I had a terrible childhood. I felt like I was always alone; no friends, ignored by family, and always left by myself. I wore my house key on a chain around my neck so I could let myself into the house after walking home alone from school. From about the 2nd grade through high school I was bullied and constantly picked on. I was short and skinny; my nickname was ‘shrimp’. And I hated it. School was a constant struggle and my grades sucked. It seems like I have no memories at all of every really being happy.
Could it have really been that bad?
My brother was significantly older than I am, and had joined the Navy while I was still a toddler, and I have no idea what it was like for him growing up. Throughout his life though I never really saw him happy either; always in trouble, losing job after job, even spending some time in prison. Surely he experienced a lot of the same as I did, otherwise how did he end up with such a miserable adulthood?
And then there’s my sister.
She had some problems, sure. But my view of her was that she was the typical kid. She is very pretty, and there were always a group of boys hanging out at the house around her. By the time she was old enough to date she always had a boyfriend. She had some very tight friendships that continue to this day. She wasn’t a complete social butterfly, but she definitely belonged to an ‘in’ group.
My parents were very odd and different from other families. Their entire social life was a game of bridge once a month with the couple that lived across the street. There were never any parties or close friends that they spent any time with. My mother went to work just before I started school, which was unheard of back in that time. I guess you could say we did some things as a family, but again not like I saw other families. My next door neighbors took a trip driving cross country together. They went to Disneyland. They had a sail boat that they would take out on weekends. The Dad was involved with his kids, building soapbox cars and teaching them how to work on cars. That to me was normal. The family outings we had were camping trips to the beach, which we did do quite often. But our beach trips involved my Dad swimming in the ocean while my Mom sat on the shore. Back at the camp they would sit around, my father reading or just sitting while Mom cooked and tidied up. My sister was surrounded by boys and always seemed to meet other girls that she would hang out together with. And I sat alone on the stairs leading down to the beach, staring out at the ocean and jealously watching the other kids have fun.
Or so it seemed.
When my Dad passed away, my sister didn’t come to see him on the last night, even though we all knew it was coming and I called her to tell her that he was about to die. It pissed me off for a long time. Family isn’t supposed to act that way.
Then I had an epiphany.
There is no way I could possibly understand the relationship between my Sister and my Father. They had their own dynamics. I couldn’t know what she was feeling. I have no idea of what she was going through. She had visited him in the hospital the day before, and what they said to each other is between them.
Who am I to judge? I was wrong.
I think it’s all about perception. Did I have such a miserable time growing up because of the way my parents were? Were there just a bunch of mean kids in our town who picked on the smaller and weaker ones? Did my brother have it as bad as it seemed? And was my Sister’s life a normal and happy as it appeared to me?
Only they know.
It’s quite possible that my brother had the normal childhood. As an adult he obviously had a mental illness. He was kicked out of the Navy and released from active duty ‘for the good of the service’. Yet he qualified for Veterans Benefits. It seems to me that if you are deemed unfit for service that you would forfeit the benefits of being in the military. But being released because of a diagnosed mental illness could be a reason for it. I never heard of anything official, but in my opinion he was a sick man. I never saw any sign of a conscience. He lived in his own reality, and it was a very strange reality indeed. He always had to be the boss, and couldn’t seem to understand that he had to earn it. It was just expected that he should be the one in charge. There’s no telling how many jobs he lost because he fought with the boss. I don’t think he was ornery, I think his mind was ill. It’s difficult to explain the behavior I saw, but I believe that he could have been schizophrenic. Or at least Schizoaffective. I don’t believe he was bipolar, but there was absolutely something wrong with him.
And what about my sister? I have no idea what she experienced or how she perceived it. Maybe it just seemed to me that her childhood was normal. Her feelings are known only to her. I’m sure that there were things that happened that I just wasn’t aware of. And how she reacted to things is based on her own personality. It’s totally unfair for me to assume what her life was like. And she could have been more affected by our home life than it appeared.
If my brother was still alive I would owe him an apology. And I owe my sister one as well.
Maybe I was so unhappy growing up because of my own personality. School was difficult because I never applied myself or had the self discipline to study. I never felt comfortable around anyone, and mostly kept to myself. I was different, and being different separates you. Perhaps the bullying was because I was antagonistic. Or maybe it was just because I was over sensitive. Was I really bullied, or was it just the way I reacted. Did my parents really neglect me? Or were my needs so strong that they just couldn’t fulfill them.
So what is it? Is it nature, or nurture?
We all have a unique perception of life. Two people standing side by side can witness an event, yet come away with a completely different view of what happened. Kids can be raised in exactly the same environment, yet each one has their own viewpoint of what that environment was. First of all, it’s wrong for me to judge anybody else for what they believe or how they act. I can’t know what all has gone into shaping their opinions or how they became the person they are. We are who we are for a reason. And that reason is going to be unique. Secondly, it’s just as wrong to blame anyone for being like I am. My illness is physical; I have it because of how my brain works, not because of what was (or was not) done to me. Then again, maybe how I was raised exacerbated the tendencies and contributed to the degree of severity. If I had been treated differently, or gotten help at an earlier age, perhaps my life wouldn’t have been so screwed up.
It sounds like I’m waffling.
My truth is, it’s both. Every day is the culmination of every event that has happened up to that point. How anything affects you is based purely on your perception. And your perception is a result of how you are. How a disease develops is impacted by how everything comes together. I was born with a mental illness. Was my life so difficult because of my illness, or was my illness worse because of the life I had? For me, the answer is both.
And ultimately, it’s just because I’m me.