That Thanksgiving on the farm with Mom and The Old Man was nice. There was something to the occasion that made the day more than just another holiday.
We were happy. The Old Man was happy with me and so was Mom. For the first time in a long time, my parents were proud.
There was no trouble. No one was looking for me. There was no reason to excuse myself from the table, to hide something, or to leave the house. This was a reward to me; however, this is where the battle of depressive thinking comes in to disrupt the victory. These are the thoughts that would discount the reward and downplay my achievements.
Depressive thinking takes away the value of events and degrades the priceless moments that rarely occur. This kind of thinking splits the mind and separates us from believing in the benefit of good.
I used to think of myself as someone with special needs. I believed, wholeheartedly that I was crazy. I swore I was stupid. I swore there was something wrong with me; therefore, any celebration or the congratulations offered to me was no different from a slow child receiving an applause for tying their own shoelaces.
It was not until decades later, perhaps somewhere around the time when I began my journals that someone told me a valuable secret.
Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. They think they’re sane.
And the same thing goes for stupid people. Stupid people don’t know they’re stupid. They think they’re smart. Bad people think they’re good and the list goes on this way. I never knew the fact that I had imperfections only made me human, just like anyone else in this world.
My beliefs and trained opinions taught me to believe a certain way about me. This came from the inaccuracies of the lessons I learned along the way. I believed the internal narrative that took the forefront of my thinking, which would essentially steal my personal victories with downplaying ideas about myself. This the narrative that held me back. This is the inner voice and insecurity with whispers that were louder than a scream. More to the point, this was the “Me” I could never seem to get away from.
I never believed in compliments. More accurately, I never believed in me. As I saw it, sure, my parents were proud of me. As I saw it, my parents were proud of their mentally ill child for being a screw up and made it to a treatment center.
What was there to be proud of? I was in a drug rehab. I had mental illness. I could hardly read and hardly comprehend anything with school work.
I never moved up from the 9th grade. I was more accurately a dropout. In fact, I was asked about the status of my education when I arrived on the farm. However, the honest answer was strange to them.
I never excelled above 8th grade math. I never completed the 9th grade. I was left back a few times. Then I was removed from one school and sent to another.
I was placed in a school for youths with special needs. I was never put back into a grade. Instead, they tried to teach me the basic necessary curriculum and a skill set, like a trade of some sort. Unfortunately, I was removed from this school after an outburst that nearly turned tragic. After that, I never stepped foot into a public school as a student again.
When I reported for class the first day on the farm and they asked about the last grade I completed, I looked up at the teacher with a far-off glare, partly ashamed but mainly defiant and said with a scowl, “I don’t know!”
My social anxiety and my social connections were a struggle for me. This was mainly because I lacked the ability to communicate or express myself clearly.
I was always looking for a reward, but there was never a reward to be found, which is how I learned the benefits of self-medication.
And sure, drugs worked. The cocaine helped. The heroin would placate the demons for a while, but eventually, I would always have to come back down from the high and face the world with some kind of excuse.
Drugs and alcohol were no different from the expressions of my behavior—I was always seeking compensation.
I wanted something back, something in return. I wanted to feel good; however, there was something holding me back, such as my trained opinions, which led me to believe that no matter how I tied, I could never be able to play the game straight.
In order for me to get ahead or move forward, my personal biases taught me to believe that I would have to cheat to get by.
This is why I always doubted myself. This is also when I realized that my behaviors (including my drug and alcohol use) were only symptoms. And, in fact, the problem was hidden deeply beneath this.
Depression is such that happiness is only a fleeting moment. The reward system in my thinking was depleted.
I could not and would not let go of my pain because if I decided to surrender, I was afraid of what happens when my grief would return.
Why smile if the smile would eventually fade. I was afraid to smile. I was afraid to be me and afraid to have fun, to dance or to learn how. I was afraid of ridicule, rejection, and social humiliation. I learned about this the hard way, through experience, and as a result of my experiences; as a result of boundary violations, I formed a set of ideas and opinions that led me to believe in my depressive thoughts.
In fact, I recall the time when I lost my tooth at the bus stop in 2nd grade. I had been working on my tooth for a while. It was a thick one from the back. I wanted this sucker to come out. I wanted to pull the tooth out, but the pain was a little too much for me. Instead, I twisted and I wiggled.
I wiggled and worked on that tooth for days —because this way, I could place the tooth beneath my pillow. This way the Tooth Fairy would come and exchange my little tooth for a financial reward.
This happened after a heavy snowfall. I remember this well. I remember the side-street corner where the bus used to pick us up.
We were all there, younger kids and a few older kids.
There was an older kid in particular. I will name him Fred. He was a big kid, a 6th grader that made perfect snowballs. And they hurt too. His snowballs were big and perfectly round. And Fred threw them hard.
Fred had long rusty colored hair. He wore braces. He was my childhood’s depiction of Scut Farkus, an ugly bully character from the movie A Christmas Story.
Only in my case, Fred was bigger, stronger; not always as mean and sometimes friendly, but still, man did his snowballs hurt.
After much work, finally, my tooth came out. I was excited. And of course, I was excited. What kid wouldn’t be excited? I removed the mitten from my left hand and spit the tooth into my palm.
I was excited enough to say something about it. I was happy enough to share the occasion with the other kids at the bus.
I was even excited enough to share my excitement about the Tooth Fairy, to which Fred laughed at me a called me a “Dumb little kid!”
“There ain’t no such thing as the Tooth Fairy. You idiot!”
Fred told me, “The Tooth Fairy is your Mom!”
“My Mom is not the Tooth Fairy,” I said.
Fred pointed at me and laughed.
“What an idiot!”
I couldn’t believe him. I couldn’t understand why he would treat me this way. Why did he have to humiliate me in front of everyone else at the bus stop? And more importantly, why the hell did I even have to open my mouth to begin with?
Fred scoffed, “You probably believe in Santa Claus too!”
Then he made me a deal with me and said, “Okay, go home and don’t tell anyone about your tooth.”
He said, “Go home and just put the tooth underneath your pillow. See what happens in the morning!”
Then he shook his head about me.
I was content to defy Fred. I was content to the fact that there was, in fact, such a thing as the Tooth Fairy. Fred was wrong and I knew he was wrong.
But a deal is a deal. I may have only been in the second grade—but I was old enough to know that no one is supposed to break a deal.
Later, I was on the bus. Another of the younger kids asked me why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut. I was wondering the same thing.
He said, “You’d have been fine if you never opened your mouth.”
That night, I followed my agreement. I placed the tooth beneath my pillow. I had dreams of hitting Fred with snowballs. I had visions of me laughing at him. The next morning, of course, I woke up and you guessed it.
Yes, the tooth was still beneath my pillow.
I was so disappointed.
Of course, this was not the first or last time I was picked on. More to the point, the moral to the story is when I was asked, “Why didn’t you just keep your mouth shut?”
Situations like this are what layer over our true selves and teach us to be afraid of simple joys. It’s a theft, I tell you. And there is no other way to say it other than that.
There were so many times I wished I never opened my mouth. There were countless times I wished I kept to myself. I wished I never trusted the wrong person, but I did, more times than once.
I wished I never shared my thoughts or happiness. These were the links to my trained opinions. This is why I thought I was stupid —not so much because Fred told me so. This is not because I was a kid and for God’s sake, I just wanted to be a kid, to laugh like one, to be free to have fun like a kid, and free to play pretend or just imagine. No, I believed I was stupid because I internalized all of these hurtful events.
I allowed this to dictate and determine whether I was happy or not.
When I began to journal more about my life, I began to understand that my ideas and beliefs were trained from years of inaccurate programming.
I had to learn to unravel the tangles of my past misconceptions. I had to unlearn my lessons and reteach me how to live and breathe.
For example, to feel joy was uncomfortable for me. I was afraid to let my guard down because what if I did? What could happen to me if I let my guard down? What if I was vulnerable? What if I wholesomely shared my excitement with people—only to be laughed at or ridiculed afterwards?
When I sat with my parents that last Thanksgiving, I remember The Old Man seeming happy with me.
Mom was happy too but I degraded the happiness with an internal narrative that prevented me from enjoying the moment.
This was how I began to dismantle my thinking —and by journaling about my life to dismantle my thoughts, I became aware that much of my fears were irrational and based on my interpretation of past experiences.
I noticed the patterns were dependent upon me and my perception of previous events.
I never addressed the fears; instead, I nurtured them by believing one thing is the same as all things. But nothing is ever identical —I only thought it was.
I never knew how to reward myself. I only knew how to second guess me and question everything. I was consumed with my fears.
As humans, we have five basic emotions. Keep in mind, emotions and feelings are two different things.
Emotions are innate. Feelings, on the other hand, or based on opinion, previous experience, predictions, and personal bias.
The basic emotions are:
Feelings are derived from the list above. I based all of my decisions upon fear and pain. I was afraid to be singled out and exposed. I was afraid to be hurt or humiliated, picked on or shamed.
Meanwhile, all I was searching for was the same thing everyone searches for. I just wanted to feel good. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be free —only, I didn’t know how.
I was trained this way by my experience as well as my perception of situations that occurred in my life.
Once I took an honest look at me and my past; it became clear to me that if I wanted to overcome my depression, I would have to overcome me and my trained ideas.
As for Mom and The Old Man, they were always my biggest fans. I just never knew how to let them know that I was suffering. Plus, I was afraid that if I told them about me, I would be more troublesome than I was worth and my struggle would only be more problematic.
As I explain this—I sigh, and I think of me as I was, that little boy.
I wish I could tell him something. I wish I could reach back and say, “It’s okay. I know you are scared. And I know that it hurts.”
I would tell me, “It’s okay that you don’t understand right now. But you will. I promise I will help you.”
The more I opened myself to this process of improvement, the better I began to understand me and my abilities to heal.
I was doing better. There was more to go and I had more to do. But at least I was improving—and no matter what happened, no one was able to take this away from me.
By the way, I turned 47 this last September while planning this manuscript. I don’t know much about the Tooth Fairy anymore. Besides, I’d like to keep all the teeth I can.
As for Santa, I always make sure to call 951-262-3062 around Christmas time. This is Santa’s personal hotline. You can call this yourself if you don’t believe me.
I call each year and leave a message. I tell him what I want for Christmas. I tell him, “I’m not sure which list I’m on.”
I explain, “I’m not sure if I’m on the naughty or the nice list but either way, I made me a promise to not be afraid to be myself,”
Besides, I deserve it
(Don’t we all?)