Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

Thank You: A Note to Old Friends

I beg your indulgence and patience with this. To protect the identity of others, I refer to no one by name in this but many of you reading know me well. You were present for elements of this or it involved you directly. My recollection of things may differ from yours and I do not presume to say this is the objective account of what happened. Still, it may evoke a visceral reaction and I ask that you let it play out. Trust me for these few pages and all will be right at the end because what I am stating here is my intent. I am not demanding anything of anyone. The reason for all of the background is to help illuminate that intent, because, for reasons that should become apparent below, I have lived with the impression that I created a chasm between how things are and how I would have wanted them because of one prolonged period in my life. This is part of an effort to recover fully and express how much others mean to me.

I have written previously about who I am defined my mental health issues, and my mental health issues defined whom I was. These are the details of that process from the happiest of childhoods to the depths of my mental health experience.

Childhood – Who I Was

My father used to tell me the story of my first day of school ever. I am the oldest of three children, so not only had I never gone to school before but also we had no precedent for the event. I never saw an older sibling head off to school. My parents had never had to leave a child in the care of public school for the day. Their anxiety about that day was understandable.

What amplified the nerves was my nature as a child. I liked to play quietly by myself in an orderly fashion. I organised my toys independently. Even as an inarticulate toddler, I loved order and felt uneasy with chaos. Now I had to enter a room full of strangers and fellow children without the safety of my parents. We had no way to anticipate how I might respond to that situation.

I walked into the classroom and discovered a seat with a placard displaying my name. At the station was some project or another, clearly meant to be a task for the class. He showed me to the classroom, I walked to my assigned spot, sat down, and quietly began work without a fuss. “I guess this is what we do here. Seems reasonable”, might have been my internal monologue.

That about summarises my entire childhood. “What do we do here? Okay, I got this. If I do not have it, I will figure it out or ask someone for guidance, but chances are that I am fine”.

School in particular came very easy for me because I approached it like the World Series of Poker – play your opponent, not the cards. The objective was not to learn – if anything, that was a corollary of the game – but rather to earn good grades because that meant better opportunities later. Teachers would tell us things and then later would come an assessment of what we learned. I understood the mechanics of assessments (i.e. standardised testing) and had a natural talent for writing when it came to the essay-type questions. When teachers spoke, I knew how to identify the pieces that would come back in the assessment portion. I knew the logic of testing. In fact, I wager I could pass successfully assessments on courses I had not taken just by knowing how the testers arranged the assessments.

Questions contained answers to other questions, or at least enough evidence to work out the solution. Math questions were often multiple choice (seriously, if you are a math instructor who uses multiple-choice assessments, you are failing your students) – if I did not know the process, I would reverse engineer the problem from the given options. I knew the implication of “none of the above” and “all of the above” as options. I could not be suckered by the hot hand fallacy – the belief some students have that the answer cannot be C three times in a row. Certainly not four times. Five straight questions meant that one clearly was wrong about one of the preceding questions. I mastered the public school system. Earning a B was a failure in my eyes. Classmates thought of me as one of the smart ones.

I was also athletic though. Not to the superstar degree of some classmates – one in particular stood a chance of going pro if not for an unfortunate accident. If the sport had a travel team or all-star team, I was competitive enough to make the squad. It was not a social thing for me. I loved to compete. Teammates relied on me as I did on them, but my focus was not on hanging out with friends. I wanted the competition. I wanted to rise to the occasion and deliver for my teammates. My success was not in my strength, speed, agility, or other physical ability, but in my intellect. My coaches, such as my father, taught me the intellectual side of the games. I learned to read situations and position myself appropriately. At that point, one does not need to be a superstar to deliver a superstar performance – all one has to do is react at the appropriate time.

In fact, I so loved sports without wanting necessarily the social aspect of it that often I played sports alone in my backyard. I would toss a tennis ball in the air and bat it across the yard with one of those miniature souvenir bats one gets from professional stadiums. If I were the pitcher, I would simply swing and miss intentionally to strike out batters. I placed trashcans in front of nets to play hockey and soccer alone. I learned to sidearm football throws so I could then run out and make the catch. Exercise balls were defenders. Yes, it is neurotic – I can feel you judging me. We are going for full disclosure here.

I played with plastic soldiers and Micro Machines in my room. They would not engage in large-scale battles, but generally reflected a single hero or small team overcoming tremendous odds to save the day. Individuals toys, usually ones with unique poses in which I found plenty of utility, became stock characters and I would invent stories with them. I had entire worlds like the ones I got from books and movies. I learned to do character voices in my head.

This does not mean that I was without fault. Few people had a problem with me because I kept to myself – others really had nothing with which to take issue. My brother was a different story. He craved attention and had far more sensitive tendencies. Between that and his similarities with my father, along with my father’s sleep depriving work schedule, the two would butt heads regularly, well into adulthood. We have video evidence of me provoking that. He would make a snow castle in the yard – I would run through it. He would be yelled at for whining. He was dancing around to entertain someone – I walked in dressed like Batman and smacked him with a plastic Batarang. He would be yelled at for crying. One Christmas morning, and ours were always superfluous, my brother opened the VHS version of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Despite the mountain of gifts behind me, I threw a fit because that item happened to be on my list to Santa and he received it. My brother offered to let me have it. I was very much the jerky older brother on several occasions.

I also had my great grandparents, who in my life were a second set of parents. I blame them for jerky older brother syndrome because they spoiled me. I stayed over at their house every chance I could, with their huge yard and cul-de-sac for playing sports. The neighbourhood had few other kids so I could take my other games outside without fear of someone trying to engage with it. (“Wouldn’t it be cool if the bridge blew up and took out all of these guys?” Cool? Uh, sure, but it makes no narrative sense, just like you sending the crouched guy with the bazooka into the bunker, dumbass. You cannot fire a rocket launcher in a tight, enclosed space. Seriously, I hated other kids interjecting their childish chaos into my fantasies. But I digress.) My great grandfather, like my dad, was one of the few people who had the golden pass to join in on the fun.

They also took me on trips most summers. My great grandfather would plot the trip using the old school road atlases, and we would pick one direction and drive. One summer we went north to see Mystic Seaport, Cape Cod, Boston, and Old Man of the Mountain. Another we went south through Chattanooga and down to Atlanta. Basically, if it has tourist value in eastern America, I have probably seen it. My great grandfather also handled plenty of driving for travel sports like hockey and soccer, and did his best to film our games with his camcorder. They were saints to me, just like my parents. Some children grew up with one parent who may not have been particularly attentive. I had four who provided all of the love and guidance a child could need.

What did I want to be when I got older? I wanted desperately to play in the NHL, a centre for the Philadelphia Flyers. If that did not work, I wanted to be a soldier – the modern knights of our society. They were brave men who killed the bad guys and protected the nice people. I definitely wanted to be a dad, and, of course, that meant being a husband. We had been to Disney World recently and had all those Christmas morning. My dad had Phillies season tickets and we went to Flyers games occasionally. My childhood rocked and I wanted to keep doing that, but getting older meant that our situation would change and I would have to create it myself.

I did have my friends though. Ironically, having little interest in social interaction while still being intelligent and empathetic proved an excellent formula for making friends at that age. I rarely offended people (though that is partly because I detest confrontation) and, when the situation was social, often I would relinquish control and let the others decide what we should do. Then I would be the teammate, executing my particular role to move things smoothly. I belonged to no clique and felt welcomed by all. Bullying was not something I ever encountered. Disagreements never came to fists. Life was peaceful.

Developing friends was also indicative of that greater need to establish certain things for adulthood. I knew at a young age that many of those people would eventually vanish from my life forever because every adult I knew seemed to comment on it. I knew I needed quality more than quantity, because it would be a waste to invest inadequate time with a bunch of people who I would never see again if I could instead invest considerable time into a handful with whom I might commit to sustained friendship. My dad remains friends to this day with some of his grade school pals. I could do the same.

That held in the field of romance, too. Girls did not have cooties. I found them desirable and attractive at an early age. The boys were rough and we, speaking generally, had a dirty, dishevelled appearance from our games. Obviously, things were not quite so “Lord of the Flies”, but my mind seemed to amplify those qualities. The girls seemed orderly and clean. They had pleasant voices and intelligent, compassionate ways of interacting with me.

One in particular caught my eye. Foremost, she was smart (To this day, I struggle to maintain relationships with people who do not stimulate my mind – my brain does not shut off, and people who have mindless fun do not jive with that. I am not judging. My analytical mind is a strength and a fault. But, yes, putting work into a relationship of any kind if I am not seeing a certain degree of intelligence is difficult for me). She was also exceedingly kind in her interactions with people. Add to that personality a set of gorgeous brown eyes, wavy locks, and a disarming smile and it was enough to distract me from my introspective, strictly rational ways.

The kicker to all of it was that she liked me, too. She like-liked me, as confirmed by a series of notes through a mutual friend. Plenty of people have that story about the crush from school that never knew they existed. Mine knew and crushed right back. One day in the cafeteria, she kissed her hand and pressed it against the back of my head as she walked by – my first “kiss”.

We went to grade school dances together as a couple and partnered up for all of the slow songs. She put her hands on my shoulders and I put mine on her hips, terrified every moment. She was not a conquest. I genuinely cared for her. Now my hands were in a strangely intimate situation and my analytical mind raced about how that would go. Too low and it gets close to her ass, but too high felt too close to her chest. Somewhere in the middle, obviously, but at what point in the middle did it become too platonic? I still wanted her to feel close. Pulling her close felt like the biggest sin of all.

Eventually, she initiated the closeness and we began to dance embracing one another. I remember feeling her heart beat against my chest, racing so hard I could even feel it in my hand against her back. I stressed trying not to sweat in my stressed state. Where do my hands go on her back now? Too low is still a problem, but too high is just awkward and I do not want to feel her bra strap under my hand. She might interpret that as me grabbing for it. She smells wonderful; however, under no circumstance can one make a conspicuous effort to smell another person seem less than creepy. This all occurred at the height of “Titanic” fame and every school dance featured, “My Heart Will Go On”. To this day, I cannot hear that song without all of this flooding back to me. It de facto became “our song”.

I met my Best Man that autumn. He had gone to school with us for years and was a fellow scholar, but he had virtually no involvement in sports so our paths did not cross. The teachers would walk us down to the public park once a month and we would have a day of outdoor class where each teacher assigned a task related to their subject for us to complete. We had an Earth Plot and a partner, or, in my case, two partners. What my friend and I had in common was that our partners wanted to screw around instead of working, so we abandoned them and found each other. That blossomed into a friendship of sharing intimate truths and all-night video game marathons in addition to the joint pursuit of academic excellence.

The summer after sixth grade also marked my last year in Little League. In our first season, I stole the starting catcher role when the veteran on the team broke his hand. We fared horribly that season, but it paved the way for success the next year when I resumed my role as starting catcher with my class taking over as sophomores and the old guard graduating out of the league. We rolled to the championship series and then lost.

Then came that third year: I was with the Phillies and the Pirates were the team to beat. In fact, I believe they went undefeated that season. We made it to the championship against them as underdogs, expected to lose the first two games and go home with second place trophies. The first game went into extra innings where I, the immaculate bunter (I had a reputation for exceptional bunts that children of that age could not field properly, resulting in plenty of runs batted in and extra bases), dropped a bunt that the catcher threw into right field. I ran to third and we took the lead, stealing the game. They beat us handily in game two, but we struck back in game three. Again, we forced extra innings, where unexpected heroes won the day.

Our outfielder, one of those kids you stick out there to pick flowers, picked up an exceptionally rare hit to drive in what would become the winning run. Our third pitcher, frankly much less talented than the 1-2 punch that carried our season to that point, picked up the strikeouts to end the series and win us the championship. My great grandfather, who had consoled my emotions earlier that day when it felt like the game had slipped away, celebrated with me. My father and mother celebrated. The coach praised my leadership and athleticism helping to get the team to that win. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and all was right with the world.

Tragedy

My great grandmother had made a routine of going to the hospital. Usually she had to spend several days under supervision with pneumonia-like symptoms, and then returned home with the use of oxygen. One August morning that summer my parents called my brother and me into the living room visibly upset with news to share. The day had finally come – my great grandmother had died.

Except – she had not died. My great grandfather had suffered a fatal heart attack the night before. My second dad, the guy who took me all over the country, came to all my games, worked in his yard all day long, and played actively with my brother and I – just recently in fact – was taken from us for no fucking reason. No one close to me had died before, and now it came suddenly in one of the least expected places. I, the quiet, rational child who based his entire life on order and fairness had to face this chaotic, unjust reality with no preparation.

What I would later learn is that he did have heart problems for which he neglected to seek treatment. My brother and I were unaware of that, but most everyone else understood that what happened was certainly a risk given the circumstances. Had he pursued treatment, he may have lived several more years and not left us so suddenly.

When I returned to school I had settled down some, but I had not yet processed what happened. It finally caught up with me one day in the middle of class. The teacher excused me to the guidance counsellor’s office and my mother came in to find me a weeping mess, utterly distraught about what happened. Then it was gone. Sure, I remained sad and missed him, but it no longer weighed on me as it had. It had changed me though – but we will come back to that shortly.

First, we have to address two other tragedies. My crush decided that we needed to separate. Other than the school dances and birthday parties, we did not interact outside of school. Dating intimidated me. I overthought everything to the point of paralysis.

What if I kissed her before she was ready? What if I was terrible at kissing? What if she was ready for anything more than kissing and I wasn’t – would my reluctance offend her? I did not discuss any of this with anyone. Instead, I tried to think through it in my inexperienced mind. She did not hate and I had not mistreated her, but she wanted a relationship and I was not provided that. She needed her freedom to pursue things elsewhere. I think that part hurt the most. When she let me down, she did it respectfully, gracefully, and with what seemed like a loving disappointment in me. She wanted me to be that person and I had failed. She did not want to change me and did not have to change me – I was that person in essence but failed to be that person in action.

Other memories still dart across my mind. I remember learning about her having dates with other people, like Scrooge seeing what life became for Belle after she left him. I remember, still with a rage, a classmate getting angry with her and pushing her against the lockers by the throat. I wanted to tear him apart for that, but he was three times my size and the conclusion of a fight was foregone. “I should have fought all the same”, I told myself many times in the years after. Incidents like that plague my mind to this day. I stop short of saying I regret things because life would not be what it is today without them, but I also never let them go.

Then we had our Class President election in the eighth grade. Most of our class could not have cared less about school politics. I ran as class representative in every preceding year with the sweeping support of my classmates. This year I had to compete against a larger crop of individuals far more popular than I, especially in the wake of my grandfather’s death as I had retreated even further away from social engagement. People did not know me as they once did. Still, I ran my campaign fairly and resolved that I would be happy with any number of friends winning instead of me.

On the day of the election, one of our nominees spent the morning campaigning in the schoolyard. That violated the rules set out by our teacher-supervisor: no campaigning on the day of the election. I confronted the teacher about it, but he took no action. That student, in my opinion the least appropriate of everyone who decided to run, wound up winning the election. I sat in a room with the other nominees, several brilliant, compassionate classmates, and watched as they handed the role to Joe Quarterback. At our eighth grade graduation, I had to assist with the pronunciation of some of the names.

It infuriated me that he seemed incapable of even knowing who his classmates were and yet got to call himself President all year.

Aftermath – What I Became

Heading into high school, several changes occurred and I never gave them much holistic consideration until recently. My friend began working on the Ocean City boardwalk and I was envious of his self-reliance. One of my brother’s friends had a father who owned restaurant franchises in the area, so we spoke to him and he got me set up the summer before high school working as much time as I could bussing tables and serving sundaes. I obtained permission to continue that through the school year, provided it did not affect my grades, and have worked fulltime ever since. I threw myself into work, desperate to impress the adults who worked with me. I remember feeling taken somewhat aback when adult supervisors would complain to me about the work ethic of younger staff, as though they had forgotten they were addressing a high school freshman. Just like athletics, I could not disappoint my colleagues. I would do things like work double shifts, no to earn more money, but to impress them. I martyred myself, became a stoic whenever possible to prove to them that I was worth it.

Anger festered below the surface though. Not a violent anger, like the sort we see explode in nightly news headlines, but an existential anger about the unfairness of life.

My great grandfather was dead. I was single. That election had been stolen, not necessarily from me but from a rightful person. People who worked hard missed advancement opportunities to people that those making the decisions simply seemed to like better. Politics permeated everything, and it was not a logical politics rooted in natural science but a social politics rooted in who made the decision-makers feel special and powerful. The anger triggered stress reactions in me. I would yell at those who interfered with my sense of how things should progress in the slightest, including superiors. I hated their titles and refused to respect a role. Only people deserved respect and you had to prove that to me, because I knew in my heart how many of these people had achieved that role for some stupid social reason.

Other than the frustrated yelling and pounding my fist against walls in an unhealthy attempt to vent it, I repressed the anger. I wanted to be a good person; I wanted other people to like me still. I would overcome all of the social politics and achieve things through work itself. At a point, people simply had to accept my value as a person and had to want me around. They did, but only when they needed something it seemed. I was dependable, reliable, efficient, intelligent, and indefatigable in my pursuit of completing tasks. When no task existed, people seemed to view me as the frustrated loner and left me alone. No one was mean, rude, or fearful about it, it simply happened, so matter-of-factly.

I stuck with my tightest corps of friends and we did our video game thing mostly. I still went to Philadelphia games with my dad. I played soccer freshman year, but that got cut short by a knee injury, and then became a varsity coxswain for the crew team until a growth spurt derailed that. Every time I seemed to find a niche, life seemed to shut it off to me.

I developed crushes on classmates, many of which never fully left me. As with my original crush, the feelings were not a matter of, “She’s cute” so much as they were the result of a sustained analysis of people in my life. Everything people I see regularly say or do becomes part of a mental dossier painting a personality profile, and at a certain point people strike me as worth trying to develop a stronger relationship. So even the flimsy high school crushes of my life generally reflected women that I held in esteem anyway, and with no failed romantic relationship to excuse it I sometimes feel regret that I am not friends with those people. I do not refer to some Shakespearean heartache, but living with the knowledge that you knew a good, decent person and failed to engage them as a friend. These are precisely the sort of people that one would want as a friend in life. I was too angry to realise that at the time.

That made things interesting in my senior year when I finally did date. I met my first actual girlfriend through mutual friends, so I had a strong indication from the start that she was a kind, quirky nerd like the rest of us. Beyond that, she was simply adorable, and that crush grew to the point that I spent several nights in tears, frustrated and desperate with not knowing how to close the gap and turn it into a relationship. It turned out that our mutual friend was aware of our mutual interest and kept it to himself, apparently because he found the squirming amusing, so once I had discovered that she was keenly interested in me we finally arranged to date.

She became most of my firsts through her own pluck. I was still terrified of crossing lines as I had been at the school dances years before, but she did not mind initiating steps in the relationship until I became confident. We dated for several months and were inseparable most of that time. It became my obsession – all of my time and energy went into that juvenile, inexperienced relationship (for which I am eternally grateful – she is a wonderful person and a good friend to this day, and I learned a tremendous amount about love and relationships from the experience).

Then one day came the wrinkle – something I have never expressed to anyone. My original crush took a pencil eraser and used it to rub that I “is hot” into the paint on my locker. I was in the middle of my first relationship and sincerely happy with it, but here was my original crush expressing some sort of interest. My analytical mind went crazy with that. It had to be interest; otherwise, what would compel her to do that? A dare among her friends? She was never cruel. It would be out of character for her to toy with someone else’s emotions, especially for such a trivial reason. Is this an opportunity to re-engage with her? Perhaps, but I never did. I could not betray my girlfriend when things were going so well. The message on my locker remains etched in my mind, one of the biggest cold cases in my life.

A Psychological Profile

The through line with all of this is one of a quiet, creative, logically-minded boy who likes to solve puzzles, hates seeing people treated unfairly, hates confrontation, needs people to like him (the only evidence that he is achieving his goal of being a “good person”), and has some obsessive, perfectionist tendencies when going about achieving his goals.

Those things have always been true about me.

\What happens around that summer of ’98 though? Those tendencies deteriorate into obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. My shyness and overthinking in my interactions with others, especially women, devolves into social anxiety disorder. My sense of loss and injustice becomes hopelessness, and that devolves into depression.

My longstanding fear of doctors (I still hate the sight of blood/serious injury, and anything to do with cutting or injecting into the body) pairs with my great grandfather’s reluctance to seek medical attention for his heart into hypochondria. Imagine you are the sort of person who is hyper-aware as it is, and someone close to you died because he failed to seek medical attention. After that, every little pang became the indicator for a serious condition, and the Internet does not help assuage those concerns. I am terrified of medical settings, but I am terrified of letting something go untreated. Over time, everything coalesced into panic disorder.

That all goes without mentioning any of the specific quirks that I developed. I rarely ate around other people because the social anxiety destroyed my appetite. In fact, any event of significance, like our eighth grade field trips and dance, came with a crippling stomach cramp. Dancing, something with which I have little talent anyway, became something I reserved for only the most intimate relationships. Sharing a dance just to dance made me incredibly uncomfortable.

I have written previously about who I am defined my mental health issues, and my mental health issues defined whom I was. These are the details of that process from the happiest of childhoods to the depths of my mental health experience.

What separates me from some other people is the support I have. I might have become suicidal myself if not for that. In fact, it was awakening during one panic attack to the concern, “What if this is how suicidal ideation starts?” that became my turning point. I sought help immediately, not because I was thinking of hurting myself or anyone else – the precise opposite, in fact, I abhor violence – but because I refused to get to that point. I could not let the others in my life down like that. That is not a reflection on me but on those around me. People who commit suicide or even think about it have not let others down; others have let them down. I did not owe it to those other people to seek help – I owed it to myself. I mattered. The support of others was the proof of that I needed.

Today – Who I Am Becoming

That is not the end of the story though. That is the story to this point, and if I have been anything since I was a boy it is a storyteller. The depression left me many years, and the panic attacks have ceased for several months. The other anxiety grows quieter and quieter as my mind regains its health. Sure, some days I am tired, sick, or stressed and it slips a bit, but I get back to recovering as soon as I can. Taking slips as evidence that the overall effort is failing dooms a person to a lifetime of suffering.

I began to do things that, to you, may seem natural but were impossibilities for me just a few years ago. I quit a job that intensified all of those mental health issues without having a new job secured. I trusted my skills to find something and took a calculated risk. I found a new job within two months and immediately met the woman who became my wife. We have complementary strengths and we challenge each other through our compassion – we bring an alternate perspective to our challenges and support one another. Our love is not some faerie tale romance where we are so enamoured with the other person that we constantly seek to prove ourselves; we are partners who care about each other and make the conscious decision to help one another. Love is a verb.

I began to pursue writing (obviously – do not act like you aren’t annoyed by the sudden surge of multi-page posts hitting the wall), a pursuit that I long enjoyed by dismissed as an impractical passion. Being married and having to maintain a standard of living, I do maintain a day job as my primary focus, but writing is now a full-time pursuit with serious ambitions.

At the forefront of all of this is the realisation that things cannot stay repressed. It helps no one, least of all me. A lifetime of what I regarded as consideration for others was actually fear. Fear of how others would interpret things, fear of how they might react, and fear of all the little what ifs that plague the anxious mind. In avoiding all of those risks, one also avoids all of the gains. I have some strong relationships – my wife, my family, and my friends – but I also feel that some are missing because of that fear.

We should have no shame in speaking our truths. We will be wrong at times, and we accept responsibility for being wrong, atone if necessary, and move forward with life. Peace and pleasantness built on lies, whether they be deliberate misdirection or lies of omission, do not reflect peace and pleasantness at all. I can build relationships with people because our repressions align and we have the superficial appearance of getting along, or I can risk upsetting or offending someone with my truth and potentially gain meaningful ones.

Perhaps these are not universal truths. I do not mean to preach to anyone. This is my truth though. I know married women with whom I would like to be friends, but I long avoided trying to build that friendship because of the rules. I am married – I worry about how my wife would interpret that desire even though she trusts me and I her. They are married – how would they interpret my desire for friendship? How might their spouse interpret it? Is there even room for it at this point? These are the sorts of thoughts that long raced through my mind and compelled me to stay quiet, all while quietly lamenting what might have been.

I want to be honest with people, but that requires trust and one must earn trust. Earning that trust means bridging the gaps created by that dark period where I withdrew and isolated myself. That is what you are all seeing today: a man risking vulnerability, re-discovering a sense of courage he once had to pursue the things that matter to him. Some people will find it suspicious, hate it, disapprove of it, not understand it, or criticise it, but one cannot assume that as the universal response and never pursue it.

That martyrdom and stoicism that I mentioned earlier meant that I pushed away the relationships that I would have enjoyed most. Instead, I turned my attention to all of the negativity in life and decided that my best self would be the one who worked against that. Rather than being the good friend, good neighbour, or good family member, I would be the one who called out bad people. I became a social justice warrior who sat around with other SJWs discussing how best to deal with the people doing the bad things. I missed the most basic advice one hears: living well is the best remedy to all things.

That is why you find me today well on the path of recovery from the mental health issues, advocating for (not demanding) what I am worth in my career, pursuing the artistic value of writing, and attempting to reconnect with the people and things that genuinely matter to me. That is my intent, and I expect it to be an imperfect process with my family, friends, and neighbours adjusting my course along the way. I finally started to figure out how to connect with the adult version of the boy at the start of this piece.

I want to be honest with you, and I want you to be honest with me. Maybe that means, “Yes, I wish we connected more. Let’s work on that”. Maybe it means, “I keep you as a Facebook friend because it feels polite, but otherwise I’m indifferent”. Life is too short. We should not have to spend it guessing and worrying about where we stand with one another. I have been to the darkest recesses of that rabbit hole and there is no happiness or value. I intend to be more honest with everyone, especially those who matter most to me. You do matter. The world is a better place because you are here – at a minimum, consider what you just read. I am healthier and happier today because of your influence on my life.

It is no longer enough for me that I know that. I want you to know that. For better or worse, regardless of what your opinion might be of me at this point, my life is better today in part because of who you are. That means the world to me. Thank you. I am here and prepared to be better in return.

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