Sunday, July 01, 2012

Me and Everybody's on the Sad Same Team

An excerpt of a longer chapter.

Me and Everybody’s on the Same Sad Team

When hypomanic (in the beginning) or manic (after I turned twenty), I often went on rescue missions. The intensity of mania increases gradually with time. Each episode ups the ante a little bit more. Behavior grows more and more outlandish. The illness overtook me, and I no longer had any control over my thoughts and how I must have come across to other people. After a time, I believed that others, those in whom I was interested, specifically, needed to be saved from their unfortunate lot in life. All of this was pure delusion on my part, wildly untrue, but at my worst, I believed it.

The first place I traveled was southern Illinois. Earlier in the summer, while working with a church youth group to build a house for a poor family, I came across a girl my age. She was part of another church group visiting my city for the same purpose. I was lucky to find someone so similar to myself. We were both in the right place at the right time. All the metrics were perfect, metrics that would not exist at other times. Both of us were lonely, intelligent, and felt generally isolated from the rest of our peers.

We spent most of a day painting a house together. The attraction was immediate. By the end of our time together everyone noted, in sweetly mocking fashion, how enamored we clearly were with each other. In the back of a car, before we were to physically part ways, the two of us exchanged e-mail addresses. Easily attainable personal e-mail was a relatively new concept back then, one that young people adopted first, as is always the case.

Though I often doubt my abilities, I have observed over time that I’ve been remarkably successful in achieving female attention. Not only that, I reflect that several ex-girlfriends have sought to keep in contact with me, even eons after we’d long since parted ways. This current girl of my infatuations simply would not let me drift away. When we completely lost track of each other, a year later or thereabouts, she asked her new boyfriend, skilled at computers, to find my updated contact information.

He obliged and we resumed correspondence. But that was later. For the moment, we carried on an internet romance, a state of affairs which before long was roundly parodied and soundly criticized. How interesting today that once, in the mid-1990’s, finding someone to date online was considered a sign of atrocious social skills, a badge of shame, and a practice reeking of thinly concealed desperation. Now, online dating is a multimillion (if not billion) dollar industry and the average person thinks the practice is completely normal.

Before fifty-year-olds were hooking up on the Internet, high school and middle school students were online first, linking up with kids their own age. The appeal, in part, arrived in the form of immediacy and instant gratification. This distinguished the practice from letter correspondence by mail, a more traditional “pen pal” relationship. The distance that separated us might be vast, but after school or on weekends, this other person, whoever it was, was always there.

We talked online through instant chat, e-mail, and often over the phone. She was the first of many to come. Due to the age and the transient nature of the medium, these relationships rarely stood the test of time. However, when girls close nearby were not available to me because of a sometimes paralyzing sense of anxiety, also part of my illness, I settled for what I could get. And, truthfully, I have since gathered that I was only one of several teenagers across the country my age who opted for this route, for the same reasons.

It was here that I cut my teeth and, at least on its face, I refuse to feel ashamed of my behavior. Where I went wrong was the impulsively involved in fleeing, needing desperately to be with a girlfriend. For a lonely teenager, as I was then, I grew addicted to the feeling of being wanted, being needed. Those with whom I carried on a long distance relationship likely felt the same way I did. Distance, space, time, money--all of these things were barriers that I was willing to defy.

I realize now where the train came off the tracks, the sheer madness of this sort of behavior. In therapy, I’ve come to understand now just how starved I was for attention, how much I needed positive gratification by any means necessary. I wanted to be loved, mostly. A person with a severe anxiety disorder forms an identity as a loner, a mysterious stranger who no one knows, a solitary being who eventually makes his stealthy exit from the stage. I romanticized this part about myself, when what I was really doing was crying out just to be average, to be able to establish friendships in my life.

I would later adopt a song as especially pertinent to my condition. It speaks, quite critically, about people who are afraid of too much change but frustrated by routine.

Give us something familiar

Something similar
To what we know already
That will keep us steady
Steady, steady
Steady going nowhere

I began to rebel dramatically and after a while, I didn’t much care what got in my way. My illness had hemmed me in between the popular kids, who never much appealed to me, and the rejects whose basic identity as the eternally shunned made them resistant to accepting newcomers. Self-confidence would have done me a universe of good, but my basic insecurities were entrenched. No one knew how to help me and I had no way of being able to show them how.

The ennui of adolescence is nothing new, but the times change. Something else was brewing, though I was nowhere near ready to deal with it. During high school, I recognized that I was bisexual. I kept the matter to myself because I’d been raised in a homophobic environment at school, one especially prominent among other boys. The games I played outdoors were often laced with derogatory commentary, even as far back as elementary school.

I heard many disparaging remarks made about those who were not straight. Periodic online interaction gave me a tentative platform to confront that part of my identity as well, though I lacked the confidence to pursue men with the same energy that I did women. The men who expressed interest in me reminded me too much of myself.

They were often self-loathing and insecure (as I was), but at this stage, that pose had grown old and stale. I wanted to fit in to at least someone’s framework, if only to belong somewhere, anywhere. Gay relationships placed me once more in an outsider position. This is what I sought to avoid, whenever possible. As much as I said I enjoyed being a rebel, I really craved conformity, that is if conformity meant not having to be alone.

A boyfriend, whether I was five miles away or five hundred, would have required me to take on an additional layer of secrecy. I had no desire to hide what I was doing or with whom I happened to be infatuated. Not any longer. It would be a long time before I truly came to terms with my sexual orientation. Everyone I’ve ever met who is also bisexual has to reach resolution between two identities that can appear mutually exclusive. I pushed off the most uncomfortable portion until a little later.

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