by Joseph Reid 2021
Mental illness has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. By second grade I was already feeling like an outsider. I never thought I was good enough to have friends or be loved, so I tried to win kids over by impressing them. I remember bringing a plastic CHiPs helicopter with a working propeller and manually operated winch in to school one day. I just wanted someone to pay attention to me. According to my understanding of the unwritten-natural laws of elementary school, I figured if I had cool toys, I’d have friends. I quickly found out that that’s not how the world works.
Second grade is about the time I developed the nervous habit of picking my nose-not just your standard, run of the mill picking, either. Watching me, you’d think I was training for an Olympic medal. I was a serious nasal excavator. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot. I didn’t wake up one day and think, “Oh, the other kids didn’t think much of my toys, I know what will impress them for sure! Nose-picking. Now there’s an idea!” Nope. That’s not how it went down. This wasn’t something I was proud of. And admitting it to you today is not easy.
Far be it from me to just do things half way and leave my embarrassment isolated to simple nose-picking, I somehow developed the habit of eating my boogers too. I tried to hide my picking habit. I actually think that might be why I started eating boogers in the first place-it was a safe place to destroy the evidence. Well, if cool toys didn’t work, and digging for gold it my nose wasn’t effective, why not go the whole ten yards and eat the little nose nuggets. I didn’t know this at the time, but this habit was directly linked to my anxiety. And in elementary, I was anxious a lot! A lot of anxiety equals picking a lot of boogers, which equals a lot of booger-biting? Do the math. Add them all together and what do you get? A new nickname is what I got…my name was forever changed in a the annals of my elementary school from Joseph Reid to Joe-Booger.
I think about this label now and then and am kind of blown away by how used to it I’d been. Kids would run away screaming when they saw me on the playground. “Ew, Joe-Booger is coming! Hurry before he touches us with his boogers.” It was 1983 when my second grade teacher (a saint if ever there was one), Ms. Payne, sat down with my parents to let them know something was up and that she was concerned.
So, why am I telling you all this? iUnderstand that going from an emotional/socially awkward kid to being some level of success is not a new or shocking story. But these are the stories that inspire us, right? They are the stories we tend to connect to, because if you’ve ever felt Broken Like Me, iUnderstand. I get it. I do. So, yeah… apparently… I’m a best selling author. What do you care? What do I care, for that matter? I have no idea. There is so much to the story-so much of our stories that never get told. Heck … I have a hard time even remembering some of them.
So, what’s the point? You clicked on this link and you’re reading a blog about boogers. Shouldn’t I be over this already? Why do I feel so broken? I think there are things that are hard to let go of, things from the past that gets stuck in the dark shadows or our emotional soul because it might be too painful, embarrassing, or just plain weird to bring up or dig out. And, when I find myself looming or lost in those shadows, on the days when I can’t remember what it was like be in the light, yeah, I feel pretty broken.
Broken Like Me, An Insider’s Toolkit for Mending Broken People is a book I wrote in an attempt to cast a brave light into those shadowy corners of our soul. It’s an insider’s story, parts of my story, and the lessons I’ve learned, habits I’ve fostered, because I’m tired and frustrated with the shadowy world. I want to obliterate the shadows.
iUnderstand: Pain, Love, and Healing After Suicide, written by Vonnie Woodrick who graciously invited me to collaborate in her upcoming 2022 book, uses her story to let you know that you and your struggle can be understood while shedding a light on the misinformed perspectives of those who don’t know what it’s like to ever be in the shadows. Vonnie shares her struggle toward strength and supportive community through her story. She and I have this in common: We believe every struggle is an opportunity.
Vonnie and I didn’t write our books so that people would like us or think we’re cool. This is another part of story, a part that … in part… is helping us survive. It’s how we are living out hope day by day. The more stories that are out there, the more likely that people who feel broken, just like I do, will get help, build community, and create stability. This, in turn, will bless and have an impact on those who either can’t or shouldn’t share their story yet and those who haven’t even begun to realize that their story even matters.
I’ve out-lived the name “Joe-Booger,” at least until my kids get ahold of this chapter. Vonnie has dealt with her great losses. We are moving forward. We haven’t forgotten the past. The pain of our struggles and losses still haunt us from time to time. But we hope to do something more with them. I’ve learned to be patient, to live life like it’s a marathon. Sure, I can tell you all day long that you’re not alone. But with my story, my lived experience, I hope you are able to actually see and feel that you are not alone. And when you think that there is no point to your painful story, I hope you remember that there are others who have painful stories, who feel all alone, that need to know that there is someone out there that knows their pain and is finding their way out of the shadows two. Your story matters. Your experience and agony are not in vain. Find a “platform,” and when you’ve built a community of support and are ready…share you story with anyone who’ll listen.