It’s important to begin by insisting something. I’m not a victim.
You and I are the sum of our experiences. It’s what gives us our worldview. It informs our attitudes about others and their behavior. We are what we’ve lived.
I’m not a victim, so don’t feel sorry for me.
But you and I may share something that’s important to recognize.
I have been battling depression my entire life.
Here’s the thing: I pretty much truly realized it only a month ago.
Here are a few things about me that you may already know, if you know me. If you don’t know me, some of this is going to resonate.
- At sports stadiums, I would never wear a tee shirt or a jersey of my favorite team, the Cubs/Bears/Iowa Hawkeyes/Milwaukee Bucks. I don’t want to draw attention to myself
- I’m happy to give a toast or a little speech at the dinner party, because I am in control of the attention I desire at that moment
- If I am the subject of a prank – the butt of the joke – I get very uneasy
- When I see a child in danger or being bullied, my first instinct is to beat the crap out of the kid who’s doing the bullying. I have to force myself to not intervene. Intervention can make it worse for the kid victim later
- If I am visiting a foreign country, I desperately try to speak their language as much as I can. If I feel uncomfortable, I can briefly shut down. I never want to be a tourist. I want to be a visitor
- If you ask me how I’m doing, I generally say everything’s great. You’ll certainly never hear me drone on for hours about all of my problems
- I walk away from relationships. I’ve done it 100 times
- I shy away from asking for favors. I worry I am bothering or inconveniencing you. I moved several times by myself, which was so stupid. It hurt, carrying that sofa on my back
- I tend to think people are scary and untrustworthy. This is called misanthropy – the dislike of humans. This one’s not that bad, because you and I CLEARLY agree that The General Public is a disgusting herd of rude, vile, uncivil, conspiratorial, racist animals. Amiright?
The reason I have these particular traits is because I was savagely bullied when I was a kid. You might think, “John, you’re a big guy with a deep voice,” as if that would signal I always have been.
The beatings were regularly scheduled. The humiliation, surrounded by a circle of tormentors… ugh. No details necessary here. It happened. There were witnesses. They know.
This is why I feel about certain things the way I do.
Here’s the part that makes me sad. In 2013 I wrote a book called Destination: Reinvention which detailed 366 days of un-and-underemployment after a career-ending layoff. When the book came out, a ton of my friends read it. But what one of them said to me was unforgettable, “Why didn’t you tell us what was going on?”
They thought I was “fine” because I told them I was. That’s my bad, not theirs. What I probably did was make some of them wonder what else I wasn’t telling them, what I was distancing them from. That sucks. Lesson now learned.
11 years ago I’m pretty sure I started this website as secret therapy: a way to help others who were/are stuck in life and cannot seem to move. It’s easy to be inspirational to others. Try it with your own life? Not so easy.
But now you know.
What didn’t help over the years is the sad cultural truth that men are not very good at being vulnerable with each other. Society discourages it. It wants us all to be brooding and dark and quiet. What society don’t know is that underneath that confident, strong male exterior is a dude with everything from rage to despair bottling up, year over year, waiting to explode in sadness and self harm. It’s the dude who can’t talk to his own wife. You know that guy.
I am not a victim.
Do not pity me. I am the sum of my experiences, just like you are. Strength is much more effectively displayed by a shred of vulnerability and honesty, with self and others.
This continuing story ends with good news. Now that I know where it all came from, I can work on it! Finally! I can be a better friend, a more trusted advisor, someone who will let you in. Someone who is okay being vulnerable. Because while The General Public will always be a disgusting immoral flock of social media cranks who spread lies and a sadistic worldview (Amiright?) I am getting more comfortable being more authentic around you, online and in analog.
Thanks for listening. No action items here. I just thought I’d let you in on what’s up, and what’s goin’ down, and what’s good.
If you know of a kid in danger, there is help. Call the Stop Bullying Now hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to the website.