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The Bright Side of the Coin
Lessons learned from a misconception of my life.
When I reflect on my childhood, there's a lot I could have said, except that it was typical. From the very beginning, my parents were called by most of the kindergarten teachers to ask, “What's the deal with your son?” They always shared the same concern about my inability to demonstrate a sense of awareness of my environment, resulting in learning disabilities. When I entered elementary school, the situation wasn't much better, except that other children were more suspicious. In secondary school, I had a mediocre first year and my parents decided to send me to a boarding school where I got rejected because of my disruptive behavior and poor grades. I started over in another one but lasted only two weeks. Then I was sent back to a regular school in another city, while I lived with a foster family until they refused to take me in because I kept running away. Eventually, I dropped out of school and spent most of my time playing a popular video game called World of Warcraft as an escape from reality.
The relationship I had with my parents was not great, sometimes physically violent, and the situation reached a point where I committed a half-baked suicide attempt – in the desperate hope to remain permanently behind my computer. The situation escalated further when my parents brought me to the medical facility and the doctors convinced them that the best solution would be to send me to a psychiatric hospital. At the time, they had no idea what it was all about, so they agreed. The funny thing about the inter-hospital transfer protocol is that no one told me exactly what it was; I would not be going to a psychiatric unit but to a specialized section for additional examinations. As I entered the building, I turned around and saw the medical staff locking the door behind me and realized that I had been trapped. For obvious reasons, I wasn't very appreciative of my situation and tried on several occasions to rebel against the medical team, who responded by rallying to immobilize me and forcefully administer antipsychotics that plunged me into a vegetative state for several days. This happened three times, and in the end, I had enough of being drugged without my consent and eventually complied by pretending to swallow the pills I was given before spitting them out in the toilet.
They released me after a few months of observation, while in the final report, the clinical director concluded that I probably suffered from an “archaic phobia”, which is honestly the most generic and unconvincing medical explanation I've ever heard. Ten years later, he has become one of the most renowned researchers in the field of child mental health – which is a good reason for not worrying too much when you're not doing very well in your current position.
The post-clinical era was worse, as I went from being barely socialized to completely ostracized and had gained ten additional kilos. The following year, I entered a specialized middle school for people with mental disabilities before being expelled due to my lack of commitment resulting in unsatisfactory grades. I was sixteen and stuck in middle school with three failed years of repeating. That summer, my father decided to send me to a distribution center as part of a three-week internship. I deserted after only one week, and this episode ended as a compelling reason to resume my education.
I started all over again at a vocational school that trained mostly young adults from deprived neighborhoods, where I spent four years and eventually got my first diploma. In the meantime, I discovered that I wasn't too bad with computers and went to a university under a work-study contract. I obtained a bachelor's degree before entering an engineering school. For the first time, I was one of the best students and was urged by my university mentor to pursue a Ph.D. When I graduated with an MS in Computer Science, I was twenty-five and didn't plan to go on to graduate school until I was thirty, so I started my career as a software engineer at a Series A company with big brains. A few years later, I left home for the first time and moved to another country. Over the next year, I became completely nomadic, exploring new places every month, and began a therapy that helped me overcome deep-seated insecurities related to chronic suicidal thoughts that had been haunting me for a decade – perhaps an archaic phobia.
If I were to draw a curve representing my level of satisfaction with my life (covering every aspect I can think of) over the past fifteen years, it would probably look like China's GDP growth. For many years I claimed that I had been unhappy for the first half of my life and happy for the second half, but that's just not true. I think I deceived myself because part of my earlier life was punctuated by dramatic moments. But even in the darkest times, I have plenty of good memories, like when I was bullied at school, I cried and laughed at the same time because some of the mockeries were fair; I was quite popular when I was detained in psychiatric wards, and I have epic memories of one of my friends in a straitjacket; During morbid episodes, I laughed at the embarrassment of imagining my friend (who is also my Facebook legacy contact) claiming access to my account and finding out that I was secretly part of Taylor's fan club.
Admittedly, it hasn't always been easy, and I wouldn't say I started life with a pair of aces, but neither with a pair of twos, and I'm not a big fan of relativism in addressing personal issues. I probably agree with self-help gurus on one point: most people's problems are fundamentally simple, but figuring out your way to solve them is another story. I haven't heard any good advice that can be generalized, but Yes Man was probably the most fruitful of them.
Yes, there's always a bright side, and most people probably know that. Some of us tend to forget that we'll always have to deal with incoming problems, or maybe we just pretend. You may get the harder ones a little sooner or a little later, but you'll rarely reach a state without problems. It's a common misconception to place too much importance on our current problems as if they were the last to be solved and to neglect that a subsequent problem will arise right after the former one is solved. Sometimes we realize the absurdity of dealing with minor everyday problems, and perhaps turning them into a parody is preferable to taking them at face value. I cannot say it works consistently, but it certainly makes my life less boring.