I’ve often mulled over the idea of one day listing the moments that I believe defined me in ways I often still don’t fully understand.
The images that flash through my mind when I contemplate those defining moments are often not scenes of hope and happiness, but most often they’re scenes of struggles, pain, isolation, betrayal, and detachment. Being one of six siblings in a small house makes it easy to disappear into the clutter. Sibling rivalry never needed solicitation.
Standing in the cold night air urinating into the flower bed in front of my uncle’s house when I was a scared little kid barely 6 years old, I remember staring across the road at the sight of my mother standing in tears under the carport of our house out of concern for my wellbeing. I was physically dragged by my collar and kicked out of the house for not being able to find something I didn’t lose. A lesson my father thought was very much needed in order to teach me not to forget my jacket outside after playing with my cousins; so he chose to hide it away until he was ready to stop teaching me that lesson. It worked. I’m anally responsible these days.
Moments like those were numerous and such a harsh approach to establishing discipline was the norm. I often find myself resisting the inclination to apply similarly harsh measures in dealing with untoward behaviour from my children. It’s strange how easily we adopt the nature of those that reared us, despite having had distinctly distasteful moments at their hands. I was born with an inherent resilience that prevented me from seeking affirmation from others. I was odd and I didn’t give a damn, and for the most part I still don’t. I sat and browsed through encyclopaedias that showed me life in full colour while siblings, cousins, and friends played cricket in the streets of the township where we lived. I sometimes joined them, but it often ended in injury, so there was hardly ever much attraction for me to immerse myself into the sporting experiences that others seemed to live for. This, I realised later in life, was a source of much disappointment for my father. It didn’t deter me. For as long as I can remember, anyone attempting to coerce me into doing something I didn’t like or want for myself often departed frustrated and unfulfilled in their attempts to prevail over me, or the situation.
My academic achievements at school were largely unnoticed and barely celebrated, until I lost total interest, slipped from the top of the grade to the bottom of the pile, and eventually dropped out of high school without anyone caring, including me. Girls wouldn’t talk to me and guys wouldn’t bully me because neither group knew what to expect in return. But those weren’t particularly defining moments for me.
Being jailed for bogus charges of domestic violence and child abuse against my own children. Now that was a defining moment, especially since I was the one that called the police to stop the abuse meted out against me for years. My timing as always was impeccable. I chose to do that at a time when domestic violence against women was a priority for the South African justice system. Nonetheless, it spelt the end of a tumultuous relationship with a depraved soul that was diagnosed as having several severe mental disorders, when in fact all she cried for in the most destructive ways was security and affirmation from parents that made dysfunction look like an admirable next step in life. Unfortunately she projected her demons on me and found it therapeutic to win the favour of others by demonising me instead. It was during those four distasteful years that I lost the very few friends whose presence I always cherished in my life up to that point.
Pacing around the courtyard of the holding cells at our local police station on the coldest night of winter that year left me even more detached. My pleas to the police officer for common sense to prevail echoing in my head while the nagging knowledge of having hardened criminals sleeping in the cell alongside me left little space for peace. But the moon looked distinctly beautiful that night as I watched it cross the sky through the metal grids that sealed the courtyard above the 20 foot high walls, just in case someone was able to climb up the sheer face of it. It was odd how the police officer that arrived on the scene appeared to be more traumatised than I was. I later discovered that he had presided over another arrest relating to domestic violence during which the alleged perpetrator hanged himself in the bathroom. No wonder the indignity I was afforded when I needed to use the bathroom that night before being taken away by the police. I still smile at the memories of standing in the holding cells below the courthouse and having random convicts coming over to me to tell me their stories of claimed innocence. I seem to attract the weirdest kind.
Wintery nights seem to be the common thread in many defining moments. Years before, I was held at gunpoint by my previous wife while she went through yet another crazy mood swing demanding that I call the police to settle an argument or else she would shoot me with my gun while holding our daughter in my arms. You read that right. It didn’t make sense to me either, but such is the logic of a recovering drug addict. Again, the police were sympathetic towards her, while confiscating my firearm that she mishandled, and asked me to leave the house while entrusting my daughter into her care for the night. Amazing what the weaker sex can get away with.
My naivety has been a loyal friend throughout my life, and still remains a bosom buddy if recent events are anything to go by. Many accuse me of gullibility, but I would rather live a life of being consciously naïve than to live suspiciously.
I’ve had good moments, and even a few great ones. I’ve recoiled at the unexpected loss of loved ones, but always receded into a private space to grieve, rarely showing my pain to the world. It’s none of their business after all. The buoyancy of my spirit often mocks me because it leaves me confused about who is being fooled. Or perhaps no one is being fooled, and in fact this inherent resilience that I cannot lay claim to, but nonetheless do possess, perhaps this is what makes it possible for me to see the present moment for what it is rather than what it should be relative to the souring experiences of my past.
The moments that have defined me are many, but their realisation and conscious recollection still largely eludes me. There is a strong undertone of changes blowing through my life right now. Profound changes that barely show in the normal light of day. Perhaps this is why my mind has been distracted to the point of mild dyslexia recently. My sub-conscious mind is pre-occupied with contemplating these changes, while my conscious mind knows nothing of it in the face of the routine that effortlessly persists.
I still feel a need to define who I am, but I suspect that I may never fully achieve this goal in this lifetime. Life is…undefinable, and I remain a mystery to myself, and most often, to those around me as well.
I’ve often been accused of being an introvert. Some apologists would say that it’s not a bad thing, but then they’ll continue to describe specific adaptations in behaviour that ‘normal’ people should adopt in order to understand or engage with introverts more meaningfully. They’re idiots, and so is every other person that allows some idiot with a degree to classify their state of being by attaching a label to it.
I am not an introvert. I choose to be introspective. I choose to observe before flying my mouth off, and I choose to be measured in my responses only after I am comfortable that I have grasped the true nature of what I am dealing with. That is not being introverted, that is being reasonable. Yet once again, because spontaneity and instant gratification is worshipped by the masses, those that choose to live with substance rather than overt expression, are considered as lesser beings.
To a much lesser extent extroverts are similarly labelled. The irony of that label is that it places many of ‘them’ on a pedestal, which denies them the ability to assume a quiet and introspective disposition when needed because there is always someone waiting to accuse them of being in a bad or sad mood. Those that don’t care for the labels will shun such shallowness and continue their introspection, while most will succumb and find the next best distraction through which to express their extrovert-ism.
Labels will be the death of many kind souls because just the term introvert has such negative connotations. According to our friend Google, the dictionary definition of introvert is:
As if that isn’t enough against which to rest my case, I would go further to suggest that many consider introverted behaviour to be a personality disorder. Those that buy into this Neanderthal way of thinking embrace that label, and then go through life trying to find coping mechanisms defined by the ‘normal’ idiots with degrees so that they can fit into someone else’s retarded definition of what their behaviour should be like.
It takes a healthy dose of a superiority complex to assume that just because you do not relate to the disposition of another, your inane academic qualification endows you with the right to define them as flawed in capacity and therefore a charitable case for those that compensate for this apparent shortcoming in introverts. This post is deliberately condescending because the hogwash about supposed introverts seems to prevail regardless of the logical reasoning offered in return.
Just because someone doesn’t like your company, or because they prefer their own company to that of the gossipers, the nit-pickers, the shallow ones, or the distracted ones, doesn’t make them flawed. In fact, if you were honest with yourself, and you subscribed to the label of being an extrovert or a ‘normal’ person that is neither introverted nor extroverted, seeing someone shying away from company should prompt you to consider what is distasteful to them rather than assuming that they have a mental disorder that was created by sadistic capitalists with a degree is psychiatry.
The world has learnt more, and benefited more, from those that are introspective by choice, than they have by the party animals that throw caution to the wind in order to appease the fickleness of the masses with which they surround themselves. Distractions rarely inspire growth. The art of introspection is to navigate through those distractions in order to grow. So the next time you see someone sitting quietly and observing, before you assume they’re an introvert, consider that they may very well be observing your whimsical behaviour and trying to understand what drives you to be as fickle as you are.
The strange irony of not being able to trust others is that it inherently makes you untrustworthy. If we just set aside our egos for a minute, we’ll quickly realise that trusting others is not a reflection of their integrity, but is in fact a reflection of our sincerity, or lack thereof. I think it goes something like this. We start the cycle by reaching out and wanting to trust another. They recoil at the thought of the burden that such a trust imposes on them because they doubt their ability to live up to the expectations that accompanies such trust. We see this as rejection, and recoil as well. So the next time someone reaches out to us to trust, we recoil at the recollection of that previous betrayal from another because we need to protect ourselves from such rejection again, leaving the one reaching out with the distinct impression that they were just rejected. They repeat the cycle in their little world of influence, and before you know it, everyone is recoiling from everyone else and the world becomes a shitty place.
The cycle can’t be wished away. We can’t sit idle expecting others to trust us if we’re not willing to reciprocate that trust. I’ve seen the deflection a million times or more. People hiding behind the fact that no one understands their reality so it’s all just flowery language no matter how sincere the advice or the gesture to connect or support. Strange how once again, through such a detrimental self-image, we architect our own demise with those around us. We sit bitterly complaining to the world through our inaction and disengagement waiting for someone to magically lift us out of our doldrums because that’s what our fairy tale upbringing has taught us. But we slip further into despair when we reject every extended hand because it didn’t come in the right shape, size, colour, or packaging that we wanted.
It reminds me of the parable of the man that complained to God that he was not being rescued by God in his moment of tribulation, after he rejected every hand that was extended to facilitate his rescue. He wanted to see the hand of God extended, but refused to accept that it was extended through others. The point is, we’re so full of crap most of the time that we judge the extended hand because the body that extends it does not meet our fairy tale perceptions of what it should look like. It’s no different to the denial of answers from others even when we don’t have the answers ourselves.
The hypocrisy of it all erodes our self-worth in ways we only realise when we find ourselves face down in the dirt suddenly yearning for the most feeble of extended hands that we previously rejected, because at that point any hand will do. But our egos prevent us from recognising this slide into despondency because throughout that process we’re busy protecting ourselves from the reality of our fears. Funny how it all starts with the simple act of trusting, but so quickly slides into a cess pool of self-imposed depression because we failed to recognise our insincerity while blaming others for their apparent dishonesty.
(This is an incomplete thought process…and this new editor in WP sucks!)
There’s a difference between giving up and wanting to move on. Too many are shamed into staying because someone convinces them that moving on is giving up. Holding on to a bad experience, or a bad relationship is more reflective of a poor sense of self than it is of commitment. The zombies among us are those that feign loyalty while their true motivation is grounded in guilt. They’re the same ones that are bitter or angry, some passively so, but most aggressively so.
Too many people I know live their lives committed to fulfilling the expectations of others instead of being true to themselves. Not only do they lack any sincere belief in their self-worth, but they lack any faith in the natural order of the universe. No, this is not a load of hogwash about supposed secrets that teach us that the universe gives us what we ask for. If it was that simple, we’d have world peace and beggars would indeed be riding Arabian stallions. The law of cause and effect is the universal order that we lose sight of too often.
There is a fine line between making a choice out of commitment as opposed to making it out of conviction. Chances are, most that read this can barely tell the difference in their lives any longer. The more we focus on fulfilling the expectations of others, the more we convince ourselves that indeed that must be our purpose, and therefore our conviction in life. How we lie to ourselves to pacify our conscience when it nags at us asking what great purpose does our life serve. The most pacifying response is to convince ourselves that we lead a life of selfless service to others. So does a door mat.
Service to others is not sacrificing yourself, but rather sacrificing your ego to allow them to view your vulnerability in a way that strengthens them. We draw comfort from knowing we can comfort. We draw strength from knowing we can protect. Yet we’re always in search of those weaker than us, or holding on to those needing our strength, rarely realising that there are others, significant others, that need to draw on our weaknesses so that they in turn can feel strong, significant, or worthy of providing comfort.
Sometimes we stay because we don’t believe we’re deserving of better. Sometimes we stay because we hold a deep conviction that we are able to create something better. And sometimes we’re entirely oblivious as to why we stay because we’ve restrained ourselves from moving on for so long, that we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that every reason to do so has been exhausted, and the only rational option that remains is to stay and draw strength from the morbid comfort of familiarity.
There is a difference between giving up and wanting to move on. I choose to move on, not because I lack loyalty or commitment, but because I demand it as well. And when it is lacking, I refuse to accept that my self loathing should drive me to believe that I deserve nothing more. My greatest achievement in life has been to rid myself of the expectation of pleasing others. It came at a price. Often a very expensive price. But the liberation that it afforded me was and still is priceless. Living without feeling obliged, knowing that every act is one of choice and not obligation, knowing that every reciprocation is one of gratitude and not guilt, and knowing that favour is not my motivator but fulfilment is. That is what moving on has allowed me to achieve. The sweetness of being independent of man, but dependent on faith only. It has made me realise exactly how fickle I am, so that I find myself praying that others around me find the same comfort in faith, because fulfilment is evasive in their services to me. And so I pray that they also find comfort in moving on, even from me if needed, if that is what will give them the sweet taste of that most lonely of liberations.
I saw a meme this week that suggested that the reason a baby cries at the time of birth is because that experience is the worst experience of its life. It seemed like just an interesting observation at first, but later I realised that it spoke volumes about perception and reality. Several incidents since then, including the passing of Robin Williams prompted me to revisit many aspects of how poorly we define our own realities.
At times in my life when I was riding the crest of the wave, I found myself mildly annoyed by the actions of others that did not meet my expectations. It was easy enough to shrug off because I had enough else happening in my life that made me feel accomplished and relevant. So I would ignore it and instead polarise towards those groups or activities that bred positivity in my life. After some time, the trend of being disappointed by the actions of significant others seemed to grow, and given a few stumblings of my own, I found those disappointments weighing down on me much heavier than before. Suddenly I didn’t have the abundance of good vibes from the crest of the wave to keep me grounded in positivity, and so I slipped from being easy going, to being disappointed.
That disappointment grew as my reality continued to throw curve balls at me. I started wondering where did I make a wrong turn. When did the wave throw me over so that I would find myself crashing into its trough? Blaming myself for my slide didn’t help much, and soon enough I found that the disappointment started turning into despondency and a deeply ingrained sense of sadness. That sadness lingered longer than the brief smiles I would muster. But I still found myself questioning myself. I questioned my worth to those around me who kept disappointing me, and I questioned my competence to make the right decisions to break this cycle that I found myself in, but all I ended up with were questions and no answers.
I kept doing what I thought was the right thing, but I found myself challenged to uphold the principles that I subscribed to. The more I tried to live a principled life, the more I found people in my life demanding a response from me that would force me to choose. Be true to my principles and values, or succumb to their pressure so that I would feel included? Inclusion was another evasive aspect of my life. Perhaps that is why I find it so easy to dismiss the negativity associated with being the odd one out. So I chose to be principled, and despite being true to myself, the disappointing reaction I got from those that were encouraging me to throw caution to the wind and live a little weighed down on me even more. And so I continued to question myself, even though I couldn’t find enough reason to abandon my principles.
So the slide into despondency continued. I looked at the pitfalls of the lives of those around me, the emptiness, the trinkets, the lies, and most of all the insincerity. All it did was make me more adamant to hold on to what I chose for myself even though holding on grew more difficult by the day. There were endless cycles of insincere ones coming into my life, celebrating my resolve, embracing my principles and me along with it, and then drifting away when the burden of commitment to our shared ideals became too burdensome for them. The moment it meant reducing their popularity with the social circles that they aspired to be a part of, they abandoned those principles because affirmation was more important. Being insincere didn’t bother them, because the people they aspired to be like were equally insincere, which made it acceptable.
I didn’t want that for myself, and so I continued to search each time for someone that appeared sincere in their conviction to subscribe to that which I subscribed to. But the cycle ended in disappointment each time, and each time I found myself contemplating the hopelessness of it all more seriously than the last. The hopelessness quickly grew into depression until I was diagnosed as being depressed and placed on medication to help me out of what was assumed to be a clinical condition that I had acquired.
The medication didn’t help. If anything, it made me feel numb. I didn’t want to feel numb. At least in the disappointment and the depression there was still a sense of purpose and passion. Even though that purpose and passion didn’t always bring me joy, it still gave me a reason to want to prevail. But now all I felt was numbness. My jaw tightened, but my senses dulled. I was easier for people to tolerate, but my contempt for what I saw outside of me started being redirected internally. I didn’t like the state I found myself in. I didn’t like the lack of passion or purpose that I felt, and the entire situation was unnatural. I was not me anymore, and I hated it. So I stopped. I weaned myself off my medication, visited my psychiatrist once again, and he confirmed that it was the quickest recovery he had ever seen. His praise fell on deaf ears.
I soon realised that the medication didn’t alter what I despised in those around me. Nor did it give me reason to change my conviction about right and wrong. With or without the medication, my reality remained my reality. The only difference was, with the medication I was numb and unable to respond to it effectively, while without it I was forced to deal with the full impact of it. I chose the latter because I knew that inaction and passivity, as was my perpetual state with the medication, was not a life to be lived. It was merely an existence that made me more tolerable for others, and made others less annoying for me. At best, it was a distraction, but at worst, it was a nightmare, with me standing on the outside looking in. Those moments when I tried to scream and no sound came out. It reminded me of those dreams when I saw myself trying to drive a car that I had no control over. The lights would go out, the brakes would fail, the steering would be unresponsive, and I would end up lying upside down with the car on its roof, entirely unable to influence the outcome, and my scream remained a silent scream. That was what the medication did to me. At least without it, I could scream. I could beat my chest and curse the world. I was not powerless. And that’s when it hit me.
My diagnosis of depression had nothing to do with a clinical state that I had acquired. Instead, my clinical state was in fact a result of my reality. My depression was my way of expressing my dissatisfaction with the world, and those that I held to be significant in my life. The more they didn’t react, the more I expressed, until eventually I forgot why I chose to express myself that way. They stopped caring enough to even attempt to understand, and all I was left with was the reality that I was alone, with little to no joy in my life, and still surrounded by the same people that either didn’t care, or were too distracted to notice. I was not a victim of depression. Depression was my chosen form of expression. But when it didn’t yield the response I was looking for, I once again found myself asking questions for which I had no answers.
I think that’s part of the problem in that state. The less answers I had, or more importantly, in the absence of answers that appeased my needs, I slipped further into the belief that I probably just wasn’t significant enough for anyone to want to do what was important for me. And they must know what is important for me because I had been expressing my dissatisfaction for so long that surely they could have figured it out by now if only they cared enough, right? So it stood to reason that they probably just didn’t care enough. I needed to make a choice. Continue to abandon myself in the hope that they will notice and respect me, or abandon my expectations of them and give up my principles in order to feel included.
I chose me. I chose my principles. And most importantly, I chose to stand unapologetically for what I believe to be right, in spite of what is socially acceptable. This increased the accusations against me of having unrealistic expectations. It increased the isolation when I challenged people’s insincerity or hypocrisy, but none of it deterred me. I saw my weaknesses in those around me. Some of them put in a sincere effort to overcome it, like me. But most choose to live in denial because of the fear of losing those that they still wish would recognise their significance.
Depression set in when I looked for people to respect those things that I felt most passionate about and instead only found ridicule and rejection instead. It set in when I abandoned myself in favour of others, only to find that they had abandoned me as well. Depression became my voice when I gave up my right to be me. But depression never defined me. It never will. It will always only ever be the most passive form of resistance I would be able to muster up against a cruel world that celebrates conformity while crying out for individuality. It will only be my chosen form of expression as long as I fear rejection from those that I despise at worst, or disagree with at best.
I now realise that I didn’t abandon myself in favour of others. Instead, I sacrificed what I wanted in the hope that that sacrifice would bring solace and a smile to those that I thought needed it. Unfortunately, I realised too late that no amount of self-sacrifice can fill the void of an ungrateful soul. So now I give without the expectation of receiving. I live with the hope that they will realise what is important rather than being distracted by what is popular. Unfulfilled expectations of significant others can never be remedied by a pill, nor by self-harm regardless of what form it may take. Seeing people for the flawed human beings that they are is the only way to maintain your sanity in an insane society. It’s when you expect perfection from yourself, or others, or both, that you solicit for yourself the most painful reality that need not be experienced.
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We know our fears too well, and our needs to little. We’re so focused on protecting ourselves from our fears that we’ve convinced ourselves that this need for protection is in fact our needs. It’s not. We’re out of touch with ourselves and what we need, and this is why it is so hard to connect with anyone these days. Everyone is too busy protecting themselves, and too few realise that making a genuine human to human connection is what removes most of those fears. That isolation and loneliness that you fear immediately subsides the moment you feel that connection. But that connection is not through a text message, or a selfie. It can only be felt when you engage face to face while your body language is congruent with your emotions. But again, we have so many social filters established that we force our body language to match our statements, while our hearts are screaming to be let out of the choke hold that we have it in. But we won’t let it go. Letting it go means allowing others to see the real you, and because you don’t love who you’ve become, you have yet another reason to hide your true self from the world, while your heart screams on for release. If I asked you to drop your social filters and to be absolutely truthful with yourself, would you even know which social filters you have up? Would you even know what truth feels like?
The previous post feels like I over complicated a really simple concept, so here’s my second attempt at clarifying it.
It’s really as simple as this. If you wish to understand someone, look behind their eyes, or their actions, and embrace the vulnerability that is required to see in them what you know to be true of yourself. If you see them angry, remember when you were angry in a similar context in your own life. Then seek to understand yourself in that moment, so that you can establish a basis on which to understand them, or at the least, attempt to.
When we take this approach we benefit in two ways. Firstly, we stand a better chance of understanding them and therefore being able to meaningfully engage with them. Secondly, it allows you to benefit others from the struggles of your life, instead of just feeling as if it was a personal growth cycle and nothing more.
If life is really too short to make all your own mistakes, and I believe this to be true, then the only way to live more than you otherwise would have would be to avoid pitfalls by learning from others. But that has to be reciprocal in a healthy society. So the more you hold on to the insecurity of others seeing your flaws and using it as a basis to judge you poorly, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to either learn from them, or allow them to grow from your experiences. Why would it prevent you from learning from them? Simple, the more you protect yourself from being discovered as a whole person with warts and all, the more you’re inclined to believe that your personal struggles are so unique that no one could possibly understand them.
So the more you allow yourself to open up, the more you’ll realise that in opening up, you actually solicit sources of wisdom that benefit you, rather than weaken you. You’ll also reveal a side of your humanness that will attract the compassionate and tender-hearted ones that you most likely wish to embrace in your personal space. But none of it is possible if you keep everyone at arm’s length because of the mistaken belief that your weaknesses are not shared by others.
We’re all so great at putting up facades that we’ve even convinced ourselves that no one else has them. Like I’ve always said, your assumptions about others are a true reflection of yourself, rather than them. However, such a reflection is inversely proportional to the reality of your self-image. So chances are that those that judge themselves to be weak assume that others are stronger, while those that embrace their weakness, see others as equally flawed, but not necessarily weak. I guess this is one time when the mirror cannot be trusted, because the eyes always filter what the heart needs to feel. Unless we stop to test the assumptions that the eyes make, our hearts will always be nourished by a tainted diet of reality.