Defying Societal Norms

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They say there are three things that you shouldn’t talk about in “mixed” or “polite” company – sex, politics, and religion. So today I’m going to pitch all that out the window and discuss my religious beliefs with you, partially because I’m completely bereft of ideas for what to write about and partially because I wonder if there are others out there that have my particular brand of religion/spirituality.

First off, let me preface this by saying that I have walked a very long road to get to this point in my life. I’ve walked the path of a lot of faiths and denominations before arriving at the decisions that I have regarding religion. That speaks to my core belief that there’s something out there bigger than us – it’s just been a lifelong journey to recognize what that is.

When I was born, I was baptized at a Disciples of Christ church, though I never attended. My family wasn’t very religious, and so the only exposure to religion that I received was during the Sundays that I accompanied my grandmother to her Southern Baptist church. My family also wanted me to make my own decisions about religion when I was ready, and so I’d kind of wing it, sometimes doing Bible readings for the family at Christmas.

When I was 13 I had a paper route, and one of my subscribers was the rectory of the local Catholic Church. They had just build a stunning new chapel, and I was curious about it, so I told the priest that I was interested in learning more about Catholicism. He recommended that I join the order of the catechumens. Thanks to my lack of follow through at that point in my life, I never attended, but remained curious for some time about the ritualized services of the Catholics.

About the time I was 18 or so I had swung far and wide away from my Christian roots and was interested in becoming pagan. Again, a lack of organized classes deterred me from pursuing this any further than considerable curiosity.

By the time I was 20, about to turn 21, in fact, I was very empty and was searching for anything that would have me, and that’s when two Mormon missionaries came knocking on my door. I was curious, I was older, and so I did follow through to become baptized a second time into the Mormon church. A week later I was ordained into their lay ministry. My time with the Mormons came to a sudden and abrupt halt when I went to essentially confess to my bishop a struggle I was having and was told that part of my penance would be to forbid me from taking communion for six months. I thought it rather odd that at a time when I was reaching out to God for help with a struggle I was being prevented from communion, so I slipped away from the church not long after that meeting.

It wasn’t long afterward that I joined a multi-level marketing business which took over my entire life for several months. I changed my political beliefs to be more in line with what I was being taught, I changed the way I cut my hair, and of course I joined the church that everyone else had joined – a Pentecostal church that I never really understood, but went along with anyway, to the point of being baptized a third time. I was speaking in tongues, I was part of the musical worship team, I was going along with the crowd, until the crowd decided they didn’t want me to be part of their team anymore, and so in very short order my church, my second job, my circle of friends, and everything else that I’d taken up with in order to feel wanted disappeared, and I was starting over from square one.

From that point forward I was very cautious of any sort of religion, since I’d felt so burned and so gullible from the whole experience, so I went solo for a while and kind of ignored that urge that I felt deep inside, since it had gotten me hurt multiple times before.

It was during this time that I solidified my political and societal opinions, never again to waver from them, so any attempt to join a church would have to be a welcoming experience for anyone to match my liberal viewpoints. I found that several years later in a Presbyterian church. A friend of mine was the minister there, and I started attending just to have something to do, promising myself that I would take it VERY slowly and learn before jumping in with both feet. I don’t remember much of my experiences there, but they were good and I enjoyed the people that I was meeting with every Sunday. I also don’t remember why I stopped going, but I did, I don’t think for any real reason other than I just stopped.

My next foray into organized religion was in Illinois, when I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church there. This was by far my happiest experience in a church and I made plenty of friends and got very involved with the congregation. I was even working part-time in the church office. I dabbled with Buddhist meditation, I dabbled once more with paganism, and I generally loved the freedom that the church allowed its members to practice in their own personal experiences. We stopped attending church shortly before moving from the area – attending services would have meant an hour-plus one-way trip, and we just couldn’t justify the expense or the time commitment. And that was the last time that I associated with any one religion.

It was my experience with the UU church that finally solidified my religious beliefs. I came to recognize that I believe that no one religion was the true one; rather, that all religions spoke a part of the truth, and that the higher power that was at the head of one was actually at the head of all the others as well. Some religions recognize only one god, some worship thousands, but all of them are just manifestations of the same higher power in a manner that each civilization could understand and embrace. The basic tenet of almost every religion on the planet is very simple – treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated. And that’s a tenet that I can get behind.

I no longer believe that attending worship services is a necessary part of my religious beliefs, but I do believe in respecting the religious beliefs of others as being key to a good relationship with the divine. It’s part of that treating others the way you wish to be treated. I don’t get into arguments about which religion is right, because all of them are right in their own way.

Do I pray? In my own way. I ask that people who are suffering find solace and peace, I ask that those who are sick be healed. I believe in miracles because my very existence is a miracle, and so is everyone else’s existence. We are surrounded by miracles and they’re so commonplace that we don’t recognize a miracle unless it’s something truly magnificent, without explanation or basis in known fact. I believe that science and religion are intertwined, and that our understanding of the world and the universe helps us to understand the divine. Do I believe in life after death? I honestly don’t have an opinion, mostly because that’s not anything that we’re meant to know in these meatbags that we walk around in. I think that if there is something after death, living a good life here on Earth will reflect in what happens to you after you die. But I’m not going to fret over my eternal soul. I believe that I’m doing what’s right for me.

Are these beliefs right for you? Maybe – maybe not. The important thing is that they’re right for me, and that I’m happy and content with my beliefs. Are they subject to change? Certainly, as I learn more about religions the world over I gain knowledge about my own beliefs. Will I ever participate in organized religion again? I might perhaps rejoin a UU church at some point if I find myself in need of fellowship, but for now that’s not an urge that I experience.

So there’s my personal take on spirituality. If it fits with any known religion I haven’t found it, and I’m not really looking to see if it does. In this aspect of my life, at least, I’m happy being me just as I am.

Fortunes and Their Real-Life Applications

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I have a fortune cookie fortune on my laptop to remind me of something that I need to hear now and again.

“Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”

I remember when I was younger, I wanted to be someone, anyone, other than the person that I was. I hated myself, and I couldn’t think of anything more unsatisfying, more boring, more unlikable than me. So I used to daydream about being anyone else. Sometimes it was a superhero – wouldn’t it be neat if I had powers? Sometimes it was a celebrity – who wouldn’t want a fan base? Sometimes it was someone with an interesting profession – I think we’ve all daydreamed about being something like an astronaut. Sometimes it was just some random person who had what I thought was a better life than me. When I would sing along to songs that I liked, I would always try to get my voice to match the singer’s. I never sang in my own voice, because I didn’t think anyone would want to hear it.

When I experienced the breakup of my first really serious relationship, I found myself looking for a whole new friend base, since I was basically starting over socially. (Long story, for another time, perhaps.) I decided to try my hand at improv comedy with a troupe in town, and so I entered their training program. Improv is hard, and I never made it to the performing troupe. However, while I was training one of my trainers told me that he was looking for people to come audition for a musical he was directing a few towns over. I figured sure, I’d go support the guy, especially since he said he was shy on male auditions. I figured I would join the chorus, fake my way through singing, and no one would ever hear from me again. Turns out that I was cast in a supporting role, with one song that I would be singing lead on. I was very nervous, but there was a voice coach who was there to help us hone our voices, so I’d have some training and hopefully wouldn’t suck.

We were a month into rehearsals. I’d already memorized my lines and my one song, when the director came to me with a problem. One of the other members of the cast had skipped too many rehearsals for them to feel comfortable with continuing with him in the role, and I was asked to step in and take his place. My desire to please people won out over my complete fear of my own voice and I said yes. The new role was the second male lead, who led most of the full cast songs and had a couple of duets, plus a few solo songs as well. I was terrified but was determined to make the most of it.

Time went on and the director and choral director really worked hard with me to refine my lines and my voice in time. I’d invited my parents to rehearsals – I was 23 at the time – but they said that they wanted to hold out for opening night. Rehearsals eventually moved from the little log cabin that the theater usually performed at to the local college’s main auditorium, which held just shy of 1100 people at full capacity. We started into dress rehearsals, and that’s when I got my first case of pink eye (the men started out sharing makeup until the infection hit several of the men in the cast, after which we were instructed to purchase our own makeup for our own personal use). At some point in the process the choral director got laryngitis and had to direct us by using a metal clicker for the better part of a week. In the movie Shakespeare in Love Geoffrey Rush’s character Philip Henslowe is often presented with a situation of great adversity, and somehow always gets asked how everything is going to work out in time for the opening. His response, which is something of a running gag in the movie, is always “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” Speaking from my experience, that’s pretty much par for the course in theater.

Things managed to mysteriously work themselves out by opening night, and my parents were seated in the half-full auditorium when the opening number started. Each of the major characters had at least a solo verse in the song, and usually would come from offstage to center stage, sing their bit, and then head offstage again, as if they were passing through the townspeople. Mine was about halfway through the song, and when I started singing it was apparent that my voice had been very well trained indeed. I was considerably louder than the rest of the cast that had proceeded me, and my father – who didn’t really believe I could sing – responded with the best critique I got in the entire run of the musical: “Well, I’ll be a sonofabitch.” I was using my own singing voice, although I was affecting a deep Southern accent, but it was clear, it was strong, and it was good.

We finished the run and I went back to concentrating on becoming an improv comedian. I was over at the director’s place one afternoon playing games when he got a call. A few minutes later, he passed the phone over to me. I was mystified. Why would someone calling him want to talk to me? It turned out to be the head of the theater, and he wanted to tell me that my performance had been nominated for Best Actor for the theater’s season. I was beside myself – I couldn’t believe that my performance was good enough to be considered for such an honor. I excitedly called Mom and Dad to tell them the news and together, we made plans to attend the awards ceremony.

The night of the ceremony came and they eventually got to my category. I was prepared to cheer on the winner as he went to the stage to accept his award. They read the nominees’ names and I think I blushed when they got to me. They opened the envelope … and read my name.

I was completely stunned. I didn’t even know what to do. Fortunately the ceremony was laid back enough for them to skip acceptance speeches, because I wouldn’t have had a clue what to say. (I imagine it would have gone the way young Anna Paquin’s Oscar acceptance speech went, which was – in its entirety – “I’d like … to thank … the Academy” before hurriedly rushing off stage.) I returned to my seat with my award in hand, something that I still proudly display to this day.

And that is the story of how I became an award-winning actor.

There’s a little side note to this. Theaters that present Tony-eligible productions must seat at least 500 people. Were the performance in Manhattan, in the same auditorium, it would have made the cut for the Tonys.

But this story is about that fortune I quoted at the top of the post. That experience at the theater is when I learned for the first time that being a first rate version of myself is usually much more rewarding than trying to be a second rate version of someone else. From that day forward whenever I sang in the car along with the radio or the tape deck or CD player, I sang in my own voice. I eventually started doing karaoke, and while I was doing that my performances were usually very well received.

It hasn’t always worked for me – sometimes I persisted in trying to be someone else, but eventually the daydreams about being someone else stopped. To be fair, to this day I still occasionally let my mind wander off to me being in a different life circumstance – holding a different job than I’ve held in the past, suddenly coming into money, that sort of thing – but it’s always ME at the center of that, not me trying to be anyone else.

And honestly, throughout all the trials and tribulations and troubles that my mental illnesses have given me, I’m pretty okay with being myself these days. I wish my circumstances were slightly different, but I’m working on changing them, slowly but surely. One of these days those circumstances will come to fruition, and my life will be improved by them. Until then, I’m fairly content being who I am – a first rate version of myself, rather than a second rate version of someone else.

Who Am I?

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Last night my wife introduced me to a meme based off a Tumblr post and its response. The original post was “I don’t think people realise how hard it is to re-discover the person you were before depression or even try to remember your own personality.” The response was “And if you’ve had depression since early childhood you don’t even know if you have your own personality. You didn’t have time to be a person before depression, and it’s scary having no idea who you are.”

I thought about this and then realized how much it fit my own life. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 15, but my journey began when I was six, after I threw a plate of spaghetti into a fellow student’s parent’s face. My parents thought I had a problem at that point, if nothing else an anger problem, and so I went to see my first psychologist. (I didn’t learn the reason for my first visit until this morning, incidentally.) I remember after the first few visits telling my mother that I wanted to go see someone that knew what they were doing – because I’d read the words “practicing psychologist” on his office door. I remember very little about those early visits. If we had what my doctor called a “good session,” we would play chess or he would allow me to play the very basic little Star Trek game on his TRS-80 computer for a few minutes after the session was over. I never did understand what made a “good session,” though, and to this day I remember little beyond the chess and the computer. (It’s those sessions with Star Trek that fueled my lifelong love of computers, something that I never quite managed to convert into a career, sad to say.)

There was another psychologist that I saw between the first one and the diagnosis. Again, there wasn’t really much that I remember about this guy, other than it was fairly common for me to come in, fall asleep, and have him wake me up to tell me the session was over. In retrospect, I don’t think the guy was a good psychologist, since I kept going and falling asleep, and he evidently never told my parents about it, because I’m sure they would have been appalled to hear that they were paying for me to take a nap. I only saw him for a couple years, though, and still at the time had no idea why I was going to see anybody.

The point is that I had six years of my life to define who I was before my symptoms started manifesting to the point that I went to seek help, and that’s not much time at all to determine who you are. So I very much sympathize with the response to the original Tumblr post that opened this entry: It’s scary having no idea who you are.

For a brief period of about a year, I knew who I was and was confident in that knowledge, even though I was still suffering through some of the worst times my symptoms ever handed me. Then I moved out of state and I quickly lost all confidence in who I’d worked hard to become. I regained a modicum of that person a few years later when I became fairly symptom free, able to easily counter the nagging self-doubt that I was experiencing, but that vanished after a period of several months. I haven’t ever been both sure of who I was and able to combat my symptoms, and that is eventually the goal.

The good thing is that between those two experiences flirting with self-knowledge and self-confidence I know who I want to be. But that’s going to take a lot of work to get to that point, since it’s going to require me returning to the workforce for that to happen, and I’m just not there yet. That’s the end goal, however, and it’s time I stopped dealing with the here and now and started delving into the deeper issues that are holding me back.

The questions for now are: Do I need to figure out who I am before I can become who I want to be? Is it important to know who I am in the interim? Should I focus on being before becoming?

I have a therapist’s appointment tomorrow. I can’t think of a better time to kick off this new focus. I’m sure I’ll be writing about that in tomorrow’s installment. Stay tuned …

A Point of Pride

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Today kicks off National Mental Health Awareness Month. Four years ago today, I was fortunate to have a show on the radio and I gave it the theme of mental health and illness. Not only did all the songs fit the theme (Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” for instance) but I also very intimately discussed my own struggles with mental health and hospitalization. Because I knew the struggles that I would have with them, I took the extra step of scripting my talk breaks, something I hadn’t done before or since. It’s the hardest show I’ve ever done, emotionally speaking. The podcast of the show is still the only one of mine in five and a half years of broadcasting that I’ve made publicly available. It’s my proudest moment as a DJ.

The show had some unexpected results. In the years since, I’ve found out that a few of my  listeners that day found the courage within themselves to seek treatment for their own situations, and credit that show with giving them the strength to help themselves. To the best of my knowledge, all of them made a long-term commitment to their own mental health and all of them are still sticking with it years later.

When I get down on myself, my wife likes to remind me about that show and its benefits to others, to show me that I do make a difference in other people’s lives. It almost always helps to turn me around and get me back to a better place mentally.

So to those people that I helped that day – thank you for helping me in return. I am extraordinarily proud of the steps you’ve taken to find your own wellness. I know that sometimes the struggle is still there, but I’m very, very glad to know that you’re still fighting the good fight.

Memories of a Lazy Sunday Afternoon

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Today I saw (and subsequently shared) a meme featuring an elderly woman’s lap full of pea pods, with her shelling them and the caption “Part of the problem with the world today is no one shells peas with Grandma anymore.” I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that sentiment, as there are both a lot of grandparents in urban living, without the benefit of a vegetable garden, and a lot of grandkids that do still spend time shelling peas with their grandparents, and I can’t say for certain that the lack of the magical combination is a sign of the times.

The meme, of course, infers that the world would be a better place if we spent quality time with our elders, and THAT sentiment I can wholeheartedly get behind. But it’s the specific action given in the meme that flooded me with nostalgia. I mentioned something on Facebook about it when I shared the meme, but I wanted to take a little more time to expound on my memories of my grandmother.

My maternal grandfather passed away before I was born, and both my paternal grandparents were gone by the time I turned eight, so the only grandparent that I have a lot of memories of is my maternal grandmother. Her grandkids called her Granny.

Fairly often, at least once a month, we would make the half hour drive from the northern suburbs of Raleigh to the rural town of Morrisville to spend the afternoon with my grandmother, who lived alone from the time her husband died until her mid-to-late 80s. During most of that time, she tended a vegetable garden that was over an acre in size, and with the exception of turning the soil at the beginning of the season, she handled it all on her own. She grew all kinds of vegetables, used what she grew and then sold the rest to the neighbors for extra cash. She didn’t drive and didn’t own a car at any point during my life, so if we wanted to see her, we went to her.

The ritual was more or less the same every Sunday: we’d give her time to walk back home from church, a trip of only a couple blocks, before we arrived. Dad would shortly get busy taking care of any chores that needed doing – repairs, mostly – Mom would help balance her checkbook, and that left me and Granny to head into the garden to pick the vegetables that we’d have that evening for supper. We’d wash everything off and then go sit on the screened-in back porch to shell peas or snap beans (what most people call green beans) or whatever we were having, while she told stories. Mom would finish with the checkbook and come join us on the porch, and so I got caught up in the latest gossip from around town, mostly involving people I either barely knew or hadn’t met at all. It was pretty easy to tune it out, but every once in a while the stories would turn toward family, and I tried to make a point to re-engage in the conversation then, so I could learn about distant relatives. We’d usually spend an hour or more on the porch, lazily prepping the evening’s sides, before heading in so Granny could cook. I’d usually head in to join my dad watching either football or NASCAR.

Now, keep in mind, there were four of us – me, my mom, my dad, and my grandmother.

When dinner was served there were usually two different kinds of meats, at least five different kinds of sides, and at least two pies – one was always sweet potato, my favorite. There was enough food to easily feed eight people on the table and counters. (My grandmother’s kitchen was decently sized enough, but was dominated by a dining table that could seat six in a pinch.) Now keep in mind this was any given Sunday – no special occasion, no event to celebrate. Holidays would produce twice this amount of food and all four of us usually ate for nearly a week off that one meal.

I went to work on the vegetables a lot of times because I was told to – it kept me out of my dad’s way and it let me spend time with Granny. There were a lot of times that I didn’t really want to be out there, and I was bored a lot while I was working. I was a preteen at that point and my interests were elsewhere. It felt like a chore to preteen me.

But as I grew older, my grandmother stopped being able to tend so much land, and she started keeping a smaller and smaller garden with fewer vegetables in them. She needed help more in both the garden and the kitchen. She’d forget to take medications, and we’d have to remind her. What was once a chore became both a labor of love and an expression of grief. My grandmother was deteriorating before my eyes and I didn’t know what to do about it.

My paternal grandparents were almost three hours away in Wilmington, and I only saw them during the summer when school was out. I didn’t see them deteriorate, although my grandfather didn’t actually deteriorate – he was sitting by the front door waiting on a fishing buddy when he had a massive heart attack, and he was gone. His cardiologist said he likely didn’t feel a thing. He was the one to discover the body – he was the fishing buddy my grandfather was waiting on. My maternal grandmother had both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, although the latter wasn’t yet a diagnosis at the time, and her deterioration was kept at a distance. She was moved to a nursing facility closer to home and Mom and Dad would go out to visit her, leaving me with Granny while they were gone.

Eventually Granny got to the point that she needed to go into a nursing home, and as I was in need of a place to live, I moved into the house and paid a pittance in rent to maintain the taxes on the house. I lived there for a year and a half.

My mom and dad and I had made a habit of going to Myrtle Beach over Thanksgiving weekend, buying a prepared Thanksgiving dinner for Thursday evening, and then spending the rest of the time taking advantage of the restaurants in the area. All-you-can-eat seafood buffets were big in Myrtle Beach at that time, and we would usually spend one evening indulging in as many crab legs as we could.

In 1994, I had to work the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so Mom and Dad headed down to Myrtle Beach early and started prepping while I finished my shift. I got off work, went home, packed up the car, and was about to leave when I got a call from Mom.

“Oh good, we caught you. Don’t worry about coming down. Granny’s gone.”

Thanksgiving dinner that year was convenience store hot dogs on the way to go pick out her casket.

Looking back at that time, I wish I’d asked more questions. I wish I’d gotten a lot of recipes from her – her magnificent sweet potato pie recipe died with her, as did her recipe for chicken and dumplings (she called it “chicken slick”). I wish I’d gotten her green beans recipe. A few years after she died, I’d already moved to Houston and was eating dinner at a place called Goodson’s for the first time. I remember I ordered the large chicken fried steak – a mistake, since that came on a platter all its own and it overlapped the platter all around – with mashed potatoes and green beans. The second I sunk a tooth into the green beans I wondered why my grandmother had faked her death and moved to Texas to make green beans for a restaurant there – the taste was exactly the same.

I don’t have many memories of my childhood – generally it wasn’t an experience I’d prefer to remember – but the memory of those lazy Sunday afternoons with Granny are among my fondest.

As I said in the Facebook post, I thought of that time snapping beans and shelling peas on Granny’s back porch as a chore, and I really didn’t want to be doing it. Looking back as an adult, however, I’d give anything for one more meal with my Granny.

Following My Bliss

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Tonight I have made a decision about my life, and it’s not something that I’ve come to lightly or precipitously. But in order to share that decision with you, I need to tell my story, in part.

From my earliest recollections, I was an outcast.

The neighborhood kids allowed me to play with them, but I was usually picked last when taking sides for games. Part of the reason they let me tag along was that my family had an above ground pool when I was young and keeping me as part of the gang meant a free pass to come swimming in the summer.

When I was six, my grandfather passed away. It was my first experience with death and I didn’t understand the feelings I had, I just knew I was never going to see him again, ever. Since we had already put his wife into a nursing home, their house stood unoccupied, so we spent that summer cleaning out furniture and prepping the house to sell. Rather than getting a storage place for the extra house full of furniture that we had suddenly acquired (storage facilities were rare commodities at that time) we just piled it into the biggest room of the house. Furniture was stacked on top of furniture, and that room became storage. It was also the first thing anyone would see upon entering the house, so my ability to host kids at the house suddenly went away. (A hoarding mentality crept in and the house stayed disheveled and poorly maintained until after my father had died some two decades later and my mother had moved out, further reinforcing the “no visitors” rule, but that’s another story.)

I was bullied throughout school. From my earliest days in grade school, I was made fun of for wearing glasses (I got my first pair at age four) and for being hyper-intelligent, yet not smart enough to keep it under wraps. My parents thought my intelligence was my greatest asset, so I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t liked for showing off the brain I was given. This eventually led to physical bullying as well as psychological. I made my first real friend between my sophomore and junior years in high school.

From the time I moved out of the house, I struggled to fit in somewhere, anywhere. I joined churches to find a social network without truly understanding the belief system the organization professed; because of that need to belong I can say that I’ve either joined or attempted to join the Baptist, Catholic, Pagan, Buddhist, Pentecostal, Mormon, and Unitarian faiths. I joined a multi-level marketing business with no real desire to make money or build a business. I tried to join an improv comedy troupe, which directly led to my being involved in community theater for a year. (It was a productive year; my first performance won me Best Actor for the theater for the season.) I joined and eventually moderated online chat rooms in America Online, and that directly led to me moving out of state for the first time for a job. I proved to be unsuited for the position, and moved again three months later to be with a girl I’d met through the chat room. Together, we moved seven months later to be with her mother during a recurrence of breast cancer. Seven months after that, and I was living alone in a state that I knew no one and didn’t have the first clue how I was going to get out of it and get home.

A few months passed by, and somehow, somewhere, saw an advertisement for a meeting of the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I had heard about this organization when I was in high school; one of the girls that didn’t really fit in told me in passing that she was a participant and I was curious about these people that wore funny clothes and acted like it was a different time. Not long after I learned of their existence, I stumbled by chance upon one of the group’s events, and I was mystified at how immersive it was. I was inquisitive at the time, but shy, and didn’t really know how to ask what it took to get involved. I tucked that memory away, and when I saw the notice of the meeting, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose and so I went.

People there greeted me warmly, and were eager to tell me about what the organization was about. I learned that it’s a nonprofit historical re-creation organization dedicated to pre-17th century European life, and that people not only dress up, but participate in combat, learn skills appropriate to the time period, and all manner of other activities in this umbrella hobby. I left excited about what I’d found, and came back for the next month’s meeting. People remembered me and were glad to see me! This was a very strange thing for me, as I was used to being shunned in social circles. I learned there was a demonstration taking place at the local renaissance fair in a couple of months, and so I decided to go see what it was all about.

This was the first time I was ever “in garb” and I loved it. I still hadn’t been to any actual SCA events – demos are handled differently from events as there’s a lot more interaction with the general public in a demo, answering questions and putting skill sets on display for others to watch and learn. I made plans to attend my first event in January 1997.

It’s at this point that I need to take a minute to explain the hierarchy of how the SCA runs. The SCA is a worldwide organization split into 20 regions which we call kingdoms. Each is run by a succession of sovereigns and consorts determined in an armored combat tournament, with each reign lasting around six months or so. When a combatant and his or her consort win Crown Tournament, they are installed on the spot as the kingdom’s heirs, and they spent the next few months acclimating themselves to the role they are about to take on. One set of Crowns steps down and another takes the thrones at Coronations, and it was one of these Coronations that I had chosen as my first true SCA event.

I remember much of that day like it was yesterday. I remember being entranced by the pageantry and ceremony of the day, by the gorgeous costumes, by the incredible food, by SO MUCH of what I had seen and heard. The event was a three hour drive one way from where I lived, and during the entire car ride home I was a non-stop battery of questions about the whole thing.

I was hooked.

Over the following years I built my persona, changed it, built it again, changed it a third time. I received awards for my service to the various levels of the organization. I won performing arts championships. At one momentous event, I very casually met a woman and struck up a friendship that blossomed into love and eventually marriage. I started getting used to introducing myself only to find my reputation had preceded me, and it was good. I was well-loved by my kingdom and I adored it. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.

And then in 2005, my wife and I moved away and never could quite replicate the magic we had enjoyed in our new kingdom, so we stopped participating in the SCA for close to seven years. During this whole time, we tried to make plans to come back home, only to see obstacle after obstacle get in our way. My mental health was suffering as well, and I spent much of our time away depressed and despondent. I eventually found another home with the radio station and that helped, but that also got me accustomed to having friends through a filter, with very little face-to-face contact.

In late 2012 the stars aligned and at a moment where my wife and I were 45 days away from being jobless and homeless, through the help of many of our friends in Texas, we were able to come home and get a fresh start.

But my mental health didn’t improve upon coming back home to the chosen family I left behind. Steadily I got worse and worse and got to the point that I was afraid to leave the house for any reason. I stopped going to the weekly fighter practice that the local group held. I stopped going to events altogether. As I write this, I’ve been to three events in the past twelve months. Somewhere in Texas and Oklahoma, there is an event almost every single weekend of the year, and I’d been to three in a year.

I had myself convinced that no one wanted me around, that people didn’t like me all of a sudden, that I was persona non grata. And I never bothered to check in to see if that was actually the case. I just disappeared.

The last event that I went to was over Memorial Day weekend, and I only attended because I knew my closest friends would be there and they needed my help with a recurring project. i spent the whole weekend receiving hugs and very warm greetings from people, and the recurring mantra “you need to come out more often.”

And still I haven’t been active, because I’m convinced that someone, somewhere, doesn’t like me.

We’re currently housing a friend of ours while she’s in town seeing clients for work. (She’s a massage therapist.) Those clients are coming to our apartment and she’s doing business out of our back room, and all of them know me through the SCA. The week has been a steady stream of friends coming over to the house, spending most of their time with our house guest, but making a point of checking in on me and telling me point blank “you need to come out more often.”

And I realized that I am letting my fear rule my life and keep me from the only social circle I’ve ever known, and from some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life.

I’ve been trying to find another social circle to get involved in, but I’m afraid of trying something new. All because I’m scared that someone, somewhere, doesn’t like me.

Tonight I made a decision.

I’m tired of letting my fears keep me from being happy. I’m tired of having goals I want to reach in the SCA being held back by my irrational terror of what some unknown person may or may not think of me. I’m tired of not immersing myself into the most comfortable environment of my life.

So I’ve made the decision that, unless I’m physically unable (I am prone to migraines, after all) I’m going to be at fighter practice this Tuesday evening. And I’m going to be at the next one, and the one after that. I’m going to start getting involved more than I have in a year’s time.

Because I’m tired of not being happy a lot more than I’m tired of feeling afraid.

I’m going to stop listening to my stupid lying brain and start following my bliss.