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My childhood


Social phobia




The Twelve Steps


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When I was about 4-5, I was an ordinary kid. Granted I read much more than other kids, and even then others looked up to my brain power, but I played games and watched TV etc. like anyone else. I fit in socially.

Then halfway through kindergarten I was suddenly promoted to grade 1. My parents had been pushing the school to do this for months, but they hadn't bothered to tell me about it. Intellectually I was fully ready; socially I was not. I "made the adjustment", but from then on was marked as The Smart One, The Boy Who Skipped a Grade (albeit only kindergarten). My intelligence, instead of being just another character trait, became THE character trait. I took on the role of class brain, and rather loved it.

So in early elementary school I slowly but surely began to drift away from peers. They might get together after school to watch TV or play games, I did that sometimes but other times drifted off to read books and the like. This made me hugely well-informed for a kid - by age 8 I had all the kings of Israel and Judah memorized, in order, from Saul to Zedekiah. Nonetheless I wasn't too far off.

Then the real hammer blow came. My parents took me out of the Catholic school I had spent grades K-4 in and placed me in an all-boys private school. At age 9, I found myself wearing a school uniform, surrounded by (mostly) richer kids in a much meaner environment.

I had had friends before, not close ones perhaps, but it was here that I found enemies. I learned what it was like to be disliked, or bullied, or even hated. The first year was not too bad socially, but the second was a living, absolute nightmare. The number one complaint of the other kids against me was conceit - I thought I was intelligent, they said, and they resented it. This perhaps was true (inevitable, given the adulation I'd received from parents, teachers, and other kids at my first school) but it led me to believe that only through hating myself would others like me.

I was slapped. I was kicked. I was ostracized. I was shunned. I was sneered at. My books were stolen, my homework scribbled on. I was even urinated on once. This not by older kids, but by my own classmates in Grades 5 and 6. Everyone in the class disliked me, the differences were only one of degree. The attacks concentrated mainly on my conceit, but extended to my weight, personality, dress habits, and race. I could hardly walk the halls without fear of being picked on, and spent most of my time frequenting older kids' hangouts, so I could have their protection.

I didn't tell teachers and parents of the abuse, in fact my parents don't know to this day. I left the school in June 1985, but in fact didn't tell a soul for eleven full years (and even that was a counsellor). My parents pulled me out because of the high cost and because they resented the upper-class, snobby attitude.

Logically, I should have gone back to the Catholic school, my brother chose to do this. I didn't want to; for some reason I still don't really understand I felt ashamed to see my old classmates again. I had not kept in touch with them since leaving, and felt guilty about that.

So I started Grade 7 at a public school, and my parents arranged for me to be placed in a gifted class. I had vague expectations that the class would be filled with young Einsteins making homemade nuclear fusion, but nothing like that. They were just ordinary kids, playing Four Square and Tetherball at recess, the boys staring longingly at Playboy on the shelf and the girls swooning over pinups of Michael J. Fox. In fact within a few weeks most of the class concluded I was smarter than they, even those with higher marks.

But I was at this point incapable of receiving a compliment. My entire way of looking at the world and conducting myself, all I had grown up with, had been brutally rejected at the private school. I hated myself with a savagery that could (and did) take others' breath away. I refused to play with other kids at recess, and just walked aimlessly in the grass. My teacher finally lost patience with me when I said fuck off to a girl who had said hi to me, and ordered me point-blank to play with the other kids. I eventually made friends on this basis, but still retained a barbed tongue, ruthless perfectionism, and tiresome self-deprecation.

I was in that class two years. Then I entered high school in the fall of 1987 (oh gosh, that is TEN years ago now....!!!). None of my elementary school friends went to the same high school. There others had taken the trouble to make friends with me; I didn't know how to make friends with them. Furthermore, high school classmates were far less inclined to put up with my grumpiness, surliness, and radiant self-dislike. I wasn't ostracized, just ignored. Nobody signed my yearbook in that year.

It was then that I discovered religion. More on how I found it some other time, perhaps; suffice it to say that I was Born Again (or "begotten again" as my particular sect dubbed it). Among other things, this led to me being nice to people for once. The changes were slow in coming, but eventually they materialized. People signed my yearbook, said hi to me in the halls, and asked me for advice. And help with their homework; soon the legend of my intellect spread around the school.

Nonetheless it wasn't until Grade 12 that I ceased eating lunch alone in the cafeteria every day, and I never dared approach a girl for a date the whole time. Nor did I ever go to the movies with a friend, or visit a friend's house, or even telephone someone in any context outside of school. I was no longer disliked, just unknown. I took no initiative to meet people or invite them to do things, and no one invited me.

None of my friends were close. No one has ever really been close to me, until recently. When I graduated, I lost touch with them all, not one exception. In university it is much harder to meet people; the social environment is looser and more initiative is expected. Once again it took months to make friends, and all of these were homework buddies met in classes, mostly. I ran away from women, even those who seemed as if they might be after me. During the summer or weekends I had no social contact at all. I never did set foot in many of the most popular hangouts. I just didn't "go out with friends". I invited no one, and no one invited me.

With such a totally isolated lifestyle, it is small wonder I collapsed into depression near the end of university. That was not the only reason, or even the main reason, but this email is getting too long already! It is just that now I appreciate and understand the human need for friendship and companionship - for bestfriends, for buddies, and for partners of various depths and levels.

Private email, Apr. 10, 1997.