Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Poster, Part 1: A Retrospective

So~! This is a blog. I'm justified in talking about myself here. I'm going to do some installments about myself, some things to which I can point and say "that is (roughly) who I am".

This one is going to get downbeat. And I'm going to let it, because I'm fucking sick of feeling like I need to be upbeat all the time (this is self-imposed, a sort of misguided recovery method, a pacifier). This is more a therapeutic action for myself than anything else. If you're subject to triggers, especially around psychiatric issues and the related shame and self hatred (with a small side-order of race, sexual abuse, and body issues), consider this the warning.

So, growing up.

Growing up sucks. Growing up outside the realm of neurotypicality*1 tends to suck worse. Not, as is hammered into us, because needs of the neurodiverse are so unreasonable and difficult to accommodate and we just don't try hard enough to operate on the same terms as everyone else.

Because there is no mutuality. There is only one burden: you, weird kid, to stop being so fucking weird. I mean, we keep telling you to be normal, right? Why don't you just fucking listen? And why the fuck won't you look me in the eyes when I speak to you?

The farther back I go, the (thankfully) sparser my memories are, until I've got nothing but the short intense moments.

So, my early memories.

The first major freak-out I remember: a packed cafeteria, noise, noise, the biggest crowd I'd yet encountered, some kid pushing me over the edge, kicking me under the table, invading what little space I had, not stopping, couldn't leave, you're never allowed to just leave. Slamming my tray against the table, making a scene in front of all those kids, feeling the first of that shame and self-hate and public humiliation which would become so familiar. A hand refusing to release its grip on my arm, although I had been coming along willingly like a good little soldier anyway. Threats, more threats, and a paddle.

A wretched kid-prison. Being confused by the image of a fish being gutted, viewed through that contorted lens of not understanding what one is seeing. Being forced to eat fish sticks (I hate fish!), another child who was clearly wrong (because ze claimed lions were cats, when they were obviously dogs), and the oddly soothing aesthetic experience of the leaves rolling off a fresh cut hickory branch-an appreciably well formed natural whip-before it met my bare ass (I had committed the sin of succumbing to food poisoning, probably the fish).

A belt, but whose or why is lost.

Protesting that 'someone will see, back there, they'll see' while complying to the neighbor boy's demands that I strip off my clothes for him, behind his house, in full view of the trailers out back. His hands groping at that thing between my legs. Treating it like a doctor's visit.

Pointing out a black family to my mother in the supermarket and proudly proclaiming "look mommy, [n word]s!" Because that's how I'd been taught to act. Because they were "different" than the people I knew, exotic. (The majority-black elementary school I went to disavowed me of these notions, to be sure). Spending trips to the grocery store in the car from then on, because of "purple people eaters".

Watching a yard sale by myself. A kindly girl checking out the bike we had for sale, but ultimately leaving empty handed, unimpressed with the twenty dollars it cost. The same girl coming back with a gang of young boys, all in red shirts, demanding the bike. Foolishly putting up opposition. Them all scattering as my mother's car pulled into the driveway.

Briefly having a stepfather, and nothing good about it. Murdered cats. Threats. That shit eating, patronising grin. A trash heap for a yard and a mess for a house. A restraining order which kept being disrespected. Mother always on the phone about unpaid child support for my little sister. My father, at least, had always paid adequately and on time.

The first time I went to an "event", a baseball game. Being seated too high. Being too crowded. Too much noise. Unable to process or find interest in the game. Leaving early, to shame and disappointment, both personal and imposed.

The normal kind of traumas: Rolling down a hill and busting my head open on a concrete step, falling down iced-over steps and soaking a pair of yellow winter gloves red with blood.

The first times I remember actually being happy, all involving animals: a young babysitter with an incorrigible and hyper ferret, petting a big dark beautiful boa constrictor which was as pleasing tactilely as it was aesthetically, and my first pet cat, an intelligent orange tabby whom my mother is still convinced knew how to say the word "no".

What I don't remember are the times in between, which I apparently spent not satisfying the rigorous expectations levied upon 4-6 year olds in those days.

I do remember standing outside a doorway, however, as my mother argued and yelled and got her way because that's just what mom does. The woman she yelled at in this instance intended to see me held back, in kindergarten. I had, apparently, not the will to learn expected of a five year old surrounded by toys.

I don't remember first grade, where I apparently made a spectacle of myself by once or twice finding myself more concerned with the carpet lint beneath my chair than whatever first grade was about. I don't remember who "confirmed" ADD at that age or how, but I suspect that it was much the same as every subsequent and varied diagnosis I've had, meaning "weird kid, poor, medicaid-throw drugs at it and hope it goes away."

So, medication.

Suffice to say, I am not ADD. I respond to ritalin (and adderall) in three ways: an abnormally long attention span, a ridiculously suppressed appetite, and exasperated social anxiety (leading to more frequent break downs, freak outs, and panic attacks, and the associated depression, shame, and self hatred).

But I'm a good little soldier. And from then on I did so well in my classes, you know. It was just that pesky thing about how I was a laughingstock and hated myself and kept disrupting class. Did this lead anyone to question whether the medication I was taking might not be entirely helpful? Of course not, because, you see, I was weird.

In high school, these issues, the freak-outs and panic attacks, became so unhelpful, you know, to the kids who spent much of their time trying to get a rise out of me. They were there to learn, you know, and I was fucking it all up. If I could only cure my counting deficiency - count to ten, fucking count to ten, like it's going to make a Goddamn difference, if it doesn't work you're just not doing it hard enough - and stop disrupting class, I wouldn't be responsible for making their lives miserable and their grades bad because they had to witness me get up and leave the classroom in tears. This was the line that was fed to me to try to shame me into correcting my behavior, as if somehow the shame I already felt wasn't going to do that if it was possible.

I spent a few months alone in a little tiny room with a single desk. Windows which alternately faced glum blackness and roomfuls of people who could, when it struck their fancy, enjoy watching me toil away like an animal in a cage (but it was okay, because they had learning disabilities too and thus, apparently, were also lesser beings, not intellectually capable of making others feel like shit). A guy who carted in and out notes and assignments like a feeder in a zoo, and complimented me. On that Goddamn attention span I had. I never dared complain. I ate this up. Because it was better than the alternative. I was neither often spoken to nor expected to speak to anyone else. I did not see the faces or hear the voices of the people who had tortured me on a daily basis.

It was around this time - I was about 14, I believe - that I rejected the medication I was taking. My good little soldier complex can only take so much, and anyway, as I began to realize that my mood off the drugs was tremendously better than on them, I retained only one reason to continue the regimen: appetite. I was convinced for quite some time that If Only I Were Skinny, all of my body image issues would go away. Nevermind that most everyone else was pretty sure I was skinny enough as it was - I looked in the mirror and I saw a belly that came out somewhat past my chest, and that meant fatty mcfat fatterson to me. And in a culture (and, then, personal mindset) that vilifies weight as among the greatest factors upon which right to dignity resides, that must be the problem, right? When I was on these drugs, eating less did not mean physically trying to starve myself - they handled that part all for me. I didn't come to any sort of body image acceptance-like position, but I did realize that the drugs weren't really doing anything about my body shape anyway, so that reason to keep taking them simply lost its merit. To boot, my grades did not, in fact, go down, nor did I find myself with a renewed interest in carpet lint stronger than before going off the medication.

I might have been lucky to have this experience, really. The next experience I had with medication was seeing a single psychiatrist for two visits and coming home with six different drugs. I don't want to think I'd ever be gullible enough to believe that I could buy into authority so hard to think that this behavior was healthy, that this man had any thought to my best interests or any authoritative knowledge of mental illness at all, that this cocktail was going to make my life any better. But for all I know, had I not had that experience and realized that yes, it was perfectly fucking okay to reject the shit they were pushing on me, I might have been tempted. That was the last time I had anything to do with medication, and I won't be seriously considering medication for my mental illness ever again, so moving on...

So, escapism.

I have a particular early experience with escapism burned into my brain. I was going into a freak out over losing a toy and my mother had responded derisively with "it's only a toy!" and my knee-jerk, sob laden reaction was: "it's not just a toy, it's the only friend I have!" Those words spilled out and I immediately felt humiliated by myself, pathetic, worthless. Because they were right, and I'd admitted it. I remember running outside, to feel that shame alone, to not face the fact that I'd uttered it aloud. And when that toy was found, I felt relieved in a way that heightened all of that. I couldn't feel that relief without facing the cause-the fact I had scarcely any other thing in my life capable of bringing myself joy.

I have never been able to examine that memory before without feeling an overwhelming surge of self hatred. I'm capable of disavowing that, now. I was just a little kid feeling overwhelmed by the loss of xyr*2 favorite toy. I don't resonate with that feeling anymore, with that dependence on the inanimate, except in the scars of memory.

I do still utilize escapism. But I consider it a healthy escapism. I seek to learn and I do not particularly worry that learning for learnings' own sake might be devalued by the greater institutions of thought. I seek to have meaningful conversation and I do not let it affect me, on a personal level, that non-verbal communication is devalued by society at large. I do not let superficial differences in methods of interaction (or superficial similarities with methods of non-interaction) bog down my confidence - I do not allow popular misconception to fool myself into believing I am, any longer, a child, dependent on xyr toys.

I remember often, before developing the intellectual tools to cast away these feelings, lying awake and feeling as though I had committed some terrible injustice against something and Jesus was going to punish me for it.

When I hurt myself. When I wanted to make it worse - wanted to keep smashing my head until it fractured, keep pounding my fists until they were skinned and broken and bloody. When I let someone else be hurt, or couldn't make them stop. When I wanted to die. When I simply thought it was necessary to "repent", somehow, but feeling confused by the mixed messages I was getting about what this meant - was there something formal about it? Did I need to go to church to do it? Did it matter? He knew I was only in it to be forgiven, so he'd reject me anyway.

It's ironic, isn't it, that escapism - my use of the Internet - was what gave me the rational, real-world grounded mental skills to shed this damaging layer of existential shame. If I am thankful to any nebulous existential force, it is the uncaring of nature which, in its agnosticism, does not deign reality so needing of further cruelty to place at the helm a figure of self-shame and thought policing.

Escapism fostered the growth of my sexuality, the discovery of my gender (more on those in subsequent posts), brought me slowly into self-acceptance of not only who I am now but who I have been. It continues to teach me of the nature of the world, local and universal. I consider my escape something altogether very real, thank you very much.

So, in conclusion.

A lot which was going to go into this post was stuff I could not get down in text. All in all, though, this has been successful in the thrust of its purpose - proving to myself that I can look back into my memories and (finally) not blame myself for everything. A lot of it hurts, but if there is someone to blame, it doesn't have to be me. I was just a fucking child for most of that, for fuck's sake.

*1 (update) I have some issues with the way this word is used, which I discuss in the linked post.

*2 I use both "ze" and "xe" pronouns in this post - there is a reason for that, which I will also post and link back in this space later.

1 comment:

  1. Not much i can say to this, except that i think it's extremely powerfully written. Some very similar experiences to me, some extremely different.

    I'd be interested in your issues with how the word "neurotypical" is currently used, and whether or not they match up with mine...


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