I am awkward and I know it. Sharing, using words in particular, is not my strength especially in a face-to-face situation. Luckily, social media does give me a medium to edit and refine my thoughts before I hit send but even there my particular sense of humor does not always shine through. I’m taller than most, have a larger than normal sized head, an immune system that refuses to fight the wart virus, can 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 those characteristics and more. Oh, I forgot to mention that I use to have an overbite so large that you could fit 3 fingers between my upper and lower jaw. Low self-esteem could be my middle name. It is something I’ve struggled with throughout my entire life so far; often it is even more debilitating than my chronic issues.
Up until about the 2nd or 3rd grade, I’m pretty sure I was of average height and size when compared to the rest of my class. 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, just up not out. The summer of my 6th grade year (that’s a 3 month span) I grew 6 inches according to my family’s legend, my parents will still give me crap about my grocery and clothing bill at this time. With my orthodontic problems, tall and skinny frame, large head, and lack of coordination you can only imagine the names I was called. Luckily for my peers I’ve never been a violent or even prone to fighting or else I would not be currently sipping a sugar free mocha at Starbucks sharing this story with you.
Now, I’m old enough that growing up no one talked about things like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or any other learning disabilities. According to my very limited knowledge of such disorders, I’m probably a candidate for at least being tested for them. To put it another way, academics have never came easy for me. If a normal student could learn and comprehend a topic in 2 hours it would take me 3 hours (it takes me an hour before I can even begin to focus on some occasions). To be clear, I do NOT consider myself slow, dumb, or lacking in intelligence. Its just I would rather go skiing or watch a documentary than read a book growing up. Patience and competitiveness was always my greatest skill in school, still is. I am willing to try and try until I get something right.
School was always my younger brother’s thing, not mine too. My brother is incredible intelligent and gifted in the world of academia. While he made getting 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 like my bro has 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 give you the mental skills necessary to help you turn that fantasy into a reality. Books allow you to drift into a fantasyland but also help you develop the necessary skills to succeed at everything from school to relationships. Exercising brain cells is just as important as not skipping leg day at the gym, its just to bad I didn’t realize that until late in my life.
One of the things 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 model looking athletic type who has the most perfect social skills ever and can graduate from Stanford University with honors. 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!” so there is no reason to even try and put myself out there. I might as well remain the tall quite kid that was 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 up taller than everyone else so quickly, always 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 when compared to others; I don’t need to be put in the back to remember this.
Now, lets fast-forward to adulthood, or my attempt at being an adult anyway. The good thing about experience is it helps you develop tools in order to deal with something or event. For example, I now have to the confidence to walk away from someone that is making fun of my large size or ability to sweat. Loneliness is now a preferred alternative than 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 the 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.
However, adulthood has not helped me gain enough experience to overcome all of my self-esteem issues. For example, nothing makes me retreat back into my shell faster than someone I consider a friend who says, “I’m tired so I’m going to bed” but ends up on Twitter wanting to know how everyone’s day was. Why do people say this? Just say “good-bye” or “I will talk to you later”. One of the things people don’t realize is that people with self-esteem issues usually are incredible listeners. We search for confirmation language to what we are already feeling and are very good at listening for it. If you don’t want to talk to me anymore that is fine and understandable, what isn’t understandable is giving hope that the conversation will continue soon.
Remember how I told you it takes me 3 hours to learn something when compared to others. 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 just how selfish people are by how they always start every sentence with “I”. I’m not against using this knowledge when talking to someone who has disappointment me. I know how to continue a conversation 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 for me is when I get bored or run out of cookies and start talking about myself because I know I will immediately get “I’m tired and going to bed”. 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 quite playing games like this.
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. Growing up that would have scared me to death! I hated public speaking with a passion. Now, I had 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 as high of barriers to overcome as they use to be, chronic pain has made me reevaluate what is truly important and what isn’t.
Another example of my increase confidence from chronic pain comes from the fact that I skied 8 weeks after total hip replacement surgery, bought a house, earned a second degree, and have a full-time job despite the pain. Having a dry shirt at the end of the day is the 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, not what sweat stains or warts on my hands say about me.
Why am I sharing this with you? First, the reason I started my website was the hope of becoming a better communicator. I want and need to learn how to communicate tougher subjects, especially ones that society says males should avoid or risk ridicule of my manhood. Gender roles are stupid and a waste a time for no other reason than 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.
Secondly, my 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. It’s what makes us unique as individuals; gives us power to change our story, and inspire are fellow humans to new and greater heights. As much as I hurt due to my chronic pain issues, I’m grateful for it 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 that truly want to be my friend will use this knowledge about me to help me grow as a person and do the same for you.
This post is my attempt to contribute to the betterment of the world through improving the conversation and friendship between individuals. By gaining a better understanding of what’s going on in my head I’m hoping it will improve the communication of everyone that 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, or sometimes in might be simply listening to someone who needs a shoulder.