The end of the year always feels like a comfortable time to look back. As a kid, time revolved around the school day, birthdays and summer. Now it feels stretched and compartmentalized into milestones; college graduation, job changes, relationships and the impending future. As I edge toward 30, I can't help but be excited, ecstatic for what 40, 50 and 90 have in store. I'm so excited but believe it's incredibly important to not forget the past. To remember where I came from, and what made me the person I am so proud to be today. I can chalk my current outlook on life up to two of the most impactful lessons I've learned thus far:
"Listen Lucy" of the 90's came in the form of a book called, "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" for me. It was a series with several iterations; "Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul", "Chicken Soup for the Pet Lovers Soul", you get the idea. The books were compilations of stories, meant to make you not feel alone. I loved them. I felt connected to the writers and truly felt like they GOT me. I remember reading them in the long evenings my parents would fight in their room thinking we couldn't hear them. Feeling scared and wishing I'd fall asleep, only to wake up in my late 20's, happy and away from the screaming.
A childhood of slowing-divorcing parents after my Mother had had enough of my Father's cruel words and fists felt like torture some days. My older brother turned to addiction while our custody was decided upon and I floated through high school balanced between the fun-loving soccer captain and doing my best to co-parent my younger brother.
I never noticed the strength it took to live my first 15 years until I lost it. Literally, I lost it. My parents' divorce was finalized, my brother was in a residential school for troubled youth and my Mother had found love. The world was moving on around me and that's when I broke. Anxiety, depression, a flood of feelings I was terrified of, all came crashing down inside me, and I was so confused. Wasn't this what I'd wished for, for years? Weren’t things supposed to be looking up?
I want to credit my Mother’s quick action and professional knowledge of mental health for getting me through that time but if I’m being completely honest it was college. College pulled me out of my worst depressive episode. I was away from home, making incredible friends, and suddenly life was really, really fun. Who knew? I'd turned a corner and put up a wall between the life I had and the person I wanted to be. I was still navigating this new space. An occasional "down" week would leave me terrified that old feelings were returning. I discovered alcohol, and let it consume me more negatively than it did my light-hearted friends. But overall, life was amazing. The hardships of my childhood were over, and I was moving forward.
Then, in the coming years something started to feel amiss. My feet weren’t quite on solid ground. Not yet. Something inside of me felt conflicted. Confused. I felt disconnected from something vital and I wasn't sure what that was. In the summer between my junior and senior years in college I figured it out. I was gay. I am gay. It still sounds weird to say because it occurred to me so naturally. So seamlessly. Suddenly I'd slipped on a pair of size 8 shoes when I'd been wearing 6's for years. I remember being mad at first. As comfortable as I was with the idea, I was angry that my new smooth-sailing future might now be difficult again.
As a child you have limited control. You can't walk out of a house you can’t stand to be in. You can't save the brothers you love from the same scarring experiences you yourself are trying to cope with. You can’t understand new feelings that will change your entire life’s trajectory. But as you grow up, you realize you’re slowly gaining complete control over how you want to live your life. You can decide that the Father you wish didn't hold the title doesn't have to have a place in your life. You can choose to leave painful memories behind you with the help of a chosen support system. You can decide that a difference is an asset, and feel 100% comfortable in your own skin. You can shape your life, even the unexpected, into what you want it to be.
I remember thinking as a kid, "next year", "when I get a car", "when I graduate high school", then "college". I was a dreamer for the next phase or period of happiness. The grass was always greener.
There's nothing quite like being in the thick of depression. You have tunnel-vision. You can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, let alone the fact that you're in the tunnel. I feel lucky that my brushes with mental illness were brief and fingers-crossed, 10 years behind me but even into my young 20’s I still found myself looking forward too often. I had a habit of being excited for the next phase before the glue on my currently-achieved goal was dry. I hadn't realized that there was nothing to run from anymore.
This second lesson I can't take credit for. I didn’t stumble upon it myself, but learned it from my very best friend and wife. She taught me that there's no such thing as the happy ending I was constantly striving for. I had to stop looking ahead and start learning to enjoy the ride. The good and the bad. My past may have been a roll of the dice for the next epic upset but now I have control. Maybe not for every ounce of every day, but i know now how incredible life can be and that I don't want to look past a minute of it.
I don’t know if I’m a believer in Karma but I do believe in myself. I believe in the unbelievable power of resiliency and the ability to take each bump in life as just that. I have the control to handle anything life throws at me and the understanding that there is nothing more fulfilling that enjoying each day of this incredible life.