First things first, this is an homage to a writer I admire, Nick Petrilli. If you haven't read his work on this site, you should. Start by clicking his name and reading the link provided. I refuse to do a review of the article; it speaks for itself.
But this is not only an homage to that article, but to his bravery in confronting personal demons some months ago. I am not linking to that story as it is highly personal (and I don't have his permission) but, suffice to say, the article about his struggles hit me like a heavy load.
I have been around these parts for a while, but less so lately. Much of this has to do with my concentration on flourishing at graduate school, but that doesn't tell the whole story. That is a palatable story-line, easy to digest as a reader; but if this is to be an homage to Nick, I need to disclose. I need to shake you up. If I'm being honest, there are other factors.
I have depression that causes anxiety and a tendency for manic episodes. I don't know when I realized that I process my emotions differently than many people, but it was definitely during my teenage years. I had a habit of lashing out against the ones I loved, distancing myself from them. I acted boorishly at worst, moodily at best, in attempts to keep others at bay. I trusted no one and was quite effective at keeping most people out. My outbursts of emotion were hurtful and abusive--emotionally and physically. I was tolerated as a nuisance, a relative menace, but, in the end, I was no arch-criminal so I was tolerated. Looking for a blog analogue: I was like the WAGNH of teenagers.
(Now, I could go on a to create a list of aggressive behaviors I have exhibited over the years, but I am choosing to stay away from details of my outbursts, not as a means of preserving my dignity, rather as a way of keeping the focus away from the glorification of bad behavior. Something that men, me included, too often use to justify the unjustifiable.)
What made the realization of my behavior issues even stranger for me is that my father was the first one to ever acknowledge my, what it was called back then, "anger problem". My dad is one of my role models now, but back then, I was scared of him. I don't think we talked about anything other than sport or food until I was in my 20s. I completely understand there are some who would love this type of interaction with a father figure in a world of abandonment and abuse, but it doesn't change how weird that moment was for me. He was the disciplinarian, the hard-ass. So to hear him offer up the possibility of me going to therapy, to show actual sensitivity, was more than I could handle. I lashed out. I threw his temper right back in his face. I scoffed at the type of "p***y" he thought I was. I was about sixteen when he made that suggestion and I came back with that response. I realized that day that my temper was worse than my dad's. That I was playing into some macho stereotype even more than him. I realized I was seriously "fucked up". I remember feeling lost…lost and alone.
Despite being decent at athletics, I didn't feel comfortable making friends. I had friends, but only three or four that I liked (two of whom I grew up with and knew since I was five). Despite getting attention from girls, I couldn't talk to them. Despite getting praise for my intelligence or "potential", I couldn't keep good grades. I got in altercations. I got suspended. I was a hot mess who didn't like himself; and when I do not "like" myself or am aware of my anxiety, I became even more anxious--leading to some pretty awful behavior. I remember graduating from high school (49th percentile in my class!) and hating every minute of my graduation. Most people are happy. I was such a disaster that my parents stopped taking pictures. So I started the practice of isolating, which protects me from judgements about my behavior. And others, simply, from that behavior.
The next phase and paragraph are cliche.
I went to college. Felt isolated. Dropped out. Came home to work, and isolated some more. I remember thinking about suicide. That or the Army Rangers. I mean, how ridiculous is that? Dead or jumping out of airplanes for the military. But that is/was me. Extremes of emotion. Highs and lows repeating themselves over and over again.
At this point I could keep going with examples of bad behavior (lows) and personal triumphs (highs), but the amount of iterations of the cycle of mania and depression aren't terribly important. It's just that it kept happening; it keeps happening. However, one great example would be my writing for Bryan A.'s blog, "We're Number Un!". In a bit of (rather benign) mania, I decided I wanted to learn about a league and its players. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted football people to consider what I had to say. I didn't consider the time constraints and pressures I would feel moving to a new city, starting graduate school, and learning how to be a real blogger. So when the pressure went up, and my depression kicked in, I isolated. I stopped writing. I stopped tweeting. I stopped commenting, not only there, but here. Which brings me to here and now.
It's exhausting and I do not want to live this way anymore. So I'm in therapy for the first time. I've opened up to my family for the first time. I've stopped glorifying my bad behavior. I want my cycles of happiness and sadness to be manageable. I don't want to only experiences extremes. I don't want to be a "stratified self". I'm not functional and happy when I live that way. Frankly, I need a better way. I am worthy of happiness that is my own--not someone else's.
Which leads me to Cartilage Free Captain. Maybe we too need some "therapy", to see who we are in a different way. We're a rather stratified bunch these days. Lennon's Eyebrow has written two articles addressing this fact in the last couple days. Good articles those. But it doesn't stop there. Our discussions on the word "Yid", AVB's tactics, Erik Lamela, our style of play, Kyle Walker, Trophy vs. Top 4, Skipjack vs. LE (lol): they all have served to stratify us. And these are fairly tame examples. We can all probably think of times where we got a bit aggressive, a bit like that teenage 55th, a bit WAGNH-ish. And I do not think any of us are particularly proud when those moments occur. I know I'm not: IRL or in this space.
So…does it have to come to this? Are we fated to stratify? Are we, in the end, only capable of false dichotomies? I don't know, but consider the following:
I've recently read linguist and literacy scholar James Paul Gee's book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. He argues that society has actively pursued and perpetuated stupid policies even though we know better and it has made us "sick". He also cites studies that demonstrate how societies that are more stratified, or unequal, are unhappier as a whole (Gee, 2013). He also argues that humans aren't particularly smart without other humans or "tools" and that we should stop thinking of intelligence as an individual pursuit, but rather a communal pursuit--that community being made up of divergent thinkers on topics, whose goal is to promote problem solving and the pursuit of "truth", rather than a winner and loser. These communities or "affinity spaces" are to be made up of novices, experts, and everything in-between (Gee, 2013). Sound familiar? It should. This is Cartilage Free on its best days.
This is all rather conceptual, isn't it? How does a random guy talking about his behavioral issues on a football blog turn into an allegory for creating a new paradigm of discussion on said football blog, admittedly one of the best already?
The answer is this:
Humans are always better when we feel connected. When we feel efficacy. When we feel loved. So I hope that Nick, today, knows that I am still rooting for him and that I miss his writing. I hope people who didn't read that article did today, and that maybe it let you know that it is ok to want happiness--it's not an exhaustible resource--and that there is a long list of us who are struggling, and, if you are, you don't have to feel alone. And in the end, I want to be connected to Cartilage Free Captain again. It's my community as it's your community, equaling our community. I want to put on my scarf today and remember that there are thousands of you out there supporting Spurs, pulling for the same things as me, regardless of our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions on the inverted winger. That will bring me happiness.
And I believe it is important for us to keep disagreeing. I believe that each of our beliefs should be challenged--that we should be "shook up" from time to time. However, keeping in mind there are no actual winners or losers here, the only real thing that matters here at the end of the day is our love of Tottenham Hotspur, and our space. (Ok, ok, maybe Scott Parker's hair). So when we commit to an argument for the sake of being "correct" or "validated" instead of learning and challenging, or when we feel less connected after an interaction or disagreement, the community weakens. And we all feel the ripple effects.
So this may only be a blog, but sport is only sport. Nick showed me that, in all its frivolity, sport actually matters so I would like to think that this blog, in all its frivolity, matters. He also taught me that depression and isolation are only powerful when we are ashamed of them. So I am challenging myself to be a better commenter and community member, to ask more questions, to give more feedback, to refuse isolation. Not because the blog is failing or broken, but because I can learn so much more about my communities (family, friends, academic, and yes, Cartilage Free Captain) when I am immersed in them, refusing to be isolated or stratified, refusing to be "sick".
I look forward to our next conversation.
Gee, J. P. (2013). The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning. Macmillan.