There have been past blogs in which I discussed unfortunate events that happened in my childhood that ultimately effected how I reacted to certain situations as an adult. In this blog I want to take it a step further. I began to think back to my childhood relationships through my high school relationships. Never did I imagine that relationships even at that age could shape your self-image, your self-confidence, and how you allow others to treat you today. There is an old song by Kenny Rogers called the gambler. The chorus basically says you have to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, no when to walk away and know when to run. One of my favorite songs by the way. You maybe sitting there today wondering these things about relationships that you have and hopefully this will help you make some decisions.
I wasn’t the cool kid in school. I wasn’t the good looking one that got their first girlfriend before everyone else. I didn’t even attend my prom. I was the uncoordinated kid that was 4 or 5 inches taller than everyone. Even to this day I think I was put here on earth to help people in Walmart reach items on the top shelf. I say that in jest, kinda. The first 6 years of my life I was surrounded by friends. Our entire neighborhood was flooded by kids my age. I can remember the days of kickball, whiffle ball, and football all played on our brick road in McKeesport. We’d ride our bikes, laugh when another was getting yelled at by his parents and we had our share of fights but we were young and we were friends. Then the steel mills began shutting down. My neighborhood was within walking distance of the mill and many of the families had someone working in the mill to support their family. Mine was one of those families. Ultimately families began to vacate the neighborhood in search of job opportunities elsewhere. But even as the group of kids dwindled I still found myself as a follower more than a leader. I wasn’t the one that said let’s do this and everyone else agreed.
As I began to enter my middle school years my mom and I relocated as her and my father divorced. I now lived in a completely different area where most if not all the kids went to a different school than the catholic school I went to. Sure I developed some relationships but it’s like being the guy at the water cooler listening to everyone else talk about the episode of the bachelor that you had missed last night. You could stand in the circle but you didn’t add to it. I didn’t like that neighborhood so much that there were often times I’d walk more than 2 miles just to go play with the friends I went to school with. Still to be a follower but to at least be a part of the conversation.
We’ve likely all grown up with groups of friends where it seemed as though someone was always the butt of jokes. That person seemed to cycle around, once we were bored with one we’d move to the next. We were quite mean at times. We had dirt tan Dave, a name given because we didn’t think he ever took a shower, and buck teeth Keith. And let me tell you I took the brunt of many jokes and had my own nickname in grade school and middle school. You see as a kid at some point I began to have accidents in my pants. I’d say 5% of the time it was urinating while 95% of the time it was a small amount of defecating. This carried on from kindergarten through 8th grade. Earned me the name crusty because that’s how everyone envisions my underwear to be. It took me a long time to understand why I behaved that way. Was it a defense mechanism to keep people away from me? Was it a defense mechanism caused by sexual abuse? All I know is that going into high school I kept to myself and was a loaner.
I may have quoted this before but Hitler always said that if you gave him a child until they were 6 years old he’d have them for life. And I firmly believe this. Eating habits are formed, communication and social skills are developed and even some religious beliefs can begin to form. While all of these things are true that doesn’t mean they have to be permanent. While Hitler had his saying there is another saying that says if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. I never stood up for myself.
I didn’t stand up for myself in grade school, middle school or even high school. When I went to college I developed a great group of friends but I was always the yes man just to make sure I maintained a good standing with the group. To me, maintaining these friends was more important than my own feelings or desires. That was no different than how I was in grade school, middle school or high school. I was following the same pattern. Even in the church I attended as a teenager I would do whatever I had to do to be accepted. Even though I was accepted I would do everything I could to maintain that. I went to that church on my own. I was picked up and dropped off by the youth pastor every Thursday night and then on Sundays. This may have been the only place in my growing years that I felt as a part of something.
Most likely we’ve all been yes men or women in places we work. Whatever the boss says it gets done no matter how much of an inconvenience it may be to you or how much additional work it adds to your plate. This was one area that my childhood experiences actually helped me. Once I became responsible for over 300mil in annual sales I had a large sales force that I was responsible for. While the company always said the number 1 goal was reaching our sales goal, I made my number 1 goal as making sure each and every member of my team was included, appreciated, and we were structured to ensure everyone had their voices heard. It’s the only way I would manage if I ever was capable of doing it again. Our motto was actually one team, one family.
In every paragraph I’ve discussed how we sacrifice our desires and feelings for others. How my childhood affected my social skills as I grew. And how I refused to stand up for myself just to be accepted. But at what point do we begin to take a stand for ourselves? Having a mental illness is difficult. It’s made more difficult when those around you begin to think that you can’t think or function on your own because you have an illness. When there are conversations in the kitchen where family members are discussing your health and long term plans for you. That isn’t right!!! You deserve to be PART of the conversation not the TOPIC of the conversation had by others. Family is family, you don’t get to pick and choose them but you can take a stand if you don’t believe it’s right or if it’s affecting your mental health.
Even in your workplace, church, and circle of friends you have a right to stand up for yourself. When you hear insensitive jokes about those with a mental illness do you stand up for yourself? When your friends just make plans and invite you at the last second do you just go with the flow? Do they only want you around part of the time but not all the time? You can’t allow people to walk all over you because it will happen time and time and time again. Chances are if you have a mental illness you will be more likely to stand up for someone else than to stand up for yourself. You are not a doormat because you have a mental illness. You do not have to be an afterthought. Rather than going with the flow you deserve to be a part of the flow.
All of this is fine and good. All of this is just writing on a blog. They are meaningless unless these words are digested, dissected, and possibly applied to your way of living. I can’t make this change for you. If we are ever going to turn the tide in the fight against the stigma we must begin to standup for ourselves! I’ve made changes to my life so that I don’t allow myself to be walked on If you don’t want me now why would I want to be around later? Stand up, speak out, and don’t be afraid of the consequences if you believe you’ve been wronged. I won’t and I’m asking you to do the same. Do you know when to walk away and when to run?
REMEMBER…. YOU MATTER!!!