I am awkward and I know it. Sharing, using words: not my strength, especially not in face-to-face situations. Luckily, social media gives me a medium in which to edit and refine my thoughts before I hit send, but even then, my particular sense of humor doesn’t always shine through. I’m taller than most, have a larger than normal sized head, and an immune system that refuses to fight the wart virus. I could sweat in a blizzard, and I have the wingspan of a XL Gumby or bald eagle. I’ve been picked on constantly throughout my life for these characteristics and more. Oh, I forgot to mention that I used to have an overbite so wide that you could fit three fingers between my upper and lower teeth. Low self-esteem could be my middle name. It is something I’ve struggled with throughout my entire life. It’s often even more debilitating than my chronic issues.
I’m pretty sure I was of average height and size up until about the 2nd or 3rd grade. I didn’t really stand out, but I was never forgotten, either. It wasn’t until about the 4th grade or so that I began to grow––not out, just up. The summer of my 6th grade year (that’s a three-month span) I grew 6 inches, according to family legend. My parents still give me crap about the grocery and clothing bill. With my orthodontic problems, tall skinny frame, large head, and lack of coordination, you can only imagine the names I was called.
When I was growing up, no one talked about things like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or other learning disabilities. According to my very limited knowledge of such disorders, I’m probably a good candidate for a screening. To put it another way, academics have never been easy for me. If a normal student could learn and comprehend a topic in two hours, I’d need three hours (sometimes it takes me an hour to even begin to be able to focus). To be clear, I do NOT consider myself slow, dumb, or lacking in intelligence. It’s just that I grew up wanting to go skiing, and I would’ve chosen watching a documentary over reading a book any day. Patience and competitiveness were always my strongest assets, and still are. I am willing to try and try until I get something right.
School was always my younger brother’s thing, not mine. My brother is incredibly intelligent and gifted in the world of academia. While he made straight A’s look easy, I had to fight and claw my way to C’s and B’s. To this day, I’m still not sure if I have a gift or particular talent that I can call my own. I’m just good at a lot of things.
Maybe my parents are right; maybe I did watch too much TV growing up. TV does a great job of allowing a person to drift away from self-esteem issues, but it doesn’t help you develop the mental skills necessary for turning fantasy into reality. Books allow you to drift into a fantasyland, too, but they also help you develop the capacity to succeed at everything from schoolwork to relationships. Exercising brain cells is just as important as not skipping leg day at the gym. It’s just too bad I didn’t realize that until later in life.
One thing TV never does is make the lead a tall, awkward-looking skier who does not know how to express himself. The hero is always the hottest athletic type with the most perfect social skills ever and a graduate (with honors) of Stanford University. Stupid TV! For as much as TV allowed me to escape from being called Brace Face, Big Head, or being laughed at for tripping over my own shadow yet again, it also reinforced what I was already thinking about myself: I’m awkward. No girl was ever going to say, “Damn that Alan kid is hot!” There was no reason to even try to put myself out there. I might as well remain the tall quiet kid, always relegated to the back during picture time.
Side note: the tradition of putting the tall people in the back of pictures needs to change. Most of us tall people have self-esteem issues from growing so much more quickly than everyone else. Being forced to go to the back doesn’t help this self-conscious feeling we already have. I fully understand the logic, but that doesn’t make it right. For me, a picture is just another way to show how awkward I am compared to others; I don’t need to be put in the back to be reminded of this.
Now, let’s fast-forward to adulthood, or to my attempt at being an adult, anyway. The good thing about experience is that it helps you develop tools for dealing with life. For example, I now have to the confidence to walk away from someone who is making fun of my large size or ability to sweat. Loneliness is now the preferred alternative to hoping someone will become my friend after they are done laughing at me. I know I can contribute to the good of the world because I have become good at so many different things. As a child, I thought I had to accept torment as a trade for becoming friends with someone. Now I know friendship is not about trading––it’s about helping each other become better individuals.
Remember how I told you it takes me three hours to learn something another person can learn in one? Well, I do have an excellent long-term memory once I understand an idea or theory. For example, there is a communication theory that shows how selfishness correlates to how often people start sentences with “I”. I’m not against using this knowledge when talking to someone who has disappointed me. I know how to continue a conversation (thank you college:) ) by getting you to talk nonstop about yourself. I don’t care what the subject matter is; this is how my self-esteem issues protect me from being hurt further. The fun part is when I get bored or run out of cookies and start talking about myself. I know this is wrong and horrible for me to do, because people are just people, flaws and all. Know that part of the reason I’m studying Buddhism is to help my own mindfulness so I can quit playing games like this. Acting mean or childish on my part is a defense mechanism, it helps prevent the tears.
The introduction of chronic pain issues has had an interesting effect on my self-esteem issues. Logic would indicate that pain would magnify my issues, but it really hasn’t. In fact, I’m probably more confident in myself now than I have been in a long time.
For example, last year at Stanford University’s Medx conference, I made it onto the main stage twice on the closing day. That would have scared me to death, growing up! I hated public speaking with a passion. Now, I have fun with the microphone. I understand that I have something to contribute to the conversation and should not be shy about expressing my own unique story. My looks and sweatiness are not the barriers they used to be. Chronic pain has made me reevaluate what is truly important.
Another example: I skied eight weeks after total hip replacement surgery. Despite the pain I live with, I have bought a house, earned a second degree, and held down a full-time job. Having a dry shirt at the end of the day is still a dream, but continuing to fight my chronic pain issues not only helps me but also shows others what is possible. My actions and spirit contribute to the world, I now realize, much more than sweat stains or warts on my hands.
Why am I sharing this with you? I started my website in hope of becoming a better communicator. I want and need to learn how to communicate about tougher subjects, especially those that society teaches males to avoid. I’m not afraid to risk ridicule of my manhood. Gender roles are stupid and a waste a time. We are all humans first. My self-esteem issues are not unique to my gender. Anyone can have these issues––and more–regardless of gender.
Self-esteem issues are just as important to my story as my skiing or Medx victories are. No one should ever be ashamed or quiet when it comes to sharing his or her own story. Sharing what makes us unique gives us the power to change our story, and it inspires our fellow humans to reach new and greater heights. As much as I hurt due to my chronic pain issues, I’m grateful because I was able to realize this important fact about life.
Finally, this isn’t an attempt to garner attention or receive compliments. I don’t want any comments like “you are too hot, Alan” or “you shouldn’t worry so much about your self-esteem issues.” My hope is that those of you who truly want to be my friend will use this knowledge about me to help me grow as a person. I hope to do the same for you.
This post is my attempt to contribute to the betterment of the world by improving conversation and friendship between individuals. By gaining a better understanding of what’s going on in my head, I’m hoping to improve the way I communicate with everyone who knows me. Sometimes this might mean friendly flirting in order to distract each other from pain. Sometimes it might be a heated debate about a particular health, mental, or political topic. Sometimes in might be simply listening to someone who needs a shoulder.