I’m having a slow-motion breakdown lately.
It’s not so different from what a lot of people experience, but the difference is that I’m talking with you about it. I need to talk about it, because that stops it from getting out of control.
I spent so much of my younger life pretending that everything was OK with me — so much that I believed it was true — that I can live a perfectly normal life while I’m breaking down inside. I can move through the world as I always do. I can say and do all the right things. The people around me have no idea that anything‘s going on.
I had to learn that pattern as a child, because any hint of weakness or pain or unhappiness was met with sharp disapproval from my father. I learned to put a happy face on everything. I learned not to show people what I felt. I learned how to be numb to what I felt.
As I eventually learned how to be emotionally healthy, I became more honest with myself about what’s going on inside my head and heart. But I never unlearned the habit of acting as though all is normal. So I wear the mask people see in public.
But I sometimes have to talk about it — or else cracks eventually show up in the mask. And I could eventually lose control in a way that I’ve never allowed to happen. So I need to talk about it. Right now.
Deep down, I’m still having trouble coming to terms with the fact that this world isn’t what I expected it to be. I still have trouble accepting that human beings — and the culture they create — can be as irrational and insane and evil and shallow as they are.
I expected the world to be rational. I expected human beings to be reasonable and moral. I expected the culture we created together to reflect decency and love for one another. And I shaped myself — my values and abilities and priorities — to make myself a leader in that world. In my mind, my idealism and morality and values were tailored for what a rational and decent and loving world needed.
With all my heart, I expected to be valued and needed in the beautiful world which I anticipated becoming a part of.
But this world is nothing like what I expected. The people I see held up as worthy and honored seem like garish caricatures to me. They seem more like monstrous clowns with menacing grins. They preside over a Clown World that has a popular culture I would expect if juvenile boys were in charge. It’s a culture that Beavis and Butthead would create.
And I don’t belong here.
This is why I feel like such an alien among the people of our culture. I have high expectations of what people ought to be — toward each other and in the aspirations of their own hearts — and they constantly seem to disappoint me.
This crushes my soul. It makes me feel very alone. And it makes me feel as though I have no value — because I find no evidence that the culture wants what I have to offer.
All of this makes me feel crazy. It makes me feel as though I went wrong somewhere. It makes me feel as though I would be loved and valued and needed — if I had simply thrown aside all that I believe and all that I hold dear. It makes me feel as though the only way for me to succeed in this Clown World is to violate my values and to pursue the shallow and vain trinkets that the culture has dictated that I should want.
I don’t know how to be that person. What’s more, I wouldn’t want to be that person even if I knew how. That would be evil — and I know that.
It’s so hard for me to get others to understand why the world disappoints me and why I can’t be what their values claim we ought to be. Most other people seem as though they’re perfectly content to make themselves into whatever Clown World tells them to be. And they’re so integrated into the values and systems of Clown World that they feel the warm fuzzies of being understood just by being so much a part of the mainstream culture.
Most people never have to seek understanding from others, because it’s just there for them as a result of their conforming to the world.
But a few of us are very different. I’m certainly one of those. We’re some strange combination that means there are very few others like us. So we desperately look for others who can understand us — and who can make some semblance of sense to us.
As a result of all this, I sometimes feel like questioning my sanity — and I feel as though I’ve reached a breaking point — because I see things in the world and in people and in relationships that there seems to be an unspoken agreement not to notice.
I feel like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I feel as though almost everybody is pretending not to notice things which seem painfully obvious to me. But then I start wondering whether I really see what I think I see. Am I the one who’s imagining things?
When I try to tell others, there’s mostly a shrug of indifference or else they look away as though I’ve mentioned something that’s impolite to discuss. And that lack of interest from almost everyone else makes me certain that I’m an alien who doesn’t belong here.
There’s something about this place — and these people — that I don’t understand. Or maybe we’re just wired to see different things.
But it makes me doubt myself and doubt the things I see clearly and want to shout about — and it makes me desperate to find other people who clearly see reality as I see it.
Years ago, songwriter Tonio K. wrote about what it was like to live in an alien world and how much it breaks someone. In “You Will Go Free,” he wrote:
You’ve been a prisoner
Been a prisoner all your life
Held captive in an alien world
Where they hold your need for love to your throat like a knife
And they make you jump
And they make you do tricks
They take what started off such an innocent heart
And they break it and break it and break it
Until it almost can’t be fixed
There is nothing more powerful in my life than the need for love. I suspect it’s that way for everyone, at least when people can be honest with themselves. And this dysfunctional Clown World holds our need for love against us. As the song says, “they hold your need for love to your throat like a knife.”
Why? It means that you learn to be certain things — act in certain ways, value certain things, forget about other things — in order to get the love and approval that you desperately need. You learned this at an early age. You learned to conform. It was unconscious. You learned to conform to your family’s values in some respects, then to conform to the values of your peer group, then to conform to the values of your culture.
The unspoken bargain was that if you conformed — made yourself into what others wanted you to be — you would be accepted. The unspoken promise is that love would come with that — and most people never seem to figure out that this turned out to be a lie.
Most people never realize that what they’ve received isn’t real love. They take the applause. They take the approval. They take the material gifts. But they don’t notice the emptiness that comes from not getting the love they assumed would be part of the package they unconsciously accepted.
They’ve been so conditioned to conform — and to act in ways that please others — that they forget their own feelings, their own values. They lose who they are at their core. They lose the ability to even connect with what their own hearts tell them is true and right and worthy.
For complicated reasons, I never learned to be part of Clown World. And as I slowly recovered from the dysfunctional environment in which I grew up, I learned to see and touch the need for love which I still had. But through it all, I never lost the idealism of the values I expected to find represented in the world.
In a world which needs the values which I still cling to, I am an alien, because the message the world sends is to conform to Clown World instead. Even in our churches, the message has been incredibly compromised — in order to somehow make God acceptable to people who want to live the world’s values.
This isn’t possible. It’s like trying to harmonize truth and lies. It’s like trying to compromise between good and evil. By putting a bit of truth into every lie, churches can tell people that they can live the world’s values and still somehow be what God wants them to be.
This makes a mockery of all the values that have ever been revealed to us throughout human history. But we’re doing it in order to allow people who follow evil values to feel as though they’re “good people,” too. And it’s all a lie.
I don’t know how to be part of this Clown World. I don’t know how to fit in with people whose values are warped and distorted into something which I know is evil — and which I know is leading them to their own destruction.
But I have been broken and bent by the world which keeps trying to shape me to be like what it dictates. Sometimes it feels — in the words of the song I quoted — that my core has been damaged “until it almost can’t be fixed.”
But maybe this is the craziest part of all of this. I can’t give up hope that I can find a place where people choose to be like me. A place where people choose to love and to make decisions based on deeper and more lasting values than the shallowness that this world teaches.
I believe there’s a place for me. I believe there are others who know — deep in their hearts — that they are aliens in this Clown World, too. I believe there is love and understanding and belonging, even for me. I believe that these people will love me and value me. I believe they need what I have to offer, even though I feel as though Clown World petulantly throws me aside and tells me I’m worth nothing unless I adopt its dysfunctional values.
I get emotionally and spiritually exhausted living as a lonely alien in a world that doesn’t seem to want me. And that constant feeling of rejection — the constant feeling that I’m not valued — makes me feel as though I’m falling apart on the inside.
And that’s what is really happening to me right now.
If you have adopted the shallow and dysfunctional values of this juvenile Clown World, you might think I’m crazy. At the very least, you’ll feel as though I’m not from your world. That I’m an alien who doesn’t belong.
But if your heart tells me — speaking quietly when you allow yourself to feel truth — that there is something fundamentally wrong with the culture in which we live, you might recognize parts of what I’m telling you.
Maybe you’re an alien, too.
I have to believe there is a place for me. That there are people for me. That there is love and companionship and understanding for me. I have to believe.
The only alternative to finding that is continuing to be a solitary alien — and that would eventually push me to something that might be a form of madness.
So I choose to have faith in something which I can’t yet see. And I choose to have faith that there are others who need what I have to offer — and who need companionship with like-minded people just as badly as I do.
This faith is the only thing that keeps me sane. Especially right now.