This is Not a Sad Story, Episode Seven: Exoskeleton
I had a very thick skin yet no skin at all. That is to say, it was more like an exoskeleton. Near-impossible to penetrate. But if it was penetrated —
Episode Seven: Exoskeleton
I often wondered what my peers thought of me.
I had no sense of what I looked like and, oftentimes, I felt like I had no sense of what I was like. Of who I was.
Maybe this was the result of all the pretending. I was, admittedly, a pretender. But maybe I pretended because I didn’t know how I actually was.
I thought a lot about what I should have been like.
“Happy” topped the list. Years later, I would wonder if anyone had been truly happy in high school. Or had we all struggled along, side by side, class after class, day after day? I think we struggled. There were rare and fleeting moments of happiness. But even those, for most people, were paper-thin. Prom? Getting stupid drunk? Your first kiss? I mean, happy, but not happy.
Happiness is more than skin deep.
Many people, though, weren’t as deeply disturbed as I was throughout my high school years. For a long time I thought everyone was like me. That everyone suffered infrequent bursts of anger and more frequent suicidal thoughts. They were passive thoughts, for the most part, so they didn’t seem very harmful. I thought that thinking something like I really want to throw myself in front of that bus wasn’t that harmful if you never intended to go through with it. Looking back on it, that may be the worst type of suicidal thought. A passive thought, but one that relies heavily on opportunity. Maybe one day the right opportunity swings around, and you’re feeling and acting especially reckless, and…
I have no problem, nowadays, living like every day is my last. And the reason for that is because I lived through a precarious time in my life when every day legitimately could have been my last, if by some chance I had decided to go through with the actions splattered across my thoughts. It was almost like a nervous tic. It was just something I went to, again and again. Even after I’d absolved myself of my years-old guilt about being the bystander, I kept going back. Obsessively. I ruminated at night, alone in my room, watching shadows dance across the ceiling in the moonlight.
I felt strange. In some ways, I felt very detached from the world. In other ways, I felt that I felt everything too strongly, that I was too attached to the world. That my reactions were stronger than other people’s. I had a very thick skin yet no skin at all. That is to say, it was more like an exoskeleton. Near-impossible to penetrate. But if it was penetrated —
I made few real friends, but I had many, many friendly acquaintances and many admirers. I don’t think I know their sum total. I’m not trying to be arrogant. I’m just saying that every now and again I’ll bump into someone who knows my name, but I have no idea who they are. This is how I know that over my years at high school I garnered some kind of a reputation. What exactly that reputation was varies. It varies from day to day and person to person.
I don’t know how the people I went to high school with remember me. I don’t know if they remember me. I’ve spoken to a grand total of three people from my graduating class of over three hundred since I left high school. Two of them were kids who went to Tufts with me. I bumped into one a handful of times, and I had a class with the other, so we sat together and talked. We’d never been close. We didn’t become very close.
The third was a guy I’d had an on-again off-again friendship with in high school. We started dating not too long after I broke up with my ex-boyfriend, but I called it off after one day. I wasn’t ready.
But that comes later. Dump me into sophomore year of high school, and I’m more miserable than I’ve ever been in my life. That was the year I tried out for the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. I didn’t make the top tier, but I made the third tier orchestra. We had to attend a two week camp up in buttfuck nowhere Maine. The worst two weeks of my life. It rained the whole time and I made only one friend. The rehearsals were on Sundays, so for the first time in my life I stopped going to church. I didn’t care about God or Jesus or Christianity, but I hadn’t realized what a big part of my social life church made up. Boy, was I a loser. One Sunday, I broke down and wouldn’t go to rehearsal. I went to church and sat with my family, tears streaming down my cheeks during every hymn.
I wonder if my parents saw there was something wrong with me. They must’ve.
Sometime in sophomore year, I decided I wanted a boyfriend. This should’ve been pretty simple — I had a lot of guy friends, and many of them seemed like they were after me. But one, though we were close friends, I had no interest in, and another, though he was madly into me, I didn’t give the time of day. When my then-future boyfriend and I had a falling out midyear, it took me three months to realize I actually liked him.
I was not very attuned to my feelings.
In fact, sometimes I wondered if I even had feelings. I didn’t empathize with people well. (Make that at all.) But in the world’s eyes, I think I was doing everything right. I played JV soccer again my sophomore year. I was in that great orchestra. I got straight A’s. I should have been happy. This should not have been a sad story.
Such is the insidiousness of depression. While you feel terrible, it finds ways to convince you that it shouldn’t be this way. It tortures you. Torments you. I remember getting in touch with Samaritans via email on a bad day. I told the anonymous volunteer who responded to my message, “I don’t think I should feel this way. I don’t think I deserve to feel this way.”
They emailed me back, saying, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. But it’ll be all right.”
They were probably untrained. Knowing someone was listening was enough, enough to hold me together then. Later, years later, my therapist would tell me I should stop thinking about what “should be” and think about what actually was. And that’s the truth. During my sophomore year of high school, I was living in a world of shoulds and coulds and woulds, not a world of is and be and am.
The exoskeleton threatened to crack. It crunched. At the end of the year, when I finally got with my first boyfriend, it damn near exploded. I’d let someone into my life, really let someone in, for the first time. And thank God I did. I was about to enter some of the darkest years of my life.
Thank you for reading!
I hope you’ve enjoyed Episode Seven: Exoskeleton. As a reminder, you can find all entries in this series on the page devoted to This is Not a Sad Story. If you enjoyed this read, please pass it on using the share buttons below! You can also follow Voyage of the Mind using the buttons in the sidebar at the top of the page. Or you can subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom. If you’re loving the content we’re producing here, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi.
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