Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sixty

That is how many years I have now persisted. About 720 months, or 3,128 weeks. Twenty-one thousand, nine hundred days. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred hours. Over thirty-one point five million minutes. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Not that I am counting, I never have. It does seem as good a time as any for recollection and realignment, though.

Time and stress appear to be accelerating. I do not like what I have allowed the events of the last few weeks alone to turn me into: a soul with increasing suspicion and distrust of even close friends. I now assume the worst and am surprised by acts and signs of empathy and validation. Those defense mechanisms yank me back to my childhood, the separation and ultimate divorce of my parents, when I was a “momma’s boy” but also “just like your father.” Neither was a compliment. As an only child, I had no witnesses to call. The lies. Trick talk.

School was no escape. Bullying back then, the “dainty” kid with the butterfly net, the “fairy,” the other epithets suggesting I was a wimp who deserved ridicule and shunning. There was no refuge but isolation in the woods, and in my room where I drew pictures, read books. Did my few friends empathize, or pity me?

What saved me were mentors. Out-of-family adults who assign you self-esteem and connect you to scholars or hobbyists in your field of passion are critical to advancing your youthful well-being, if only through momentary distractions punctuating your misery. It can be enough to keep you going. It can be enough to steer you away from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or simply running away.

In college, my affinity for natural history collided with the realities of academia. I was no longer rewarded for simply having an interest and appreciation of other organisms. The mathematical abstraction, and obsession with quantification, walled me off from the flesh-and-blood animals that got me interested in science in the first place. I felt betrayed, and carried that resentment for four years before dropping out.

Fast forward to adulthood. I almost certainly had PTSD from my tumultuous childhood, like the concussion I got in high school football practice. Back in the day they didn’t know the true symptoms of either condition. A concussion does not have to knock you out cold. I thought I was fine (the divorce didn’t affect me, I proudly claimed), then everything got blindingly bright, I felt a bit light-headed, and maybe slightly nauseous. I went to tell the coach who was still running the drill, but in thirty or forty seconds I felt fine again and walked away (probably from therapy, too). Tick-tock.

I have always been at least one step behind in the best medical and psychological solutions available. Old school antidepressants prevented me from becoming too sad, but they didn’t allow me to be happy, either. I was emotionally flat-lining through life during that period. Eventually, I found two twelve-step programs that reached my subconscious and revealed the buttons I was letting people push. I began re-wiring my mind, but it is an ongoing process and I am still not up to code. Trick talk still echoes now and then.

All of this is not to say that I have had a morose, unremarkable life. Far from it. I have witnessed two total solar eclipses, seen the aurora borealis (in rural Indiana of all places), a comet (Hale-Bopp), and a volcanic eruption (Mt. St. Helens on July 22, 1980). The Vietnam War ended, and the Berlin Wall fell during my lifetime. Glimpses of hope. I got married, in spite of the horrible example of my parents. My wife has made me a better man, but still less than she deserves.

In some ways I long to be older still, at least sixty-five. I could get the vaccine faster. I could contemplate retirement, qualify for senior discounts. The thresholds for each seem to always be just out of reach. Mostly, though, I do not want to witness any more s***. If I think too long, I can’t die fast enough. I have lost all optimism, but that will never be an excuse to stop trying to influence others in positive ways. One day at a time, indeed. Sometimes one hour, one minute. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

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