TW: some discussion of self-injury
I remember the day I figured out I was different.
Up until that day, I’d known things happened to me that didn’t seem to happen to other kids. I knew, for example, that the teachers were harder on me than on other kids. I knew that no other kid in my class still had “temper tantrums” at ten. I knew that other kids didn’t get called “retarded” unless they had an aide or had to skip class for extra help. I knew that other kids didn’t have the kind of dangerous rages I did. I knew that other kids didn’t trip over their own feet in gym class, that they didn’t get beaten up or teased as much as me, and I knew that other kids didn’t like me much.
I knew other kids didn’t bite their cheeks bloody to keep from screaming when the room was too loud (I knew that because of the look of mingled alarm and disgust my sister gave me when I mentioned that class was too loud so I bit my cheek and would probably get a canker sore – that look, like the look of mingled mockery and disgust, is one that a bullied kid learns to recognize quickly. That’s a look that tells you to shut up because while that person won’t turn it into ammo, if it gets out, someone else will). I knew other kids didn’t have to clasp their hands so hard their bones creaked to keep from smashing their fists into their head when the sun was too bright. I knew other kids didn’t gnaw on their hands when they were trying to concentrate in a noisy room. I knew other kids didn’t beat themselves bruised in an effort to avoid beating someone else bloody. I knew other kids didn’t burst into tears for things universally derided as “little things” by the adults around them. I knew other kids weren’t “over-sensitive.” I knew that, when trying to resist the tears, other kids didn’t pinch themselves hard enough to break skin or pick their skin bloody or pull their hair out, and by then I knew enough to make sure to ask to go to the bathroom before I did it, lest I end up having other kids make fun of me for it or, worse, have an adult see me and start screaming.
I knew other kids seemed to actually enjoy each others’ company. And that they seemed to make sense to each other. I knew that they didn’t make sense to me. I knew that my parents would call me a liar if I said noise was making my ears hurt or light hurt my eyes or my tags itched. I knew to stitch the hem of shirts I’d pulled the tag out of shut enough that my parents wouldn’t notice that I’d destroyed it – because if they knew I destroyed the hem (with my teeth, since they wouldn’t let me have a seam ripper because I’d wreck my clothes with it…), they’d call me stuff like disgusting and weird and stupid in their frustration. I knew that my sister didn’t mind tags like I did.
I knew that I had to be careful where and when I started to read, because adults wouldn’t believe me when I said that I didn’t hear them. I knew that I was far more picky than my peers about how things must be done (… they must be done right because if they’re not done right, it’s worse than not doing it at all). I knew that adults got annoyed with me and how I could pull an all-nighter without intending to.
But I didn’t add it all together, until one day at recess.
I was hiding in a little hidey-hole under the porch of the school (crouching, to avoid getting mud on my pants, with a book, of course), and something caught my attention as I was about to start reading. At that point, I realized I was the only kid on the playground who was alone. For some reason, that realization was catalyst to a thought process, where I added everything I’d noticed over a decade of life and how I was always called weird and so on… and realized I was different.
I’m not like them. I’m different. They’re right. I’m weird.
It would be two years before I came across the word for that feeling, alienation. Four years before I realized that alienation was actually what I was feeling. Five years before I first came across the word autism, and first considered I was autistic. It would be fifteen years before I claimed the term for myself.
But that day was when I realized what I’d spend the next fifteen years trying to find a name for.