Had you told me five years ago that I would be writing this blog today, I would never have believed you. It went against who I was and how I interacted with those around me.
It’s not that I wasn’t a father of two children or that I didn’t know my son had special needs. I was and I did. It was the fact that, up until that point in my life, I had built a pretty sturdy wall around myself. When it came to letting others in, people knew what I told them and I didn’t tell them all that much.
It was strange too because I would simultaneously keep the world at arm’s length while having resentment when I perceived others to be less than accepting. It was a game of, “Don’t bother me. Hey…why aren’t you bothering me?” It lasted more than 30 years and it was exhausting.
I know why I was that way too. It was the culmination of many life experiences that taught me to be leery of those around me. So many things that affect us today are because of something that has affected us in the past. Get bit by a dog when you’re eight, run in fear at the sound of barking when you’re grown. Our early memories all play into who we become and, in many examples, those memories are painful ones.
The most common players in many of those experiences are obviously other people. Sure, dogs can bite but people can do so much worse so much more often. Dogs just chomp and move on. They don’t call all your friends and talk trash after they bite you.
The worst part about developing a lack of trust for people is that it doesn’t necessarily take a catastrophic event to cause it. The levels of betrayal and cruelty varies from individual to individual. However, each person can only judge based on their own life. What might be a major trauma to one might be another Tuesday at the office for another. It’s just how it is. We all feel our own pain the most and, at one time or another, we all feel pain.
In many ways, we train ourselves to avoid that pain at all costs. Rather than taking a chance and letting a person hurt them, many would rather hide away so they never can even attempt it. It shuts out all of the very real good in the world due to a fear of all the very real bad in the world. It’s the way many people approach life and it’s the way I did for many years.
I wish I could say that my decision to speak openly to others sprung up after my heart surgery, but it didn’t. Sure, that day gave me a new perspective on life, but it wasn’t as sudden as it comes off in Lifetime movies. It takes time.
The days, weeks, and months after my quintuple bypass were fraught with self-doubt and anger. It wasn’t until I took a deep look in the mirror and told myself that I would surely die if I didn’t just learn to let things go that my outlook started to change. I began the road to who I am today and who I want to be tomorrow.
The real moment of change for me was when I wrote about my son, Lucas, and our family’s approach to Autsim on my original website last year. It felt like one of those therapy sessions where people confront their fears in the biggest possible fashion. I had not only left my comfort zone, but obliterated it. If my comfort zone was an actual place, there would have been charred pieces of fluffy blankets and pillows everywhere.
I’m not sure what I expected in the aftermath of that article, but the response was almost entirely positive and continues to this day. I hear from people who were helped by my words and, in turn, have helped me with theirs. I want to say that it’s the opposite of what I expected to happen, but it’s not. Although I had never really thought about it, one thing was clear. I wasn’t worried about getting a negative reaction. That wasn’t what kept me so closed off. What was I afraid would happen by opening up and sharing myself with others? The answer is simple and embarrassing.
I don’t know.
Seriously. No idea. The more I thought about it, the less I could pinpoint what exactly was holding me back this whole time outside of scarred resentment.
I started to apply that thinking to my relationships with people in life too. What had been the issue keeping me from being open with party guests and family friends? That they would judge me? Mock me? Gossip about me?
None of it made sense. In fact, by presenting such a quiet and closed off version of myself, I was inviting judgment, mockery, and gossip much more than I ever would by just being who I am. If you want to make others feel uneasy, be uneasy around them. If you want them to be friendly, be friendly to them. It doesn’t work in every case, but it does in most. It’s really as simple as that.
People judge. People mock. People gossip. That’s all true. But people also support, love, and care. You have to risk getting one in order to get the other. Shut the world off out of fear of its worst and you’ll miss out on all its best.