1. Write about someone who was a mentor for you.
2. What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?
— The Scintilla Project’s Day 7 prompts
I had to do some real soul-searching to write this one.
16 was a hell of a year for me. So much was going on in my head, and so much was spiralling out of control. Everything I’d worked at for years was unravelling, and it started to become clear that I couldn’t continue what I was doing for very long. Something had to give, and I didn’t know it then, but 16 would mark the death of Casey Palmer as I knew him, and creating something new altogether.
But who was he and what would he become?
Bred for Success
I guess I was never all that normal after all.
Showing promise from a young age, my parents would do whatever they could to develop the skills they saw within me. My parents raised me to always strive for my best performance, but didn’t teach me as much about balance. I’m a child of the ’80s — a child of 20% interest rates on mortgages and two parents working their butts off to make ends meet. My first 16 years were spent cramming as much into my head as possible.
I’m a child of the hustle.
In hindsight, it all makes sense. Dad would work 70-80 hours a week tending to the restaurant, Mom had to balance 40-50 hours a week at a corporation that ultimately didn’t value her efforts, and come home to keep three rowdy boys in line that sometimes didn’t either. They indirectly raised me believing that the stress, working to the bone in the quest for success and never being satisfied were all just part of life.
And it wasn’t until well into my life as a 16-year old that I’d come to appreciate just how dangerous a combination that could be.
Case in point , the first 16 years of my life were always busy. To give you a brief summary of just how busy that was, this list gives you a quick overview of what I remember from those days:
- Age 5-6: Kindergarten – Grade 1, French immersion; piano lessons
- Age 7-11: Grades 2-6, Mode 3 education (aka “the gifted program” or “the brainers”), showing aptitude for language, problem solving and math
- Age 11: Compete to get into the University of Toronto Schools, earn one of the 78 spots (from 1000+ applicants!)
- Age 12-16: Grade 7-12 at University of Toronto Schools:
- School Activities
- Deputy Prefect Althouse house
- Tenor in the Junior Choir
- Various roles, Junior Play (2 plays)
- Member of Math Club, Film Qlüb, Impro Club
- Track & Field Team (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, 4x200m relay, long jump, triple jump, high jump)
- Half-back, Rugby Team
- Volunteer, Square One Youth Centre (Vice-President of the Youth Leadership Committee and in charge of writing grant applications for the Centre)
- Volunteer, Trillium Health Centre (Team Lead for coordinating the volunteers; co-editor of Trillium Talks, the volunteer newsletter)
- Volunteer, Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee (Chair of Mississauga Youth Week 2000)
- Contributor, YouthMEDIA Newspaper
- Contributor, The Cuspidor
- Counsellor, Tawingo Winter Camp
- Take-out cashier, Line cook and Host, St. Hubert Bar-B-Q
- School Activities
But Success Has Its Price…
It might sound impressive, but a whole heap of accomplishments can bring its own set of problems:
- I never slept. I remember the first time I had to code a website on my family’s 386 when I was 14 years old — and going 5 days straight on almost no sleep to get it done. (We’re talking surviving from Coke and 15-minute cat naps, here….)
- I was always broke. I was never home to eat and you don’t make a heckuva lot as a take-out cashier. I remember looking at my bank statements from this time years down the road, appalled at how much I spent on fast food and comic books!
- It was never good enough. Despite having many people who cared about my well-being, a number of accomplishments under my belt and knowing that I was making a difference in my world, I was never satisfied. I could never focus on the victory at hand — I was always looking ahead to the next one. What could I improve? What was still on the to-do list? Why aren’t I at their level?
And when you’re not sleeping, always stressed about how much you’ve got left until the next pay cheque and never happy enough to change the habits breaking you down, all that pressure adds up, and the mind can only take so much. For me, it only led to one thing — me, huddled with my head between my knees in the Grade 12 hallway, tired. So tired. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I couldn’t be the son my parents wanted, and I was in too deep to find a way out of the mess I’d gotten myself into.
It was a full-blown mental breakdown.
There’s a Light at the End of Every Tunnel
It would take years to rebuild myself from the low I’d hit, but I’d eventually learn the skills I needed to find my place in this world. I learned that I didn’t need to bend over backward to get everyone to like me. I learned that it was okay if people didn’t like me. I learned that I didn’t need to meet my parents’ every whim to be a valuable human being. I learned that I could pour out every effort within me to make others happy, but if I burned myself out in the process, I was no good to anybody.
But most of all — I learned that there’s no second chances for those who give up, and that’s what’s kept me fighting since that day — another shot at finding a path that makes Casey Palmer… Casey Palmer.