Context — Its Important, and This is Mine
I was riding the train home tonight and noticed some rowdy drunk ‘bros’ getting on after the Red Sox game. They were breaking rules — snuck into a car that wasn’t open and turned on the lights. They apparently said something offensive to a father and son (and the father/son were kind enough to tell the conductor that they didn’t mind them staying on b/c they’re not immature like said bros). One of them seemed quite miffed when they tripped over a walking cane for a blind girl. Generally bad folk drunk or sober.
I wanted to write this post originally about how context is so important in our lives and how we don’t pay it enough attention when ruminating on the negative.
But I realized that it’s a failed attempt and slowly started writing about events that have shaped me — the context for who I am publicly and privately these days.
So I’m going to share with you what I wrote.
Before we go on:
- This is stream of my thoughts is going to frequently talk about suicide, self-harm, bullying (in-person and online), drug addiction and alcoholism, abuse, bigotry, etc.
On a more personal note:
- I have a diagnosis of Major Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD.
- The PTSD is not Developmental Trauma.
- I have a tendency to self diagnosis (don’t do this) and it doesn’t help that I’ve been right more than once both in regards my physical and emotional health. You’ll see why I mention this later.
Let’s start with two things I was frequently told when I was a kid:
- Anytime I’d get a haircut (no idea why this was the scenario but it was) hairdressers would, until the age of 8 or 9, comment on how much I looked like Macaulay Culkin during the Home Alone days.
- Growing up I was frequently told by my family I had “the memory of an elephant”.
That second point is to say — I remember things that hurt me a lot. But I also remember random acts of kindness towards me, even when those who enacted said kindness haven’t. I also remember random, frequently asinine and not entirely important things. Hence the Macaulay Culkin point.
To elaborate more:
I had my first alcoholic beverage in an Irish pub at the age of four. It was a pint of Guiness.
This isn’t a joke. The full story is, while the adults weren’t looking my childhood friend (who is now an expecting mother???? — time flies) handed me a pint of coke — a soda I wasn’t allowed to drink — and said it would be our little secret if I drank it. The one detail I’m not clear on is if the actually drinking alcohol as a four year old was a part of the joke or not.
People don’t remember this story usually. But i know I was four years old. I was still in Ireland which means it was late 1995/early 1996. I also remember it being the same day I got very cranky because I accidentally popped the head off my Batman toy. That’s how people usually manage to remember this oddity.
Again, elephant memory.
Mid 1996, almost. I’m no longer living in Ireland — I’ve moved to the United States for my father’s second temporary relocation. We lived in the Hudson area (border of Marlborough and Hudson I think? my father worked for Stratus). It soon became clear this relocation wasn’t temporary and we moved to Hopkinton, which I may only leave in a box at this rate.
I remember, that growing up in / near Dublin (moved from Phoenix Court in Dublin to Dunshaughlin after a shorter temporary relocation at the age of two) I said ‘tree’ instead of ‘three’, ‘trow’ instead of ‘throw’. And uh… I expect colour. Not this ‘color’ bullshit.
So at the age of 5 I start “kindergarten”. I spent sometime in speech therapy that year (can’t remember actual reasons but I do know I stopped saying “trow the ball at the tird tree from the right — ya there are tree trees if ye look closely”).
First grade I don’t start until a month after my classmates as my father’s mother passes away. I don’t remember her very well — only the 20£ she gave me on her deathbed that I used to buy the Red Ranger’s Tyrannosaurs Thunderzord). I spent my sixth birthday in Ireland being too young to understand the impact of someone’s mother dying and being too selfish to really care?
Life moves on and middle school arrives. I remember learning about puberty through “THE MOVIE” in school. And that was it. Nothing at home prepared me for these changes. And I bloomed a bit late. (Aside: I never had a ‘talk’ with my parents. I learn a lot of shit on my own…)
I also didn’t really understand myself? I felt nothing towards anybody sexually. So being called gay by bullies hurt more because it felt I wasn’t controlling my own story not because it was a lie or whatever. How can you say I’m gay when I don’t even know if I like sex/gender?
In 7th grade, after stuff began to boil in 6th grade — I started seeing a therapist. Bullying increased, and people who would later through bizarre twists become my friends, harassed me over liking things like anime.
Oh, about anime. I once, shortly before moving to the US, had my dad come home with 4 VHS tapes of shows like StarVengers (Getter Robo G), Grandizer, etc. Also I grew up in the early 90s watchign G1 Transformers, Thundercats, and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. So when Pokemon and DBZ entered my life, and then Gundam Wing? Yeah I learned to love anime. (Aside: I saw the first episode of Evangelion at age 10… bad idea).
My first therapist said I should respond to these bullies by asking if they were making fun of me for liking anime b/c they liked anime. On a fundamental, psychology 101 level that might work since the kid in question was in fact a way bigger anime fan than me. But in a middle school teenage boy setting? That’s how you make a bad day way worse.
I found another therapist. Like me, he was an Irish immigrant. I saw him from the years 2004–2016. We’d frequently talk about cultural differences at home and in school maybe making things harder for me — when a “what’s up” in one country actually means “how are you doing? how have you been? what have you been doing with yourself?” and in another is just “oh hey!” — it can be confusing.
We also talked about minute differences, like ‘soccer vs football’. Elephant time. I had been having a rough patch with another bully, let’s call him Narc Narcasushi. He was in my Spanish class. And one day, unrelated to him, we were talking about ‘borrowed’ and similar words between languages.
My father now owns a youth soccer club. He paid my sister and I to watch Ireland lose to Spain in the ’04 worldcup via shootout after overtime moved nothing forward. (Had Ireland one I was promised a copy of Jet Set Radio Future so… fuck you Ireland?).
So while I know in the US people generally call football ‘soccer’ I also know English wasn’t invented in America. I asked my teacher, ‘well what about footbal and futbol?’. The general consensus with ‘no that’s not a fair case as it’s soccer in English’. I remember not budging — something like “well no, not really. The word is football, only people in the US call it soccer due to Football being a different sport with the name, a sport that doesn’t really involve your feet.”.
A few of my classmates basically made some comments that boil down to “we speak American”. I’m a fucking native English speaker and I’m being told to speak American. What. the. fuck.
7th grade ends. 8th grade starts.
Well what could be worse than being told to speak American when by virtue of having fair skin and freckles you are literally the whitest person in a room of white people?
How about one of your closest friends suddenly breaking all ties with you b/c ‘anime and computers are nerdy and girls don’t like them’. But also not saying this to you.
How about that. How about panic attacks every night. How about no therapy alone doing the trick. How about having your pediatrician saying we’ll have to at least see if Prozac helps and then it sorta barely does.
How about missing so much school b/c you actually get 5+ colds, pneumonia, and at the end of the year — despite not kissing anybody in your life — get mono.
(I probably paid a doctor’s salary when I was in eighth grade).
Yeah shit sucked. But the DS was cool I guess.
Freshman year. In a shocking twist my best friend is now the dude who bullied me in 7th grade. And I’m now so insecure I’m acting like a jackass to my older friends. And I’m getting in trouble.
My grades, for the first time ever, dropped below an A- average. Like, way below. Like C+. I was in all honors classes and pre-AP science (AP gpa credit but no AP test).
And then things start getting shitty again. I’m insecure. I still don’t get everything I feel I should get. I feel my new friendships are based on shaky ground. I’m lying — to everyone, myself included.
My depression reaches an all time high (or low, as it were). And, to be clear, none of my friends know, at least not from me, that I am medicated and spend most nights hyperventilating.
So, early 2006. About a solid month and a half prior to the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I look at myself, and see somebody really sad. I go to take my Prozac — 2 capsules as always. And then I look again in the mirror. I see someone sad. And I take another 2.
Next night? 4, then another 4.
Next few nights? Same thing.
One night a week later? 20 pills and a realization I’ve fucked up.
A slowburn suicide attempt and a real lucky, and not too late ‘I WANNA LIVE” moment. And yet, the fear of being open about trying to die seemed scarier than lying about it. So … it wasn’t a suicide attempt to my parents, to the ER when they made me drink a gallon of charcoal with the threat of having a stomach pump if I vomited at all during the process … it was just a desperate attempt to make the happiness come quicker. Ya know, cause inhibiting the uptake of ssri more and more will make the sad signals stop and the happy ones come right? Not all feelings. Nah, not at all. That’s not how chemistry works.
I spent a month and a half I think in a day program.
Here I am. A former honors student who had almost killed himself, being driven to a nondescript outpatient mental health program every day, sitting with children (as in 9/10 years old) with severe emotional issues and pregnant girls (somebody will finally realize my high school Somerville girls being pregnant joke right now reading this) who were also doing drugs, etc. Kids who were in foster care, or homeless. Kids who were casually talking about whether it was safer for them to have OD’ed on heroin or angel dust.
The only person I initially felt close to was a diagnosed kleptomaniac.
The first time I saw self-inflicted cuts was there. A boy, the same age as me had sentences — fucking sentences- etched in his arms.
not happy ones either
“i want to die, please let me die”
He was quiet and only there two days. I know he had to be put in lockdown after trying to hang himself. I don’t know if he’s even alive to see this 11 years later.
This was a bit too much for my sheltered mind to handle. I learned a lot of new epithets from my peers of varying ethnic backgrounds. In a group session about things people say to us that upset us.
I wanted to die. If this is how we’re supposed to find help, and I’m more terrified by this reality shock — why should I even bother? That’s where videogames ultimately came in, and why I have a keyblade tattooed to my arm. Because of all the games, it was Hayley Joel Osmont saving the world of Disney with help from Cloud Strife that made me want to keep going. Cause he did it to find the friend who he couldn’t save. Because, as easy as mocking Kingdom Hearts is, they are games that deal with not giving in, not giving up on yourself or others. And that’s what 14 year old me needed.
Some game called Guitar Hero was also shown to me.
I returned to find high school still was a fucking shitshow, and that now there were rumor about why I was gone. I still don’t even know what those rumor were. But I played my part and kept up lying about where I was — “mono again! it’s rare but of course immune system less cian would be the one!”.
But then I remember something, something that drives me.
Towards the end of freshman year of highschool, in spanish class.
It’s a lunch class so we have extra time. Joe Barret, or Senor Jose Barretto as we were told to call him, made us learn salsa on these days. I don’t do the whole dancing thing, to this day, it’s not my forte. Learning it is hard — I’m bad at picking up sequential actions without many private trial and error attempts.
Two people. Within earshot, let’s call them Loveless Keyes and Fushia Abirononononononzak:
“Look at him can’t even do the dance. Kid’s a joke.”
“He’s going nowhere in life.”
Summer is full of fights with my parents.
Sophomore years comes and goes with “only one” fucked up thing — the thing that involves why I don’t like people touching me most of the time. Oh but Guitar Hero II! On the 360! I can be a fisherman! Just like John, the fisherman!
Junior year comes, and … those friends i made in 9th grade? Somehow I get pushed out of this ‘circle’.
And it all goes to shit again. This time I refuse to do anything. I’m not taking myself out of the equation b/c people are cruel. I want to live… I just don’t want to be anywhere near the people I know.
I don’t leave the house unless i have a shift at Gamestop. Or the one weekend to pickup my copy of a little, eensy weensy not relevant to my life at all videogame called Rock Band.
I believe we alike to appropriate this as being Hikikomori Syndrome. But as a term that is very much loaded with Japanese culture and not something I’m gonna say I had or will have.
But I didn’t go to school. I had homework sent to me sometimes.
I kept saying ‘when i’m ready i’ll go back’.
it happened briefly after xmas.
then i wasn’t really ready and went back to my hole.
and then i had a ‘surprise detour’ to the ER one night on the way to chinese.
I never got that chinese.
I was brought to the ER under false pretenses.
I spent an hour screaming at a social worker who didn’t know shit about me.
I pleaded with my parents not to listen to them — I said I’ll look at the hospital they wanted me to stay at but I”m not listening to anything from people at the ER that sent me to a place that made me try to secretly attempt suicide again by putting me in a environment that made me feel worse.
They relented, I guess. we went home and i was introduced to Maclean’s.
I ended up staying there maybe two weeks after that. In the dual diagnosis program. Because waitlists.
So, here I was, again, around people that you don’t meet in one of the ‘richest, safest’ towns in america.
Kids my age dealing with alcoholism.
Kids my age in trouble for drug use.
Kids with sever anger issues.
Kids who had OCD so crippling they couldn’t function in a regular place.
And… this time? There was an actual nymphomaniac.
Yes, 16 year old Cian was attending sessions where he would learn that you could be a sex addict. what.
If the day program was hard, living in a dorm after hours of intense personal talk was harder. and not wanting to socialize and then being threatened with reduced privileges if i didn’t was even scarier.
A detour, if you will.
I mentioned not really knowing if I was even into people sexually.
That changed. There were times as I got older that I definitely started to realize there was an attraction to people of some form. But — it wasn’t clear. I don’t really know why, but while i felt I wasn’t gay — I wasn’t convinced? I felt uncomfortable around dudes. I was scrawny, didn’t have much hair other than my long hair hair-do. I have a generally higher voice I think. To this day. Helps me do those Matt Bellamy / thom yorke falsettos when i’m randomly singing.
I also knew that I didn’t have any girls in my school who I felt anything for — there was certainly never a serious thought about any of them in a romantic or sexual way. Even the one girl who people thought I liked I really didn’t ‘like like’ I just appreciated that a girl was actually willing to talk to me and be nice and not act like i was untouchable as a nerd.
It’s as much about our norms of gender expression as it is my own insecurities and uncertainties.
I didn’t like sports.
I play videogames. Japanese videogames with frequently androgynous heroes. I was excited for VS XIII when Noctis had red eyes and a leather jacket thing and Luna was a character. Oh, that was also freshman year of highschool when the game was announced.
I talk about anime. I get mad when someone spoils the end of Death Note for me when I’m literally one episode away.
I listened to NIN, Opeth and Dragonforce. Pretty much exclusively. I now only listen to the first two.
Growing up for me that felt mostly like not manly. I didn’t give a shit about sports, didn’t work out. I liked drawing and writing and graphic design and concepting ideas for games. I reviewed horror movies for our school newspaper. I was the only kid in my 2d animation class who wanted to be there, and that’s when Sterling Worrell let me borrow Makoto Shinkai’s debut OVA “Voices of a Distant Star”. While these aren’t feminine — they weren’t adolescent boy enough I suppose. I felt like an outsider generally as such.
I had zero confidence socially. I was the quiet dude unless it was a thing I was good at — aka reading out loud in English. Fuck you I’m Macbeth and you ain’t stopping me.
It’s like when eveyrday is an act you’re kinda good at playing roles in stories huh.
So, I’m at Maclean’s. The first person to say hi, and to try and ask me about myself. Her name is Chelsea. That’s, to this day, the only name of hers I know. I’ve never seen her since. Her hair was dyed silver. She seemed sad, but optimistic. And she noticed me and wanted to see if i was okay.
And at the end of my first week, during our music therapy session before lunch.
I choose to share In This Twilight” by Nine Inch Nails. She shares “don’t hate me” by porcupine tree. This is how I learn of steven wilson. We talk a bit at lunch — something i hadn’t really done at any of the group lunches the prior four days. I realize — I think I like this girl. Not like as a friend. I think I ‘like like’ this girl.
So I definitely like girls. I’ve realized, that I am at least interested in women — just none in my school. Sorry?
I hope she went on to be happy as I never got her aim screenname.
Other than though I still didn’t feel ready to open up. Even as new people came and went. Another person joined us, and she is someone I know will always be there when I need someone to talk to. Even if I haven’t seen her in person since we parted ways and I returned to ‘normal’ life.
That’s a good friend btw — someone you can literally not see for over 8 years and still know they’ll talk when you need a shoulder.
One day though. I don’t remember the specifics, but one day a pS2 appears where we do our group sessions.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.
There’s a guitar.
oh, did i say guitar
i meant a red octane gibson sg for guitar hero ii
and a copy of guitar hero ii
and somebody has at least played enough to get songs that are kinda hard.
this was uncharacteristic for me in the hospital, but I enthusiastically asked why that was there and what we have to do play it
on that day the world learned of my guitar hero chops
even if flubbed an expert fc of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.
But, more importantly, that’s how I managed to open up. Through a fucking plastic guitar music game.
People saw me and I saw them seeing me be good at something.
And so I never stopped. I played Rock Band to death, I paid an arm and a leg for RB2 with separate instruments b/c of the weird 360 early launch but not with a band bundle.
I spent hundreds of hours in Rb2, stopping shortly for the beatles and green day. and quitting when rb3 was better.
I’m getting ahead of myself and my shift key is working less and less.
I return to school.
and if returning freshman year was hard
this was a whole new level.
that’s a thing
it didn’t have great security features back in the day and i paid the price as one night i was fooled into giving up my personal story
when i figured it out i was furious and went to my school’s adjustment counselor, who, despite having helped me with 1000s of other things said ‘there’s nothing we can do about this. it’s on the internet not at school’
Cyberbullying wasn’t a buzzword yet. But that’s what happened.
I knew to some degree who was involved. I only confirmed the actual events last year.
i’ve spent almost a full decade hating the wrong person for the wrong reason
they were complicit but they’re only problem was not admitting that they knew — not that it as them
so yes, i hold grudges
but i also believe reconciliation is important. which is why if someone after 10 years still wants to mend thigns, i will think about it and probaly at least hear them otu in person
and they end up being a good person who dealt with their own shit
but it didn’t change highschool
i spent senior year paranoid and detached
afraid of who was in on the ‘cian’s actually depressed and suicidal — not always ill, he’s been pretty healthy aside from lyme’s disease since highschool started’
parallell to this i’m given a full intellectual / psychiatric evaluation
i learn, that i have a very high iq
and my highest category is english language
you’d be surprised to learn that having read this
i was surprised since english class was my weakest point
i could barely tell you what a dangling participle was, still can’t in fact
the reasons i was given this eval was out of concern
guitar hero 2
it helped me get comfortable, but the psychiatrist at maclean’s worried that maybe my sudden hyperfocusing on the game was a sign of austim
i had to be tested for autism
the result? i’m not autistic
I have crippling anxiety and try to defer my anxiety by talking about things i enjoy — focusing on something i like instead of worrying
every other qualifier for autism beyond surface level things didn’t fit
it was a relief, while i hate these stigmas — the only person i knew with autism was generally rude and it felt very much like an attempt to excuse bad behavior (even if it’s not, it felt that way to me as a teenager and i don’t need another label that can be used to insult me when i’m insecure already).
i did learn i have a minor learning disability.
if you’ve met me and noticed i’m more skiddish etc when there’s lots of people around? focus
i’m not focused.
i can’t focus
and it’s not add or adhd, it’s… fear and anxiety
people talkign everywhere i get nervous, paranoid
it fucking sucks
but maybe you also notice when one-on-one i’m more present? I dunno. I’m supposed to be from what i understand.
so not only was i medicated, depressed, paranoid, anxious — i now had a learning disability that meant tests were taken in a separate room
i had to take the ap test separate from classmates
the sats too
Oh and I had a 150% total time.
I felt like i was cheating
shit helped in college though
the applications were hell
ya know what’s fun
applying for college when you and your parents have no idea whats involved
then, after acceptance letters to your first choice are sent and you didn’t get it
but didn’t get a rejectoin
and then after calling be told ‘your letter wasn’t sent, sorry lol’
and then when it arrives two weeks later it’s super thin
and you’re not going to wpi
and you’re ready to just fucking collapse
and then the fucking school says ‘youre in fam’
and then hope returns
and then college ends up sucking b/c you wind up in a single room for insomnia (later revealed to be insomnia and sleep apnea as of 2016) but end up in a dorm where the freshman part of the football team is neighboring with you
knowing that your plans to change are instantly crushed
knowing that it doesn’t fucking matter b/c you will barely graduate before your younger sister
breaking your leg for a gym class
finding out you had a reaction to the sutures and your leg might be infected five days before thanksgiving
spending the day before thanksgiving recovering at home after having your leg cut open… again!
spending a xmas vacation in jamaica… wheelchair bound with stairs everywhere and not enough elevaors
having to commute to college with a flimsy leg while doing pt to learn to walk properly again
get in a car accident in snowy weather when you’re rear ended by a mercedes who was tail-gating you
almost slip on ice cause worcester doesn’t fucking pave their sidewalks… while you’re on crutches!
2012 involves starting an internship that changes you and makes you feel way more confident and happy about yourself
and then 2013 your heart is not only broken by someone
it is crushed, ground, sliced into little pieces
and then you work a camp job paying not enough for 90 hour weeks in boston and your inept now supposedly a food network contestant cheese guy manager who doesn’t know how computers work (at a fucking tech camp) fucks you over and blames you and you spend the night in the ER
To be clear:
Friday evening at the end of a camp week you have to leave early for a mini-vacation, and are not sure of the software situation. cheezeman knows this.
he says if we’re not done with our meeting at 5:30 (knowing you’re gone at 6 to get a train) he’ll make sure it’s been dealt with.
get in monday morning after meeting is still going at 5:55…
nothing is installed
talk to him
‘it was your job to make sure it’s installed’
hold back every foul word and desire to backhand him the shitstain
the assistant director helps me calm down and says we’ll get through it
he’s a good dude
and the next day he calls trying to explain what you experienced. He tries to explain my panic attack to me, and that ultimately it’s an nbd.
fuck that guy. i’ve rejected his linkedin requests three times now i think. he one time i accepted i said no to writing a rec for him
this all culminates with my senior project — HYPER GROOVE.
somehow my shitty personal year makes me walk away vindicated — a solo MQP (which are bound to fail i was told) that involved me building a game in C++ using SDL and doing 75% of the art (i outsource to a friend from another college for some background and illustration art) became… the provost’s award winner? 25 dollars for it? i tied with a game featuring two lazy artists, a lazy programmer and a programmer who pulled all their dead weight? eh well that’s not great b/c the lazy artists had all their art replaced by professionals… but the one programer who did work earned his cred.
and then i have another fucking semester.
i return to wpi in early 2015 for the last time as a student — i walk to the student services office say “im’ here to pick up my degree”.
and walk out.
and stay unemployed for 8 months.
I play some Rock Band 3. I help set up a Rock Band 3 station at the Made in MA party before PAX East the same day RB4 is announced. HMX hooks me up with dlc codes for people to take, instruments to use, etc.
a few months later i’m visiting their offie with my college capstone advisor as he talks about loom.
and then in august
i take a risk
take a chance
and break away from what i’m supposed to be applying for with a b.s in imgd (tech focus meaning game programming)
i apply for a position on the publishing team at harmonix.
my parents tell me ‘don’t expect it to happen’
and then the following week i’m spending my first day as an employee at harmonix
i’m working on rock band 4
i’m sitting near people work on amplitude a game i was the first to back on kickstarter
i’m working on rock band 4
the series i’d be made fun of for playing so much
i’m sitting in an office with people who, while may only recognize me as an overly enthusastic fan, have changed my life in ways beyond what they probably realized
i think i did it
i took those words from freshman year of highschool and shoved them so far up those childrens asses that they’re noses bled
and then a starbucks opened
across the street
and they’re all sassy and i love it
and even as the people who made me love harmonix for more than just the games leave, i still have hope
things don’t always work out as you hope, and your personal life can fuck up your professional life, and vice versa
and that’s where i am
i turn 26 in august
i’m still jobless in terms of salaried work with health insurance
i’m increasingly estranged from my parents
i feel frustrated that people ask me for help and when i offer advice i know i can’t help b/c i know it’s not what they want or need to hear from me.
even if they let me vent at them whenever wherever
and then i get frustrated with those people who won’t ever give me the time of day but call me a friend, who have to worry about their own shoulders -not someone else’s but get pissy when you act pissy about it.
it’s now almost 4 am and i’m not sure what else to say but, as my shift keys on this macbook (barely functional at this stage) slowly stop working i realize that the next few weeks will be shit
2016–10 years since the suicide attempt
2018–10 years since i lost a sense of trust
june 6th 2017–2 years without nollaig
nollaig was my dog
he was the only thing i knew i could look at and smile even on the worst of days
he passed away suddenly in front of me one morning.
i’m still not able to move on