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Not quite so firm as the mountains around us

I remember one time during my first year of college, a girl that my roommates and I were friends with was having a rough time.  She came over and talked to us about what was going on.  She cried a lot.  After a long discussion and comforting her and everything, she apologized for being emotional.  One of my roommates said "It's okay.  No man's an island." and then he added "Except Keith."  I took pride in that.  I've always viewed myself as someone who can stand alone.  I can handle my own problems, etc.

I wonder if the reason I feel this way is because since a young age I was taught that I had to stand alone.  I had friends in my neighborhood, that lived down the street, when I was a child.  But at school I had very few friends.  People picked on me a lot.  So, I learned that I couldn't rely on other people--I could only trust other people to hurt me, not to care about me.  All through my public school years, I had very few friends until I started hanging out with the band students my junior year of high school.  But even when I was surrounded with a bunch of friends, I didn't open up to very many of them.  I have always been a rather private person, keeping my own problems to myself.

When the movie Shrek came out, I had one friend tell me that I reminded her of Shrek--particularly the part where he says that ogres are like onions.  And just like Shrek, I feel happy when I am left to enjoy my swamp by myself.  I don't need anyone else.  Or, that's what I like to tell myself anyway.

I like to think that I don't need other people, that I can be happy without the approval of others.  I like to think that I can take care of the problems I face.  I even like to think of myself as a role model or an example that people can look to for strength when they feel weak.  I think that by keeping any of my weaknesses to myself, I can be that source of strength for others.

I don't think that keeping things inside shows strength.  I think that sharing things with others shows strength.  I think that making yourself vulnerable by exposing a part of yourself to others requires strength.  I have come to see that I really am weak.  I can't tell other people when something's bothering me.  I can't admit that I'm depressed by something or other.   In fact, there are times when I can't even see that something's bothering me, because I've spent so much of my life pretending that I'm always okay that I'm out of touch with my own emotions.

During a heated political discussion yesterday, someone accused me of being an unhappy person.  I said that I am not, that I am quite happy.  But it made me think.  Am I really a happy person?  I put on a smile when I teach my class, I make jokes and try to get people to laugh.  I put on a good show.  But, if I were truly happy, then why would I let things that people say upset me as much as I do?  If I were a happy person, would I get so angry at people for things that they say online?  If someone telling me that they think that Romney is the best choice for Commander in Chief upsets me, what does that say about me?

I am not a strong person.  I want people to like me.  I need people to like me.  I want people to think I'm funny, witty, smart, kind, and loving.  I want people to compliment me.  I want people to say nice things about me--to my face but also behind my back.  I often pretend that I don't care what other people think about me, and I often say that too.  But I do care.  Pretending not to care is just another sign of weakness.  I use it as an excuse to push people away and keep them out of my swamp.  I use it as an excuse to be impolite (such as, I don't care what you think of me so I can be rude and it doesn't matter).

I can't admit that I'm wrong.  I can't admit that I am weak.  I can't admit that there are problems that I can't handle on my own.  These are all signs of weakness.  They are all things that keep me from becoming strong.  To open oneself up for attack is strength.  If I were strong, I wouldn't be afraid of being wrong, I wouldn't be afraid of asking for help.  And I'd care what other people think enough to be kind and compassionate to them.

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