Live Through This

About a Boy

Where did my feelings go?

When I was 12 years old, I had my first bout of what would prove to be a long-lasting relationship with anxiety and depression. My grandma died, I had a panic attack, and all of a sudden the colors of my childhood paled to a lackluster gray. The wonder and excitement of playing with Legos, jumping in leaf piles, and knowing close to nothing about the world subsided, leaving behind a dull, anxious ache. I wasn’t suicidal—I wasn’t even miserable. Just deflated. No longer living effortlessly. I could only think one thing, and that was, Where did my feelings go?

The years wore on, and I kept on wondering. I was officially depressed for a while and then, after some therapy and some thinking, officially OK. But even when I felt better, I wasn’t totally better. I didn’t get that blissful, carefree kid feeling back. Life wasn’t effortless like it used to be. I started wondering if that business back in the ’08 was really just a kick-start to the inevitable, and that something else was responsible for all of this. For this hole. Then I discovered my friends felt weird, too. They didn’t say so, but their newly adopted hobbies and disaffected demeanors told me enough. (I guess I didn’t say anything to them, either.) Something swooped down and snatched “feeling OK” from our brains. An emotional pterodactyl. An emotional pterodactyl named Puberty.

Illustration by Spencer

But that didn’t make much sense. I always thought that to be shafted by the process of growing up, something “real” had to happen. Some sort of bona fide suffering has to go down (maybe like the death of a grandma) before you can feel less happy. After all, discomfort doesn’t grow on trees! The weight of the world can’t just appear out of thin air!

Well, little did I know, discomfort does grow on trees, and the weight of the world can appear out of thin air. This is mostly because, like all feelings, sadness and unease live inside your noggin, and as anyone who was once a child knows, anything can happen in there. I had it all backwards. I don’t feel weird because my body’s changing and girls are confusing and school is hard and drugs are scary. I feel weird because my thoughts are different—my feelings are different. I feel weird because I feel weird. A wispy beginner mustache, or a lack thereof, is easy to understand; feelings aren’t.

And that’s something no health class can teach you. It’s the type of thing that has to smack you in the face, either softly, for years, or violently, on your pitifully hairless, bar mitzvah’d cheek. Or both. Your parents, and Mr. Zookeeper, and the ostensibly naughty “puberty” books at the library can reassure you all day that you’re 100%, perfectly, absolutely normal, but nothing can save you from being scared out of your mind that your mind is changing. Nothing can save you from feeling weird. Nothing can save you from not being a kid anymore.

***

Four years have passed, and I have yet to be Benjamin Buttoned. At that first panic attack, I was like David After Dentist, constantly asking myself, and my parents, and even a therapist, “Is this forever?” I used to be constantly afraid that something was short-circuiting in my brain, and that if I didn’t do something soon, the damage would be irreversible. That whatever chance I had of reverting back to childhood bliss would slip away. I guess now I realize that that really is what happened. Life won’t ever be as simple as playing with Legos and jumping in leaves again. It can’t be. If it were, there’d be no friction. No yang to our yin. Without bad, there’s no good, and if we all felt OK all the time, there’d be no point.

It seems like, as time goes on, every moment becomes a smaller and smaller slice in the whole pie of our life, and as that pie gets slowly eaten by time, each slice becomes more important. We zoom in, isolate, and savor that slice for every nugget of its deliciousness. As far as I can tell now, doing that works out just fine. But I lived the first four years of my adolescence thinking “savor the moment” was a gimmick, some sort of cherry grownups put atop life because they believe that life is a steaming pile of shit. I thought that “enjoy the little things in life” was code for “this sucks, but we make the best of it.” That scared me, because I don’t want to think that life is a steaming pile of shit! When I grow up, am I gonna think life sucks? Is some inescapable, adult-making monster—that emotional pterodactyl?—gonna force me to think that life sucks?

I’m just afraid of being jaded. I’m absolutely terrified of not wanting to live. It’s a reasonable concern for anybody any age, but it’s especially reasonable when you’ve just started to realize that there’s a whole, ginormous, scary world beyond your family, candy, and Rugrats. It’s especially reasonable when you feel fucking weird. I don’t know who I am. At least I think I don’t. I don’t know if I think I think I don’t.

Maybe that’s another thing they can’t teach you in sex ed. You won’t feel weird forever. You can’t feel weird forever. Things change. That’s the reason you feel weird in the first place; things changed! And deep down, no matter how much I wish I could go back to the wonder years, live the simple life in the ole neighborhood, play with Hot Wheels and have my birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, I know that’s the way things should be. In all my unsureness, frustration, and feeling weird, I know it couldn’t be any other way. This too shall pass. ♦

38 Comments

  • emilyg December 20th, 2011 3:21 PM

    This is really incredible writing, and it’s exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks, Spencer.

  • Phoebe Svet December 20th, 2011 3:33 PM

    I just wanted to say how I wanted to scream after reading this. Not because I’m angry or anything, but because this is everything I’ve wanted to say for the past few years, but have never been able to. And it’s so incredibly frustrating. My parents ask me how I feel, my therapist asks me how I feel. How am I supposed to tell them how I feel if even I don’t know how I feel? Then – Why aren’t you happy? they ask. I don’t know that either. Everything you described fit – how one day I was happy and carefree, and then it just went away. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

    (On an unrelated side note to the Rookie staff, I’m not sure why but every time I try and comment on Rookie, I have to create a new account because it won’t comment with my previous one. Any clues, guys?)

    • Anaheed December 20th, 2011 3:52 PM

      Hey, Phoebe! Can you give us some more-specific information about your commenting problem? What happens exactly when you try to log in and comment?

      Also, what browser are you using?

      • SpencerBowie December 27th, 2011 3:24 AM

        Internet Explorer 8. Or whatever comes with Windows 7 starter!

        Have a Happy New Year now! Ha!

        ;)

    • Anaheed December 20th, 2011 5:35 PM

      Is it possible you’re mistyping your password?

      • SpencerBowie December 22nd, 2011 2:47 AM

        I had to create a new account with a different e-mail adress then the one i used for my first account! Lucky I have two different legit e-mails!

        But yeah, everytime I tried to log-in with my old account it would just refresh the entire page with no results!

        Hope I helped while i’m logged in under this account! ;)

        Merry Christmas tho!

      • Anaheed December 22nd, 2011 3:04 AM

        What browser are you using?

  • Motherfunker December 20th, 2011 3:39 PM

    thanks for the reassurance. despite being 16, I’m still sadly going through this phase…

  • Mustachefan December 20th, 2011 4:29 PM

    Spencer, whoever you are, we’re thinking the same things.

  • Mariana December 20th, 2011 4:46 PM

    wow this hits very close to home. it was wonderfully written and can speak for a lot of people

  • soretudaaa December 20th, 2011 4:54 PM

    this article > my therapist.

  • Margelo December 20th, 2011 5:40 PM

    this is really, great stuff, thanks so much for putting guys on the staff of rookie, it was great with only girls writing articles, and now it’s even better!

  • Roz G. December 20th, 2011 5:45 PM

    great one! ever read “the catcher in the rye”? I bet you’d love it
    it’s exactly this in novel form, with a lot of fifties slang thrown in for good measure

  • isadora December 20th, 2011 5:56 PM

    Wow, just wow. You just put in words something I’ve been feeling for a long time, but couldn’t find the way to express.

    I’m saving this text, so I can read it again when I turn 18 in 4 months. Ugh. scary.

  • taste test December 20th, 2011 7:25 PM

    Amazing, amazing post. Bookmarking it.

    When I got to “I don’t know who I am. At least I think I don’t. I don’t know if I think I think I don’t.” I was weirded out and relieved at the same time, because I wrote something almost exactly like that in my diary when I was thirteen. The feeling hasn’t gone away, either. As much as I act like a disaffected, cynical teenager, sometimes it scares me wondering if it’s more than an act.

  • LCrumbly December 20th, 2011 8:57 PM

    Puberty sucks! Why is pube the root of the word? Are pubes the defining feature of that time of life? If puberty itself doesn’t make you feel weird, then at least the word PUBErty should (especially when in caps).

  • Brit December 20th, 2011 9:28 PM

    Well this explains a lot. Thank you Spencer.

  • annagracie December 20th, 2011 10:33 PM

    this is incredible.
    “this too shall pass” is the most comforting quote in the world.

  • M December 20th, 2011 10:36 PM

    puber-dactyl!!!

    • Tavi December 20th, 2011 10:37 PM

      oh my god ew!!!

      • caro nation January 8th, 2012 12:12 PM

        Can I obtain animation rights?

  • yourpretendfriend December 20th, 2011 10:52 PM

    This is exactly how I feel and it’s scary

  • wissycosh December 20th, 2011 11:04 PM

    Spencer this was wonderful, i recall around year 8, sitting in a group of people and not being able to talk/interact or register, i still sat there, im unsure why it just seemed easier to be mute than to speak. The things about learning in sex/ed etc are so true, even now 10 or so years later life comes to you in ways that make you feel weird/sad/anxious/depressed and paranoid, at times, (for me anyway). the best advice i ever received at a time where i was rock bottom was that ‘everything you are worried about will all unravel in front of your eyes without you even noticing’, and it does. i think people revolve their entire lives around “working out life” when there’s nothing to work out. I wish this kind of thing existed while i was a teenager, it helps me so much now at 25, and that’s not saying life doesn’t change or get better, it certainly does, as you learn and experience more, but life comes to you at all times, with challenges. life is wonderful, with the yin and the yang, thanks again.

  • brynntheredonethat December 20th, 2011 11:07 PM

    That’s a perfect way of putting it: you don’t feel weird because of teenaged stuff. You feel weird because you’ve never felt truly weird before, and experience that is . . . weird.

  • Izze_kiel December 20th, 2011 11:12 PM

    This entry makes perfect sense to me. Every day seems like such an enigma. My positive side tries to assure me things will get better while my glass-half-empty, depressed majority thinks “What if this IS it?” What if this IS happiness, but it’s just not enough to make me want to get up every day. It’s kind of a scary thought.

  • Leeloo December 21st, 2011 3:26 AM

    I am 27 and this takes me back ten years ago… Spencer and all teenagers over here, yes, these feelings pass and then you become less scared. As for me, I just started to stop asking myself too many questions and just live and enjoy and be happy. It works quiet well even if not every day is perfect. Sometimes I even think about this time and feel nostalgic of my “weirdness”… Funny how perspective and time change everything !

    (Sorry if my english is bad!)

  • X December 21st, 2011 10:16 AM

    wow…such and awesome post. thats how i felt like a couple years ago….i was like really lonely and just walked around for hours just hating on something. nothing special just everything. i kind of grew out of that later on, of course its still there but not as bad.
    This to shall pass……
    :)

  • samhatt December 21st, 2011 4:30 PM

    thank you so much for writing this :) this reminds me of a stanley kubrick quote, where he talks about how kids are able to find joy from seemingly anything, but when we grow older and become exposed to death and decay we are subject to develop our own sense of happiness and purpose which is ultimately much more fulfilling and sustaining. “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light”. “This too shall pass” Thank you for this.

  • Lillypod December 21st, 2011 4:48 PM

    woah.
    this was me last week.
    this week i’m a different person.
    Strange times indeed.
    An extra word of advice for people who read this:
    It’s super ok to be introverted. it’s also ok to be deeply introspective. Studying your thoughts will actually make you understand yourself better.
    But don’t forget to look outside yourself sometimes. When you study the wide world around you you’ll feel better, I think.
    If you think too much you’ll just think yourself in circles….its confusing.

  • Hedwig December 21st, 2011 10:15 PM

    Finally, thank you.

  • SpencerBowie December 22nd, 2011 2:49 AM

    LOVE the guy article every month idea! As a 21 yr old guy who LOVES-THIS-SITE, I look forward to it!

    And from one Spencer to another, WOW!

    Keep it up! ;)

  • LeahW December 22nd, 2011 6:29 AM

    I was so excited to see an article written by spencer. I loved reading little snippets about him and Tavi in her ‘style rookie’ blog. I didn’t know what I was reading and as always rookie has managed to blow me away. This writing was brilliant and simple and relatable and there is nothing more beautiful then feeling like you can relate to one and other, it reminds you that we aren’t alone that these feelings are simply mutual and we can communicate with one an other without being scared.

    Thank you Spencer, it was beautiful.

  • LizX December 22nd, 2011 9:30 AM

    Dude, I’m old and I still feel this way. I have occasional bouts of the black dog (deperssion). “You won’t feel weird forever” is so, so true whether you are a vintage wearing teen or a depressed grownup laying in bed w. her cat watching MTV for days ala Zooey from Franny and Zooey (not that I have been either of those. Lalalala. Nothing to see here. Keep moving).

    Spencer: I’ve read your blog for at least a year now. Thanks for being always interesting.

  • warreno December 22nd, 2011 5:45 PM

    Boy do I remember a lot of this. The certainty I had that I was faking it through every day, the dramatic changes in my friends and myself, all of it. For me it was complicated a bit by a concurrent dissolution of my home life, but yeah, in general there were a couple years, centered around just-pre- to early-teens, when it seemed like all the wheels were coming loose at once.

    If my understanding of brain development is correct, it’s in the teen years that the brain undergoes a fairly significant set of changes including an increase in neural density in certain areas, a culling of neurons in other areas, and of course some fairly drastic responses to the onslaught of hormones.

    Among other things, abstract thinking is strengthened, as well as comprehension of one’s interaction within a larger social structure – both traits usually missing from a prepubescent brain.

    With the neural culling, there’s actually a reduction of some synapses, basically the brain shedding connections that it’s not biologically in need of any longer – so your impression that there’s a kind of damage being done isn’t that far off the mark.

    Beware of a similar experience in your late 20s, by the way. It’s like the same process all over again, but it goes by faster. Friends of mine, and I, have gone through that, though I don’t know of any objective reason for it.

    For what it’s worth, on my more cynical days, I still believe that virtually all people are making it up as they go along, all the time – but they’ve learned to be in denial of it.

  • Tourdivoire December 23rd, 2011 7:11 AM

    Wow wow wow Spencer you are a true writer!

  • Emilyisananglophile January 2nd, 2012 6:33 AM

    Your post is astounding in it’s ability to address something daunting, terrifying with eloquence and meaning
    I’ve been depressed and I’ve had panic attacks and my friends in psychology class think I have generalized anxiety disorder, but what really, freaks me out is when my friends call and they tell me how terribly they’re feeling. Whenever I was dealing with things I knew there were ups and downs and things would change, but when my a friend told me that she was feeling suicidal and I invited her over for the night for the first time, it terrified me. When this genius I know was taken to a mental hospital for a week and a half, it terrified me. Both these people get the help they need now, there are always resources. I feel better now too- not because I’ve come to realize that none of us gets it; that we’re all kind of fucked up- that scares me more than anything, but instead because I’ve realized that somehow the world works anyway and time passes and things change and we deal.
    Someone mentioned Salinger earlier, but, while I love Holden, I kept thinking of Vonnegut (a hero of mine) in when he said “All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber” (Slaughterhouse V)
    and “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”(A Man Without A Country)
    If you haven’t read it, I recommend Slaughterhouse V by the way.
    Finally, well done.

  • caro nation January 8th, 2012 12:10 PM

    First off, I’ve read your blog for a while now, (and therefore was enthused at the sight of your name) and want to say that your demos would probably induce some heated water cooler talk if they were available for download sometime in the future. They would say,

    “Man, I’m gettin’ real tired of hearing about this Tweedy.”

    Anyway.

    All I can say for this is that when suddenly the simplicity and and blissfulness of existing day-to-day disappears and becomes convoluted and numb, it helps if it’s happening to others around you too, even if it’s a unannounced taboo subject amongst them. You still get a sort of vibe off your peers that things aren’t as bright and intensified as they were in their lives as well as yours.

    The worst thing is when it happens prematurely. Not feeling OK in the 4th grade was not only torturing, but sort of a social handicap. Why talk philosophy and feelings when they could be out playing kickball? It also turns every lecture into one of a very condescending nature; you think, “Can’t you see I’m suffering? Where’s the joy in playing on the swings when everything feels like a burden?”

    This too shall pass was the most fitting thing to conclude this article with, because it’s true. At some point, that deflated feeling will re-new itself as a mix of emotional awareness and subtle happiness.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Also, “IN MY JOB, I SEE A LOT OF PENISES.”

    And this:
    http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html
    sort of reminded me of this.

    • Spencer Tweedy January 13th, 2012 12:10 AM

      No, thank you for writing THIS! I love that blog post you linked to. So poignant, AND hilarious. And that whole deal about premature growing-up-and-feeling-dull-for-awhile—I didn’t talk about that here but that’s something I definitely identified with. The bit about “every lecture” really applies to high school now, too; compared to my elementary school, these teachers (while amazing compared to just about every other public Chicago high school) are heartless turds talking about things that may interest me, but they don’t seem to care about my feelings, so why should I care about theirs?

      Thanks.