It’s been a while since my last confession — I have been busy redrafting the latest manuscript.
I found myself thinking about ‘belonging’ as I tapped away at the keyboard, creating a new character, Sam, for the manuscript. As a character, Sam is a boy in his late teens, with an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, who is still figuring out how to ride the manic highs and lows.
He reminded me of a friend I knew in school a very long time ago, who managed to survive a suicide attempt before being diagnosed with and treated for the disorder. My old friend often complained about how numb he felt on his medication, and although he knew it made him better, some part of him hated that absence of joy for life. It was a price he had to pay in order to be acceptable to the crowd. Normal.
I sometimes missed that intensity in him, too. To support each other, we slept-walked through the high school days we shared together, watching others seek out their home, their tribe, and conform to the group rules set for them. I suppose as a pair, my friend and I were our own clique, and we wore our fringe dwelling badge with honor. I was far more comfortable than him being a little different.
I will readily admit there have been times in my life when I have tried to ‘fit-in’. More often than not, the motivation behind that choice was a desire to be on a path of least resistance — you are less likely to be bullied if you conform. And, as much as I preferred observing rather than participating, I loathed others noticing me (and the teasing harassment that came with it). The superpower I wished for as a teenager was to be invisible.
I have written previously about the influence my father’s anti-establishment views on me. Just like my old friend of years gone by who wondered about the effect of his medication, I wonder whether the attitudes of my father (a form of medication I was forced to take) have affected my psyche in a way that is both good and bad. The good? Is it okay to sit at the edge of a scene passing you by, watch without belonging to the players within it, accept it at face value or test what it has to say? I would say yes — what is the world without a degree of questioning? The bad? Is a never-ending sense of not-belonging, realising that there’s never really been anything that filled you with passion, really a way to live? The jury is still out on the answer to that question though it’s fair to say, there’s at least one voice who wants to argue it is a price worth paying.
I notice it more now as I get older — the consequences of my deliberate choices over the years to steer clear of the crowd. (Moving around a lot in my youth may have contributed there — I seemed to have a talent to engage with strangers in a new town or new school in a way that connected though rarely anchored. Why engage beyond the surface when you know you are going to be living somewhere else in the time it would take to get to know someone?) To the extent I invested in others, it was with those who aspired to be unseen as well. Kindred spirits, sort of.
One of those friends, who persevered with me for almost 13 years (in my 20s and early 30s), attempting to chip away at the barriers I built around myself, finally walked away offering these parting words — “in all the time I’ve known you, I’ve never really known the real you. Who are you?” It was a cruel thing to say, yet fair. To a point. I do not think anyone really knows themselves well enough to identify and understand their ‘realness’ let alone share that totally with any other living being.
Since that particular friend’s departure from my world, I have made more of an effort to hide less — especially since I’ve been living in the one town for a decent stretch of time. Like my old bi-polar friend in high school, there are close friends in my world now who know more about what exists in me beyond those barriers, some even know why those barriers were erected in the first place, and they accept the different beat of my defective heart.
Perhaps my teenage wish to be invisible was not because there were things I did not want others to see but because there was nothing to see. An emptiness. I am not hollow, though sometimes I think I am.
Still, I do not belong. My near-death experiences (ill-health related) have been more ‘near-life’ experiences (one of my favourite concepts from the film Fight Club). I have never found my home. I am not even sure if I am looking for it.