Everybody wants to feel accepted on some level. Even people who consider themselves to be outsiders or lone wolves want to be accepted as such.
The hurt of being unwanted or intentionally left out of a group is a bruising and long lasting one. I have been there. It is no fun.
At 36, am I still looking for that? Am I concerned with the way people look at me? I am not sure. To answer this question, it is important to look back into the past and explore it.
My earliest memory from childhood of being self conscious is from kindergarten. There was a girl I liked (as a friend, I think). One day, I asked for her phone number in the middle of class. My teacher called me out and made an example of me.
In the days leading up to the event, it took me a while to build up the courage to do this. She would have been the first friend I ever actively sought out and possibly my first real friend. I was crushed by the way the teacher handled it. It was devastating to my ego and had an impact on the way I approached future relationships with girls. To this day, I still cringe at the thought of it.
A few years later, I began playing hockey with kids from the neighborhood who were four years older than me. They called me Cam Neely. I was never sure why. It was often followed by a laugh. To me, it was an inside joke and I was on the outside.
I responded by being a small terror. I hit everything in my way and used my stick as liberally as Bobby Clarke. This resulted in many verbal and physical altercations.
This was the closest thing I had to a group of friends and I did not know where I stood with them. I was kind of just the kid they humored, I guess, but I really looked up to them and considered some of them to be role models. That sentiment never felt reciprocated.
In grade school, I was never allowed to go to kids’ birthday parties. My parents always came up with some reason to prevent me from going. In the back of my mind, I questioned whether or not I was even invited.
My best friend of the time manipulated me. He told other kids I said demeaning things about them and vice versa. He did this to orchestrate fights because he found it funny.
This sort of torture peaked when a bully twice my size began dragging me home by my school tie and beating the living shit out of me every day. This lasted for two years.
As I began to like girls, they pitied me and asked why I didn’t stand up for myself. I did but it was no easy task when I could barely even breathe.
I was so relieved when I graduated that I would not follow in the footsteps of my classmates and go to the local catholic school. My parents sent me to a well regarded prep school and I thought I would finally fit in.
To prepare for the transition, my mom shelled out $600 on suits for me that I could wear to school. I picked the suits out based on the South Philly style. Little did I know I would end up looking like a ridiculous caraciature of Joe Pesci.
On day one, everyone showed up in plaid pants, corduroy jackets and disheveled Gap shirts. I made my high school debut in a pale green suit with a white shirt and white tie. It did not make a great first impression.
During high school and college, I shuffled around from group to group trying to stick somewhere but never did.
So, I moved from one shitty girlfriend to the next just to feel some semblance of stability. While I knew these girls were cheating on me, I shrugged it off and pretended that I had what I so desperately sought.
My greatest success came my junior year of college when I finally moved into a house with veritable strangers. I descended into a haze of regular drug use and skipping classes. These were my best friends and I was utterly devastated the next year when they graduated and moved to Chicago.
I was alone. I was heartbroken. I did not know how to move on. I just wanted things to be the way they were before. My answer was to clean myself up and start doing community service. I was part of an all-inclusive community in which everyone was welcomed. Somehow, I still managed to be a fringe member.
By this point, one of my former roommates moved back from Chicago to Philadelphia. We did not hang out nearly as much, although we briefly ended up living together once again. He became my best friend and my confidant. He was the person who knew exactly what I was thinking or feeling before even I did. He always knew exactly what to say to make me feel better or to pull me out of my funk. He became the most important person to keep me grounded and level.
Then he moved back to his hometown and I got married. When my wife and I had kids, my life changed.
I no longer thought about acceptance or friendship. Maybe it was still there on a subconscious level but my primary focus was my family. A sense of loneliness began to surface, though.
No matter how awesome my wife and kids are, I am still home alone with them at night while my wife works. My count of close friends was basically at zero and my confidant was off living his own life and dealing with his own issues.
It is completely selfish of me to think I still needed him but I did. To this day, I still have no one in my life to whom I can talk and ask for help that does not charge an hourly rate. I still feel the need for that and compensate by opening up too much to everyone.
To the surprise of precisely no one, I was diagnosed with severe depression with borderline manic tendencies and severe anxiety, especially social anxiety. Not long thereafter, OCD and ADD were added to the list.
The medication I was prescribed helps. A lot. I feel stable and secure. Though I still have down days, those are fewer and further between. It is comforting to know I can get out of bed in the morning and make it through the day without the fear of a paralyzing breakdown.
Am I still searching for acceptance, though? I do not know but I do not think so. At least not consciously. I think I am searching for normalcy, to be able to attend social functions without crippling anxiety (I still have problems with this) and to feel comfortable with my life.
I am getting there. I no longer put focus on climbing the professional ladder or poring myself into any and every project possible to deter the possibility of descending into madness. I no longer think about how my mom died at 57 of a disease that has a 50% chance of claiming my life at the same age.
At this point, I just want to enjoy what little time I get with my wife and enjoy playing with my kids. Instead of absorbing myself in freelance and starting random projects, maybe I will take up golfing or get around to gardening.
I do not think I need acceptance anymore, save for the unfortunate outlier of a down day. What I need is to keep moving forward with fulfillng the promise of putting my family and myself first.