Coming out of my experience with panic, I began to read even more voraciously than I had before.
Somehow I got it in my mind that I was going to read the entire Bible. So, without a “plan” in mind, I started in Genesis and just read.
And read, and read, and read.
I made it through the Old Testament, which makes up about 75% of the Christian Bible, then made it through the Gospels in the New Testament and stopped at the Acts of the Apostles (I think I just got tired).
I surely didn’t understand a large portion of what I read, and there’s a decent bit of the Bible that isn’t exactly child-friendly, but it all got in my head.
Somewhere along the way I discovered a love of science fiction and came across Isaac Asimov and his Foundation series, which I devoured. I’d enjoyed Star Wars movies as a kid, but around this time LucasFilm began publishing sequel novels – I picked up one and became hooked, and that’s where my true devotion to and love of Star Wars grew.
During this time, my mom’s mother began to become seriously ill. She and her husband lived south of Miami in a small town called Goulds – they stayed with us during Hurricane Andrew and, while their house survived, everything else on their property was completely demolished.
My grandmother had been an alcoholic for decades, likely owing back to her divorce to my mom’s dad in the mid-40s, something she did herself but regretted for the rest of her life.
After Andrew, she began to suffer from dementia and several other ailments. My mom moved her up to live with us so she could take care of her and, as the dementia slowly ate away at her mind and her health continued to deteriorate, it took a drastically severe toll on my mom and my family.
My mother is the most selfless person I’ve ever met, and likewise the most loving and loyal, and she thinks nothing of giving herself fully and completely to caring for others.
The year or two she spent caring for my grandmother nearly brought her to her knees, and, at the age of 11-12, was an incredibly difficult time for me, as well, as she was emotionally completely consumed with caring for her mom and dealing with her deteriorating mind.
My grandmother passed away in 1994, and it hit my mom hard. She was spent. And, I recognize in hindsight, severely depressed. She wasn’t fully herself for quite a long time – she’d barely slept while caring for my grandmother, so she spent quite a bit of time sleeping.
I love my mom dearly and wouldn’t have had her do anything differently than what she did for her mom, but it nonetheless was a difficult period for me.
In a way, I was left pretty unchecked. I was a good kid, always well-behaved, so I pretty much got what I wanted. I saw what looked like a really cool book in the grocery store in that it was science fiction and dealt with dinosaurs, so I read Jurassic Park during this period, which is not at all a pre-teen novel. I liked Michael Crichton’s writing, so I began reading his other books, including sexually graphic ones such as Rising Sun and Terminal Man, and my parents basically had no clue what exactly was within the contents of the books I was reading (nor did I really understand that they were inappropriate, though they sure did use the F-word a whole lot).
I became addicted to achievement around this time, too. I’d always done really well in school, and I determined I was going to graduate at the top of my class. I won a lot of academic contests and awards, and unknowingly to me, I was thriving on this affirmation. I thought I could do anything.
My church recognized a lot of my gifts, too, and affirmed these. Unsurprisingly given my reading, I knew a lot more about the Bible than most adults. The age of 12 is pretty typical in the Methodist tradition for a young person who has been baptized to officially join the church through a process called confirmation, so I did that, and – as a very emotional and sensually perceptive guy – I felt what Christians attribute to a movement of the Holy Spirit within me.
I was blessed with a wonderful pastor and his amazing wife for the duration of my childhood into my early 20s, which is very abnormal for Methodists in that they typically rotate pastors about every three to four years. Along with several other people, I likely wouldn’t have developed into the kind of devoted Christian I am – peaks and valleys though I’ve gone through – without them.
Since I was around the age of six or so, I’d decided I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. My love of history was to the extent that I could think of nothing more thrilling than digging up the past and finding new discoveries about ancient people.
As I started the preparation for high school, though, a combination of factors began to mess with my ambitions.
Primary among those were the lingering effects of my panic episodes. While in my best of moments when being lauded for my achievements I felt like I could be anything, in my low moments when the echoes of panic and depression whispered in my head, I was petrified. In those moments, I couldn’t imagine going away to school and leaving my family, let alone pursuing a career that would have me traveling all over the world and job hunting from university to university.
That likewise overruled the prospect of entering the Christian ministry in my mind. Into my mid-teenage years, as I became active in youth group and church leadership, I’d had opportunity to preach and write various articles for the church newsletter, and the encouragement I received to enter the ministry because of my giftings was extreme – but how could I be a Methodist pastor, who was subject to moving all over the blasted state on a yearly basis?
My faith truly became my own around the age of 16. I again probed the really deep questions of why in the world I believed what I did – what was the basis for me accepting Christianity as true? I became enamored with Christian apologetics, a field that is basically the intellectual defense of the Christian faith through history, science, and philosophy. And at the time, despite my unresolved emotional traumas and pain with God, intellectually I was convinced.
So, much to my friend’s chagrin, I truly started to become All-American Super Christian. I wanted to save the universe for God. I tried a few time to hold Bible studies to share my passion and awaken the same in my friends. I became a leader in high school in different Christian organizations. My church basically looked to me as the representative for my generation.
It was also at this time that my panic decided to start making an appearance again. Perhaps it was in conjunction with the hormones that started to flood my body because, hooooo boy, did I have it bad for the ladies.
Maybe it’s because both my parents and my brother married right out of high school (well, it’s more than that – it was emotional insecurity seeking completion in another human being for something only God can fill [dropped that one out of nowhere, huh?]), but I wanted to be married bad.
Based on how I’ve described myself so far (intellectual, sensitive, strong emotions, brooding) you can likely guess that I was your fairly stereotypical teenage romantic sap. I’d write poems, songs, letters to express myself. As these were the pre-cell phone days, girls and I would exchange notes in class on a regular basis. But I was – definitively – not a ladies man. I was ridiculously shy and timid and had no idea that a guy was, ya know, supposed to be somewhat an initiator when it came to things that happen in a relationship.
And, good GOD, was I intense. A love lost type of Romeo, living and dying on how my crushes felt about me (much love and respect in hindsight, Jessica and Rebekah, for being as kind to me as you were, sheesh).
So, again in hindsight, little wonder I dated incredibly briefly in high school and was for the most part single. That kind of brooding likely contributed to the overall melancholy and panic I began dealing with at this time, but I was able to eventually, with help, get that back under what I thought was a modicum of control.
So the academic awards, accolades and peer affirmation piled up on top of each other from late middle school through the end of high school. I felt untouchable, in a way. Most Likely to Succeed in middle school, Most Intelligent in high school – I did graduate at the top of my class, co-valedictorian with three others with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Everybody loved me, everybody affirmed me, everybody kept telling me I could do and be anything in the world I wanted to, there was nothing at all that could stop me. And I wanted to do something incredible with myself to truly show to myself how indispensable I was, something that would quite literally change the world somehow, in someway.
I had a full ride throughout all of college with anything I wanted to do at my fingertips, while the dragon birthed in a seven-year-old heart of emotional trauma, insecurity, self-hatred, panic, despair, and inadequacy slumbered underneath the surface.
What could possibly go wrong?