Though the writing prompt for today is Describe something you learned in high school, I have a hard time doing that. This is not to say that I didn’t learn ANYTHING during that period of my life. Nonetheless, the positives of my high school experience are far outnumbered by the negatives. Given that the culture in which I grew up put a lot of emphasis on the high school experience (“It’s the best time of your life!”), having not experienced that stoked both resentment and some regret. A toxic combination when one probably should be looking forward to what’s next instead of backward at the wreckage you have cultivated and/or circumvented in your wake.
I wouldn’t start putting it all behind me until around the mid to late 2010s when I trashed my yearbooks, school t-shits and other reminders. I had kept them around because that is what people do.
However, my feelings were neither romantic nor nostalgic when I looked through them. The most common sentiments I felt were regret, animosity, and a touch of jealousy.
Regret because of everything I missed out on because of my various distractions. Animosity, because not having the same good experience as people around me, seemingly creates resentment. And jealousy because I’m human. Of course, I’m jealous of those who didn’t have the same experience as me.
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Before we proceed, I will note an interesting coincidence that is an album that helped get me through a lot of the nonsense of the time.
Walking down the street sometime in 2002 or 2003, I found a burned white cd on the side of the road. Burned as in created on a computer by someone.
The disk contained 2 different albums. I loved the dark, hostile nature of the music on the initial album (the other was more comedic). Though I didn’t know who either artist was then, both brought me a fair bit of comfort. I got a good dose of angst and aggression from the first album and some comedic relief from the 2ed.
It wasn’t until after I left high school that I learned that one of the albums I was listening to was the Tenacious D debut album (though my version left out the song Tribute, which was unfortunate since it’s great on its own merits). As for the other artist, I would become aware of them through another of their songs debuting on satellite radio. When I heard Driven (Sevendust), I immediately recognized the familiar sound of the mystery band I loved. After that, I soon discovered that the album I knew well was called Animosity (their debut in the mainstream scene).
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Though I started to declutter myself of the baggage of high school in the 2010’s it would take somewhat longer to come to terms with the situation. Part of it comes with the maturity that one can only achieve by aging and putting time between the past situation and the present.
One habit I learned to stop doing was replaying everything in my head endlessly, as though some goal would be achieved. It does not matter what these people did or why they did it; it’s the past. They left it behind, likely 3 seconds after the fact. Time for me to get over it.
Though that was the initial phase, I would not progress further until more time passed and I started to become familiar with philosophy. Again, not being a scholar of the subject, I have trouble describing exactly how philosophy played a role in my life. The best way I can say it is my interpretation helped me really separate myself from situations in order to achieve an outside view. Doing this allows you to more readily notice what might otherwise be hard to note being too close to a situation.
Part of this separation helps to promote more empathy towards others. I am able to better understand people by taking in all of the variables, as opposed to just projecting myself on them and judging based on that.
I like to think of Philosophy as the sum of all human knowledge, which only grows with time. This is one way that people pursue philosophy, but not the only one. That few philosophers agree on anything makes for an interesting subject.
As for how it applies to my life, though, that comes in the ability to look inward and see the different stages of my own growth. Like many things involving the human condition (like cultural changes), the transitions between these stages tend to be hard to notice. I could never pin down a day, a week or event that would mark a now versus then moment. Nonetheless, the changes become more noticeable the more time passes.
To reference the music scene as an example, one rarely comprehends the peak of a musical phenomenon (hair metal, grunge, Nu-metal etc.) when they are living through it. Though it becomes clear the further along into the next phenomenon one finds themselves. Often painfully so for lifetime fans of said genres.
To return to the original topic, recognizing this new person that I am has been a big reason why I’ve been able to let go of high school and everything that happened therein. One of the biggest lessons of the new me is not holding the older me to the same standards as I do with the current me. That is to say, not gawking at the decisions I made back then, which don’t make much sense now.
Maybe I shouldn’t have turned the attention of my school division’s almost entirely anonymous cyberbullying forum onto me by defending the victims of said forum using my real name. Maybe I should have recognized sooner that the person who was extorting me into dating them was also sending me threats to keep me around (and not her disappointed friends and family). Maybe I should have recognized the signs far earlier than I did. Maybe I should have reversed course in many of these decisions far earlier than I did.
I can contemplate a million maybe scenarios regarding how I should or shouldn’t have acted based on what I know now. But it doesn’t matter since I DIDN’T know then what I know now.
Let’s evaluate what I did have.
In grade 9, I had a body full of adolescent hormones and everything that comes with that. A life dominated by faceless cyberbullies and a girlfriend extorting me into staying with her (2 situations that were separate, but would migrate into 1 big mess later). And while all of this was happening, I was facing pressure from school officials and family to plan my future. Because the decisions you make now can close doors later on.
I learned to cope by simply looking forward to my death, my future suicide. I never made any plans or set any actual dates for offing myself. I just liked having The End just over the horizon to take the bite out of whatever stress any particular day was giving me.
Though both the cyberbullying and the extortive girlfriend situations had resolved themselves by grade 10, it took me a long time to adapt to this new, far less combative existence. Though I had far less reason to be feeling blue during the rest of my high school career, I never really altered the pattern I had developed in grade 9. So I clung to the security blanket that would be my eventual suicide.
And before I knew it, I was an adult. I was 18, and suddenly high school became a choice. And so I decided to no longer attend, choosing instead to work. Because work brought money, and the money bought smokes, alcohol, weed and other fun stuff. So began the next stage of life.
My coping mechanism gradually changed when I got far enough removed from high school and fully ingrained into the working world. I no longer felt any real desire to end my life, though I still didn’t have much use for future planning. It has led to my first 17ish years in the workforce being somewhat rudderless in finding any career direction.
As far as my resume is concerned, my life is together. I have never had a job gap since I moved into the job market years ago. But I have also never really thrived anywhere, either. Instead, I’ve spent many years simply eking out an existence in familiar work environments that were either mismanaged, toxic, or a rabid combination of the 2. Instead of my inevitable end being my security blanket, my daily life turmoil became my main distraction.
Finding a less chaotic, more well-managed work environment made me realize that I had been forming new bad habits as an adult. Though I thought I had put much of the teenage stuff behind me, I just evolved old habits to match a new routine.
As the title of this post elaborates, I have in fact, come a long way in terms of coming to terms with a lot of this stuff. Forgiveness helped a lot since it takes much more energy to keep hating people than it does to just let it go and move on. Because of this, I am now good friends with the same girl that once extorted me (or at least attempted to do so) back in High School.
Nonetheless, as the past year or so has made clear, I still have some work to do. I finally passed my road test earlier this month (I had been putting it off since 2012!). And I’ve finally begun seriously considering a career change into the IT industry. Though I have yet to decide where I will go within that vast expanse (IT is a huge field), viewing it as more than a distant possibility is a nice change. Having understood a fair bit of the basics (as explained in ITProTV’s CompTIA IT Fundimentals+ series) tells me I already have a reasonably good grasp of the technology.
To close this piece, I guess the part I most want readers to grasp is not to feel too cheated, irritated or sad if high school for you was not the idyllic experience that others seemingly lived. For one, none of it matters long-term once you hit adulthood.
As for those with terrible experiences, it depends on what is entailed by bad experiences.
Not all events or traumas are equal. But many of these things should become easier to deal with the further from the situation (in terms of time) that you are. Another thing that may help is understanding that just because you would have made X decision today does not mean you would have had the capability to make that same decision back then. Looking back with regret isn’t healthy. What matters most is how to proceed from where you are in the here and now.