Video Homeschooling and the Beltway Snipers

Video Home SchoolIf you haven’t known me long enough, you might not know that I homeschooled in 9th and 10th grade. The fact is, I don’t really talk about it because I consider it a dark period in my life in which I suffered from a very similar, though more rudimentary depression and loneliness that I did 2-3 years back.

The other reason is because I admittedly, and quite shallowly don’t really want the association. Considering that there is often a heavy stigma that comes chained with being homeschooled of some of the most socially awkward and oblivious kids that modern history as seen, I wish I wasn’t like this, but I also can’t blame myself. Having been embedded into that circle for many years, I saw plenty of those types of kids, but I guess since I mention it, plenty of kids who do homeschool are also as normal as all the rest — I think there is just a much higher risk of not undergoing the socialization process properly when not being surrounded by as many peers, and also when being raised in a highly insulated environment.

I’ll note, given my own experiences, I don’t think I’d ever consider letting my future children homeschool. Ever.

I’m not really here to rant or expound on the merits of home schooling, but rather reflect on some memories from a time when I did home school.

In October 2002, I turned 16. I was a sophomore, and in this particular year, I was actually doing video home school through Pensacola Christian Academy or College via A Beka Academy — or something like that — an experience of which only 3 friends I’ve ever had can directly relate, which also means that I feel an special sort of bond with them.

Because of the whole video element of things, my days revolved around the TV. I started my day by turning on the TV, and, at some point, I would pop in a VHS and try to pretend I was in some classroom with a bunch of other students my age who weren’t actually my age because the videos were between 2 and 5 years old, meaning that most of these kids were out of high school, and a few were seniors.

My attempts to immerse myself in this strange experience often ended up with me contemplating how weird it must have been to be an actual student in one of these classes where the teacher continually looks into a camera in the back, talks to it, and awkwardly pauses for up to 3 minutes at a time. I’d often wonder what type of lives these people who I felt I got to know in some weird, voyeuristic, crystal ball looking glass type of level.

“I wonder who is dating who”

“Does Mrs. White have any kids? What kind of man is her husband?”

“Mr. Tice had 17 hairs on his head in chapter 3, but I am only counting 15 in chapter 5. He must have had a stressful month that year.”

Occasionally, these classes even connected. In my English class, there was a cute girl I had whatever kind of crush I could have had on. In my Math class, filmed a year later, she was also there. I don’t remember who said what, but somehow she spilled boiling water on her bare feet between those school years. I always analyzed her walking habits any chance I could in those two.

Getting back to October of 2002, for those who remember, this was the same time the notorious and horrible beltway snipers wreaked havoc on the DC/Maryland area, dominated the 24 hour news cycle, and, for one 16 year old boy, captivated and terrified almost every waking moment for a few weeks.

I remember that morning pretty well. I turned on the TV and planned to burn some time on some cartoons before I hopped back into the bizarre world of Video Home School. Instead, the news was already on. Four people, all of whom were going about typical daily errands, were shot and killed in daylight, all within a couple hours. It was hundreds of miles away, but I don’t think I had ever been more scared to go outside in my life.

For the entire day, every day for the next week or two, all I could do was watch. I was bursting at the laces with dread, hoping that the police would crack open the investigation before anymore people were murdered by whoever this monster had set his sights on next.

I think we have a strange, uncomfortable and somewhat sick fascination with these type of tragic events — from serial killers to mass shootings. I’m not sure if it is a societal thing that is borne, like some kind of virus, from the media, or just an internal social and psychological ticking that goes off when someone deviates so disturbingly far from humanity and threatens the construct of our perceived safety and livelihood of ourselves and our loved ones. Either way, when I look back on my life thus far, none of these disturbing tragedies has captivated with such a grip as this series event, save for maybe the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Given my isolated state and insulation, I had crafted all sorts of terrible scenarios in my head. I had all but convinced myself that whoever was behind these shootings had gone a few days without any activity because he had moved onto another state. Of course, that thought degenerated into convincing myself that the killer had traveled down to Tennessee, and that myself and my own family were in immediate danger.

One thing about highly irrational fear is that there is a tendency to want to keep it a secret; partially so you don’t look like a wuss, and the other part so you don’t come off as a loon.

I didn’t want anyone to know, but I lived those days in pure horror. My dad was still pastoring our church at the time, which meant many late nights making the 30 minute trip to and from Fairview and Franklin. One of the most agonizing hours in my life was when he had called me to tell me he was coming home and asked if I needed anything, mentioning that he needed to get gas. He took longer than usual to get home, and each minute that passed sprouted more fear like a time lapsed weed erupting from the Earth.

I don’t know if he ever caught on, but when he got home, I was the most relieved and excited to see him as I ever have been.

The days I spent neglecting school and ingesting every bit of news on the then named Beltway Sniper (before we knew it was two men) started to take a heavy toll on me.

My breaking point came in two parts. The first was at a point where I thought I heard something outside in our neighborhood that sounded like a distant gunshot. Immediately, my feral imagination had convinced me that it was the same killer somewhere in my small town, shooting neighbors and people he sees in windows. I turned everything off and laid under my bed until I didn’t feel immediately threatened anymore.

Finally, I fell asleep during a press conference held by then Montgomery County Police Chief, Charles Moose. I had a special sleep setup back then. I’d rest my head on the bottom of my video game chair and sprawl out right in front of the TV.

Mine was more ratchet looking than this. I got it from Uncle Bud's, which was basically off brand Big Lots.
Mine was more ratchet looking than this. I got it from Uncle Bud’s, which was basically off brand Big Lots.

I had a short dream that I was outside, walking to my car when I sensed something was wrong. I ran into an abandoned building that had tons of exposed windows. Meandering about, I went upstairs hoping for someplace that offered more obscurity when I looked outside a cracked window and saw a shaded figure next to a light pole with a rifle. He fired it and shot in the chest.

In that instant, everything went black, then faded into a bright red as I popped into consciousness, but couldn’t wake up or breathe. For almost a minute I was stuck in the worst sleep paralysis experience I’ve ever suffered as I struggled to breathe, tried to wake up, and did a lot of praying. Eventually everything faded back to black and it got really quiet.

It felt like a miracle, but I popped back awake and gasped for air as I woke up to the same press conference ending and turned off the TV.

I’ve never told anyone these thoughts and feelings from this time. These days whenever tragic events happen, I try to not saturate myself with much news coverage of them. I don’t like giving people who do such destructive things any attention or inverted glorification, and most of all, I don’t like giving monsters any sort of power in my life by planting fear through atrocious acts.

I had completely forgotten about October 2002 until I wrote about it tonight.

The Two Most Important Things I Did to Breakout of Anxiety and Depression

Depression and Anxiety

I think that in the past year I became, what I’d define to be, a man. Not to say that before I was a boy, but I was in some sort of flux.

I struggled a lot over the past several years with individuality and identity.

I still vividly remember the gray feelings, the dreariness, and the isolation that were the guts of my 2011. Notably, the couple years before that low point were all build up to that low point.

In less than 2 weeks, I’ll be 27, and I’m stoked. This will be the best year of my life, thus far, but I’ve also put an insane amount of work– deliberate work– into getting to this point. The past month has just been tune up to iron out any major wrinkles in all the slow changes I’ve made in my life.

There are probably several principles I’ve instituted in my life that took me from the cavernous fortress of solitude that used to be my bedroom, to having the opposite problem of having to make a concerted effort to spend a night with my lonesome. I think that most of these driving forces aren’t just great philosophies to institute if you’re struggling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, lack of confidence, or any other kind of social deficit, but also speak a lot to how to be effective at caring for people. While I’ve made all these internal adjustments, most have been small things that have layered, but I can break down most of it to 2 major changes I’ve instituted.

I usually write in a way that resonates more emotionally, more abstractly, but this time, I am going to try to be more practical. I’ve made a lot of internal changes over the past few years, and these are changes that not only helped break me out of depression and social anxiety, but also have made me better off than before I fell into personal winter.

My struggles with anxiety, depression, and emotional damage are well documented, but there are a myriad of people in my life who have no clue about my most recent metamorphosis. One of the things about sinking 20,000 leagues under the sea, interpersonally, is that a lot of the tactics you need to take to combat the anxiety and other emotional anchors that develop are not as viable, because it can be just that hard to function.

It may have taken longer, but, for me, they were just as effective as if I had, for instance, told myself with the social anxiety disorder that I had developed — “ok, I’m going to go out in public and force myself to talk to two or three people, even if it is just Hi and Bye.”

A lot of it boils down to tackling it head on, but sometimes we just lack the stability to go do it, or don’t have anyone who can push us and be our training wheels for a while. I had to develop methods that would put me in positions where I was forced to tackle it head on until I was always in positions to tackle it head on.

Now, I am in a place where I still have to make a point to be deliberate with some things in order to eradicate any remnants of my former anxiety problems, but I’ve developed so many habits and personal philosophies, that act almost as a fail-safe for when I think I am better off than I am and stop being deliberate with my improvement.

These habits and personal institutions are bigger than the end game I am writing about here, though, so we’ll just call them traits of compassionate friends.

1. Never Say No

When I was at my lowest point, I was so restless and cut off from people that I made a pact with myself. I wouldn’t say no to anything. Granted, there were some exceptions that are outliers (e.g. – if someone asked me to do bath salts with them, obvious no. etc.), but my lifestyle and decision making made those a non-factor. The point was, from a practical standpoint, it was a stupid personal rule to institute. You have to say no to some things. You should say no to some things. But for me, I needed that extreme.

Today, I’ve tapered that rule off into something more reasonable, but the point of the exaggeration is this: if I automatically was going to say yes to anything, be it an invite to a birthday party or a petty dare, then none of my other detrimental social manifestations would have an opportunity to get in the way, thus blunting the crippling effects of those socially destructive weapons.

Secondly, because opportunities are scarce when you’re in a rut, it ensures that you won’t be kicking yourself for days afterward for bailing on the first friend to try to reconnect with you in weeks. And once you start getting socially active again, eventually the next opportunity will present itself, and sooner the next and so forth, until you don’t remember when things changed or exactly how you seemingly won all your friends back and are surrounded by more than you remember ever having.

The Real Crux of the Never Say No Policy

Let me touch on something greater here, though. Look! THIS IS ME STRESSING IT!

My policy today is this: always show up to something you’re invited to.

Now, I don’t always show up to something I’m invited to, because sometimes it just isn’t possible, and heck, sometimes I’m just a lame friend, but because of this policy, I always, without hesitation– with excitement and gratitude– try my hardest to at least make an appearance.

We’ve all got those friends who we like, and don’t ever give up on with finality, but they just kind of, well, suck. You invite them to things, you text or call them after not talking for weeks or months, and when you do, they are always excited and you each promise to reconnect, then when you try again, it doesn’t happen. Usually, it doesn’t happen because they flake out, get busy (flake out), or just can’t iron our scheduling with you (flake out).

These things are fine. We all have to do this sometimes, but these types of friends are notorious for this. In fact, if you and your other friends ask how about them, all you end up talking about is how they are impossible to get together with, and you, in the moment, almost always seem to conclude the same thing: that person sucks.

The real truth is that these people just aren’t good friends. They might be great ‘in the moment’ friends, whenever those moments are. They aren’t good at being friends, though. For whatever reason, they may genuinely like all their friends and care about them, but for 99% of them, they can’t put anybody but themselves first. The fact is, I can’t find anyone who isn’t guilty of this from time to time. I know I am, but while far from perfect, that doesn’t stop me from taking a personal inventory on if I am giving someone a fair shake or not.

You could ask a myriad of questions for numerous people. Who usually initiates a conversation? Is it equal? Who usually is the one to let interaction die off? Does only one of us try to ever make plans?

And on and on and on.

This is good, but also exhausting, and you’ll still find a way to overlook people who really like you a lot, and who you enjoy as well.

And this is a large part why I am how I am with invitations.

Consider this: if someone invites you to something, it means they value you enough to ask you to spend time with them; to experience life with them! To share the world! In a lot of ways, they are putting themselves out there. Nobody expects everybody to come to something they are invited to, but you would never invite someone who you would be upset if they showed up (well, if you do, you’re doing something wrong). Likewise, you never invite someone who you wouldn’t be disappointed that they couldn’t come. This isn’t to say you pout or get really bummed out when they can’t, thanks to the invitation expectation quotient, but this is a case where absence of one thing equates to the presence of another. Excitement or disappointment.

Knowing full well how much an invitation actually means, how much value it indicates you have to another person’s life, then why, under any circumstances would you not desperately want to go to anything another invited you to?

Don’t answer that question just yet.

I’ve gone to plenty of gatherings and events I was invited to despite not knowing the person well at all, not strongly liking them, or even disliking the person.

That might be torture or impractical for some, but, once again, when I consider the implications, it shows I am missing something. This person sees something in me, so I at least give them a chance to see something else, but usually I give myself a chance to see something in them that I overlooked. I might have to go out on a limb, but I find that getting to know them is easier than normal because I already know that they tangibly like me as a person. If I don’t feel strongly positive things for them, I find that the pendulum swings quickly when I have the context of an invite illuminating what was previously a dark social cavern.

Finally, always accepting invites has really helped me not only show others that I care, it shows myself that I care.

Those two notions are mutual. The more I care for my friends, the more that they will understand that I care for them, thus I will have deeper, stronger bonds with everyone in my life. I believe that the greater number of close, strong bonds you have with people is a rough, but pretty good external indicator of one’s character. Not only are you augmenting your social life, making better friends, and really thriving off of your own ability to be a compassionate human, but you earn a lot of respect.

Any one of those reasons on their own is enough to justify the concept of always accepting an invitation. Heck, invitations being flattering is enough. The fact that it is so multi-faceted makes it one of the most important parts of my own life, though.

And before I move on, I might have come off as a little harsh on my feelings towards flakers and claiming those types of people can’t put anyone but themselves first, but consider this– you rarely get to see someone. You try and try, and maybe they always have a valid excuse. An excuse is only valid for a temporary period of time. If I am busy one time, what is stopping me from going the extra mile, proactively finding a time when we are both free and insisting we meet up?

Right. If you can’t do that, you’re selfish.

2. Learn how to be a lone wolf, then learn how to excel as a lone wolf

My previous social tale spin put me in an awkward position.

In fact, I only felt awkward. I felt awkward when I saw my friends. I felt awkward ordering food at the drive thru. I felt awkward at work. I felt awkward around my family.

To make matters worse, I was always on my own. Gone were the days where I could get a group of buddies together and go into something with some solidarity; some momentum. If I went to a party, I showed up by myself. If I went to dinner with people, I showed up and left alone. If I wanted to do something, I eventually just started doing it alone. First, because it was easier. Second, because I had so little self-worth that I couldn’t bring myself to ask, lest people find out how pitiful, miserable, and lonely I was. (All these things were grave exaggerations in my head.)

Not only was I typically alone, if I ever did anything, it had to be alone.

I had to become a true lone wolf.

Most People Have No Sense of ‘Alone’

One of the things that really bugs me about people is the general inability to be alone.

I know there are a lot of sociocultural pressures. For instance, as you progress through your 20’s, reach your 30’s and possibly even further, if you’re not married, family, friends, acquaintances all begin to treat you like you’ve done something wrong, or that you’ve missed some boat that only sails once (…like the Titanic).

“When are you going to settle down?”

“Why haven’t you found yourself a wife/husband yet?”

“Are you seeing anyone yet?”

And on and on and on.

Contrary to what too many outside influences have you believe, there is nothing wrong with being alone, in fact, being alone is a great thing!

This isn’t to say that you should strive to be alone, or that it is a permanent way of life, but it is just key to that entire moderation thing.

We’ve all had those friends who seem to have been in a ‘serious’ relationship with 80 people. Right when they get out of one, less than a week later they are dating someone else. Honestly, I would feel like a sociopath or might get myself checked out for borderline personality disorder if that were me, but it indicates that there is at least an imbalance on dependency or inability to spend time with yourself at all.

Maybe it’s just me, but that’s terrifying. Those people terrify me. Some of my longest, closest friends are like that. Hey, you, friends I love. You terrify me! Try chilling out for a while, please?

More Than Just Romance

It’s not just about love, though. I think the romantic element of being alone is an exacerbated demonstration, but it is more prevalent on a simple friendship level. And I can see why. We are social creatures. Going into any social setting on your own is tough. I’m sure there are biological and deeply embedded sociological factors that go into play with this. I mean, to survive, we’ve typically needed to group up, so when we see someone gone maverick, it can set off some instinctual cues that might make us wonder — “what’s wrong with this guy that he’s just parading around this place by himself? He some sort of black sheep?”

I still show up to things solo at least half of the time, and whatever it might be, I still feel some small nerves when I do, but once I get around people or friends, I am comfortable.

In fact, it is very liberating.

As somewhat of an aside, I’ll mention that I’m an overcommitter (go figure, you accept every invitation, idiot). One great thing that being a lonewolf has provided me is that I can make a circuit and see multiple groups of friends pretty easily. This isn’t a selling point for lone wolfing, but I’ve found it to be an added benefit.

You Were Talking About “Lone Wolfing”

I mentioned at the beginning that I previously struggled with individuality and identity. When you have to present yourself — on behalf of yourself alone — to various groups of people, you learn more about who you are and who you are to other people exponentially faster than if you always had your warm cocoon of comfort in numbers; your pack.

I became a Lone Wolf out of necessity. I had no other options, and that forced hand has become one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever had.

Not only does it help me learn who I am and how to represent myself, it accelerated my entire resocialization.

Socially, there is a concept that I like to refer to as an away game. In sports, you play an away game on your opponents turf. Their town, their stadium/field/court, their people, their fans. At the end of the day, the game is still the same game with the same rules and players, but it is startling how much impact playing a home game can have on a team’s winning percentage. Just goes to show how far support goes (not traveling helps).

Socially, it is not that much different. When you’re a lone wolf, you play a lot of away games. You might know one or two people well, and the rest are probably acquaintances or strangers.

First off, this forces you to always be on your game, even if you’re far from it. Even if you can’t snap out of it and just feel like you were a dud, the likelihood of it happening again, frequency, and overall depths you’ll sink to will all reduce over time. Away games are both highly stressful and highly rewarding, because they rebuild confidence rapidly, especially when it goes especially well.

Beyond that, playing a Lone Wolf Away Game also provides great potential to earn another true friend.

In the Friendosphere we’ve got Strangers, Acquaintances, and Friends. There are a lot of other levels of each of these categories, but the overlooked one is the friend you have that you’d never hang out with on your own (and vice versa), rarely communicate with, but when you see each other at some mutual friend’s gathering, you have a good time. They are more than acquaintances, but less than friends.

Over time, these types of relationships tend to cook until they come out of the oven as real friendships. And of course, sometimes you just hit it off with strangers and add another significant person in your life.

Being a lone wolf takes a certain kind of bravery, social aptitude and agility. Many people just don’t have these things developed, even if they’re social mavens — maybe especially if they are social mavens. The positive traits being a lone wolf instills are immeasurable for your other intimate relationships (and on that note, I’d suggest never dating/marrying anyone who doesn’t have the ability to lone wolf from time to time.)

Finally, because you usually have an inside connection or two with lone wolf social opportunities, you don’t have to submit yourself to the full on apprehension of interacting with total strangers, which is huge with severe anxiety. At worst, you can be a little clingy if you need a bit of a shield, just be conscious of it. Even if the best you can do from suffocating your friend is pull yourself away for a while at a party or something. I mean, I’ve retrospectively gotten put on blast for this before, but hey, I just needed timeouts because while they weren’t for anyone else, they were high stress situations for me. It didn’t mean I wasn’t having fun. Ironically, the friends who have put me at blast for this type of behavior were not my friends before my journey back into social normalcy. Now they are!

I know I just said finally, but I’ll say two more things about learning to Lone Wolf. Remember that counter-intuitive element to showing up and socializing on your own accord? The crazy thing is that it doesn’t show that you are some sort of outcast, but actually shows that you really like to be around people so much that you’ll show up even if it has to be by yourself just to have the opportunity to. Maybe a very select few people will stereotype someone like that, but people catch on to these subconscious notions very quickly.

Beyond that, you’ll also find that many of your friends consider you as part of their inner circle, because you usually show up, and you don’t need this friend or that friend as a shield so things don’t ever get awkward. Because who the hell cares?

Just remember, being alone and being lonely are not the same thing.

There’s Always a Long Way to Go

Like with all things in life, nothing really comes easy. I’ll continue improving on anything I am aware of, and I always strive to be a better friend to those I know and better person to those who are strangers. I could cook out some other major factors that led to my ‘dark phoenix rises’ moment that I’ve worked so hard for, but these are my two favorite.

On top of that, they complement each other perfectly. Even if someone is only trying some variation of one, you pretty much have to develop the other.

I don’t know if anyone will ever read this and feel like it spoke to them directly, but this is something that was such a struggle for me. For a long time, it was my life. It was dark and gloomy and lonely. Because of that, this stuff matters a lot to me. Maybe it impacts no one. Maybe nobody reads it, but I think the best I could hope for is that if you at least know someone who has struggled with any sort of depression, anxiety, emotional or social problems, that maybe you can understand their struggle a little bit better, and be better equipped offer your hand to help them through that time.

There are few things as crushing as seeing someone who is a broken shell of themselves, but there are also few things as uplifting as seeing that person revived and in a livelier state than they ever were before. I’m living proof.