This is the trip down memory lane. While I have so much I want to write about, it seems only natural to start at the beginning, although, natural progressions often don’t apply with matters of the mind. For the sake of order, it’s worth noting the pieces of my childhood that told me I was different.
Lots of children struggle with sleeping on their own. I was certainly one of them, but it transcended normalcy. I would stand inside my closed bedroom door, barely breathing, listening, and mustering up the courage to act. I recall running across the dark hallway in the middle of the night as if my speed would prevent the ghoulies from catching me, in order to sneak up to my parents’ bed and implore, “Can I sleep in your bed tonight?” I don’t know the exact frequency with which this occurred, but I remember it went on long after it probably should have.
Another memory I have of my childhood is that I was incredibly sensitive to sensations. I used to cut the tags out of all of my articles of clothing because, to me, the jagged edge of a clothing tag was to my skin as nails on a chalkboard are to the ears. In the same vein, I hated underwear. The extra layers of fabric were suffocating. I felt trapped in my outfit and the unsavory sensation became all I could think about.
A more direct link to my adult mental health issues occurred in spring when I was in fourth grade; there was a tornado warning and while we had been coached, year after year, to duck under our desks and cover our heads with a text book (typically math or science, the heaviest), the book and desk seemed insignificant and almost laughable solutions to a towering tunnel of wind and debris. I believe this is the first time I experienced panic-level anxiety. As my classmates stayed under their desks, I was send with a younger class to the interior of the building into a bathroom. I was the only one.
Following the tornado, my parents set me up with a child psychologist. This is the first instance where I doubted the abilities of so-called professionals. I remember this woman nearly berating me for experiencing high levels of anxiety and essentially telling me, “You need to just get over it.” I’ve come to love watching thunderstorms without fear of a tornado barreling into my residence, but I give no credit to her.
It was near the end of elementary school I started writing regularly and mostly in the form of poetry. I look back at some of the poems I wrote and am astonished at how much pain and sadness they convey, especially considering my age at the time I wrote them. It’s like I was born with a higher capacity and propensity for sadness than most people I know. I used poetry to cope with life experiences that did not make sense to me and mostly these experiences pertained to my interactions with people. A lot of my poetry conveys a sense of isolation, of otherness. I’ve always craved connection and felt as if I need it more than I need food and shelter, even, but it’s always been elusive, like shadows dancing across a cave wall.
It was near the end of high school when a girl I knew convinced my best friend, a boy, to stop talking to me for a week. The fact that somebody I had spent years running around in the woods with, sharing winter hats with, could be so easily convinced to cut me out of his life broke my heart. Soon after I entered middle school and moved from Michigan to Wisconsin. It was in middle school I began to isolate at times. I remember my Sunday ritual for much of 6th and 7th grade was to read fantasy novels literally all day until I became tired and usually fell asleep around 8:00 p.m. Fantasy novels were an escape from the confusion of the real world. I did not know how to deal with the changes that occur in middle school during which everybody is hyper-aware of who they are and who they want to be. There’s competition. There’s pressure to look right and act right. It was often too much for me and at a time when people are pressured to streamline their identities with everybody else, my eccentricities fought back inside my mind.
High school was a mixed bag. I had friends in most of the social groups, but because I did not belong to one group, there were often times when I was not invited to hangout. I was forgotten. Or maybe people did not want to invite me, I’m not sure. I remember freshman year of high school when my brother was a senior, my parents asked or made (I’m not sure what the conversation was) him bring me along to hangout with him and his friends. Conversely, I spent many weekends watching independent and foreign films. The themes of loneliness, unrequited love, self-exploration, otherness, and the nature of reality appealed to my mind, which I was now aware had well-oiled gears constantly running through thoughts and interpretations; I wanted to understand a world that confused me.
These are all events and situations that made me feel like an other, but since I was young, I always felt different in so many ways. I’m left-handed, I’ve never been stereotypically feminine (I was a tomboy growing up and had not worn a dress until 5th grade), I self-identify as bisexual, I philosophize extensively, I seek to understand the world at a depth I find the majority of the population resists, and speak candidly about subject matter many avoid.
Awareness, especially when it comes to the self, is a key part of my coping mechanisms. I often view the world in terms of dichotomies. While it’s important to remember the past since it is who you are, the struggle is to refrain from letting the painful parts define your current life and affect your ability to progress. That’s a concept I continue to work on. After this brief foray into my youth, I’ll leave the readers with a quote that exemplifies how depression feels to in recent times:
“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”-Jonathan Safran Foer