Mike, 30, comes from an old and old-fashioned rural family.  He responded to a poster in the welfare office, having been driven by winter from a shack in the woods.  He presents as an intelligent clean-cut man, youngish-looking for his age, and ‘speedy’ in thought and speech, although he was able to wait for me to catch up and to help by recollecting his words.  He is very thoughtful and eloquent about many aspects of his history and situation.  He has recently come to acknowledge mental health issues as basic to long-term underachievement.  There is also a long history of a poor fit between his learning style and what was on offer at school; he is relatively unforgiving of his treatment in public school.  The positives and negatives of extended and nuclear family connections is a prevailing theme.  

FM:  So start with telling me a bit about your family – where you were raised, who was in the family, what they did for a living, etc.

I grew up in [a small town].  I was raised on a dump road.  I’m 7th generation Canadian so the family has been there a long time.  We have a whole corner of land on this one highway which is all my various relatives, so we brag that we’re an old name [in the area]. 

FM: So who was in your immediate family? 

My dad, my mother, my brother.  Dad runs a wood shop and mom raised us until recently, and now she is a minister. 

FM: Okay.  You’re in Middletown now, so talk about how and when you began to think about leaving home. 

Probably grade 7.  Realistically, because you’re in a very small town.  You hear about people going to Toronto, and it seems really exciting.  When you’re young and you only know your own town and you hear there’s this in Toronto, there’s that in Toronto, or whatever the city is, you think There’s got to be more than this. 

FM: So it’s inevitable, but when and how did you get more specific?

In my case, the first time I moved to Middletown, my mom and dad were having a separation at the time, so we came to Middletown with my mom.  And she and my brother moved back and because the apartment still had a lease on it, I stayed on.  Which wasn’t a move by choice, but my first experience here.

FM: And how old were you at that time? 

19

FM: Finished high school?

Finished high school.  I didn’t finish college although I went straight from high school into the college system. 

FM: So you finished high school in [the regional high school at] Littletown, and had you started college when your family moved to Middletown? 

When I was in college – it was strange timing – I was living in Lockville and when things started to get rocky between my parents, I was in college, getting a ride from Lockville to Middletown every day, and then when we moved, I had dropped out by that point. 

FM: Okay.  So Lockville to Middletown is about half an hour [by car]?

Give or take.

FM: And what were you taking in college?

Computer science.

FM: And how did it not work out for you?  What contributed to your dropping out?

Part of it was just coming straight from high school and not understanding the bearing of things.  Obviously not being able to stick around for after-school activities and extra resources made it difficult, having to go back and forth to [my home].  And I can’t say because I’m viewing from my own eyes, but I would say that my parents having trouble would have contributed somewhat – it only makes sense that it would contribute to the trouble. 

FM: Right.  Did you think you had the right course? 

At the time I did.  Part of the reason why I got fast-tracked into that was that computers were really big at the time, so just like I would have gotten directed into forensics in the early 2000, when CSI came out and it was a big thing…

FM: Were you a good student in high school?

I was a terrible student.  I didn’t learn well through the ways they wanted to teach me.  Everyone learns differently and I definitely learn differently.  I thought I hated education until I left college, and a year or two afterwards I realized I loved to learn, loved to pick up new skills, read books.  But the education system…

FM: Turned you off learning? 

Yeah.

FM: Were you ever identified as having an unusual learning pattern or learning disability or anything?

No.  Being that I grew up in Lockville, I went to Lockville Public School which didn’t have many resources, and I think the tenured mentality had taken over – the [teacher’s] idea that we’re here, all we have to do is show up -- there weren’t a lot of people going out of their way to pay attention to the kids individually.  So I think no one paid attention to my grades.

FM: Did your parents? 

Yeah.  Basically it didn’t look like it was a huge deal.  I’d gotten low to average grades.  But then when I started getting into courses that were my choice, I began getting 80s and 90s in some courses and 50s in others.  So it became very apparent that I wasn’t learning, maybe because I didn’t want to, or maybe because it wasn’t being taught to me in a way that I could absorb it. 

FM: Did your family value education highly?  Was it expected that you would be a reasonable student and that you would get post-sec education?

I think it was.  I can’t say because my parents wouldn’t have put any additional pressure – like You Must – they were pretty relaxed that way, but I think it was generally expected of me.  I was a tinkerer as a kid, and everyone thought oh he’s going to be an engineer or something like that. 

FM: But no one noticed or made an issue of a poorness of fit between you and school, even though you were seen as bright and promising? 

There was, in grade 8, one teacher who realized that maybe it was something to do with the way I was being taught.  With her, I would have been on the elementary honour role if there were such a thing.  She took a lot of time out and went beyond the call of duty, she wasn’t just doing her job, she went out of her way to help me out personally.  And that’s when it became apparent that there wasn’t – I wasn’t just poor at school and having trouble understanding things, it wasn’t that I wasn’t smart enough to do it, it was just the way that it was presented. 

FM: But I’m hearing that school was not fun, maybe actively unpleasant, because you were essentially misunderstood, and perhaps seen as ‘dumb’?

Yeah, I definitely got that from some teachers.  Because I didn’t think in the same way, they just figured I was a lost cause.  When I left school, I did a lot of work at various kids camps, various organizations, and got more experience dealing with all these different kids, and being a child care worker of kids, and when I looked back at Lockville Public School I wondered what they were doing.  And so it’s me looking back on it and saying that that’s not how I would help a kid do well. 

FM: Okay, so talk a bit about – actually, before we go to college, talk a bit about what engagement you’d had with the work force by the time you left home.

I’d worked at Pizza Hut Express in Lockville that was also in a bowling alley, which meant in a way it started me off on the way of jack of all trades.  My first employment demanded that I cut the grass, wash the floors, every menial task inside and out, restaurant and bowling alley.  Which wasn’t especially difficult, but it’s a different kind of job when you do everything.

FM: Did that fit well with you?  Your learning style?

I think it did.  It had to.  This, like Lockville Public School, I had one school I could go to and when I turned 16, and there was one job I could get.  So there wasn’t much alternative; I had no choice. 

FM: Okay, and then college.  Did you get any help at your high school about choosing post sec? 

They spent resources trying to give us ideas, but help is not necessarily what I would call it.  It’s not as if they said Based on the courses you take, or the sports you like, this is what you should take.  They would just say What do you want to do?  I think partially it was part of the You can do whatever you want, You can be whatever you want to be era.  Which I think is positive in part, but at the same point it is setting up certain expectations.  Everyone’s special idea.  It’s good to make everybody feel good about themselves, but at the same time, reality is tough.  It’s not a fairy tale. 

FM: And you’re 30 now, so you’re right, you were graduating at about the time there was all the hoopla about double cohort, getting rid of grade 13.

I was the last year of grade 13.  I took one computer science course in grade 13. 

FM: Okay, so you’re 19 going to college --

When I was in college I was 17 because my birthday is over the summer.

FM: But you did grade 13?

I mixed grade 12 and 13 together because by then I’d realized I could be successful in school so I jammed a bunch of courses together to finish early. 

FM: And what was the thinking there?  To brush the dust of high school from your feet, or get on with adulthood? What was the thinking?

The oldest story that there is.  There was a girl.  A girl a year older than me and I wanted to go to college when she went to college.  Fun to look back on. 

FM: Okay:  you are not alone in this.  What did your folks think about this? 

I think mostly they were just happy that I was finally showing some inclination toward education.  I think when I started taking all the computer courses and getting good results, that was a relief to them.  I think they were at a loss to understand why I had done so poorly when I didn’t show any evidence of lack of intelligence.  I think once they saw me taking control and wanting to get involved, they took a step back and let me make my own decisions.  Which was wonderful parenting, but left me making a bad decision. 

FM: Right.  And were you aware that there was trouble brewing in your parents’ relationship, and maybe wanted to move on before any drama arrived from that direction? 

I didn’t so much really know what was going on with the relationship; being a teenager I was pretty absorbed in my own life.  But my father and my relationship had never been good, when I was younger.  It seems that that side of the family is kind of a generation back in their value system.  Which I value now, but at the time he seemed like an old fogey, the old guard.  So that would have been my big motivation to go, to get away from the old guy, another classic story I’m sure you’ve heard a few times. 

FM: Yeah, I have.  Were you a ‘good kid’, other than the student bit?

I had times when I was good, and times when I wasn’t.  I was very violent at some times in my childhood, which shocks me to this day.  When I was in public school, I broke a kid’s arm, a kid’s leg, noses.  Not intentionally; it was just how I was communicating at the time.  I tend to have a flux of good times, anxiety, and then my anxiety will lead me to bad times, I would just feel rage.  I understand it now and can manage it:  I’m a very easy-going person now.  So I had times during my youth when I was completely withdrawn and wouldn’t talk to anyone.  And other times when I could have been considered, maybe not a bully but a hardhead, and other times when I was just a pain in the ass.

FM: That sounds a bit bi-polar from this distance – mania and depression.  Anyone ever think that then?

No, I think that’s probably the biggest shock and what I’m most disappointed in, looking back at my public school teachers - it would have been really obvious. Even after a couple of years of working with kids, I could notice these trends, so it seems to me that they really weren’t trying to go out of their ways to notice.  Being an adult, I take responsibility for what happened to me, everything in life, but looking back, it seems I may have been one who fell through the cracks.  Sometimes I wonder if I’d been given a better education, if I would be a different person.

FM: So tell us a bit about your current circumstances, and then we’ll fill in gaps.

The big news right now is I’ve just gotten out of a 7-year relationship.  It went fairly well, we tried to be as mature about everything as possible, but things were still left out of sorts.  So that’s why the timing:  I’ve been in Lockville [area] and until after the first of December, living in a shack in the woods.  And I’m just trying to rebuild and get myself into a better spot.  Dealing with my anxiety is my biggest challenge right now. 

FM: Talk a bit about the anxiety:  for how long has it been an issue and how have you managed it to date?

It’s kind of interesting.  For me, it has only been an issue since last November because I had no idea it was affecting me.  I realized just through all of the things that were happening - a break-up, having trouble with money – that this was the case, I’d always been held back by my anxiety.  I started looking back, saying Why did I do that at this time, Why did I make that decision at that fork in the road. 

FM: And what brought on this insight?  What made the scales fall from your eyes, or whatever the experience was?

A combination of working at a retail store and having trouble with my girlfriend and trying to improve myself at the time.  And through self-improvement it’s easy to find your flaws. 

FM: Was this a solo gig or did you have some help with this self-exploration? 

It was more solo than it needed to be.  I had a habit of doing things myself, even to my own problems.  So at the time, I think, if I’d let the girlfriend in a little more, I think she would have brought me to the realization a little sooner.  But being the man, I’m ‘the rock’, so I was trying to sort it out on my own. 

FM: Okay, so let’s track where you’ve lived, starting with the apartment you inherited when your mom and brother – younger brother, I’m gathering – moved back to Lockville. 

Immediately I went back to Lockville, surprise surprise.

FM: But what were you doing, workwise, after college ended?

The first job after college I worked at a You Brew.  For a college-aged kid, it seemed like a good job, you’re making beer and wine all day and all these free samples.  So that was my only job when I was in Middletown at that time.  And then went back to Lockville doing a lot of odd jobs.  A lot of my time has been spent working for myself, either as an odd-jobs man or as a lumber jack.  I tend to value my time more than the money.  I’m happy sitting quietly with a container of Mr Noodles.  I was never one who needed to go out and make a ton of cash.  As long as I can pay the bills and keep the ones around me happy, I’m good.

FM: And were you able to do that?

At the time, yes, being that young kids don’t need much, food in their belly and a bit of cash to party on the weekend.  So when I was alone I was able to do that just fine.  And when I was in Lockville, I didn’t have much expense because the parents were paying the bills.

FM: So you were living with your dad or your mom?

After she went back with my brother, they tried it out again for a little while longer before they actually divorced.  So my brother had been living there during that period, but afterwards mom left and for a while my brother and I just spent time roaming the streets for a couple of years.  By choice:  we’ve both got family who are willing to help, but there’s a freedom to it.  I think at the time, after being under – dad’s a bit of a totalitarian – so just being able to go out and stand on a highway and put your thumb out, or go to a new city.  Freedom became so invaluable we just took it at any price.

FM: How much younger is he than you?

4 years.  Most people think he’s the older, just given that we’re both adults.  And he’s probably got 75 pounds on me. 

FM: But he would have been high school age at this time, or just out of high school. 

Yeah, the age that we were both contributed in a way to the problems that my parents were having.  Not that it was a fairy tale relationship in any way, I don’t think that having two teen age boys in the house made it any easier.  Plus he’s a bit more – not aggressive, he just pushes more.  We used to say that if there was a wall in front of me, I would find a way around it, but he would run right through it, so in our family that was a way to distinguish between the two of us. 

FM: You said your mom became a minister, and it makes me wonder how she experienced living with a totalitarian-type guy, somebody pretty controlling, maybe.

Yeah.  From my understanding, the stress of family and life really got to him.  Again, thinking himself a generation older than he is, talking about emotions is just not a possibility.  If I would even suggest that he might have a similar anxiety to me, he wouldn’t know what to do with that.  That’s where the rock mentality comes from, the man is the guy who has to hold things together.  But I do understand, from what I’ve been told, he was a lot kinder, funner person when he was younger.  He just got a rough ride. 

FM: Is he still living?  You used past tense…

Oh yeah.  I see it a bit differently.  We got to the point where we couldn’t get along as father and son, so the best way to view the relationship is just as adults.  There’s still a family closeness there but I just try not to ask for advice and he tries not to give it, we just leave it there.  He is a different person, kinda, than when we lived together, now that we’re just adults. 

FM: Lemme ask what has happened with your brother.

He’s looking for work right now.  He’s actually working in the shop with my dad a little bit – my dad is a woodworker.  And he’s trying to get work as a welder.  He just finished his welding certificate a couple of months ago, so right now he’s just paying bills and getting to the place where he can get a slightly better job.  He’s actually trying to get back to Lockville.

FM: Where is he?

He’s in Middletown.  There’s a family property – we own 60 acres and there’s a house at either end, and my brother wants to take over the house that my father is not living in.  Right now it’s being rented out to extended relatives of ours, so he wants to take it over.  Because there’s no value now to living in Middletown – it’s not a geographic necessity to live within city limits. 

FM: Okay.  So in your freedom years, where did you get to, and what was the organizing principle, other than seeing the world, going where the wind blew you?

The classic sowing one’s seeds, you need to go out and experience the world.  Especially being raised in Lockville, even another small town was something new.  So I spent a lot of time hitchhiking, it was exciting, free transportation.  I went wherever my friends had a couch for me to crash on:  Littletown, Middletown, [many other towns and cities in Ontario], and then all over Lake County. 

FM: For how long was this phase?

I’d say about 2-3 years.  Until I started working at Camp [Meatloaf]. 

FM: Which is where?

That’s actually on Meatloaf Lake, 10 min canoe from Lockville, 45 minute drive around the lake.  It’s a camp for inner city kids at risk. 

FM: How’d you snafu that job?

I got really lucky and impressed a lady during the interview.  I’ve always been pretty good with interviewing, when I’m trying to get work, pretty impressive.  And I just wowed her – I didn’t have any qualifications except that I’d been in Scouts.  So I just rode my Scouts experience, be really nice, said I like to be a hero to kids, which I do, and that sealed it, I got the job. 

FM: Okay, and you enjoyed it, I take it?

I would say that would be – that was a phase of my life in itself.  Looking back, I think, over the 3 years I worked there, I learned more about myself and other people than the previous 20 years.  And I really see that as being the chrysalis of what I am now.  Following my narrative, I think it’s clear that I see it a bit different before than after.  Whether it was just maturity kicking in, I don’t know.  So that, to me, is a big life moment that made me see the whole world a lot differently. 

FM: Were you good at it?

Yeah.  I enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t really work; you were getting paid to play.  When you weren’t teaching a kid to canoe or camp, you were helping someone who needed it.  A lot of group home kids who didn’t have a single one-on-one relationship with an adult their whole entire life; they’d been a number from the time they were born.  And when you interact with someone like that and get results, you can really tell that you’ve made some sort of different, had some sort of effect. 

FM: But it ended?  How was that? 

After 3 years, I just wanted to move on to different things.  Part of the reason why was that after the 3 years, that was one of the bouts of anxiety that I had, again, not realizing at the time that that was what was happening.  I had been a member of the inner circle at that time of people who spent 8 months at the camp, rather than 2.  And that fall - I had a really difficult fall.  Everything was coming to a head as far as my parents’ divorce was concerned, and I didn’t shine that fall, and at the time I didn’t feel like I was up to going back in the spring.  I felt that I’d let them down by not giving my best, because they’d been really good employers.  At that time, I started looking for something different, when I realized I wasn’t going back the next spring, I started for looking for some other kind of work. 

FM: And what did you find?

Serving.  I worked as a server in a 5-start resort in [a small town in the area], and that was humiliating and demeaning.  A good life experience but not something I would go back to.  I think that’s the kind of job that everyone should have to spend a year doing when they leave high school just so they can appreciate the bottom rung.

FM: But often the money is good.

Regularly, the money would have been great.  But it was an inclusive resort so everyone bought the package, so at the table no one had money in their pocket.  So you could get a $200 bill and they wouldn’t tip you a penny because they’re not giving cash, they’re just signing off.  So in that job a lot was expected of being high crust but there was no real reward for it. 

FM: Yeah, the idea being that the company shares the tip that they add to the bill at the end of their stay, but maybe they don’t.

We didn’t see it.  Maybe there was a gratuity, but … I got a $20 tip, that was my best tip ever, and I regularly had $800 tables.  I think the guy was just trying to impress his wife.  

FM: Yeah, and to be acting high crust, as you say, and getting crusts, adds up to demeaning. 

Yeah.  Their whole thing was because it was a resort, staff lived on site.  And they took advantage of that.  So it was like living in a party house.  Most of the youth accommodations had their own mini-bars.  You’re working 12 hours a day, nowhere to spend your money, and no expenses because you’re living there.  So there were perks, not like it was the worst job ever.  But you had to look for the sunny days. 

FM: When did the girlfriend join this story? 

Through a contact I met in [the small town where the resort was, I moved to [a small city in southern Ontario].  He was looking for a room-mate to live [there] with, so we moved to [there].  I got a job at the Pita Pit and then this little red-haired pixie started showing up and not ordering food 3 or 4 times a week, and that’s how I met my girlfriend. 

FM: And that’s 7 years ago?

7 years, give or take.  8

FM: And how did it unfold?  Where did you live, what did you do?

We started off living in [that city] for a couple of years.  She just lived with me; she’d been kicked out of her house so she was living with me.  After some time, my brother was having trouble with his rent in Middletown – his room-mate had ditched him – so I moved back to fill that place and a few months later, after saving some money, my girlfriend came to join me.  And essentially we rebounded between Middletown and [that city], her family was there, mine was in Middletown, so wherever there was work, housing, resources, or sometimes you just couldn’t find something in Middletown or whatever, so we spent 7 years basically bouncing back and forth.  It was a juggling act to keep both families happy. 

FM: So they were worried about you?  Or was it that you weren’t able to manage on your own? 

In my case, they just wanted me to be around.  My extended family, until my grandparents died, were fairly close, would use any excuse to get together.  So basically they wanted me around.  In my girlfriend’s case, it may have been that her mother wanted to keep tabs on her.  She was 7 years younger, so her mom wanted to keep an eye on her.  But not a positive eye…

FM: Hold on, so when she moved in with you, she was still a young teenager?

She was 16 when we got together.  She’d been kicked out of her house on and off since she was 14.  There was too much estrogen power in the house; she, her mother and her grandmother were all very strong women, all shared the same small house with her brother.  And there was just too much personality, could not be contained.  So she’d been spending most of the last 2 years on the street anyways, so from her point of view, part of the reason for getting together with me was having someplace else to go. 

FM: So I’m getting the picture of a fairly transient tumbleweed life, the two of you, with strong but not necessarily helpful family connections.  You with an undiagnosed anxiety condition.  Her?

She was actually, if anything, over head-shrunk, for lack of a better word.  She had spent time when she was on the street talking to a psychiatrist, she had had anxiety attacks.  So she had anxiety, but not generalized, in response to specific instances.  Anything would set her off, hard to say.  But at that point - I had no idea - I was the healthy one.  But as the situation went on and on, it became evident that I had my own barrel of monkeys. 

FM: And when or how did that become apparent to you?

Working at a second-hand store downtown.  There was another employee there who was the son of the owner, and I just couldn’t seem to get on with him.  It’s a strange situation where he’s never had a real job, his parents have just paid for him all through his life.  And I’ve had to work for everything.  And when I worked with him, he would just bring it out of me, I would just freeze up.  And then I began looking back and realizing that I’d been having anxiety attacks since I was 18.  That what I would call a grumpy day was chemically induced.  So in addition to having all the trouble at work, we were just breaking up, deciding what we wanted to do.  I tried to look at myself, why I hadn’t managed to keep my job, why the relationship wasn’t working out the way we had planned it. 

FM: So did you get fired? 

Laid off.  I had been talking to my employer about my anxiety when I realized that was what it was.  Said Look, I’m trying to get help, talking to my doctor, trying to get meds.  And at the time they seemed to be fairly understanding of the situation.  Given that the owner’s son had never accomplished anything, he had a fairly decent way of understanding that not everyone had good days every single day. 

FM: So the son was a bit of a sad case, you said. 

I don’t think it should have been a problem – he didn’t have a lot of things in his life to keep him busy so he tends to antagonize others to entertain himself.  So it’s kinda an understanding if you work at that store, that’s what you have to put up with. 

FM: So where are you at with being diagnosed and treated? 

Nowhere, really.  I tried to sign up for disabilities, ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program] and CPP [Canadian Pension Plan], but because – last November when I spoke to my doctor, this was when it was most crushing, really severe, he set up an appointment for the next March to speak to somebody.  I didn’t make it to that meeting because I’d forgotten by that time.  I’d talked to other people, be it family or friends, because I couldn’t wait, I needed something, couldn’t wait for this bureaucracy to be cleared.  Anyways I missed that appointment because I didn’t remember I had it, so for that reason I’ve been disqualified for disability.  So I’m trying to go though the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), but it’s not set up for people like me, it’s set up for people who are really truly crippled by their condition.  I know anxiety is a problem for me, but there are people who are much worse cases, not necessarily with only anxiety but with a whole lot of conditions. Knowing that there are so many people so much worse off, it’s hard to not feel guilty about getting help. 

FM: So what are your other options?

At this point, I’m going to talk to the CMHA, hope that they can at least do something.  I’m talking with my Ontario Works [welfare] worker about getting an advocate to get ODSP just for the resources that are available, be it medication, or talking to someone – usually you don’t get paid $40; it costs you a whole lot more.  

And honestly, I feel as if a lot of government employees treat me the same [wrong?] way.  I don’t walk in with a limp, I’m not muttering to myself, they say Why are you looking for assistance, you don’t look that bad to me.  I can walk, talk, and it’s hard to describe a mental storm. 

FM: So the doc was November a year ago, and the missed appointment was last spring?

I didn’t realize at the time how important – that meeting would have been my first step at going down the mental health road.  When I missed it, I didn’t get a reminder, someone saying You missed it, I didn’t realize that it was an important first step.  Because once I’d spoken to her, she’d have gotten me on the road to the credibility of my mental illness.  I thought it would have been enough for my family doctor – he’d known me his whole life, he birthed me – I didn’t realize that someone sitting behind a desk would have more credibility than a medical professional.  So despite him being the one who originally suggested that I go on ODSP and doing everything he can to get me on it, it’s just not happening through that means. 

FM: How did the living in a shack in the woods come about?

It’s on my dad’s property.  It’s a shack that my uncle built back in the ‘70s as a hippie hideaway, essentially a big empty cottage in the middle of the woods.  And when my brother and I were teenagers, it was where we’d go to have parties.  But sort of a last retreat.  A couple years ago my brother and his girlfriend spent the summer there, just to save money and just because they were between apartments.  So although it doesn’t have electricity, heat or water, just a storage shed, it’s a hideaway. 

FM: Okay, so the winter basically drove you back to the city.  And where are you living?

With my brother, actually.  Got to the point where – beyond the fact it does get cold – really to get to the core of what we’re talking about, Lockville doesn’t have a lot.  The groceries alone are generally half the price in Middletown that they are in Lockville.  Go in with some money in my pocket to get some soup, the soup is $4.50, twice the price as in Middletown.  It’s tourist towns.  Because until we can find a way to charge two prices, one for locals and one for tourists, locals are always going to be paying too much. 

FM: Yes, and also Lockville is now quite a centre for relatively up-scale retirement places, so another more-or-less deep-pocketed population. 

FM: Okay.  I think I have the story, let me just reprise and you check me out.  So difficult public school and some behavioural issues, got better at high school, went directly to college but that didn’t last very long at all, then began bouncing around for about 10 years, various jobs, 7-year relationship with a girl quite a bit younger than you who had identified issues with anxiety, both families of origin involved, not always positively, but always a place to end up if necessary.

For me; not so much for her. 

FM: So you’re the strong one, the ‘rock’, and not until the relationship begins to fray do you realize that you also have anxiety issues that explain a lot of the troubles you’ve seen.  So started the process to have that identified and respected and supported about 13 months ago, but missed an essential meeting and are still not properly started on that journey.  Is this about it? 

Yeah.  She has on and off issues with her family – there’s a lot of head-butting.  Sometimes when she gets an invite to dinner, it’s so she can be shown something really impressive her mother did.  It seems that her mother is in competition with her – there’s an element of one-upsmanship. 

FM: Do you really think this relationship is over?  You sound pretty engaged still…

Just the way the break-up happened.  It wasn’t a messy break-up.  She was having difficulties at work and with some relationships, friends.  I was having trouble at work, and having difficulties with the fact that I was having difficulties at work.  And we’d always said that if we decided to go different ways, that we would do so as amicably as possible.

FM: Sounds a bit there like the idea of being a good employee is really important to you – you mentioned it re camp, and again with the last employer. 

I was raised by my mom, so I was raised to value the appreciation of others.  I fall into that trap of it being my job to make other people happy.  Do good at my job, make my employer happy.  Do good at my relationship, make my girlfriend happy.  Not to be overtly sexist, but I’ve read studies that say if you’re raised by a woman, you’re more likely to …  Dad worked 12 ½ hours a day so I was raised pretty much entirely by my mom.  That plays into the whole wanting to be a hero, my anxiety, because if I don’t feel I’m doing my absolute best, I get all worked up.  That works into the larger picture 

FM: Okay.   I have some finish-up questions; they sometimes bring up other things as well.  Are we ready for that? 

I think so. 

FM: So.  In order that people who read this story understand it in the way that you mean it to be understood, to give it focus and shape, would you say what you think is the Most Important Event that influences how this narrative is unfolding. 

That is extremely difficult to pinpoint.  You could say it was public school, because that set me on my trajectory.  Or you could say camp.  When I think about camp, this is where I found myself. 

FM: And found something that you were good at.  Do you consider this sort of work as a career path?

Yes.  Right now, as far as employment goes, while trying to figure myself out emotionally and mentally, I’m going to go down to United Way and say, I’ve got these skills and experience, and what can I do to help and maybe lead to some work for myself.  Just getting out there, being with people and helping people will just generally lead to feeling more positive, I’m sure.  In my case, the other big thing is that in my experience with charity work, people tend to be appreciative, so rather than the clock is always ticking, trying to squeeze the last drop out of you, they tend to be happy that you even show up.  And being that anxiety is something that I can’t get over, it’s not a broken leg that’s going to heal, I think that’s my best way to get work now.  And that there will be an understanding of my condition.  I can say, I’m looking for work and if you have any paid employment I’d love to do it, with the understanding that I may have days when I need to take a break, maybe just 5 minutes.  But McDonalds, Tim Hortons, they’re not going to let you do that. 

FM: Right.  A protected, or at least informed work setting for the foreseeable --

Somewhere that understands.  That I can show that I do want to work, it’s not just that I’m slacking off, taking a day off or whatever.  Just some understanding. 

FM: Okay, next question is…  The people who will read this story will form some opinion about how it’s going to turn out, for good or not so good.  What do you think?

It’s a coin toss.  Life is a coin toss, that’s what I think.  There’ so much of life that you have a hold on the reins for, and the rest, just kinda happens.

FM: Okay, now two advice questions.  What advice would you give your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that would help this story have a better trajectory or outcome, make it better or easier or smoother or whatever? 

I couldn’t tell myself anything.  Without having experienced the things I’ve experienced, no one, including my own self, could have told me what I could or couldn’t do.

FM: But it seems so clear to me as you’ve told this story, that had someone had the construct of – I’m not going to say mental illness, but some appreciation of oddities in how you were perceiving and engaging with the world, that the trajectory might have been quite different.  More than just your grade 8 teacher.  She was a good start, but too little too late, no one took it beyond the school bit.

You know, mentioning that, that would be something.  But I wouldn’t tell my younger self, I would have to tell someone who was there at the time.  That would have been nice.  We become who we are through what we do.  But nevertheless, it would have nice.  Maybe go to a Montessori school, or a school with better teachers.  How could you tell yourself as a young child, go to a better school?  It’s not an option I had.

FM: Right, and I’ve scooped myself, because the next question is: What advice would you give to those of us who would wish to be helpful to young people like yourself, that would make the narratives unfold easier or better? 

Hmmm…  that is a really tough one.  Pay more attention, I guess.  I think in the 21st century, we live in our heads more than maybe we have in the past.  It’s a pretty individualized, self-centred view that most of us take.  Looking back at my time at Lockville Public School, a lot of them were very well experienced teachers, just a couple of years from retirement, so very seasoned professionals.  But after spending a year and a half counseling kids in trouble and youth at risk, I think I may have had a better understanding at 20 years old, or maybe more of an engagement, than any of my teachers had.  So looking back, seeing myself as a kid, I can see the behaviours.  If I had been watching myself, I would have said You’re withdrawn, you’re having issues socializing with some of the other kids.   It’s hard of me to wrap my head around of the 20-30 teachers at the school, not a single one noticed, or cared to notice, what was happening to me.  Seems like a school with 200 kids, they could have put more emphasis on [that].  But as with any social study, at the end of the day, getting people to care would solve the problem.  All the discussions with my friends, it just comes down to If you can just get people to care. 

FM: Do you think that had you been raised in a larger centre, where there were other school options, do you think your family might have looked for something else for you?

Definitely.  I was a trouble-making kid when I was young, so when I had trouble with the teachers, it was understood that it was probably on my end that the trouble began.  And it’s a cycle, self-perpetuating – you make trouble, you’re upset about getting into trouble, that sets it up for you to do something else, especially if you’re not sure why you got in trouble in the first place.  But I feel that my mom would have looked for something else for me if there was an option.  She took ECE [Early Childhood Education] right out of high school, so my well-roundedness, if I have any, is attributed to her side.  But again, it’s a family legacy, the property we live on, so there wasn’t an option of moving to a city centre. 

FM: But your mom, now that she’s divorced from the family that owns the land, has she gone elsewhere?

She’s in [a small village in the northern part of the county], because she’s a minister, she gets placed in locations and then she lives in that manse for a number of years.  That was just the closest position they could get her in.  

FM: I think I’m done.  Anything else come to mind?

Not on topic.