I used to keep a blog. I wrote on it almost every day. It was called I Was A Feral Child: That’s Why I Act This Way. I started it to impress a guy. He was impressed. So I guess there was that. But I mean, c’mon. This was years (and years) ago. My life was miserable but the blog was mostly intended to elicit laughs. I told my readers that my cat’s name was Gerard Butler, and this resulted in some die-hard Gerard Butler fans really liking my blog. Gerard Butler had just appeared in 300, along with a number of other bare-chested, attractive male actors, but I was really crushing on his portrayal of Beowulf in the oft-panned, but in my opinion somewhat underrated film, Beowulf and Grendel. I really loved the poem on which the film was based. There were a lot of references to Beowulf on my blog. At one point, if memory serves, I kind of worked in some sort of Beowulf-Encino Man angle and imagined Beowulf arriving in my back yard through a time portal to rescue me from my awful life.
Here we come, swinging back to misery.
Mental illness is hard. There’s a steep learning curve to figuring out how to deal with this particular bit of awful. I remember drinking a lot during this time, way more than was good for me. That was my number one, super-duper, top-notch coping strategy. No doubt, you will not be surprised to learn that the drinking only made things worse.
But, I kept blogging. Long after that guy I was trying to impress moved on to someone else (and on to someone else after that). I figured, make people laugh. This is how you will prove that you are human. I did not feel particularly human. I felt raw all the time. Like my eyes were on fire. The blogging thing, for me, became almost pathological. Kind of like: ha ha look at me I’m laughing and making you laugh so everything is fine. Meanwhile, the opposite was true.
But. Time passes. Life gets easier in some ways, harder in others. (I’m leaving out a lot here.) The point is, though, that I started to change. And as I changed, I realized I didn’t want to spend hours at my computer every day, coming up with something that might be funny. So, I started working on other stuff, but I didn’t forget Beowulf.
Towards the end of this epic, Anglo-Saxon poem, the reader learns that Beowulf’s kinsmen thought, when he was younger, that nothing much would become of him. I’m going to spend more time in a future post unpacking this, but here I’ll say: I connected to this, to a story about a hero, who maybe, at one time, felt he might have something to prove. That’s me, I thought, when I first read the poem. My friends had cool jobs, post docs, relationships, brunch schedules. In my mind, compared to them, I was a disastrous loser. Living with the results of serious mental illness can make a person feel that way. My whole life, all the chips on my shoulders (lots of chips, weighty chips), felt like markers on a journey where I was going to fight, and probably lose to, my own set of monsters.
What I know now is that my friends were probably struggling too. That everyone struggles. That every day is a goddamn epic.
Lately, the epic in my every day has been beautiful. Not in an I’m-so-happy-I-could-die kind of way, but rather in more of a life-is-peaceful kind of way. In an I-feel-like-writing-about-the-stuff-that-interests-me-and-putting-it-on-the-internet-even-if-only-three-people-read-it kind of way. I plan to write about the ways the Beowulf epic still holds our cultural attention, about mental illness and culture, about living between two cultures. (I’m currently living in Germany.) And, I feel I should add, what with my somewhat cringe worthy past reasons for starting a blog, this time around, I am writing because I want to.
I decided to keep the reference to feral children, even though I would no longer say I feel raw. It’s been years since I’ve seen the inside of a psych ward. But as I research and explore, and find myself moving away from identifying with any one specific diagnosis and instead toward an understanding of myself as more generally neurodivergent, I carry with me a slight sense of oddness. I’ve always felt odd, but for once, it feels powerful.
Thanks for reading.