“I don’t wish to be excused for this
My disguise and my excuses they have worn so thin
But may I ask, and answer honestly
What would you have done if you were me?”
– Frightened Rabbit, If You Were Me
I grew up an outsider. Not through anyone else’s eyes, but through my own. I ostracized myself from society, because I believed that I was different, and that being different was bad. I was never bullied in school, and I was never purposely excluded or made to feel embarrassed, but all the same I never felt like I belonged.
A big part of it was undoubtedly my tumor. Right from the get-go it steered me towards self-loathing. When we first discovered it we were forced to move from Trinidad to Canada in order to get the appropriate level of care, and for a long time I blamed myself for the family’s uprooting. It was a big change, moving from the Caribbean to North America. There were a lot of stressful moments, and things were far from easy. I blamed myself when anyone felt homesick, when my siblings had trouble adjusting, when I’d overhear my parents arguing over financial troubles. That’s a pretty heavy burden for a seven year old kid to hold on his shoulders.
On top of that was school, which only got worse as the effects of my kyphosis, and its hold on my self-confidence, grew. Whenever I’d look in the mirror I’d see an outsider, so I started to act like one. I was antisocial, introverted, and weird. I was the source of my family’s pain, and I was a loser. Those were the thoughts that ran through my head day in and day out, convincing me of their validity. Even when people would make an effort to include me, and I’d try and act like one of them, deep down inside some part of me would always know the truth.
Or what I perceived to be the truth.
I convinced myself that I would never be anything more than what my disease defined me as. I was sure that was all there was to me, and that I would never amount to anything more. And sure, it’s a great thing to realize that all your fears and worries are just in your head. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still there.
It’s one thing to realize that your thoughts can’t be trusted, it’s an entirely different thing to ignore them. People always tell me that it’s about mental exercise, and that you have to keep the negative thoughts from taking over, but how the fuck do you stop yourself from thinking a thought? Once you’ve thought it… it’s already there! You can’t un-think it, you can’t stop yourself from thinking it. There’s no filter for thoughts like there is for speaking. Once you’ve had it you’ve had it.
So maybe it was all in my head, but does that diminish its validity? I don’t know. Because if I felt that way, then there must be a reason why I felt that way. You can’t give a seven year old kid a spinal cord tumor and not expect him to come out of it with a few dozen psychoses. And if feelings of insecurity and instability were the only possible outcome, what’s point in worrying about them?
I can’t just change the way I think and be done with it. I can’t just erase fourteen years off of my life and pretend it never happened. I can’t snap my fingers and make all these issues disappear, or suddenly accept that maybe the problem was in me all along and I still have a shot at normality. I can’t do any of that, and even if I could I wouldn’t know how.
When you’ve spent your entire life trapped in a room by yourself, only to learn one day that the door was open all along, it doesn’t erase all those years spent sitting alone in the dark. It doesn’t change the things you told yourself in that lonely void, or heal the mental scars of having been shut away for so long. All it does is expose you to a life you’d forgotten, a foreign and unfamiliar reality which you’ve long since forgotten how to operate in. And when that happens, when that door finally opens and you walk through, the best thing you can do is take it one step at a time.