Working on sorting out my head, both medically and via therapy. Long story short, I stumbled on a good suggestion while trying to figure out why my inner monologue sounds so angry at me all the time: Find a picture of yourself as a child, and write a letter to that kid, showing them the support you wish you had then.
It sounded ridiculous. Did it anyway.
Can’t say I’m cured, but the devil on my shoulder has been a lot quieter since.
One thing that I touch on is opening myself up to others, so I’m posting this here as my way of doing that. You may never see me with my clothes off, but if you want to see me really naked, keep reading.
Or is it Robbie still? In the pic I’m looking at, you’re about 7, so I think you’re past that. I’m Robert. I know this sounds silly, but I’m you, from the future. This isn’t Back to the Future, so I can’t come see you in person, but I’ve been going through a rough patch, and in my research on getting through it, I was directed toward a way to contact you by letter.
This is me now. I’m almost 38. Check it out, I didn’t go bald like dad and grandpa!
You may notice that while I’ve added the beard, I’ve lost the happy smile you carry. Unfortunately, by the time you’re my age, you’ll be diagnosed with these lovely little brain sicknesses called depression, anxiety, ADHD, and “likely autism spectrum disorder” according to a few online self-assessments. Some of that’s chemical and you’ll take pills for that, but I really believe a lot of it is bad programming due to some traumatic experiences you’re going through, or will soon.
I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re gonna get fucked up, kid.
But that’s why I’m writing. I’m trying to work through a lot of that stuff now, and deprogram myself of the bad code that’s being written in your mind right now. That same code that has made my inner monologue sound viscerally angry and disgusted to be stuck inside my head, and talking with you about it might help both of us. In my introspection, I’ve figured out a few of the big reasons I can’t look myself in the mirror, and if I can warn you about what’s coming, if not to prevent it, at least to help prepare you for it and comfort you through it.
Society is going to beat into you a constant message that you you’re worthless unless you do what they tell you. First and foremost is the relentless messages from religion that you’re sinner. Your dad’s a preacher, so you’re going to church, Sunday school classes, vacation bible school, church camps, and everything else. Dad’s no fire and brimstone guy, but pretty much every adult around you is telling you through their words and actions that unless you follow this one specific conservative Christian view of morality, you’ll burn in hell forever. On top of that, the capitalist society you were born into says you’re worthless if you aren’t successful, and if you’re not successful enough you’re just not working hard enough. What you’re being told is that there’s one acceptable path through life that you must follow: go to school, go to college, meet a girl and get married, build a career and home, and only then when you’re winning the game can you enjoy life. Do anything else, and you deserve to suffer.
It’s all bullshit, but it’ll taint your view of everything you do in life. Don’t get good grades had your video games taken away? You don’t deserve to have fun. Not popular enough to get a girlfriend in high school? You don’t deserve love. Didn’t get a raise at work? Must not have impressed the boss enough, you deserve not to be paid well.
Don’t those sound stupid?
I want to tell you something no other adult has: You deserve to be happy and you deserve to feel loved. Everyone does! I try to tell myself that I do, but every time I do it just sounds condescending and sarcastic because when I was you, it felt like being loved was contingent on meeting certain standards of behavior that I simply couldn’t live up to. You’re a hyperactive and inquisitive little boy, you break things apart to find out how they work, but as the preacher’s kid you’re expected to behave and sit still and keep quiet.
You’re going to get in trouble at school; acting out because mom and dad are paying attention to your baby sister. When you’re a little older and start thinking girls are cute, you’re going feel guilty that you feel the same way about cute boys. And when you’re my age you’ll even feel guilty using medically prescribed marijuana to control your anxiety after all those straightedge years wearing D.A.R.E. shirts. In the end, you’re going to end up believing firmly that you’re just a bad person, and the reason bad things happen to you is because you aren’t working hard enough to overcome your deficiencies. And when you finally burn out and have no mental or physical energy to do the things you need to do to maintain your life and home, you’ll feel guilty for resting when so much still needs done.
Lesson 1: You’re not a bad person. You are deserving of love and happiness. You don’t need to earn the right to feel good.
Speaking of bad things happening to you, the second major thing I wanted to let you know about is that you’re going to be moving soon, and losing all your school friends. And it’s going to happen again a couple more times after that. In that same time frame, Grandpa L___, Grandma B___, Grandpa R___, and Uncle B___ are all going to die. All this loss will happen in such a short time, while simultaneously, mom gets cancer, and dad loses his job. With all they were going through, mom and dad were distracted and preoccupied and couldn’t provide you with the emotional support you needed in this time to process the grief you felt. You end up mentally fending for yourself and believe that everyone you get close to will eventually leave you. You intentionally avoid getting close to prevent yourself from being hurt later.
What I’ve learned recently is that you are now developing what’s called the “The Avoidant Attachment Style.” It makes you uncomfortable with intimacy, and unable to trust others. It’ll feel like everyone is only looking out for their own best interest and is only willing to interact with you if they can get something of value out of you. The world around you becomes threatening, so you’ll try to rely on yourself for everything.
It’s going to absolutely ruin every relationship you have as an adult.
Cautionary example: There’s a girl you’ll meet in college. You’ll date for a while, and then propose to her, mainly because you feel the obligation to follow the plan expected of you and get married, and since she’s the first and only woman you found willing to sleep with you. The problem was, you never really let her get close, always keeping her emotionally at arms length. I don’t know if it would have worked out in the long term if I were more emotionally mature then, but the relationship fell apart after she left you for another man, explaining that the main reason was because you were too emotionally distant.
Oh, and of course, you blame yourself for it. Obviously. But it was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, wasn’t it? You believed she was going to leave you and she did.
Even now, I’ve been married almost a decade and have a kid of my own around your age, and a part of me still feels like I’m just waiting for my wife to realize she can do better and leave with our daughter. It sucks feeling like this, so if you could, please remember to be mindful of when you find yourself doing things to push people away.
Lesson 2: Love with abandon and let people love you. Don’t assume ill intent in the kindness shown by others.
Another thing I want to touch on is something I wish someone taught me in college. I know you love drawing, and you love making up stories for comic books and ideas for games. Somewhere along the way you stopped seeing your artistic ventures as a creative outlet and instead as a potential source of profit. Probably was in college. I got a degree in graphic design and marketing, fields which exists solely for the purpose of monetizing creativity.
Art does not exist to make money, it exists to express and share emotions and experiences with others. Your first thought when starting a project should not be about how much money you can make selling prints, it should be about what message you want to share with the world. Trying to make art to appeal to someone’s wallet makes it shallow and heartless, and when the art you create doesn’t sell because you don’t put any feeling into it, that simply reinforces your belief that you’re not good enough.
You have within you the potential to be a brilliant artist, writer, video game designer, or anything else you want, but your belief of not being good enough is the biggest thing holding you back. You’ll see successful creatives you admire living out their passions and tell yourself “I could do that, if only I could get better at such and such”. You’ll be so afraid of being rejected that even when you do find the energy to create, you’ll never put yourself out there to be seen.
Here’s a secret: There’s no such thing as “good” art, or rather, there’s no agreed definition for what makes art good. Picasso and Rembrandt are both considered great, but have completely different styles. It’s all subjective and what one person likes someone else might not.
The same is true for people. Part of the never feeling good enough thing, I never really considered myself attractive in any way. I read something though that changed my outlook on that: “You’re not unattractive, you’re just not your type.”
Lesson 3: Put yourself out there. Not everyone will love you for it, but for the ones who will, it makes you a lot easier to find.
I know life is overwhelming, and I know it’s hard to keep up with the pace of things changing some times. Things you have to do pile up, bills you have to pay, chores you have to do, projects you want to finish, and you so often feel like you don’t even know where to start trying to tackle it all.
I’m going to tell you what I’ve been trying to tell my daughter, whose bedroom is such a mess she gets overwhelmed trying to clean it: Start small. Break down the whole into smaller tasks. I know you can imagine the end goals you want to reach, you’ve never had a problem daydreaming about the life you wish you could have. Take that goal, and work backwards from it to where you are now and plan out how to reach it. Set achievable goals and follow through.
But always remember not to beat yourself up for not yet reaching those goals. I don’t berate and run down my daughter and call her lazy; I wouldn’t talk to her the way I talk to myself, and I wouldn’t talk that way to you if I were there in person.
Lesson 4: Work toward your goals, and if it takes you longer, show yourself love and compassion instead of criticism for not having already been successful.
It’s still hard for me to to push through to loving myself, but I’m going to try, because I might not love me, but I do love you. You’re a smart, funny creative kid, and I want nothing but the best for you. You deserve love and safety, and I’m going to try to do everything in my power to be the kind of person who would have provided you with both.
Robert L. Lynch