I was asleep until I woke. And I haven’t been able to sleep since. I walk through life in a dream.
The first half of my life seems like a haze, shrouded in emotional frustration and confusion. I groped about aimlessly the first twenty years, trying to make sense of the situation I was born into.
I moved a half dozen times before the second grade, finding myself in new places every six months as my father changed jobs, relocated, upgraded and renovated homes. School was a social activity with compulsory testing. Learning was effortless until middle school, when the concept of studying was introduced, something I had never done, apart from the encyclopedias I would read in the bathroom, or sprawled out in the study. Thats when I began to struggle. Life had always been relatively easy until then. I was medicated at the request of the school in first grade, citing concerns that I was a distraction to other students, and that Ritalin was a cure for this new type of disability they called attention deficit disorder. The good intentioned parents I had accepted the recommendations of the teachers and doctors, and soon I was a docile boy, entranced with the help of stimulants. My curiosities were focused while medicated, which made managing my attention in the classroom more manageable, but it took a toll on my soul. While I began gaining a sense there was something off about the daily trips to the nurses office, I would hide the pill under my tongue, and throw it away, in some vent or down the drain. Of course, these days were like a vacation, where my senses could unwind and my proclivities toward the innumerable distractions could sweep my imagination away, often at the expense of the teachers patience. Impulsive behavior, lack of self control, constantly side tracked by preoccupations that flashed across my constrained attention in the classrooms.
When medication was abruptly stopped my seventh grade year, amid rising concerns in the media that Ritalin and other stimulants may cause adverse health affects, I was thrown into an spiral that I would not recover from for a very long time. The abrupt cessation of medication meant I had to rely on my natural efforts to focus my attention on academic matters that had otherwise been a compulsory obligation. My performance degraded from A’s and B’s, to C’s and D’s, and my military father, in the midst of building a company, showed little patience, and even less sympathy. The feuds that would come to define our relationship eventually began to wear on my self worth as I internalized my failures with each infraction and failure.
I’m not sure when self mutilation became an attractive fixation, but I recall the moments with friends when my fearlessness, coupled with an impulsive reflex, manifested in competitive shows of strength. What is more impressive that being able to withstand an indian burn, or playing knuckle wars. This progressed into burning myself, in a version of chicken, to see who could last the longest. The emotional pain lurking behind my juvenile exterior proved to be a mighty force that would shield me from feeling physical discomfort. This evolved into cutting, and etching names into my flesh. I did this with some other boys, who were equally pained.
I formed a suicide pact with one of my best friends. I woke up one morning to the news that he had successfully completed his fate. I was devastated, though not surprised, and carried guilt that I was still around for the rest of my life.
After that episode my parents transitioned me from Christian Schools to a public school, and began to re-medicate me. A depression swelled and eventually materialized as I grew listless for life. A blanket of paralysis enveloped my feelings, and I grew frustrated that feeling was difficult at all. It’s not so much that you feel bad when you’re depressed. It’s that you feel nothing, which in itself is a bad feeling. Burning, cutting, and later drugs, criminal acts, and sex were not just activities for an aimless youth. They were an opportunity to feel something, anything, at any expense. When you don’t feel anything, you don’t feel alive. So the threat of death is not something to fear. Its almost preferable to the nothingness that characterizes every living, breathing moment, where happiness and joy are a vague gossip, a lore for the more fortunate, born to feel, born to wake up each day grateful for a life which praises their efforts. But this was just a myth, something I could see, but never find in my own life, much less create.