I’ve been told that I share too much about myself. But I’m a comedian, that’s what most of us do. I’m also at an age where I’m not ashamed to admit my truth. If therapy has taught me anything, it’s that self-awareness is cool. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I spent too many years in denial about my reality.
Part of me still worries that my online honesty may affect future employment or current relationships. There is both a conscious and unconscious prejudice that we have against people with mental health conditions. Either we’re crazy, scary, trouble, difficult or someone you should stay away from. Despite having mood disorder and anxiety, I still have those prejudices too. Sometimes I’ll rate my mood disorder against the mental health of others. Like, “Oh I’m moody, but at least I’m not that (insert mental illness). That shit’s crazy!”
We judge and compare as a way of protecting ourselves. No one wants to be at the bottom. It’s much easier to kick down than it is to kick up.
We need only look at welfare in the United States for proof of this. It’s far easier and often encouraged to attack and blame social welfare than it is corporate welfare. We can bail out the big guys, but the little guys must fend for themselves. We protect greed by criminalizing the poor. I mean, when’s the last time a corporate welfare recipient has been asked to take a drug test? Never.
We kick the poor because we have access to them and they can’t kick back. We can’t kick the rich because they live above us and will only kick us harder. This is learned behavior, which begins in childhood. A time when no one wants to be the biggest geek on the street.
In middle school, there was a boy named Cory, but kids called him Booger. I don’t know why, but I think someone somewhere said at sometime they saw him pick his nose. And despite the fact that we are all a bunch of big fat nose pickers, in your adolescent years that is just about the worst thing you can do. Like my dad always said, “You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” I never really understood what he meant by this. Much of his advice still remains a mystery. Especially what he told me when started noticing boys – “Never trust a guy with soft hands.” Despite this warning, I married a man who moisturizes and it haunts me every single day.
I’ve never seen anyone picked on as badly as Cory was. When he walked down the hall, kids would yell, “Booger!” They’d throw things at him and kick him. I wish I could say I acted like one of those evolved and mature kids you see in the movies. The ones who stand up to the bullies in order protect the bullied, but I didn’t. In junior high, I was too terrified of having the attention redirected to me.
Starting when I was 12 years old, I was picked on for having a big nose. My peers called me ugly and teased the tragedy that sat on my face more times than I’d like to remember. The teasing made me grow into a harder person than I wanted to. It made me blunt. It gave me a dagger for a tongue and most likely contributed to me becoming a comedian. If I made fun of it first, it wouldn’t hurt as bad, but it still did.
As a kid, I was also bullied by an adult. I had an asshole for an uncle who called me Ickoleen. It started when I was about 9 years old. My name is Joleen and this clever wordsmith changed the first part of my name to ICK. As in gross, ishy and eww. It wasn’t until I was an adult when I realized how messed up this is and how much I resented the fact that no one told him to stop.
For these reasons, I stayed silent when I saw what was happening to Cory. I felt really bad. I still do.
Cory’s family was poor. There were no rich kids at my school. We all came from middle/working class, blue-collar families, but Cory’s socioeconomic status was lower than that. He often wore the same clothes, which made him an even bigger target. He seemed to only have one option in footwear, which were winter boots. They were big, plush snow boots. We called them moon boots because they literally looked like you were about to take a trip into outer space. He wore them so much that the sides of them had given out, which made him stumble when he walked.
I don’t know how Cory put up with all the teasing, name-calling and bullying. After repeatedly getting pushed down (quite literally), I don’t know how he was able to come back to school every day. I wouldn’t have been that strong.
I realize the kids who constantly bullied him weren’t bad people. Well, a few of them were and one grew up to become a police officer, which is frightening. I also realize that I was just as bad as those kids because I did nothing to help him.
I never saw Cory after junior high. I don’t know if he moved away or if I just stopped noticing him. It sounds horrible, but that’s what most teenagers are – horrible. We’re self-absorbed and afraid. ALL. THE. TIME.
My dream is that Cory grew up to be successful both financially and emotionally. My dream is that he looks back on those days as distant memories that made him the man he is today.
This probably sounds naive and a little John Lennon- like, but I hope that as adults, we can recognize and stop our pattern of kicking down. I hope that we can be proud of all we are. The good. The bad. The crazy. Then maybe one day we won’t even kick at all.
And if I could go back in time, I would tell Booger that Ickoleen has his back.