achieved half of that. And that’s why I think I have some knowledge of correct and appropriate behavior but not enough to be successful in having fulfilling relationships with others. It’s that experience I lack, the on-the-ground research of getting to know and love and trust other people.
It’s hard to put myself out there because I’m insecure. I’m 32 with not much to show for it. I know we all have our own timeline for achieving goals in life but I have more potential than what I’ve produced. And this feeling of knowing I’m better, more capable, than what I’ve accomplished makes me very hard on myself.
It’s true that I hate who I am but unfortunately, it’s not self-contained. It seeps into conversations I have with other people. Long-term acquaintances are familiar with the inner insults I hurl at myself. I don’t even think about it. I’m so used to putting myself down as a self-defense mechanism and form of humor that it comes naturally to me. In my fear of being judged, I try to beat others to the judgment, pointing out my flaws in a funny way so we can all relax around my receding hairline or chuckle at my chunky body.
It’s usually when I meet new people that I become aware of how easily, how quickly, and how viciously I tear myself apart. When new acquaintances ask me to tell him about myself, the flogging floodgates open right up. It’s only after the conversation is over and I can reflect on the car ride home or before I go to bed at night the ramifications of my self-flagellation.
I want to be accepted but I also know I have several mental and emotional issues that could be off-putting. So I always have this need to explain away my crazy. But I over explain and end up making things worse. Instead of staying, people scatter and I’m left confused and lonely. I have to wonder if I should start keeping more things to myself. I always find it refreshing when people are open and honest. And so I try to be open and honest as well. And I never realized that other people could find that unattractive.
Should I change who I am and how much I share in order to keep people around? Or should I stay the same and hope that someone accepting will eventually find their way to me? It feels like a balance because you want to better yourself but you also don’t want to bend over for anyone else. How much change is too much? When do you go from improving your relations with others to compromising your personality for them?
I just wonder how I can be charming without charring my character. How can I make jokes without making myself the punchline? I’m sure it would be easier if I liked myself more but how am I supposed to do that? From the outside, it might seem like I’m well-adjusted and have a lot going for me. In some ways, that’s true. But only I can see the real me, the small squishy parts on the inside, the place where all the self-doubt and anger and despondency live and flourish. And it’s hard to like the person those qualities belong to, even when it’s yourself.
But I do understand that doesn’t have to be the case. And I suppose that’s at least one step in the right direction. And maybe one day, if I can get myself aligned with love instead of lashing, I might actually make a friend who will want to stick around.
For the past several months, I’ve been listening to a podcast called Suicide Buddies. It’s about two comedians who research and discuss famous suicides. And they tell a lot of suicide jokes.
It’s crude. It’s not PC. But that’s my kind of humor. And I listen mostly for the great rapport between the two hosts of the podcast. Those guys just crack me up and that in itself can lighten my mood when it goes dark. The podcast is definitely not for everyone and I can see how it can be triggering for some. But they don’t make fun of suicidal people or suicide itself and certainly don’t try to trivialize it. One of their aims is to destigmatize suicide and talk about it in an open, honest, and funny way.
I think it’s safe to say most people have had suicidal thoughts in the past. But no one wants to talk about it. It’s the same reason why people don’t want to go to therapy or even discuss their problems with friends or family. They don’t want to seem crazy. No one wants to feel weird or be shunned for their innermost maladies. That’s understandable. But I’ve just never been that way.
I’ve been pretty open about my suicidal thoughts. Well, maybe suicidal is too severe of a word. I think about dying a lot. I think about being dead. A lot. There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t think about having my head bashed in by a heavy object or being riddled with bullets until I’m just a smear on the floor. When I stand back and look at the mess I’ve made of my life, and the mess I’ve made of relationships, I think it would just be easier to be obliterated. But as far as actively taking my life, I haven’t thought much about it. My parents co-signed on my student loans so I’d hate to leave them 50 grand in debt. So for all those who are concerned, don’t be. Not yet anyway. I’ve still got a few years of payment left.
I’ve talked with a few friends and acquaintances about their brushes with suicide. I get it. I empathize. And we talk about it. And I hope they feel better afterward, for being heard and for not being judged. Because I’ve been there too. And I’ve wished someone would have been there to listen to me. So I try to be the listener. I always try to be the listener.
And I make my own jokes about it. I don’t try to hide it or deny it. I think in some ways, it’s just a part of me. There’s a darkness there that has been with me for so long it’s like it’s own limb now. I almost feel like I can’t go about my life without at least addressing it to others. ‘Cause I know they can see it, like a giant lump in my throat.
And I hope my own talk of suicide and wanting to be dead doesn’t get others down but helps them to face their own thoughts of death and dying. That having these thoughts may not be normal or all that healthy but it does happen and it’s doesn’t mean you’re crazy and it’s probably more common than any of us think. But we’ll never know the full scope because no one wants to talk about it. But talking about it could be just what some people need to lessen the severity of their struggle. At least momentarily.
Back to the podcast, the hosts have talked about their fight with mental illness, the years of therapy, medication, and other methods to quell their suicidal tendencies. And through all of that, they still struggle to this day. For the most part, they are better. They still slip up. They relapse. And they are far from cured. But they feel they have a better grasp on it than they used to have and that in itself can feel like a monumental victory. And they aren’t the only ones who continue to struggle. I’ve read about celebrities with access to anything they’d ever need to achieve mental improvement. And some of them have had tremendous success. Some have had moderate. And some haven’t seen much success at all.
And it makes me wonder if these people have access to the best resources and still can’t shake their depression, how am I supposed to get better with nothing more than my diary and a bag of Doritos?
It all feels pretty hopeless a lot of the time. There are degrees of depression. Certain kinds can be treated in certain ways. And maybe some can’t be treated at all. And it’s not always this Lifetime movie madness of staying in bed for weeks at a time or constant crying. Sometimes it’s more subtle. It’s the kind of depression that digs deep and lives inside your bones. It doesn’t disturb your daily functions. It just settles in and lets you know it’s there to stay. It’s like a continuous buzzing in your ear, a lash in your eye, a punch in the face at every step. It’s not an outward curse. It suffocates invisibly.
And until you’ve been there, you’ll never understand. It’s easy to scoff at suicide, to say it’s selfish or a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I hate that phrase. It comes from an assumption that depression doesn’t lodge into your lungs and doesn’t stay with you for months, years, decades. But it does. It’s often unyielding. But until you’ve reached that point of complete hopelessness, looking at your life and seeing a landscape of agony as far as your pained mind can imagine, to feel as though death is the only relief to all the pain that courses through you each day, you’ll never understand.
But it would be helpful to try, to not be so quick to condemn but to make an effort to empathize and offer help in the form of listening or just being there as an anchor when everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control.
Again, it differs. It’s a bad day. A horrible week. A tumultuous year. It’s a cranky minute, a desolate week, a half hour of agony. It’s self-harm, crying fits, bad moods, desires to die, cravings for food or sex, binge-watching television and screaming at a loved one. It’s about releasing, pushing the pain out however necessary to feel better. Sometimes it’s about actively killing yourself. And sometimes it’s not about wanting to die but just not wanting to be alive anymore. It could be so easy, like a light switch. How can that not be tempting to some?
I’ve just never seen the harm in talking about self-harm. Sure, it’s not the best topic to bring up at a baby shower or wedding reception but between close friends and family, I think it’s beneficial, might even bring each other closer. It helps for the one listening to get a grasp of what you’re going through and provide a new perspective on your journey. Who knows, they might have been there once too. Might even be there now. It might help for them to know they don’t have to go through it alone. That they don’t have to leave. That they can stick around for a bit longer and talk it out.
My supervisor at my retail job hugs me every time she sees me. I try to dodge her but she seems to hone in on me like some sort of snuggle sniper. She’s a short blonde waif-like lady with a Tinkerbell haircut, frosted eyeshadow, and thick square-framed Coach eyeglasses. She always grabs my arm and throws it over her shoulder, then wraps her arms around my waist.
And it’s uncomfortable. Not Weinstein-level uncomfortable but I’m just not used to being hugged and it feels abnormal to me. Which probably makes me abnormal to everyone else.
My supervisor knows I am not on board with touch but she tells me it’s good for me and I’ll get used to it in time. And maybe that’s why she’s so insistent on tackling me. She thinks she’s helping.
“Hugs are healing,” she told me one time. And it made me think back to all the times I’ve seen people embraced when they were sad or in need of some kind of emotional support. Her statement seemed to ring true…for other people. I can’t think of a time when I was upset and in need of a reassuring squeeze.
Outwardly, I don’t like touch. But sometimes humanity pierces through my robotic veil and… I kinda crave it.
I didn’t grow up being hugged much. My family is not affectionate. And I somehow found myself with a group of friends who were also not affectionate. So, for me, hugs just didn’t happen often. So now, when they do, I clam up. I’m not used to another person’s skin, a firm embrace, a gentle touch on the back or brush of the arm.
It’s all foreign. And most people fear foreign.
A lot of the fear of touch stems from how I feel about myself. Hugging me is like cuddling up to cottage cheese. I’m lumpy. I don’t like touching myself so I can’t imagine anyone else lusting for a handful of my hindquarters. I always think it would be better for everyone if everyone stayed far from me. But does that physical distance manifest into mental ramifications of a lack of physical contact? If hugs are healing, is distance damaging?
I don’t feel human most of the time, for various reasons. It’s nature and nurture. It’s chemical, mental, and physical. I didn’t experience those near-universal milestones. I don’t understand the concept of first kisses and first brushes with other body parts. I can’t relate to or share those experiences with others.
Touch is one of the ways in which people bond, not just to each other, but to something higher than ourselves. Even animals cuddle. They cuddle with each other and with us. It spans across sex and species, blood and brotherhood. It’s not just an every person thing. It’s an every creature thing. It’s universal. It’s how we can belong, provide protection, receive comfort, share safety.
And when you don’t have that, it’s very much alienating. Not to mention, potentially physically harmful.
While I fear it, I’m not totally devoid of the desire to touch and be touched. I see couples holding hands, hugging, kissing. It’s on tv and movies and in books. And what about those “touch porn” Taltz commercials?
But my problem’s not psoriasis. It’s psychosis.
Anyway, I think, “Wow, I want that. How nice would that be?” But since I’m kind of asexual, I’ve never had that in my life. I don’t know the intimacy, the close proximity of sharing a breath, the feel of two sets of lips pressed together.
And that’s where the conflict kicks in. I abhor and admire touch. I rail against it while daydreaming about it. And that sentiment transfers to other people too. I think about those who say, “I’m just a hugger!” Like my supervisor. She has no problem touching people, hugging, pulling in close. And I’m envious of that. It almost looks freeing, to be so open with yourself and others, to be able to express affection in that kind of way.
On the other hand, there’s something very attractive about someone’s cold demeanor, those who don’t want to be touched, who put up a wall against physical adoration.
So where do I fit into the fold of fondling and fleeing far away?
I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy. When it comes to food, I’ll either starve myself or binge my face off. And when I think of touch, I either want to fully embrace it or shrug it off completely. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around wanting to wrap my arms around everyone. But who said I had to do that? What if I was just selective about who I touched? And what if that selectability makes touch all the more special?
It certainly looks special. Human. And once I can get over the uncomfortable hump of being hugged, once I can recognize that I am touchable, that I deserve someone else’s hands on me, maybe I can learn to like it. And maybe my supervisor was on to something. Maybe hugs are healing. I just wonder what, and who, it’s going to take to get me to start believing it.
Have you ever just clicked with someone?
When I was visiting my college friend and her husband in Atlanta, I was floored by how open they were to complete strangers. If they had questions, they walked right up to people and asked them. They chatted with our servers, made conversation with our Uber drivers, and did not seem shy with anyone at all. All I could do was stand by and be amazed at their ability to converse.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to share a genuine smile, to give a compliment, ask an open-ended question. I wanted to elicit a laugh, to leave a good impression. I wanted to have that connection with another human being, no matter how small. But despite my best efforts, my mind just doesn’t work fast enough to form a thoughtful word and before I know it, I’ve exchanged greetings and goodbyes and I’m left wondering how I scored.
I really want to be good with people. But the problem is I just don’t like people that much. But I am fascinated by them. They are simultaneously the most basic and the most complex creatures. Most humans want love, connection, safety, and security. That goes across the board. But the way in which they obtain those things is where it gets interesting. And confusing.
I haven’t had that many great experiences with people. I don’t have any long-term friends. Never been in a romantic relationship. I don’t fit in with my family. And I’ve worked in customer service for well over a decade. If that doesn’t sour your view of mankind, nothing will.
I think people have the potential to be great but most of them just suck. Especially me. I don’t give people enough of a chance. I make snap judgments and can be too quick to cut someone out of my life. I know there are good people out there but I’ve been dropped so many times that I just expect people to give 20% before crapping out. But does such an assessment make me an ass?
Maybe I’d be more inclined to have a genial response to a welcoming hand but I just haven’t experienced that alleged human connection, love, dedication, and care.
And I just really want to.
I could learn a lot from people. But I’m put off by them, thus I don’t want to interact with them, thus I never learn proper people skills. So when someone cool does come along, I can’t capture their attention. I can only bumble around like a butthead.
I understand that I need to work on things. I’m flawed and frazzled and often stutter and sweat when nervous. I have trouble continuing conversations, finding interest in others, picking up on social cues and niceties. I’m a huge mess and therefore I can’t always be surprised when I feel left out of the crowd. I know I’m not always a lot of fun to be around. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to fix it.
I’m wondering how I can break the cycle of simultaneously wanting people and pushing them away. I suppose I should just practice. Just talk to people. Ask questions. Show care and concern. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Maybe the skill of learning to connect will come to me. All I know for sure is the connection itself will not. That is something I will have to make happen.
I’ve waited for years for someone to come along, to care, to be in my actual life. I’ve wanted that feeling of finding my people, of discovering my complement. It hasn’t happened. It doesn’t mean it won’t. But with every lost chance at a friend, it does become harder to carry on, to finally experience that immaculate connection I’ve craved for so long.
”Sex is the one thing, more than any others, that makes you feel human.”
”Remember, your children can’t praise the Lord if they’ve got genitals in their mouths.”
-Nudist Colony of the Dead
I remember walking into my first college class, looking at my classmates, and thinking, “I’m probably the only virgin in this room.”
That was over 10 years ago and every time I walk into a new room filled with people, I still think the same thing.
Living in a small, religious town, I learned early on that the true “F” word was fornication. Sex before marriage was about the worst thing that could happen to you, besides being gay. That sentiment echoed through the church pews and school halls. But as I grew up, my friends realized other people’s genitals was about the best thing that could happen to you. Even the most devout got dicked eventually and their stringent sexual views began to relax.
Except for the gay thing. That was non-negotiable.
But it’s easy to change your mind with a hand down your pants. I never got that opportunity so I was able to hang onto my shame over sex for much longer than my peers. And the interesting part was I actually didn’t mind it that much. Although preachers and parents warned of the religious ramifications of sex, they also lauded the beauty of intercourse between two married people. And that was the message I chose to hold close.
I actually wanted to wait until marriage. I’ve always thought of myself as a romantic and the notion of me and my future wife saving ourselves for each other sounded pretty special. We’d be the first to have that intimate connection, to reach that milestone in pulsating unison. And so not having sex was not a big deal because, at the time, marriage was not on my mind, therefore sex was not either. But just because I’d made a no-copulation commitment to a stranger didn’t mean I wasn’t affected by sex.
I used to be a great listener and great friend. My classmates came to me for counseling. I heard all about their relationships and through their confessions, I learned that sex not only changed relationships but changed people. And it didn’t necessarily change anyone for better or worse. But it did feel like there was more at stake. Emotions were either heightened or deadened at the point of penetration. Some people could turn off their heads and hearts while others’ only grew heavier.
And just by growing up and living and being interested in people, I learned more about sex without actually ever experiencing it. It came pieced together from conversations, observations, and, thanks to the power of the Internet, research.
“But words have no meaning when it’s you that says,
‘I really do care, no baby I, I really do care!’”
-Anberlin, Never Take Friendship Personal
I think I can officially say I am not made to mate, date, or relate.
I know I’m not normal. I overanalyze all my relationships and usually come to the conclusion that I’m not well-liked. It doesn’t really affect me anymore as I gave up on friendships a long time ago. But when someone comes along and they make you feel like you want to believe in friendship again, or maybe even believe in something deeper, that’s when my silent alarm goes off:
“Warning! You’re headed for a heartache! Stay away!”
It’s this very weird thing, this anomaly of aortic function and fantasy.
One of the many reasons I’ve stayed away from relationships is because of my fear of rejection. I’ve had a bad track record of decisions in my life. My choice of college didn’t pan out. My choice of jobs haven’t been great. Even my long-term goals and dreams have left me decimated. And almost every friendship I’ve formed has fizzled. So I think my trepidation to enter territory with another person is quite valid.
I’m the guy you call when you’re wasting time in line at McDonalds. It’s reminiscing at the register and goodbyes when you’ve got your fries. Really. It happens all the time. And these reminders of people only giving me their time when they’re trying to kill it.
I used to wonder if I couldn’t make and keep friends because I was just too weird or boring or crazy. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized everyone, from average to abnormal, can find themselves in a relationship and manage just fine. So I can’t let my lack of social skills or bent brain take the blame. Maybe I can’t hold onto anyone ‘cause I’m just a bad person.
But sometimes people make me feel like I’m not a bad person.
And that’s what makes the frequent exits all the more disheartening. All the back-and-forth badgering of being an all around loser that my brain embroils me in goes quiet. I almost feel like a person. But, as always, I started to feel that familiar tug of separation again.
But it’s the whole idea of dangling hope in front of me and snatching it away that hurts the most. It’s not only the loss of another person but the loss of what could have been, the idea of closeness and love, all the experiences of humanity that hold so close to me before darting away. It’s the disappointment draped on top of the despondence, the reminder that I am not worthy of keeping around. And the internal insults rise in volume and frequency.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy their company and still crave it without remorse.
It just sucks that they are not reciprocating that craving.
It’s hurt me a great deal but for some reason, I still feel a great deal of affection for some. Maybe I’m just holding onto the good parts. It’s funny how we forget about the bad stuff when we are lonely, when we are in need of knowing love. It all fades away in the promise of a kind word or caress. And that’s when I need to remind myself that as much good as I’ve experienced, there’s been quite a few times my feelings have been hurt. And it’s not been a playful tease but a cutting remark which, I suspect, was meant to put me down and keep me there.
Well, it worked.
Yet, I still wish they’d come back. I know if I had other loving people in my life, I most likely wouldn’t grip so tight to our tenuous relationships. But it feels like it’s all I have.
I guess I’ll just let this be, this weird relationship where they talk to me in bits and pieces, dipping in and out of my life and in and out of our conversations, fully immersed then consistently distracted. And I’ll be left wondering why I can’t hold onto them or anyone else.
I’ve struggled with loneliness for as long as I can remember. I’ve never loved or been loved. I’ve missed out on midnight kisses and dancing and dinners with someone special. I’ve not experienced the sweet release of letting down my guard and inviting someone into my heart and mind. I’ve not been able to intertwine my heart with another and it’s led to a half existence, like I’ve been skimming the surface of life, never allowed to fully dive in and let the water into my bones.
It’s a pain I’ve learned to carry and compress like a dull headache that never heals. And so when I hear someone who’s been in several significant relationships tell me they feel they’ll end up all alone just because they haven’t made it to the altar yet, it makes me angry. That’s when the headache magnifies to a migraine.
I’ve had several people come to me over the years and express their fear of forever alone. But they’ve had relationships in the past. They’ve tasted skin and love. They’ve dived headfirst into the water. Many times they come to me before they’ve even fully dried off.
Most recently, I had a girl tell me she thought she’d be alone forever because she was talking to several guys but didn’t see much of a future with any of them. She was obviously desirable to have all this male attention but she still felt deflated. Meanwhile, there I was, newly fat again, depressed, and with no prospect of love.
I wanted to tell her to shut up and let her know she had no idea what loneliness was. She’d been single for a little over a year by that time, merely a blink of an eye in comparison to my 28 years of loneliness.
But then I pulled back and scolded myself because, to her, being single for a year was difficult to digest when considering she had been in a relationship since she was in high school.
I had to remind myself suffering is relative. Just because she hadn’t experienced loneliness as long as I had didn’t negate her feelings. She had every right to feel as lonely as she thought she was.
We all experience feelings in various degrees of deepness. And almost every feeling we have is valid. Just because it doesn’t match up with someone else’s experience doesn’t mean it’s not real or genuine. We all come from different backgrounds and have experienced different triumphs and disappointments over the years.
And because each one of our stories is unique, it should be difficult to pass judgement on others. But it doesn’t make it difficult at all. We pass judgment on people every day, most oftentimes without even thinking about it. I passed judgement on my coworker as if it were as natural as breathing. That was wrong of me.
I still don’t think she knows what loneliness is but that’s my opinion. I can’t push that on her. She knows how she feels and I know how I feel. And if we could all sit back every once in a while and be aware other people’s circumstances, we might begin to understand them better, might become more empathetic, might become less cold to other people’s emotions.
We all have our own journey and we all have to take care of ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we have the right to invalidate others along the way. I’m also not saying we should sacrifice and live for others to the point we ignore our own needs but if we could just find the balance between nurturing ourselves while considering others among us, it might make things easier on everyone.
“So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun…”
-John Lennon, Happy Xmas (War is Over)
People say I’m negative and it makes me feel bad because I never intend to be. It’s just what comes out. But after spending the holidays with my family, I’m starting to see they err on the negative side as well and that, perhaps, I’m not just a total asshole and much of the negativity I express is simply an inherited trait from a previous generation of buzzkills.
Does that let me off the hook?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
On Christmas Eve my mom’s mom came over and we had Christmas at my house. I sat there and watched as she tried to form a coherent sentence, a skill she’s been struggling with for the past several years, which has recently been accompanied by an accumulation of physical ailments that have put my mother in a tizzy as she’s had to take my grandmother to the doctor and get test after test to find out what’s wrong with her and then test after test to see what will treat what’s wrong with her. And naturally most of those doctor’s appointments fall on the one day my mother has off from work.
It’s not just me with the crappy luck. My whole family is cursed with it. Which might be one of the causes of the negativity.
And then there’s my dad sitting with my uncle, watching the nightly news because that’s a great source of entertainment to have going on while you’re carving the turkey. With the bombings and school shootings and rape and murder that gets scrolled across the screen, who doesn’t feel like cuddling up next to the tree with a big ass cup of cocoa?
So my dad tears into another conspiracy theory about the Obama administration and my grandmother talks with her mouth full and my sister is off in her own world with her husband and my mom’s running around tired trying to get everyone fed and I try to help but I just get in the way and have to listen to these people go on with their racial slurs with slurred words and I feel completely foreign here. These people are my flesh and blood but they are not my brain nor my beliefs and it makes it hard to feel good about any of it.
The next day I go to my dad’s mom’s house and she’s not doing much better than my other grandmother. She’s still mentally alert but also physically deteriorating. She coughed these intense, dry coughs the entire time, a hacking that made my shoulder blades twitch. Meanwhile, people are showing up late and liquored up, reeking of cigarettes and cheap wine.
Then my dad starts in about all the animals hanging around, the dog who’s blind in one eye and the other dog who probably has cancer and won’t last much longer. Then he talks about our dog, Sam, and tries to guess his age, insinuating he’s also old and also won’t last much longer. And I just don’t understand why he has to talk about such things during a time that’s supposed to be cheerful. Why put a black cloud over the proceedings when they’re already dark enough with a choking matriarch and a slew of unruly Angry Birds-addicted children?
And then I see these shiny happy families on Facebook and Instagram, polite children and adults who wear actual pants instead of pajama bottoms to Christmas dinner. Families who share Christmas songs instead of YouTube clips of a woman shitting in aisle five of a supermarket. Cousins who bring over mashed potatoes instead of moonshine. And it hurts even more. My family won’t ever be like that. Sure, no family is perfect, but ours isn’t even palatable.
I think about the young ones and I hope they turn out better than their parents. It’s unfortunate that the cousins I grew up with couldn’t learn from their parents’ mistakes. I see them following the same path. And I fear their children will do the same. I’ve seen one of my cousins grow up from a baby into a tall and pretty girl. She could end up okay if she’d just stay in school and not get pregnant. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask but we’re a fertile bunch and it doesn’t take much to get knocked up.
But really, it’s hard to say how anyone will turn up. I thought I did everything right. I made excellent grades in high school and did not curtail my cirriculum with drugs or alcohol or sex and followed my dreams of being an artist, which resulted in a pile of student loans I couldn’t comfortably pay back and days of unrelenting loneliness and rage.
I know I’m new around here and some of you who haven’t followed me over from OD don’t know me too well so you might fear I think I’m above these people. Don’t worry, I’m the biggest piece of crap out of all of them. It’s not about thinking I’m better. It’s about thinking I’m disconnected. I don’t agree with some of the choices they’ve made but they seem to be far more comfortable with themselves than I am with myself. And maybe being content with your choices, whether they be good or bad, is more important than trying to play it safe and make no choice at all, like in my case.
They have families, albeit accidental ones. But there seems to be love there. When you look past the camouflage, you can see a closeness. They’re not highbrow, but they’re a family and that’s really all that matters. It’s more than I can say. I’m the odd guy out, the only one not partnered up. They might have Honey Boo Boo caliber class but I’m the Christmas curmudgeon.
The next day they rushed my grandmother to the emergency room because her coughing got worse.
And then we took down the Christmas tree.
The Internet is amazing. It gives a place for socially outcast kids to come together and realize they are not alone in both their interests and struggles.
You, the senior in high school with the Pokemon backpack. It’s okay. You’re not weird. There are others like you.
You, the guy wearing the black lipstick. It’s okay. You’re not a freak. There are others like you.
You, the person who owns the complete Gilmore Girls series on BluRay….well, there’s something wrong with you but the point is what makes you strange to one person makes you intriguing to someone else. And it’s hard living in a certain area where you don’t fit in because it makes it seems like you’re the one with the problem but that’s not the case at all. The only one with the problem is the one giving you a hard time for being yourself.
Are you gay or trans or like people of a different race or believe in a different god or like foreign movies or prefer to visit graveyards instead of The Gap? It’s okay. There are other headstone hoppers out there who would gladly let you tag along.
Social networking sites like Tumblr allow you to find these people and connect with them in a way you would not have been able to otherwise. With that connection comes reassurance that you are not abnormal because you sculpt Dr. Who action figures or enjoy analyzing the subtext of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Saturday nights. Whatever freaky fetish or outlandish longing you have, someone else out there shares that same passion. You can find a community. You can find support. You can find friends.
The problem lies in the fact that the majority of these friends are usually hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away. And it’s nice to be able to exchange instant messages and even a text or a phone call with these people, but I can’t help but to think it still doesn’t beat face-to-face interaction. I fear there’s so much we miss out on when miles are placed between us. I fear we never get the full effect of friendship. I fear there’s only so much we can put into a chat window. The nuance of voice and body language gets lost amid text messages.
And you can’t drive to that person’s house on a whim in the middle of the night for a chat session. You can’t embrace them when you need physical reassurance. You can’t see their face light up when you walk into the room. While we believe we are developing bonds, are we only getting half the connection we need to feel fulfilled?