“I posited a theory that something happens at some point in adolescence, and whatever we see in ourselves at that point we are stuck with for the rest of our lives. You can win an Oscar, a Nobel prize and three straight Sugar Bowls, but deep down you still feel like the nerd/fatso/zit-face/beanpole/whatever you were way back when. I think a lot of the stuff that bugs me yet has its roots in those days when I came back to Earth, as it were, and found myself on the outside looking in on what was supposed to be the big moment. It would certainly explain the obsession with not being left out, with having my team and my crew, with needing the constant stream of feedback to assure me that yes, I am doing a good job by objective and quantifiable metrics…”
-March 2, 2009
I cite myself from eleven years ago just to show that I was onto something. If you go back to the 1980s and look at my life from second grade to college graduation – less a short stretch of two years and change in high school – you see a life in Alabama defined by “peer group rejection”. You could be arrogant and argue “well I didn’t have any peers in Alabama” and you’d be dead wrong after about seventh grade, but that’s not the point. The point is, peer group rejection is a primary indicator for the development of the DSM-V’s code 301.82, “Avoidant Personality Disorder.”
I was not diagnosed with that the first time I saw a mental health professions in 1991. Or the second time in 2000. Or any of the myriad times from 2007 to the present day, until a couple months ago. And I wasn’t diagnosed with it now, because AvPD requires a diagnosis of underlying general personality disorder. But the full psychiatric evaluation did yield a formal diagnosis of depression and anxiety, a pretty poor sense of self-worth, and an extremely high marker for “avoidant”.
Nothing on the spectrum. No Asperger’s. Some aspects of ADHD, ones that are exacerbated by anxiety and coupled with the high level of intellectual function might give the impression of Asperger’s, so you could see how someone would get there. But nothing obviously developmental, unless you want to count the scarlet G and the consequences of pinning it on a kid in exurban Alabama in 1978. It was two years later, after I’d been promoted two grades after a month of elementary school and then inexplicably dropped back to my own grade level the following year, that I wrote in what I thought was a private survey and filled in the blank for “Secretly I wish” with “that I was somewhat normal.”
That never happened, not for a long long time. I did get to spend four years in a preserve for those like me, although it took most of the first year to click with anyone and I spent most of the last year openly feuding with my senior class, dating as far outside the perimeter as I could and counting the days until college – which in turn bombed spectacularly. And because it bombed spectacularly, I wound up in a grad school program for all the wrong reasons and wholly unprepared, and crashed out to Washington DC of all places – where through a low-grade miracle, I found myself in a peer group where smart was welcome and useful and not utterly alien. And despite missteps and tragedy, I managed to thrive there, for years, and continued to thrive even after leaving for Silicon Valley. But the underlying damage was always there, unrepaired. It’s why I couldn’t ask for accommodation at Apple, and instead took a path that set my career back another four years, and ultimately led to the tar pit I find myself in now.
The traffic sucks, the tech bros are unmitigated scum, the breweries produce nothing but ever more dank stank IPA, and the summer gets hotter with every passing year. But the bottom line is that I live in a place and a moment when here, there’s nothing wrong with being smart. That’s not nothing. To be in Northern California in 2020 is a gift, especially when you consider that the last four years spent in DC would have had me dead or in prison with no door number three. If I were in a different job, one that felt secure and paid adequately and made me feel borderline competent, I’d be more ready to face the guns on all the other fronts. But I’m not. The health of others is a constant worry even when my own shoulder (and now arm) haven’t been hurting for a month waiting on various health providers to be available. The constant stress of politics is hardly worth bringing up, not that I won’t, and the shadow it casts over my relations in Alabama and elsewhere is impossible to ignore even if you don’t get lost in the black hole of “what if this doesn’t work out”.
But I still have someone to snuggle in the mornings. I have a doable drive to mountains and redwoods and beaches and fog. I’m a surmountable distance from the better of the Disney parks. Baseball is back, and my affiliations give me something to be proud of. Who knows, I might have a more modern iPhone of my own by Easter. As long as I’m willing to live my own values, focus on the moment and shut the world out, it’s a life I can live with. The question, obviously, is how long that life is sustainable under the circumstances. Of which.