I’ve come a long way since I realised I had a problem. Its taken me a while but the pointy end has been more recent so those who may not have known me for that long can’t see the evolution over time. Standing atop that mountain and looking over the spectacular view ahead of me, I reflect on the journey I took to get as far ahead as I have. Much like building tremendous strength in lifting, I maintain that only with putting one foot in front of the other and trudging up the trail can you ever get anywhere. The road to something amazing is spectacularly dull, as it were.
I was a shy kid who grew into a socially awkward adult that couldn’t read faces and had trouble understanding other people’s emotions because I didn’t know how to have feelings. I felt disconnected all the time. I’d look up at the sky and know that the world was beautiful but couldn’t actually feel it. I’d say it to myself over again that something was pretty and significant but nothing truly captured my heart. My high school sweetheart, an artist, was a hopeless romantic and always creating something or doing small kindnesses but they were all lost on me as I just accepted everything at face value and couldn’t see the emotion and feeling behind any of it. He stopped doing those things eventually.
I didn’t know why I was that way, but I knew I had to stop doing it.
At the time I was in university studying applied science and without deliberately designing it that way, I started experimenting with myself. I’d have my control group (I’m a scientist, not an engineer after all) which was my baseline feeling. I’d monitor what was happening and then reflect on that to find a variable or a group of related variables such as my behaviour or thought patterns and change them. I’d then experiment with those changes and see how I felt before reverting to the original baseline or keeping them. I didn’t apply this methodology to lifestyle habits until more recently. Those things are bastards to change.
What then happened is that I started to notice things. Back in my early twenties I used to hang out with a very broad crew of so-called ‘outcasts’ – metal heads, goths, gravers – who all prided their selves on how damaged they were. For the most part, a lot of them did have legitimate mental health issues and thus with all these broken people I felt at home. However very few of them were doing much more than taking anti-depressants, if anything prescribed at all. None were in therapy. Almost all were living for the weekend (regardless of what day of the week it was) and for many, spending it dropping eight-balls with ice chasers wasn’t uncommon.
I realised that I was getting better and they weren’t. I had found an objective measure of success.
Looking back this seems like easy pickings: don’t use drugs to mask your demons. Easier said than done when you look at all the ‘normal’ regular people who mask their demons with a myriad of other things: work, reality TV, sex, having more babies, home renovations. Harder still is when that’s all you have by way of influences. I’ve experimented with drugs to see if it was for me and to attempt to fit in with anything at all, but ultimately I felt that when you’re losing your mind the last thing I want is to lose what tenuous grip I have on it. So, I don’t do drugs and try to avoid getting out of control drunk.
I guess what I learned from this is that without someone holding my hand and without having relatable role models there was still space to carve my own path. It took a committment to what I knew deep down was right for me, and then the courage to do it. I still follow that rule, even though now I have built so many good relationships with people I admire and I expose myself constantly to more inspiring humans than I ever thought possible.
But sometimes I’ll still find myself in that little space where I feel disconnected from everyone, unable to figure out why the sky is beautiful. Except now I have built an out.