The author is hearing from a lot of old friends who are shocked to read about his past. Truth is, many basket cases are good at hiding their craziness in public.
To most of my family, the stories I tell in previous posts aren’t all that surprising. They were there. My in-laws may not have known everything that was going on back in the day, but they saw my quirks.
Even at work, my quirks were easy to see. It surfaced in the form of my over-intensity on deadline; my habit of hovering over page designers; my overbearing nature toward the reporters I managed on the night shift.
But I was much better at keeping it together — on the surface, at least — around most friends back then.
Which brings me to another truth about people with mental illness and addictions: We do most of our suffering and self destructing in private. This video describes our behavior pretty well:
The last line in the clip: “I don’t get drunk in front of people, I get drunk alone,” says it all. For me, I ate alone. And I ran through my darkest, most obsessive-compulsive thinking alone. Most of the time, the two went hand in hand.
But there were times in my life where I hid it well.
As a student at North Shore Community College and later at Salem State College, I was really coming into my own in terms of my look and attitude. I played up the long-hair and metal image, stayed thin through bouts of starvation and read a lot of books so I could talk about them and appear smart.
That’s not to say I was walking around with fake skin. I was who I was at the time. In many ways I’m still the same guy. It’s just that I waited till the door to my room was closed and locked before I let the Devil out.
Despite what I’ve written about being the crazy-ass guy in the newsroom, I’ve been pretty good a lot of the time at putting on a calm, cool face, especially in more recent years. As I was diving deeper and deeper into the food addiction to dull the unpleasantness of going through therapy, I was being prolific as hell at work, writing a ton of breaking news and doing so with a smile.
At one point, a boss at the time marveled that I was so relaxed and zen-like for a guy who had just spent 12 hours covering a big news event. I laughed hard at that. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but zen-like was a new one.
On the drive home that day, I ordered $35 worth of junk in a nearby fast-food drive-thru and downed the contents of the four bags by the time I got home.
I was also pretty good at hiding my depression. Part of that is because my brand of depression has never been the suicidal variety that essentially makes the sufferer close down. Mine was more of a brooding depression in which I internalized my feelings and withdrew as often as I could. But on the job, I pushed all those feelings into the proper compartment and went on with life.
There’s light at the end of this tale. The therapy, medication, Spiritual awakening and loss of fear have gone far in making me the calm, zen-like guy on the inside as well as outside. I still carry the restlessness of OCD, but I manage it all better and don’t let the condition get in the way of the precious present nearly as much as before.
To those who knew me in the late 1980s and early 1990s: Don’t worry. I’m basically the same guy you knew back then.
The difference is that the man inside has gotten a lot better at being the man on the surface.