Spoiler Alert: Teenagers Get Sad

When I was 19, I would put band-aids on my wrists. Three or four on each. I’d stack them up, giving the illusion that something expansive and horrific was lurking underneath. But there were no cuts, no bloody wounds. I was fine. With my sleeves rolled up ever-so-subtly, I’d go out with my friends, waiting for the moment for someone to go, “Oh my god, what happened?” Only for me to respond, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” This was the most obvious cry for help in the history of woe-is-me behavior. I could have worn a shirt emblazoned with “I’M SAD, PLEASE TALK TO ME ABOUT MY SADNESS,” and spared myself the cost of boxes of padded latex.

What’s perhaps more pitiful is that nobody ever asked about them. I received one sarcastic, “…and Leathers over here is cutting himself,” and that was the end of it. No one was going to take the bait, so I stopped, having convinced myself that I was just being whiny. Given that I had already earned the nickname “Whinyberg,” this was an easy conclusion to reach. But looking back on it, that was most definitely a mistake. This was fucked up behavior. I don’t believe I would have seriously hurt myself – mostly because I’m an enormous coward – but the ideas had a way of seeping into my head.

That’s all they were, though: ideas. Thoughts a lonely person has. Thoughts that lead to things like spending your birthday crying in an Applebee’s bathroom, upset over your friends’ lack of decorum in the finest of dining establishments.

Things like driving around neighborhoods late at night, jumping train tracks at unsafe speeds. Stopping to slash a tire on a random car, for no reason other than it felt completely justified. These people, in their two-story model homes, had found success. They had earned their luxury cars. And then there was me. A quasi-privileged white guy who had freshly earned the standing of academic suspension, being unceremoniously kicked out of college. They needed to feel loss — it was only healthy for their emotional growth. Obviously.

This was the tipping point for what kind of man I would become. I could talk to somebody, begin to understand why I was unhappy, why I was acting like a complete dipshit; or, I could submit to the idea that I was forever insufferable and live a life of unrealized potential.

I chose the latter.

At the time, I was unaware there was a choice, or that one had been made. In fact, I was under the impression that life would cure itself. Getting back into school was a thing that would magically happen; the girl I was dating would be there no matter how poorly I treated her; and my parents would support me until I qualified for social security (roughly, 2045). This was an inoperable case of naivety.

I spent the next several years floating through my days. Life was what you could call, “asi asi,” which is the only thing I remember from 6 years of spanish classes, further proving how little effort I ever put forth. I was, however, no longer putting on a vaudevillian show of sadsackery. No more bandages, no more crying in public. I suppose it was enough to be in school (community college) and have a handful of friends who seemed to appreciate my presence. Besides, I had that safety net made of loving girlfriends and moneybag parents that would never disappear.

My twenties, on the other hand, dissipated before I had a chance to say, “Hey, where do you think you’re going? Oh, into the history books at the Bag of Shit Hall of Fame? Sounds about right.”  To give myself some credit, and not just polish my plaque at that mythical hall of infame,  I did eventually finish college, even earning a graduate degree in the process. Aaaaand to immediately snatch away that credit, by the time my flawless academic career was over, I found myself at 29, making minimum wage behind a cash register. Unrealized potential, indeed.

Here’s where this story, that has no doubt made you want to take a nap, begins to serve a purpose. My point is not to publish my diary for all to read (actually, my LiveJournal from 2003 is already there, if anybody feels like killing me). I don’t want you to feel sorry for my past, because I certainly don’t. Everything I went through – the nights alone, the feelings of isolation – happened to lead me to this point, to how I’m feeling right now. And how am I feeling, you probably said out loud just now? Well, again, I’ve found myself crying. But this time, I’ve never felt more loved, more worthwhile, more proud to be who I am.

I’m 32-years old. 13 years removed from that December night where I mocked the genuinely suicidal.  13 years removed from a time when accomplishing anything besides watching a Jim Carrey movie 25 times felt like an impossibility. I’m 32-years old, and for possibly the first time, I feel like I’m someone to be admired.

This past weekend, I ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles. “Big deal,” says every athlete ever. To that I would respond, “Yes, you have lovely abs and admirable buttocks, but please let me have this one thing.” This one thing, this two hours on a Saturday in Baltimore, feels like a do-over on that tipping point in 1999.

As short as four months ago, it seemed insane that I could find the dedication to finish a race of that distance. Running for more than five minutes at a time was comparable to seeing your great aunt Lucy naked. I, personally, don’t have a great aunt Lucy, but I bet all the great aunts Lucy in this world are ghastly sans clothes. Whether it was lightly jogging for 300 seconds, or walking in on an octogenarian in the tub, I was going to end up puking.

I set a goal that appeared insurmountable, and in the end, I made it seem downright easy. Instead of saying, “That’s out of my reach,” I actually moved forward until I was choking that goal until it tapped out. What I’m trying to say is I’m basically an MMA fighter. Basically.

All those years ago, I refused to understand why I was unhappy. It was just par for the course; whatever will be, will continue to be. Today, I understand that a part of me will always be cynical, easy to give up if given the chance. Once you recognize that part of your personality, you understand how to shove it down back into the hole. It’s my zombie self: it’ll never die, but I can bash it in the face with a shovel until it stops moving for a bit.

And I think that is my awkward advice for all the glum chums out there: just keep swinging away with that shovel. Take your shots and get to running. Get some distance between you and that rotting corpse. And, perhaps more importantly, you don’t have to do it alone. You never have to do it alone. Without the amazing support system that rah-rah’d me from training through the finish line, I could have quit months ago. These are people I did not want to let down. They believed in me, even when I didn’t. Find your support group. Whether it’s a running team or a licensed therapist, just find it. I had to silently suffer for years until I felt some form of victory. Today, I find myself living in New York City. I have an amazing job. I’m surrounded by people that understand my faults and care for me anyway. And I just ran 13.1 miles. 19-year old me is smiling.

And if I hear that any of you spent your birthday crying greasy tears at a Fudruckers, dabbing your eyes with a potato skin-soaked napkin, I’m going to be furious. Don’t make me hit you in the head with a shovel.

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