We're a little crazy, about science!

Day 276: Survivor Bias


This is my mother with me as a baby. She wrote notes on the backs of the few photos I have. It’s surreal seeing her handwriting, but it sounds like she really wanted to be a mom. I will always regret not getting the chance to know her. She may still be alive, I just don’t know and apparently no one else does either.

I have suffered more than most. I like talking about it, especially mental illness because keeping it to myself helps no one and hurts a lot of people who think they are alone. Today I will attempt to do something I am not known for, I will concisely tell a short version of my life. I will then tell you how I succeeded despite the odds. I will tell you that I struggle every damn day, but that I made it. Then I will tell you, you probably won’t and that breaks my fucking heart.

I was born into an ordinary middle class family. My father was a machinist at Ford aerospace, back when that was a thing. My mother was originally the babysitter for my father’s first wife and their kids. Yep, I’m that stereotype. I have… had.. a younger brother, we don’t talk now and two half brothers from the aforementioned first marriage that I’ve never met. From the few photos I have it looks like there was a brief period where I could’ve been a normal kid, living an average life.

My father beat the shit out of my mother. A Vietnam war vet, I would argue he still suffers from anger issues. His behavior wasn’t from the trauma of  war, but it was a good excuse to be a piece of shit. Things got worse a few years after I was born, he hurt his back at work and couldn’t stand. My mother left him, but also around that time she had a complete break from reality. She thought people were trying to get her, she heard god talking to her, things like that. Before she left she said she would come back for me. I’m still waiting and I can’t find her, even now. Then my father moved us into my grandmothers house and one day he left. He didn’t say goodbye or tell us, he just left.

My grandmother was not any better than my father. She came from an abusive household and thought it was her right, or maybe duty, to beat us. Thus the circle of violence continued. I was told early on that she could not afford to buy us clothing so we would wear our shoes until they literally fell apart. I literally taught myself how to stitch my clothes back together. My grandmother also made several extravent purchases throughout living with her. Things like a full formal dining room set with a hutch to display the fine dishes. As an adult looking back, she had money, she just didn’t want to spend it on us.

We would move around between other family members because no one wanted us. My father came back for a year or so and we lived in a place with cockroaches everywhere. He would go into a rage and break everything we owned throughout the night and the next morning the apartment would be clean like it never happened. Mostly we lived with my grandmother. Live is a stretch, we were child labor and before she died she told me, “she beat me harder than my brother because she knew I could take it.” That was literally her way of telling me she loved me. A while back she died alone and since I am being honest with everyone here, that makes me happy. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe, but you didn’t know her the way I did.

The Marine Corps offered an escape from my family and I jumped at the chance. Of course, that didn’t make anything easier and in a lot of ways it would make my life harder. Every day is a struggle to want to live and every day I make the conscious choice to continue to live. I wasn’t always on semi-solid ground and the transition from Marine to civilian was jarring to say the least. I tried to kill myself, I spent over a year living out of my car and showering at school, and I was almost denied entry to the engineering program I wanted.

Yet here I am. A fucking symbol that no matter how hard life is, you can dust yourself off and keep going. If I can do it, so can you… right? No, everyday is a struggle to hit mediocrity and some days I can’t even hit that. I keep seeing stories of success from people who went through this shit, got their degrees and do big things plastered all over Twitter and LinkedIn. They always end with, “anyone can succeed you just need to do the work,” but that is a lie.

I was lucky, they were lucky. You may not be so lucky. Call it whatever you want, but certain things conspired in life to help me get to where I am. Tiny ripples of good and bad choices that I made days, weeks, or even years prior helped stabilize me when I needed it most. Those choices could have easily created ripples turned into a tidal wave and drowned me. Survivor bias is a very real thing and I hate it for so many different reasons.

First, it minimizes the things you’ve been through. You made it, but saying anyone could have done it makes it sound like you survived a fucking paper cut. I know that I’ve been through hard times and not everyone survives that, it’s okay to admit this. Secondly, it takes away from all the people that don’t make it out the other side. Survivor porn is great, everyone loves to see someone suffer only to become something amazing. The world eats that shit up, you greedy little bastards. Unfortunately, for every one person who makes it, hundreds if not thousands don’t.

It’s not for lack of trying, sometimes things just don’t work out in the right ways. Opportunities are missed because circumstances worked against the person, not because the person didn’t try hard enough. Sometimes there is nothing more that could be done, maybe like myself you are a victim of the circumstances at birth, but without the luck I had along the way. I’m so very sorry about that fact. Sometimes no matter what you do you really can’t escape. And just between the two of us, I don’t think I ever truly did.

TL;DR – If everyone could make it through hard times, everyone would. No one suffers voluntarily or because they are lazy; I would hope you knew that. Survivor porn is bad, but you definitely already knew that.


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