Personal Archaeology 14: Diagnosing My Sophomore Self

Last time I wrote one of these entries, i was looking at an old underground student newspaper and the cringiest of cringeworthy essays in my teenage journal that responded to it. This would have been journal notebook #2, which I had during my sophomore year of high school and into the very beginning of my junior year (the front page of it specifically mentions 9/4/92-9/5/93). So this means I’m turning 16 and am inching ever so closely to the end of life in my hometown.

Okay, well, the end of life in my hometown didn’t technically roll around until September 1999, but the time I spent in Sayville between my high school graduation and when I moved to Arlington was at best a state of suspension, especially since I was only home for breaks form college and to work summer jobs. There was no real permanence until I moved away because I was always going to have to go back to that somewhere else at some point.

But turning back to my sophomore year, this journal’s cringiest part is that essay I wrote about last time; the rest of it follows along with the prior notebook but with slightly more detail as I write about grades, girls, poetry about girls, and the beginnings of one short story or another. It’s all a bit repetitive and I don’t think it winds up being anything beyond just as much or even more pathetic than the last entry I wrote about having a crush on a girl. Then again, my romantic history prior to my senior year is a continuous loop of that lovesickness, taking up more space than any other topic, so it bares some examination.

I often wonder why I was so obsessed with having a girlfriend back then. It’s not like I had any aptitude when it came to dating, so if I had gotten a girl to say yes to going out, I’m sure that said date would have been an unmitigated disaster. But upon further examination of my journal, I think that I might have been wanting a girlfriend because a girlfriend was something that I was supposed to have. That sounds a bit creepy and perhaps possessive, but hear me out for a moment: I was awkward and self-conscious, something that was compounded by a visible facial scar*. I also think I might have been either attracted to drama or was manufacturing some of it in my head at the time**. Besides not having a girlfriend, I also wasn’t particularly popular, and while I realize that popularity as a teenager is not exactly important in the grand scheme of things, it was important enough to me that I began what was too long a history of allowing myself to be the butt of the joke in a group of friends because it meant that someone would hang out with me.

In short, I was lonely. And in that loneliness, I wrote about suicide.

To be fair, I don’t think I wanted to kill myself during my sophomore year. Yes, there is a weird poem in the journal called “To Whomever Reads This … A Suicide Note from a Sayville High School Geek” that details all about how I really feel terrible about myself and have nobody I feel like I can trust (even friends), but the entry that comes before it is all about the pressure I was feeling to make sure that my grades were good; not only that, but my dad was saying that he wanted to see my chemistry teacher and I was freaking out about it because “knowing my dad, he’ll start off criticizing him, which will make my teacher hate me, which in turn will make my life worse. I don’t need any pressure on me that is unnecessary. I’ve already got enough pressure on me with my grades and all, and if my teacher says something about me, Dad’ll go off on me. this will put so much pressure on me … I can’t take it anymore.”

This drama resolves itself two days later, on January 31, 1993, because I write about how my dad has apparently changed his mind about the parent-teacher conference and the Cowboys destroyed the Bills 52-17 in the Super Bowl*** . Despite that, I wrote two drafts of the poem–the first having a bad rhyme scheme and the second slightly better in a more free-verse style.

Gullible should be my middle name.
I’m too nice, and I’ve put my trust in too many.
I mean, why else would anyone take advantage of me?

I’m obviously only publishing an excerpt here because I don’t want to bore you with all of the terribleness of the poetry. I did read the entire poem, though, and I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I want to criticize myself for the dramatics. A White kid in a nice little town on Long Island with high enough property taxes to make the majority of the population feel as if they were part of something special (while also complaining about their high property taxes) does not have a life to be upset about. The sheer audacity of ungratefulness when it comes to the privilege of my circumstances … it’s all so disgusting.

That’s dismissive to a toxic degree, by the way. I’m in therapy now partially because of not actually telling anyone how I really felt. Because what, exactly, did I have to be upset about? That’s why my journal became one of the few outlets I had for processing my mental health. I could take it out at night before I went to bed and write down what I was thinking about and how I was feeling (and who those feelings were about), but then I would put that journal in a box that sat under my bed. Nobody knew about any of this, and I certainly wasn’t about to say anything because I didn’t want anyone to think that there was something wrong with me.

Looking at this journal makes me sad because I do feel like it was all there, right in front of me. I also wonder if had I also had ADHD as a child and never saw a diagnosis for that because I wasn’t A) horribly disruptive (mostly daydreamed too much), and B) was gifted. But we didn’t talk about these things, and therefore, I just wrote about how much pressure I was feeling–putting myself as much as others put it on me, really–but because the journal would go into a box and never see the light of day, nobody really knew. And I wasn’t about to say anything, lest there be something wrong with me.

I realize how insensitive that sounds, but that’s the mentality I had as a teenager. People who had problems–adults, teenagers, and children–were talked about, and the impression that I got from overhearing passing conversations was that it was up to me to make sure that we weren’t talked about in that regard. And yet, I think I could have talked to any number of my friends or peers about how I was really feeling at the time and they might have said they were going through something similar or had maybe even considered something as serious–that is, if they weren’t chemically imbibing it away on the weekends. So I have to admit that I regret hiding so much of this nearly 30 years ago, even if it was nearly 30 years ago.

In fact, I’m having a hard time finishing this entry because when I flip back through that journal and peel back some of the more dramatic writing, I see a lot of the same anxieties and depression that I’m now actually seeking help for. I even, sometimes, want to talk to that kid and tell him to talk to someone because it will save him so much time and angst decades later. Even if I’m not 100% sure he’d listen.

* In retrospect, I probably paid more attention to it than other people and it’s not something I like revisiting, especially since I feel like I laid it to rest so many times in the past 20 years.

** Might have been? More like let every situation stir until the point where I got extremely wound up. This still happens from time to time.

*** IIRC, I watched the first half, then went upstairs to study, and came back down just in time for the Don Bebe/Leon Lett play.

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