These days, I try to make a regular habit out of stopping to reflect on my life and how I’ve gotten to where I am today. It serves to remind me that no matter how rough life becomes, I must continue to move forward. As registration begins for what will become the halfway point in my college career, I cannot help but recall what my life was like exactly four years ago, as a sophomore in high school.
I attended a small Catholic school in Binghamton, N.Y. with around 300 other students. Having been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at the age of five, I’ve been prone to cause my fair share of social misunderstandings, which has ultimately lead to a great deal of bullying growing up. As someone who never really had very many friends, I was constantly exiled to the “misfit” population of my school, who in turn ostracized me for being “too weird” for even them to deal with.
By the time I reached high school, I had earned the scorn of not only my classmates, but school administrators as well. It seemed as if I could hardly open my mouth to speak without someone taking what I said out of context and either verbally crucifying me on the spot, or bringing the information to the school principal to do the dirty work herself.
Though I was largely oblivious to most of this for some time, I finally started to become self-aware about halfway through my sophomore year as a result of three major life-changing events.
First, I was mugged by a group of kids near my school. Though I only got scrapes and bruises, it was one of the most emasculating and humiliating moments of my life. In my mind, it solidified the belief that I was weak, and would never amount to anything useful.
Next, for some random and miraculous reason, I found myself in a relationship. A month and a half or so later, my girlfriend dumped me. Nothing more really needs to be said about that.
Then, toward the end of the year, I began to see that the people that made up the “misfits” of my school hated me almost as much as everyone else (in my mind, anyway). I found myself noticing even the smallest of details in their facial expressions and body language, all of which screamed, “We hate you, Tommy!”
This slow realization culminated in my junior year, when the person I had once thought was my best friend yelled at me, calling me “mentally retarded” and saying something I will never forget.
“No one cares what you have to say.”
Those words felt like a punch to the stomach. Here I was, thinking I was among friends, when in reality I was nothing but a thorn in their side.
Betrayed, I fell into a deep depression. While it wasn’t severe to the point of contemplating suicide (I swore an oath a long time ago that I would never stoop to that level), I experienced a great amount of anxiety, afraid that I would end up dying alone, having done nothing useful with my life. I would find myself being constantly reminded that the clock was ticking down by the second, and that I was going to waste all of my time just sitting around and doing nothing.
This feeling of helplessness continued into my senior year of high school, when I was convinced that I would be forced to attend community college because no university would accept me.
About a month or two into the school year, however, that feeling began to change. In my English and mythology classes that year I learned about Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey, and how the themes within mythology (and fiction as a whole) are metaphors for the human condition.
After reading Campbell’s book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” I began to view myself in a different light. I’ve had my fair share of mistakes, and to this day I find myself continuing to deal with some of my more significant personality flaws (those who know me well enough will understand exactly what I mean). But by putting forth my best effort and continuing to move forward, I can eventually overcome those flaws, and if I’m really lucky, possibly change the world.
Since then, things have been looking up. I had a successful first year of college, participated in a number of on-campus clubs, activities and eventually became a member of The Oswegonian staff.
This leads me to my final point, the part where reading all of this likely boring story of mine is worth it; a simple change in perspective can turn even the worst of circumstances into potentially positive ones.
I’d like to end on a somewhat happier note by referencing my favorite Joseph Campbell quote. I think it illustrates my point far better than I ever could:
“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the journey alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
Oh, and regarding the notion that no one cares about what I have to say: if you’ve read up to this point, it’s pretty obvious that you at least somewhat care, right?