My Struggles With Poor Social Health
A True Story
on Sep 15, 2019
To shine and to excel in academics, these were my goals when I was in primary and secondary school. So I read a lot everyday during those schooling years, sometimes waking up as early as 5.00am to create more time for studying. Although my reading efforts were never fully reflected in school, at least I aced my KCPE and KCSE - the most important exams in primary and secondary school education here in Kenya.
The worst mistake I made in my quest to excel and shine in academics was neglecting my social health. I grew up as a shy and reserved teenager - traits I carried into my adult life; that probably explains why I haven't been as successful as I'd wish. What I find interesting about my teenage years is how I could address a group of hundred people confidently as I did in high school but feel shy when talking to one person.
Yes, I grew up as a shy and reserved teenager. I hardly ever talked to girls even though I admired a number. And I used to feel awkward and aloof in social gatherings. Like in one outing that was organized by some families in my homearea and that was held in December 2003, I felt lonely amidst the group of family friends. I remember thinking that a high school classmate of mine called Rocky Mbithi would have faired better than me in the outing. My mind must have conjured up the image of Rocky during that outing because of how socially outgoing I had found him to be.
By the way, some years later in 2007 when I went to pitch a business idea to one Mr. Kevit Detsei in his office in Nairobi, I was impressed with the way Rocky had become a prominent employee in Mr. Detsei's company after only about a year in the job. I am sure his social skills played part in his rise in the company. Owing to my poor social skills, I was unable to win Mr. Detsei over to my business idea. He only listened to me for a minute or two, and probably after noticing I wasn't clear-headed, he called for Rocky and asked him to deal with me.
Other times I recollect feeling lonely in social gatherings were during meetings of my hometown Catholic church youth group of which I was a member for about two years. I particularly remember one youth group meeting we had on a Sunday afternoon in December 2005. Everybody in the meeting seemed happy and cheerful apart from me as a youth group member called Tony dished out small folded pieces of paper with questions written on them. What was required of those given the folded pieces of paper was to open them and answer the question in it aloud to other youths in the meeting. The questions covered a range of issues pertinent to youths. One member received a piece of paper with a question that asked her to tell us about her sex life.
While the confident Tony dished out the pieces of paper one at a time to cheering youths during that meeting, I was feeling fearful and nervous that he would pick on me. I must have wished the whole meeting would end given the tension that was simmering within me. Fortunately, Tony never gave me a piece of folded paper, so he spared me the agony of addressing my fellow youths.
Another social gathering with the youth group I recall feeling alone was one held a year later in December 2006. A few of the youths were having an informal discussion during the social gathering as I read a Time magazine celebrating the life of Pope John Paul II. One of the youths I like calling Cyrus the Virus said this to the others during the discussion, "There are some people who read a lot but can't socialize with others." Cyrus the Virus didn't mention my name when he uttered that remark but I instantly knew he was talking about me. A social wreck I was.
As I have said, I carried my poor social health well into adult life. When I was in my first year at JKUAT for instance, I was unable to strike a conversation with a lass I admired in the university. Imagine I once went to sit close to the lass in a canteen at the university on one night but failed to gather the courage to initiate a talk with her - interesting, isn't it?
My poor social health was clearly brought out when I served in a choir at All Saints' Cathedral in Nairobi during my time at JKUAT. On some days while on my way to the cathedral, my heart would start beating like a tom-tom for fear of how I would relate with my fellow choristers. And because of my timidness and my apparent confusion when in the cathedral, some of the choristers suspected I could be stealing materials from the church. I was smart enough to notice the suspicion, so I was keen not to take any book from the cathedral.
Yes, I grew up with poor social health in my teens and well into adulthood which was apparent in the way I felt awkward in social gatherings. And I don't know what or who to blame for it. Maybe it's due to the criticism I received at home and at school where I was often compared to my more brilliant siblings. Or maybe it's due to the confusion that people saw in me, especially at Starehe where I had my high school as well as college education.
Whatever the cause, I am gratefully glad to report that I have grown into a socially healthy young man. These days, I love seeing and meeting people when I am in my elements. And I have discovered that the secret to good social health is working on thoughts. When you correct your mind, everything falls into place.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on my struggles with poor social health, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Improving Social Health". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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My Brother's Concern For Me
A True Story
on Sep 13, 2019
I can't recall exactly what wrong I did one time in 1999 here at home. All I remember is Dad pinching me on my hand for the wrongdoing as my brother Paddy watched from a distance. And for several days after that incidence, Paddy would keep teasing me about the way Dad had pinched me, especially when I did something that displeased him.
Then one evening a few weeks after that incidence of Dad pinching me, Paddy happened to be walking home from school with my younger brother Symo when a pick-up moved slowly past them. Paddy decided to hang on the back of the pick-up for a free ride and cajoled Symo to join him. And when the pick-up driver realized that two boys (Paddy & Symo) were at the back of his car, he stopped driving and angrily went to rebuke them. Symo informed me that the angry driver slapped Paddy on the face for the mischief.
I must have been glad to hear that news from Symo because I vividly recollect resolving that if Paddy ever teased me again of how Dad had pinched me, I would retaliate by reminding him of how he had been slapped on the face for riding on the back of a pick-up. But Paddy must have been a witty teenager back then because he never again teased me about Dad pinching me after that evening he was slapped. I think he was smart enough to know how I would retaliate.
That however didn't stop Paddy from confronting me in the years to come. He did point out my sins and mistakes on a number of occasions. Like at one time in the year 2000 after I doctored my school report form to make it appear as if I had done well academically, Paddy seemed to have been the only one in my family who discerned what I had done. He kept cornering me and saying that I had tampered with my report form. Although I knew he was right, I denied it every time Paddy confronted me - even when he told me he had asked some of my classmates about it. (The classmates never mentioned to me about Paddy inquiring something from them about me. I think Paddy was just trying to come up with tactics of making me confess that I had doctored my report form.)
As luck would have it, I managed to improve academically in my final year in primary school in 2001 and made it to Starehe Boys' Centre, the then Kenya's best high school where Paddy was a student. When I was preparing to enrol at Starehe on a Thursday in January 2002, I thought Paddy would shun me in the school and keep it a secret that I was his younger brother, given the history he had of teasing and criticizing me.
How wrong I was! Paddy gave me a very warm reception at Starehe on the Thursday evening I first reported to the school. He greeted me from where he was seated in the assembly hall that Thursday evening when the whole school converged for evening assembly. And when the assembly was over, he introduced me to his classmates and openly let them know I was his younger brother. As he took me for a walk around the school that very evening, he told me it would have been better if I had reported to Starehe on a Friday for reasons he didn't explain to me.
Later on after I had been in Starehe long enough, I came to find that in Starehe, Fridays were more exciting than Thursdays. On Fridays, all teachers would attend evening assembly and during the parade that followed, the school band would march on the quadrangle while playing songs. And what made Fridays even more exciting was that during supper, we would feast on my favourite meal: cabbage stew and cornmeal cake (ugali)! I think that's why Paddy told me it would have been better if I had reported to Starehe on a Friday.
To be honest, Paddy's warm reception and brotherly concern for me in my first days at Starehe took me by surprise. It was a side of him I hadn't seen before then. And he continued showering me with that kind of brotherly concern throughout his stay at Starehe by visiting me in my house. At another time in 2004 when I was sick, he came to check on me at the Starehe Boys' clinic.
That Paddy never shied away from associating with me during our days at Starehe shows the way emotionally secure he was. No wonder he was selected to attend a conference in Germany in 2002 when he was in Form 3. If my younger brother Symo had made it to Starehe in 2005, I doubt whether I would have extended to him the same kind of warm reception and brotherly concern that Paddy accorded me; I was a horribly insecure teenager during my time in the school.
Paddy has still continued showering me with brotherly concern over the years since we left Starehe. Earlier on in this decade when I dropped out of the University of Nairobi for lack of fees, he used to regularly ask me to meet him in Nairobi for talks. He must have been worried that I was losing my bearings and he thought it was his responsibility as my elder brother to drum sense into me. Among the things he told me was to consider acquiring a basic degree and to never talk ill of our parents.
These days, Paddy has left me to my own devices. I believe he is now getting comfortable with the way I am turning out to be a writer and a musician. And if he is reading this story of mine, I would like to let him know that I am working hard to be a great writer and to produce best-selling music. That's all I am saying.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on my brother's concern for me, you might also enjoy another one I wrote a few weeks ago on "How I Grew Up With My Siblings". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.