When I was 18 months old, my father won a few cases of beer off his friends by betting them that his toddler (me) could walk up to their license tags and tell them each letter and number I saw. This was my father’s favorite party trick, apparently, as he would allow me to perform this feat just about anytime it was requested.
I snorted through my nose and cackled, “Gawd, I must’ve been a HUGE disappointment after that kind of build-up.” to my parents when they told me this anecdote some three years ago.
Only recently did I start to ruminate on that. If you’ve read this blog for, say, more than three entries, you’ll have picked up that I’ve done more than my share of therapy and, incidentally, I’ve spent the majority of this time on the couch healing the person I became when I first collided with mental illness in my adolescent years and the fallout-personality that ensued afterward. This has caused me to focus on that sick person for 10 years, after being that sick person for another 10-ish. And I only just remembered that there was another person there before all of the mental fuckwithery started, and she might still be buried underneath the 20 years of rubble. What is ultimately dawning on me is that perhaps I should’ve been focusing on saving her instead of the broken person that came afterward… Lemme explain.
From the time I hit kindergarten until about 6th-7th grade, I was That Kid in my class. Don’t get me wrong; there were a handful of us, and I’m certainly not saying I was superior, but there were many cases that back up the fact that people expected big things from me. My kindergarten teacher took my best friend and me out to McDonald’s-and-a-movie because I’d read 4 times the amount of books that everyone else in my class had; my third grade teacher went ahead and bought child-friendly versions of the Sherlock Holmes books for me a week before the Multiplication Bee because she knew I was going to win… This was the kind of person I was. I remember starting kindergarten and being so bummed that we weren’t going to get homework that I spent an hour at my little desk every day diligently coloring in a coloring book until every single page was awash in pigment. I was relentless in my nerdiness, using vocabulary that got me picked on (I’ll never forget how I was ridiculed for weeks after using the word “thrice”); having an extracurricular after school every day at which I excelled (I made it a goal to earn everysingle “Try-It” of Brownie Girl Scouts before I “bridged” to being a Junior. Totally did it. My mom totally took me to Sears to get my portrait done in my full uniform); reading books just to impress people (I may’ve made some coin off disbelievers in the 5th grade who couldn’t believe I could clear a Goosebumps book in 15 minutes. I had a small group of peers challenge me to read a new one and then take a prepared quiz about the book’s details. Every month, I collected fresh dollar bills from amazed 11-yr-olds who would talk about it like I’d walked on water); and setting goals that I would actually achieve (Mom set the challenge that, if I could make 100% on every spelling test in the 1st grade, she’d take me to a haute cuisine dinner at the famous Pinehurst Hotel. I totally did it and, thus, got to experience sorbet that next summer.) Like I said, I was shamelessly “That Kid”. Always did the extra-credit assignment; always got made fun of for “brown-nosing”, when I really just enjoyed learning; always got strangely aroused when it was time to buy school supplies; always liked trying new things, even if I turned out to be godawfulbad at them (See: soccer career, circa 1991-93.) I’m not going to say I wasn’t obnoxious as a kid, but I was driven and wildly enthusiastic about mental stimulation.
I’d all but completely forgotten about all of that.
I don’t remember exactly when the change started, but I know it was gradual. I remember getting my first “C” on my report card and crying about it for weeks like someone had died. I remember still being active in school groups and church youth-group extracurriculars and piano lessons (I was a “competitive” piano player at one point, touring the state to “compete” musicallya) and Girl Scouts (not gonna lie; I was a member of arguably the most ambitious troops ever, so it wasn’t all mediocrity and cookie-sales for us. We did Mountain Trail Outdoor School and aviation workshops and mountain-biking trips along the Appalachian Trail and, you know, interesting things that didn’t suck. I plan to regenerate that idea for the Bear when she’s old enough.), but my grades began plummeting around the time I turned 11 and, by the time I was transitioning into high school, I was another average-grade student without any real intent on improving. When I graduated high school, I was #64 out of a class of 120.
I’m sure a part of that was becoming wildly self-conscious as a preteen and wanting to shed a little of the goody-two-shoes image, but my depression began hitting hard during those years as well and, when I reflect on it, the difference in my personal morale and/or drive before and after jr. high are staggering – almost as though they were performed by two different people.
And, naturally, we’ve seen where all this goes: I committed myself to being that second person and reaaally delving into that dark, cynical, resigned part of my Self and, you know, subjected myself to awholelotta Bad and perpetual self-sabotage and academic wtf-ery, etc. And that’s the person I’ve focused on “healing” when I started treating all the Crazy…
…which I’m starting to think may’ve been a mistake. See, by rejecting/forgetting That Kid I originally was, I didn’t give myself any options as to where to go when the gloomy Self was healed… so I sat around and was scared… a lot, actually. Oh, there have been times when I’ve felt completely back in my original mental state and was functional and happy with that (most notably was the year that I was teaching at a community college. I never wanted to miss class and was always prepared; always enthusiastic; always trying to get more out of the experience and going beyond my required work to give more to my students. At home during that year, I was diligent and even-keeled. ) but, strangely, my husband and I never connected the idea that mental stimulation and personal challenge was something I’d need to be able to maintain psychological stability. (I know. Hindsight is totally clearyadayada…)
Look, the thing is that, in the last couple years my mind has been such that it will meltdown halfway through a day when there is nothing else going on and keep me in perpetual physiological limbo for forever. (Yeah, unfortunately, when I say “meltdown”, that absolutely refers to physical symptoms as well. Whee!) It’s been going on for entirely too long and far too frequently and, frankly, I’m tired of whining about how tired I am of being nuts. I’m tired of talking about things I’ve tried to make it better; I’m tired of talking about being frustrated; I’m tired of feeling guilty because I’m not pulling my own weight as a wife because my brain kicks me out of the game halfway through; I’m tired of all of it. I feel like we’ve made progress with the recent diagnosis from last spring(-ish), but dammit, this has taken up 2/3 of my life. I’ve been ready to be done with it. Even this mini-rant is cliche at this point. YOU know…
However, remembering that there was a time before all this when I was a different person who was capable and happy and driven gives me a lot of hope and a new mentality from which to function. I don’t feel as lost on this whole “recovery” path anymore because I’ve actually located who it is I want to recover. I know that seems like a rather petty/borderline ridiculous epiphany to be having so late in the game, but it’s a luxury to remember that I was born someone I genuinely liked and, somewhere tucked in my being, I probably have the ability to be again. It’s been a long, long time since I was able to complete basic tasks and/or excel at whatever it was that was in front of me because of my psyche interfering, but the recent memory of how that felt and the realization that that behavior came naturally to me at one point is empowering, especially when I’m feeling pretty beat-down and am exhausted with coalesced disappointments in myself.
So, basically, instead of sitting around trying to administer more therapy and/or attention to the defunct personality I developed when my mind was clouded with mental illness, I’m going to start regarding myself as That Kid again. I’m going to start applying myself with a little of That Kid’s innocent arrogance – as though I’ve automatically assumed I’m going to be successful at whatever I’m doing and will go through whatever needs to be done to accomplish things for my own self-validation. Again, it seems incredibly trivial when spoken out loud/seen in print, but I guess what I needed was the faith that I could be better to give me the courage and motivation to do so. And the memory that I have actually been much, much better more than suffices.
Today, I’m thankful for remembering That skinny, bespectacled, book-clutching, poorly-dressed, self-assured Kid.