I recently found out I had about a week and a half left to be myself. I tried to enjoy it while I could, and to remember what this - being me - felt like, because before long I may find myself, well, trying to find myself.
Confused? So am I.
It probably started in my childhood. I was always a moody kid. I was generally good-natured and polite, if a bit of a smart aleck at school. My parents quickly learned, though, that there were times when it was impossible to talk to me.
Every Saturday, if the Toronto Maple Leafs lost on Hockey Night in Canada I'd be in a sullen mood. It became a running joke at home: "Uh oh - the Leafs are playing. Better stay out of his way." This was the eighties - there was a lot of losing.
I also got bored frequently, and that would set me off. Every month, a new obsession would consume my attention before I tossed it aside. Boredom would lead to bad moods, which would lead to anger.
As I got older, I became even more difficult. With school posing more of a challenge and my grades dropping, I became more unpredictable. I was frequently grumpy, especially after waking up. In retrospect, I realize that I spent most of my free time in my room.
At school, I was able to hide it easily. I had friends and I was often the guy who was quickest to crack a joke, even if it meant getting a reproachful glance from a teacher. What better way to head off criticism about not understanding a concept than to make people laugh?
High school gave way to university, and at first things were looking up. More independence and a fresh start initially buoyed my spirits, but that didn't last. My parents, like many Asian immigrants, dreamed of their children becoming doctors or lawyers. As it became clear their hopes for my future were unattainable, the pressure started to get to me.
Fortunately, I was becoming better and better at hiding it. I always had a good sense of humour and quick wit, and this became my preferred way to deal with pressure in public.
Unfortunately, being able to make jokes about my future in the presence of friends only made it feel worse on the inside, because I knew it was all a façade. Besides, it was no one's fault but my own that I was having trouble sorting out my life. Why should someone else have to deal with it?
Finally, somehow, I found my way out of school and back into school - this time as an elementary-school teacher. I was genuinely good at it, and the sun started looking a little brighter and my step a little lighter as I threw myself into my new occupation. But the old problem with getting bored resurfaced, and I slowly sank into unhappiness.
To be fair, my situation was (and is) pretty good. After a few false starts, I met a wonderful woman and got married. I have a job with a great deal of security and a good salary, and my summers are mine to do as I please. We're expecting a child this year, and I'm excited about rocking my crying baby to sleep in the middle of the night.
As the woman I married became closer to me while we dated, I realized she was one of the first people I could truly be myself around. That had good and bad consequences. I could share with her all the quirks of my personality, and she laughs at (almost) all my jokes. But she has slowly seen more and more of my dark side.
Since getting married, I've become more open about my difficult nature. I feel so comfortable with my partner that the need to hide how I really feel has disappeared. It's also become easier to withdraw from society, though. Being married relieved the pressure to be social and meet people. Those closest to me have always known I loathe venturing out into groups of new people because it usually requires me to pretend I'm enjoying myself, even if I'm feeling anxious or unhappy.
It's all difficult to explain, which is why I finally agreed to see a doctor. With a baby on the way, I needed to sort out how I was feeling, and I owed it to my progeny to ensure my ability to take care of him or her. It was hard to admit finally that my life wasn't perfect.
My doctor gave me a prescription for a mild dose of antidepressants in the hopes it will help me deal with my anxiety and depression.
It's been almost a month since I started taking the medication and my moods have been more stable, though not perfect. I feel tired many days, but I want to give it a chance in the hopes it will make life easier to handle. There are so many things I look forward to enjoying.
In some ways I feel like it's a no-win situation. If it helps, will I have to take this medication forever? If I feel no different, what's the next step? Either way, I can admit to myself that I'm scared. I'm most scared that this will change me and I will become a totally different person. If I'm always happy, will I forget how precious those happy moments were to me? If the medication doesn't work, what do I do next?
Either way, I feel an odd desperation to hang on to what I feel right now - all my flaws and problems, all my sadness, all my confusion. It has been a part of my life for such a long time that I worry I won't recognize myself with medication. Will I still know what it feels like to be me?
One way or another, things are changing.
Dennis Ku lives in Toronto.
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