I Was a Chameleon

“Depression is often rooted in habitual thoughts of worthlessness and isolation, anxiety in thoughts of being out of control or incapable of responding to the daily challenges that life brings.”

Andrew Weil, MD, was quoted as saying the above in his book Aging.  Most of my life, I have been depressed.  I was a shy person when I was high-school age, a loner; I was depressed and felt isolated.  I also have an overwhelming need for attention.  Any my way of securing attention sometime was making people laugh.  I felt the need to be the proverbial “sad clown.”

I associate my fear of getting caught or being held accountable for doing outrageous things with the ensuing shame attached to getting caught.  But I had this need to stand out.  Getting strong grades was not enough.  It was not cool to get good grades.  Being starved for attention drove my impulsiveness, which in turn had the potential of creating shame later.

I was a chameleon.  I like chameleon as an image for myself at that time because chameleon changes color.  (Later, in life, especially in business, I realized that sometime you have to be a chameleon.  And I became adept in knowing one when I saw one.  You learn to shy away from these types of people)  Consciously or unconsciously, people shied away from me knowing that I engaged in impulsive behavior.  I found that if I changed my colors, however, and acted with stealth, or invisibility, not only did it lower my chances of getting caught, but the impact of what I did was even was greater.  There were instances when others got caught or blamed for behavior for which I was fully or partially responsible.  But I was not honest.  When it suited my selfish needs, I was quite adept at lying, which was despicable and created more shame.

I was involved in numerous events during high school that were contrary to  the rules and in some cases “against the law” and in part motivated by a rejection of authority:  Lighting firecracker in a high school run by the Benedictines-I had a thing for fireworks; drinking and getting tossed off the ski team, using a twelve-gauge shotgun to fish from the top of a culvert-which got me in trouble with the game warden; oh, and did I mention my insatiable desire for fireworks?

How did these experiences, however, adolescent, affect me?  I remain firmly convinced that it was the excitement that prompted me.  I got the attention that I sought, I did no hurt anybody, and that excitement was a way of dealing with my depression.  It seemed that there was always someone who would dare me to do something stupid or outrageous.  Since I did not care what others thought, as long as it did not hurt anybody I was up to the dare.

I had a problem with the whole issue of being responsible and held accountable.  Like many others, I had more than my share of fear about things for which I was responsible.  It’s something that stands out in mind about this period of my life-the need to be honest.  It’s something that my family and friends struggled with me about.  And with me, it was not so much over what I said or admitted that I’d done, but what I didn’t say or wouldn’t admit to.  I was a poser, most definitely, and a master at fooling everybody.

Something was missing for me in high school.  This should be a natural time of transition for a young person, in the simplest of terms, from being a child to becoming a young adult.  I was the late bloomer; I wasn’t ready.  I had a fear of growing up.  High school was one long awkward period during which I was always trying to get away with something and desperately hoping people would like me.  I felt isolated, so I did crazy things to counteract that feeling, to be accepted.  I was conflicted within myself.  I worked to get good grades to meet my parents’ expectation, but I did impulsive things to be liked, to belong.  It was all to mask my depression.  Do you remember your high school years?  What stands out for you from your passage into adulthood?  Were you asking “Why?’  Or were you adjusted enough to go with the flow?

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