Monday, August 31, 2015

Deep Pression

First, let me make it clear that despite some of the content of this entry, you should still read this in a cheerfully lighthearted manner. This is all crap that happened YEARS before you were born (well, I don’t really know how old you are, but this was so many years ago that it is practically before I was born). So chill, ok? Besides, some people give me crap for writing anything that isn’t at least an attempt to be humorous.
This has to do with my seeming inability to socialize well. So, my earliest memories of having to deal with groups of people involved finding a corner and disappearing in my thoughts. Mainly this was because I never seemed to know what to say. And THAT was due to memories of strange looks from people when I did say something. So maybe I was imagining it all, maybe I was hyper-sensitive, but obviously I was socially retarded. Being horribly shy meant that once I started to talk to someone, I would feel my face getting hot, which would make me feel foolish and just want to finish my sentence in any way at all (probably usually nonsensically) and go find a corner to pretend to die in.
It took a lot of observing and testing the conversational waters with a person before I could maintain a conversation beyond three sentences. I could respond alright to questions, but could never really hold up my end of a conversation. This was very stressful for me because it seemed that conversation was an incredibly important skill since everyone around me seemed to be able to do it so effortlessly and all the time.
Having accumulated enough knowledge at this late point in my life, I feel pretty confident when I say that you can probably well imagine how depressing it can be to want to have a skill but not seem to be able to acquire it. Yeah, “practice” makes perfect. Well no; not always.
What did I try to do? Well, I remember trying to memorize good bits of conversation to use on others. That only works if you say the line, look at your watch, then smile and say, “Gotta run!” Otherwise, unless you memorized multiple follow-up sentences, plus possible branching topic-points, you were screwed and would quickly become embarrassed.
My best solution was to not talk much. Just observe and try to get a “read” on what sorts of things different people seemed to like to say or hear. Then try to say short and simple, but similar things to them. Not great, but with enough data, I could get by.
Sometime during my sophomore (or maybe junior) year of high school, I remember reading a book on how to be funny. The only two tips I absorbed (and retained) was to try to build off of what someone else just said, and to use exaggeration and obvious absurdity. It took until my senior year to finally start to try some of those things out. Needless to say, you aren’t going to find any “You were a funny guy” quotes in my yearbook. Actually, I think only four people actually signed my yearbook (the lunch lady, the girl three rows back in my geometry class who thought she was signing someone else’s book, my sister, and a teacher who felt bad for me – I don’t think I ever had that teacher for a class, though).
There were only two groups I did my best with in terms of having conversations: My relatives and adult female strangers. (Uh, huh. Don’t let your mind wander any further than that my pal. I mean grandmother-types who appreciated soft-spoken, overly polite, mostly quiet boys. Adult males always seemed to want to talk about sports, hunting, cars, guns, and about thirty nine other topics I had no interest or knowledge of.)
Ok, quick time-jump, but then I have to get back to something… The sense of humor I have today is a product of graduate school. I had to learn how to talk to groups of people without throwing up first. So I had to feel like they were friendly toward me which was achieved if I could hear them laugh. So here was the problem: I never felt confident that what I was saying was sensible or even appropriate. But that was when it clicked with the humor book for me. It occurred to me that I could stop worrying about whether I was saying something stupid or inappropriate if there was a chance that people would take it as a joke. That was really freeing. Not that I instantly felt comfortable about talking in front of groups of people, but it did start the wheel rolling.
Back in high school, I remember dreading oral reports, so I watched intently the students who went before me. The worst thing they did was behave nervously: Shaking, complaining about being nervous, not looking up from their notes, or the floor, and so on. I could see that the students in the class responded to that and made it even worse! So about 95% of my energy during a report was to monitor my behavior and try to suppress those nervous indicators. Of course my reports probably sucked since only 5% was focused on what I was saying. But I figured if I could not talk well in front of others, I could at least not show that it bothered me.
So, back to grade school to early junior high. For the most part, I was pretty lonely. I did have a pretty good friend who was as much a misfit as I was so part of me felt like our friendship was built on a mutual recognition that neither of us could do any better. We shared interest in science fiction and comic books. But then he moved away. As I understand it, he enlisted and at one point tried to find me, but it was when I was away at graduate school. He didn’t give my family a way for me to contact him, so we never saw each other again. I think he now lives in Florida. I did try to contact him a few years ago (via facebook), but my message was ignored, and I gave up. My childhood wasn’t really designed to build self-esteem or confidence.
It’s at this point that I wanted to say something like, “needless to say, I was pretty depressed most of the time” but I kinda hope that that actually would need to be said. Maybe the majority of kids are not depressed and it is only a minority. But really, yeah, I was fucking super depressed. I was a loner. My days were spent sleeping and nose in a book hidden away in my bedroom. I would occasionally come out to ride my bike to the store or explore the woods, but otherwise it was just me avoiding exposure to people so I would not have to blunder my interactions with them. (Don’t ask about my love life – only one girlfriend when I was in high school and I was almost paralyzed with fear in terms of showing physical affections. Too personal, so no more details about that…)
Depression became such a core part of me that I don’t think I will ever detach from it. Surely that much sadness at so early a time of cognitive development affected my brain chemistry and mental framework such that even 30+ years later I cannot imagine not having at least a minimal but constant level of depression. It has become part of my self-identity.
I made another friend in high school and he helped me to deal with my cloak of depression and really helped to develop my sense of humor. Our humor was pain-based. (The best kind of humor, right?!) It actually made things more bearable to laugh at the things that bothered us deeply. So a personal failure became a source of jokes which made the crappy bits of life less overwhelming.
So anyway, here’s the thing. When I was at my worst in terms of being depressed, I had a major internal struggle. One part of me just wanted everything to be over with; so yeah, thoughts of suicide were there. But, the other part fell into the category that the Internet refers to as “first world problems.” I knew that so many people in the world had it so much worse off in life than I did, and what the fuck did I even have to feel depressed about?! Really? You want to end it all because you can’t talk to a random stranger?! So guilt factored heavily in any plans toward suicide. Yeah, guilt, plus I really don’t like pain and suffering. Well, specifically, my own pain and suffering. There wasn’t really a lot of options to off-one’s self back then that didn’t involve some potentially bad moments of pain and suffering. So, no. (Again, first world problems, right?)
This was probably the closest I ever got to being religious. I actually tried to pray that I just not wake up. And I have to say, those prayers not being answered did not lend credibility to any all-powerful supernatural entities existing that cared about me. So to deal with the internal struggle I made a deal with myself that I would just try to figure out some method, but not actually use it on myself. It became an intellectual Russian-Roulette challenge.
After maybe five years (junior in HS) I came across a method that would theoretically work. I can only imagine how much faster things might have moved along if only the Internet had existed back then. Anyway, I prepped the method and then decided to work backwards to see if I could determine the historical effectiveness of my method. Again, no Internet, so it was slow going. Finally learned enough to know that it would be a horrifyingly nasty, painful, and drawn-out way to go. I gave up. Intellectually I had been gradually coming to the realization that the end is inevitable anyway. If I wait long enough, my prayers will be answered.
Over the years I learned to get along better. Memorizing as much as I could in terms of interactions, personal conversational approaches, etc. until I could probably last about five minutes in a conversation with a stranger. Much longer the more I got to know a person. Thankfully I also learned the strategy of asking questions of other people (letting THEM talk was a wonderful way to avoid my foot-in-mouth disease).
Now I am ancient in years (at least it feels that way). I have learned tons of additional tricks to dealing with people. Still not comfortable with people, but I can push through it (burning a million calories doing so as I sit still and quiet in a crowd). The semi-autistic cocoon of self-absorption is my primary defense: I.e., remain unnoticed and quiet hoping everyone will pretty much leave me alone so I don’t mess anything up. If you don’t think I am capable of messing things up, get me into a social situation with strangers where I cannot escape but must interact. Things may seem normal at first, but you will be amazed at the rapidity with which my comments and behavior will unravel toward the bizarre once my repertoire of social tricks runs out. But seriously, don’t do that to me.
Wish I could end this on an up-beat note. Maybe say “It will be ok!” to someone else who is suffering as much as, or probably more than me (since I’ve learned to just live with it)… But sorry, no. It can totally suckity-suck-suck. To be honest, sometimes the best I can do to make myself feel better enough to get out of bed is to remember that it won’t last forever (life, that is). But what I can say is that the experience/feeling is not unique to you. Sure, maybe the triggers you have are different from mine. Maybe your agony does not compare to mine because you have different experiences that make it worse (but listen, I haven’t shared any of the worst parts of my life). Yet here is a “universal” concept for you to ponder: For every single one of the billions of people on the planet (except for two individuals), there is at least one person who feels better, and there is also at least one person who feels worse. And you aren’t special enough to be that one person who feels worse than every other single person on the planet.
Bottom line? Well, as shitty as you feel, it could be worse; and in fact it IS worse for many – yet they carry on. So go write a blog about it that nobody reads!