Why Life is Worth Living – My Compassion for the Bullied and Depressed

I debated over whether or not to write this post, but I figured it’s better to risk a part of myself if I stand a chance of helping even one kid (or adult) who is undergoing a traumatic experience in his/her life.  It’s one of the longest I’ve ever composed, and I made myself cry at least three times while writing it.  Hope it helps.

My childhood up to the fifth or sixth grade was pretty uneventful, other than the fact that my parents divorced when I was a toddler, and my mom remarried a few years later. I played soccer, had a few close buddies, and sometimes laughed until milk came out of my nose.

When I was about 11 years old, my relationship with my stepfather changed, for a couple of reasons. Namely, I was pretty emotionally needy, which meant that my mom had to spend more time with me, especially getting me to sleep each night. I was filled with various anxieties, so she had to stay in my room until I was asleep, which often took way longer than she would have cared to spend, I’m sure. As a result (and I understand this now, as a father of four), this cut into any “alone time” that they would have had at night. I also wet the bed until I was 12 or 13, which kind of made sleepovers less likely to happen.

My stepfather was a prime example of something which is known as the “Peter Pan” syndrome, meaning that he didn’t really ever grow up, and he had his own baggage from his childhood. As a result, he treated me more like a little brother than his son, even though he legally became my father when I was five and he adopted me.

Here are some of the things that we endured:

  • I will never forget the time that he told me (when I was 11 or 12 and changing clothes to go out somewhere), “You take off your pants like a faggot.” I could think of a lot of comebacks to that statement now, but his remarkably hurtful comment stuck with me ever since.
  • After my mom and he divorced a couple of years later, I remember that almost every door frame in the house was cracked from repeated slamming. Their bedroom door also had a hole in it from me punching it in anger.
  • Once, after he said something to jar me, I threw a dictionary at his head, which made his glasses cut into his face and he bled quite a bit. He held me down and screamed in my face and scared the crap out of me.
  • On another occasion, he chased me into my room and grabbed me, and I smashed a jambox over his back.
  • He would rarely put on clothes when my friends came over, preferring to wear his underwear, or perhaps just a towel draped over himself while he was on the couch watching TV. Yeah – pretty gross, huh? Pretty embarrassing, too.
  • He didn’t seem to have any issue exposing me to inappropriate movies, such as the time when I was barely nine and he took me to see “Guns, Sin and Bathtub Gin”, which had garnered a solid R rating.
  • The cussing that I learned and heard for the time I lived under the same roof with him has yet to be exceeded in my adult life.  He was an especially creative curser, it seemed.
  • I once saw him get arrested (and so did all of our neighbors) for running a stop sign and trying to “outrun” the police and get home.  He spent a night in jail for that one.  Idiot.

Around the same time that this stuff was happening at home, I changed schools, graduating from elementary school. Since I was private school-educated, my friends from grade school ended up in a bunch of different places, so I didn’t really know anyone when I started at the new place.  As a new student in a new environment, I was pretty bookish and sensitive, neither of which are considered high on the list of qualities that the average 12 and 13-year-old wants in a friend. So, I was harassed at school by the “popular” kids – nothing overly abusive, although I had one memorable and brief fist fight with my locker partner. Namecalling, general harassment, not as much physical bullying, since I was tall, thankfully.  I remember feeling physically ill at the thought of school many days. Mainly, I felt excluded, possibly because I was more introspective than outgoing and assertive. Making straight A’s is not a quick way to popularity, as it turns out. The teachers loved me, but the kids – not so much.

As you may have already pieced together, things had become bad for me at school AND at home at the same time. I was angry at the kids at school and angry at my stepdad, although I didn’t have much chance to express this outwardly. As a result, I became depressed instead. This wasn’t just a passing thing for me. It led to several years of therapy and anti-depressants.

One night in March 1985, when I was 14 years old, I stayed up much of the night and told my mom that I didn’t want to live anymore (and meant it). She did the only thing left to do, by hospitalizing me at Baylor Psychiatric in Dallas. As it turned out, this was one of the best things to have ever happened to me, because I learned how to talk about my feelings, and to recognize and express my anger and sadness, rather than stuffing it deeper and deeper inside. I was there for three full months, and I witnessed some rather serious mental illness, restraints on several patients, electro-convulsive therapy, and one lady who used to urinate on most of the chairs.  In a nutshell, it was unlike anything I had experienced, but I wouldn’t trade it now.

If I could talk now to the 14-year old Jason, I would tell him (me) that things will get better. I would tell him that his life at age 40 is just about as close to perfect as it gets. I would share photos of his wife and children, and tell him of his career. Most of all, I would tell him not to give up, because the jerks you encounter and the everyday problems aren’t worth giving up your life.

Here’s some other stuff I would tell him about why his future life is worth living:

  • You haven’t had sex yet. It’s worth sticking around for this, I promise.
  • Your beautiful wife is also cool, smart and a great mom.
  • Your kids will make you laugh out loud almost daily.
  • It would kill your mom and grandparents if they had to identify or find your body.
  • You are deeply loved, more than you could possibly know, by your family and by God Himself.
  • You’re a good dad.
  • Your marriage will last.
  • You like what you do for a living, even when times are harder.
  • Many of your friends consider you to be their best friend.
  • You will save the lives of at least two friends (subject of another post).

At any rate, you get the picture. I’m happy to have endured that time in my life. I don’t use it as a crutch now, and I rarely even talk about it, but it helped form the person I am today.

I’ve been married for almost 18 years now, and my wife and I have four awesome children (11, 9, 4, and 18 months). I’ve talked to my older kids about my past at some length, because I want them to understand that if things get bad for them, I am always available to talk, and that I will love them unconditionally. Yes, I mean it. My son has tried to test me on this a few times, “What if I ______? Will you still love me then?” The answer, then and now, is yes.  I’m happy that they won’t have to work uphill against a father whose love can never be earned.

If you happen to stumble across this post, and you’re enduring something that seems so traumatic or earth shattering that you want to die, please keep in mind that things will get better over time. I remember when I was in the hospital at age 14, they told me that nothing truly traumatic ever lasts more than about 6 weeks.  I recommend that you find someone to talk to that you trust.

If you want, you can email or call me. Yes, I really mean it. This goes for adults and teens, too. My email address is jason@jbcmedia.com and my cell phone number is 512-796-7653. I’ve been at some very dark spots in my past, and I’ve come through on the other side.  Looking back over the past 25+ years, it’s hard to imagine how hard it seemed back then, and it’s hard to think that I didn’t even want to keep going.  I’m glad I did.

19 Responses to Why Life is Worth Living – My Compassion for the Bullied and Depressed
  1. Ian G
    October 15, 2010 | 2:27 am

    Jason-

    I’m proud to call you my friend. My life now…well, it really does get better, doesn’t it. And the good guys still win. You’re one of them. Take care.

  2. Michelle DeRepentigny
    October 15, 2010 | 2:32 am

    Jason, my heart hurts for the little boy that you were, but I am seriously impressed by the man you have become. Bless you for reaching out and sharing this with others.

    My mother was abused as a child and there were many issues that haunted her during her life, she was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 9, although she never intended to hurt – many emotionaly damaging things were said & done, my situation was never as frightful as yours, but the past did do several things. It made me very aware of how fortunate I am, and very aware of what I say and do in respect to my children and others around me.

    Again, congratulations for having the courage to lay this in front of the world and the heart to help others.

  3. jason
    October 15, 2010 | 4:20 am

    Ian – Thanks very much. It does indeed get better. 🙂 I’m happy and proud to call you my friend as well. Have a terrific weekend!

    Michelle – Thanks for your kind words. Truthfully, you may have opened up a new topic for a future post for me. I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 22 years old, right after I got married. Thankfully, the medication worked well for me, and I haven’t had any problems to speak of in that regard for the past 17+ years. The only thing that makes life more difficult is the fact that I can’t get “real” health insurance because I’m self-employed and insurance companies automatically deny coverage for those who are bipolar. That being said, I’m happy that the meds worked – I have friends who can’t say the same thing.

  4. Scott Allen
    October 15, 2010 | 5:24 am

    Going to a private school for grades 7-12, I didn’t have to deal with physical bullying much either, but like you, making A’s and making friends seemed to be somewhat mutually exclusive.

    The solution I found was at church, where my grades were a non-issue, the fact that I didn’t smoke or do drugs was a non-issue (maybe even an asset). And generally people were more accepting.

    The two things I would tell anyone going through this are:

    1) Find a new set of friends, outside of school. Find the people who like the same things you do, who see the world the way you do, etc.

    2) Believe it or not, those same people who are picking on you now won’t all grow up to be assholes. Most of them will outgrow it and turn out to be relatively normal adults. You may even end up being friends or business associates with them. As painful as it is, as awful as it is, it’s not personal — it’s kids who have issues of their own finding their own way to express them.

    Like you said, it all passes, and your future is what you choose to make it.

    • jason
      October 15, 2010 | 5:37 am

      Scott – Thanks for your terrific comment, my friend. Highly accurate stuff. The part about those kids having issues of their own resonated with me in particular, since that’s really how I felt about my jerk of a stepdad. I have forgiven him for all of that nonsense, although I have no idea where he is or if he’s even alive, frankly. Harboring resentment and unforgiveness is never productive.

      Thanks for what you added about church, too. I didn’t find this until much later, as an adult, and now it’s an integral part of my life. Back then, I didn’t even seem to fit in with those kids, probably because I cussed like a sailor? Just guessing. 🙂

  5. Rebecca
    October 15, 2010 | 6:00 am

    Great post. I, too, was hospitalized for psychiatric care when I was 14. Thankfully it was only for 3 days. Thanks for being an inspiration, and another survivor.

    • jason
      October 15, 2010 | 6:05 am

      Hi Rebecca – Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing that with me. I needed longer than 3 days to make a difference in my situation, and I’m very happy that I got the help I needed at a critical time. I sincerely didn’t want to be alive, which is inconceivable now.

  6. Greg Ackerman
    October 15, 2010 | 6:12 am

    Jason,
    Honestly, your post made ME cry a bit. It also made me proud to call you friend.

    Thank you for posting. I agree with you, if sharing your darkest moments helps just one person, then your post has admirably served it’s purpose.

    • jason
      October 15, 2010 | 4:46 pm

      Hi Greg – Based on the responses I saw on my other blog to this post, you are not alone. 🙂 I sincerely debated over whether or not to write this one, but I hope it helps someone who needs it. I have some other stuff that I might share, if I get brave enough.

  7. Nanette Labastida
    October 15, 2010 | 6:28 pm

    it’s so rewarding to hear your story of how you came through – and are such a happy & successful man now. Strenght of character for sure!
    My kids seem emotionaly needier than others, i do think it’s probably common in divorced families….but it reminds me to pay extra care to them, i spontaneously visited my younger one in school today after thinking about you saying that, he’s been at his dads all week cos of my chemo and i figured he probably needed to see i was alright!.

    • jason
      October 15, 2010 | 10:48 pm

      Nanette – You’re probably right. Most of my friends came from divorced families, it seems. In fact, it’s more rare to find people in our general age range whose parents stayed together! On another note, are you finishing your chemo soon?

      • Nanette Labastida
        October 15, 2010 | 11:57 pm

        yep – had my last chemo this week, now 2 more small surgeris, and 5 years of a drug and regular scans….

        kids of divorce parents just need a little more reassurance, when it’s often harder to give it. it’s my constant balance for my kids

        • jason
          October 16, 2010 | 1:36 am

          Happy to hear that you’re done with chemo!

          Yes, it’s a tough balance – I know it was hard for my mom, who worked hard at an important job (she was a supervisor at Child Protective Services, then later she was in charge of all of Dallas County). I think I needed a LOT more reassurance, because of my personality, or circumstances, or something. 🙂

  8. Michele
    October 16, 2010 | 2:58 am

    Jason, thank you for sharing your story. It is very inspiring. I think we all have stories, but without those stories we would not be who we are today. Like you I believe my childhood has made me the person I am today . . . maybe one day I will share mine.

    • jason
      November 2, 2010 | 5:19 pm

      Michele – I agree that we all have stories. I think it’s important to share them to show commonality with others. Some people feel truly alone out there, and they think their situations are utterly unique. Writing this was cathartic, and I hope it helps someone.

  9. Chien
    November 2, 2010 | 12:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing this with me. Wait, I mean the entire world that needs a bit of honesty, candidacy, and hope at the same time. Thank you….

    • jason
      November 2, 2010 | 5:18 pm

      Chien – I’m so glad you found this to be worthwhile. 🙂

  10. Susan H
    November 5, 2010 | 7:45 pm

    Crying. This is fabulous.

    • jason
      November 5, 2010 | 8:12 pm

      Hi Susan – I’m glad you liked it. I think it was worth posting. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL http://www.theaustindude.com/2010/10/15/why-life-is-worth-living-my-compassion-for-the-bullied-and-depressed/trackback/