Good morning all.
Like so many other people out there the pandemic has made me feel incredibly disconnected and isolated. However, that is something that I have struggled with my entire life. For the last 10 months or so I’ve been looking at trauma in my life in an effort to work through enough of it to get me back on my feet and into some sense of normalcy.
This week I am house/cat sitting for some friends while they are way, giving me the sort of concentrated alone time that I haven’t had in many, many years. (I know I started this by mentioning the isolation of the pandemic but I was never isolated alone, and it is only when truly alone that my mind can go into its furthest depths.) One thing I wanted to do with this time is try to really delve into my trauma, which physiologically has resulted in constant hyperarousal of my fear centers. Let me tell you, if you have never experienced this it is awful. No matter where I am, no matter what I am doing, my brain has become conditioned to see everything as a threat, including my loved ones. There is nothing left that I can enjoy doing without the constant specter of fear, including writing, which had always been my one safe space. So, you can probably see why I would want to try to change this.
I began with several meditation sessions yesterday, each of which was helpful in temporarily bringing down the symptoms, but not getting to the deeper issues. Bringing down the symptoms, though, is the first necessary step in order to be able to look at those deeper issues. Once I was in a good enough place to do that I went through all the notes I have taken over the previous months on various episodes of Prof. Andrew Huberman’s podcast, the Huberman Lab. For anyone not familiar, he takes deep dives into all sorts of subjects related to neurobiology, looking at them through the guise of the latest literature, while offering actionable steps people can take. He is exceptionally talented at breaking down the complex biology/chemistry without dumbing it down. For my own issues I have so far focused on the episodes he has made dealing with trauma, stress, dopamine, sleep, and related subjects. However, I believe his presentation on any topic would be compelling, whether it personally affected me or not.
What does all of this have to do with losing friends by being a weirdo? Fair question. Going back over those notes I took, I saw that in several talks he highlighted the importance of social connection, the science showing that social isolation actually releases a molecule in the brain that leads to more fear. Isolated long enough, everything comes to be seen through the lens of fear. All my life I’ve been trying to connect with people but it has always been a struggle and this morning I started to think about not how to increase my connection, but rather what has caused me to lose friends in the past. To that end I thought I would start a series revolving around this very topic, hopefully learning more about myself in the process, and maybe hitting on things that have affected others in their life as well.
I figured the easiest way to approach this would be chronologically. I am the third of three children. When I was growing up there really were no other kids in my neighborhood and so the only people that played with me were my family. I was desperate to do things with my older sisters, more often than not they were uninterested, or quickly tired of me. As an adult I can see the many reasons for that, but as a child all I knew was that the few playmates I had usually didn’t want to play with me, and that hurt.
I assume I had play dates set up for me in preschool and kindergarten, but I really don’t remember any. The only thing I remember was a classmate in kindergarten, Sam, who would corner me and dig his nails into my arm, raking them down. For me, it was one of many indications early on that people outside my family were terrifying and I should stay away from them. And honestly, it’s a narrative that I see still functioning in my life to this day, when I am almost 40. Those seemingly inconsequential childhood events really do affect the rest of our lives. Anyway, on to being a weirdo.
When I made it to grade school I finally had some friends. Actually, a decent number of them. It was the mid/late 80s and we would play video games, sports, watch TV. Still, I had a lot of time by myself and when one has that one often ends up stumbling onto interests that aren’t necessarily popular. Among the things I was into was old black-and-white movies and old-time radio shows from the 1930s and 40s. My parents were older than all of my friends parents, and while they were raised on 60s and 70s music, I was raised on early jazz and swing. Then my sister got me into 80s pop/hair metal. This enjoyment of polar opposites has remained throughout my life and has remained a mystery to most people that I meet. Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn are my favorite movie stars, but I’ve also been to, and thoroughly enjoyed, concerts by GWAR, Slayer, Behemoth, Arch Enemy, and others. It’s something that Seems to confound most people but makes perfect sense to me – everything in balance.
Things thankfully changed somewhat in grade school. From first through about fifth grade, I had a decent amount of friends. We took turns going to each other’s houses and were always at each other’s birthday parties. Somewhere in there things exploded. My interests remained the same and I was, in essence, the same person, only one by one of my friends started to drop away. Suddenly there was a whole series of unspoken social divisions, and I was relegated to the bottom of them. It’s a phenomenon I like to refer to as “puberty goggles.” Much as “beer goggles” make you see the exact same person in a very different light, so it appeared to be with the advent of puberty. Playing sports was no longer good enough, one had to be good at playing sports. Conformity started to creep in and any deviation from the spoken (and unspoken) norms was social death. If I’d known what was going on maybe I would have conformed more to keep my friends, but I was clueless. I was who I was and I liked what I liked but now I was an outcast for the exact same things that I had liked before.
Thus, it seems, I lost my first large swath of friends by being a weirdo. Of course, later on, some of these “weird” interests and tendencies would actually be the foundation for friendship, but as an awkward, skinny, gangly kid who just wanted to hang out with his friends like he always had, the loss of all of these friends was devastating.
Anyone else out there go through this large loss of friends during puberty? I assume it is fairly common, but it’s something I’ve never spoken to anyone else about before and would love to hear your stories.