Always an Outsider

“Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.”

– David Foster Wallace

Since I could remember I have felt different from everyone else in my life and in the world where I exist. One of my sisters insists that I “create my own reality”, which may be true, but she has inherited the fucked up genes that mess with our heads (though her diagnosis is different from my own) so I don’t know if her reality is valid or not. If her words are valid or not.

I have always felt like an outsider. During my teen years, I was convinced I was adopted and tortured my parents by trying to get them to admit this to be true (it wasn’t, of course). I never fit with one group or another. In high school I flitted between the different cliques – the popular crowd, the brains, the artists – but never stuck in one place. In college, I certainly did not belong, and spent most of my time locked in my dorm room to keep the others away. It was a very competitive, all-womens’ institution and I hated every moment I spent there. The only silver lining was the year I spent abroad – in Greece – which was the second place (besides the island) where I ever felt I belonged. That felt like home. But it only lasted for a year, and then I was back in a country I didn’t understand, surrounded by consumerism and the pressure of finding the right job or going to graduate school, because adulthood awaited.

I rebelled. I moved far away to the dry desert of the southwest, with a girl I thought was my best friend, but she had changed during her senior year in college (we had been roommates in Greece and were both adventurous rebels, who lived everyday as if it were our last). When we got to the desert, the influences of her mother, her family, her upbringing in a wealthy suburb on the north shore of Chicago, her past as a debutante and sorority sister came to the fore, and I no longer knew who she was. I became despondent due to this, as I felt as if I had lost the one person who had been my partner-in-crime, who wanted adventure and to suck the marrow out of life. Instead, her mother came and decorated our apartment in Laura Ashley prints, she got an “adult” job in an art gallery whereas I floundered, attempting to become the artist I’d always dreamed of being. I soon learned that the art world is very political and depends on who likes you, who will become your “patron”, just as in the days of old.

I always felt as though I was in her shadow. We would go out and all the attention would be on her – she is blond, busty and bubbly, whereas I am more Coco Chanel – dark, mysterious, and never afraid to push the boundaries. Perhaps I was too much for the men who approached us (her). Perhaps I was too deep.  I fell into the background whenever she was around and we eventually grew apart. I found a new partner-in-crime, a girl almost as lost as I was with what to do with her life, and we took on the small city, dressing in men’s suits that we had tailored to fit our bodies, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking whiskey, neat. I spent more and more time in her studio than I did in my Laura Ashley covered apartment and spent hours painting, listening to Grunge, which was just emerging, and getting lost in the wrong men and the wrong adventures. I wouldn’t trade that time – it taught me a great deal about myself, but perhaps more importantly about others. How easy it was for people to change, how easily I lost faith in them and no longer trusted anyone with my innermost thoughts.

What I did discover, during that time and after I had found my own studio apartment, was a love of writing, which was fortunate since I had come to accept I would never be an artist, at least not in that town. I would wake up before the sun and write on my drafting table for hours, watching the light change, listening to the birds awake and begin their morning calls. It was a haven, it was a lifeline. It was the one place I could put everything that was inside me down on paper and get it out, to cleanse myself of the racing thoughts that grew faster every day. I had yet to be diagnosed as bipolar – that volcano was still waiting to erupt. I found myself drawn to the wrong men, because they too, were writers. I spent hours in my favorite dark bar in the middle of the day, watching people so I could describe them later, when I retreated to my sanctuary. I became an observer, a witness to the way humanity existed in that day and age.

I eventually found a horrible partner (not that I knew this at first), who would belittle and mentally abuse me for 3 years. That is when the volcano spewed its ashes and lava. That is when I found myself sitting, staring at walls for hours or wishing I could peel the skin from my body, as it felt wrong – everything felt wrong. Everything was wrong. With me, with the life I was living and the environment I was in. That is when I saw my first shrink – the Birkenstock clad doctor who looked through the sheaf of tests I had to take in order for him to determine I was bipolar.

But what luck. I was diagnosed when anti-depressants were all the rage. “Prozac Nation” had just been published and the prescriptions for these types of medications were doled out as if they were candy. Yet there was still the stigma. The “you are crazy” looks from people if they found out you were on meds or seeing a shrink. I can’t say it’s gotten much better in the last 20 years, but at least there is more awareness of our disease. And so, once again, I found myself out of place, different from everyone else I knew, with a handicap no one could see or understand. Mental illness is such an isolating disease.

Some nights, when the city was quiet, all the bars closed and the population tucked in their beds, I would drive around the streets, imagining I was the only human being on earth. I floundered greatly during this time, rapid cycling even though the medicine was supposed to stop that. It took me six months to rid myself of the man who had tortured my brain for 3 years, because we had a business together and at first he threatened to take all of it from me. Eventually I told him I no longer cared if he left me penniless, my sanity was too important for me to remain with him.

A fish out of water. Water is my element and yet in the dry desert air the only solace I found was writing. The only outlet for what was happening in the 3 pound organ that was housed in my head. Perhaps we all have the unspoken belief that way deep down we are different from everyone else. But I believe that most people find it more important to fit in than to stand out. I refuse to conform and thus I cannot fit in. So I will stand proud in the fact that I will never be like anyone else. That I will simply be me, with the insanity that rages and the pendulum swinging. I am grateful for the words when they flow and the release they give me.

I wish I had met David Foster Wallace. Just for a talk. Just to listen to the words that he spoke and for a glimpse into his mind. He was a tortured soul as well, and eventually took the steps he needed to in order to stop the insanity. Someday I may too, but I hope that before I go, I can reach others who feel alone, isolated, different in this world where we are bombarded with images of what we should look like, who we should be.

I will never be one of those. I will simply be. Until I am, no more.

© Sorrow & Kindness


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