Seven Richard

Richard was the first person I interviewed. He is a man of mixed ethnicity in his late twenties. Richard was affable and open, and I remember feeling comfortable while engaging with him in conversation almost immediately. He spoke quite willingly about his experiences with depression and the difficulties he had faced, but at times it felt to me as if language was eluding him. He was able to describe his symptoms, such as the fact that he was bullied as a child, became emotionally withdrawn and isolative during his college years, and eventually his pain evolved into suicidality. But there was a way in which the very essence of his suffering defied articulation in spite of his attempts. I got the impression that part of this struggle was in wanting to be seen and understood, yet fearing rejection or misrecognition. The following is what emerged from our meeting.

BULLYING AND BECOMING THE OTHER: "I JUST DIDN'T HAVE THAT SOCIAL ABILITY."

When I asked Richard about his experiences with depression, he first spoke about being bullied as a child and the effect that this had on his developing sense of self. Richard was a very shy child. He described himself as “maybe on the nerdy side,” and he was bullied in elementary school for his ethnicity: “It was like probably 99% white community and white school. So like ah, I was kind of, you know I guess outsider in school when I was younger.” He continued, [1]

(ethnicity) kid in in our school. . . . So I was an easy target all the way around, you know what I mean?

When I asked Richard about how being bullied might have affected his selfesteem, he said,

If you don’t feel accepted into society or at least into your community, that’s not good . . . and I guess that affected me a little bit when I wanted to commit suicide because uhm . . . I probably just (felt) like okay I’ve never made those connections with everyone else.

Being bullied left Richard on the margins of society during his childhood, and this had significant negative ramifications for his self-impression and also for the role he saw himself occupying in interpersonal relationships. The rejection he experienced became an internalized reflection of himself and his innate qualities. As he described it,

At that time, I just didn’t have that social ability. I wanted to though, I definitely wanted to. That was one of the reasons I probably . . . got more depressed about myself, I felt . . . like a loser maybe, that I couldn’t do it . . . like, I can’t even do that, like what’s wrong with me?

Richard didn’t remember feeling depressed as a child, but he did say, “I think I was over it, but maybe when I look back, I think, I mean I try to analyze it, maybe that did affect me more than I thought, you know what I mean?” “Maybe it still affected . . . my attitude about myself.” He added, “I don’t know if maybe . . . when I got to college, it all caught up with me . . . maybe I didn’t realize I had those feelings the whole time.” It seems that Richard carried with him these feelings of social ineptitude even into his formative years as a young adult. He felt socially rejected as a child and in turn associated this rejection with something unacceptable about himself. Charles (2013) states, “If one cannot emerge as a respected subject within the social surround, one’s identity is foreclosed” (p. 21). A major aspect of Richard’s depression can therefore be linked to the fact that he did not hold a position of esteem and mutual respect among his peers. As Charles suggests, he was trying to negotiate an identity at a crucial period in his life within a group that was critical and rejecting of him, so his sense of who he was, in context, was equally tinged with negative self-appraisals.

In his sophomore year of college, Richard became withdrawn and started isolating himself from other people. It was around this time that he made his first suicide attempt. He described the “dark thoughts” he had at that time and said, “When you feel down like that, you’re (going to) feel that everyone else’s life is perfect, you know that person’s smiling. They’re walking with a girl. Their life must be perfect.” When I suggested that these social interactions seemed easier for everyone else, Richard replied,

Yeah you think everyone else . . . has it right. Everyone else figured it out and then I’m like the one person that, you know, I can’t figure it out. You know what I mean, that definitely, played into (my depression) when I was at college.

I probably just felt like I’ve never made those connections, I’ve never figured it out. So I must be an idiot, or you know whatever. You know?

Richard felt ill at ease in social situations, and this sense of alienation was further exacerbated by his experiences of having been bullied as a child. His inner experience was a stark contrast to the idealized images he perceived in others. Thus, it became exceedingly more difficult for Richard to reconcile his sense of separateness with the social world he wished to join.

  • [1] probably had some kids . . . like bully me a little bit, they just like verbally youknow what I mean, ‘cause I was like the only (ethnicity) kid. Definitely the only
 
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