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  • Writer's pictureMegg Kelly

I need you to know that...

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

Trying to get my brain to focus is like pulling teeth, an effort to change all my past outcomes at attempted thought extractions hurts just as much as the 20 seconds it took my mind to understand I needed to add an “s” to the end of “extractions.” My stomach is turning, there seems to be a lack of oxygen. I’m cold, toes a grey blue from chill even though it is 70 degrees outside. My floral pastel cropped leggings that are seven years old don’t match the black, orange, and white of my plaid coat I haven’t bothered to take off. Then there is that familiar rush of frustration that floods my existence, a thriving battle of the head and the heart to not be this soggy thing attempting to peck away at the keyboard writing something nobody will read. The more my frustration builds with my body the heavier I feel with the fog of it all. Mental warfare rages on, sleeps for a bit, restlessly, always ready to battle, then repeats itself. Over and over and over.

I can’t take in information; my brain simply cannot do it. There is an impenetrable roadblock locked into place, deflecting information, and preventing thoughts from fleeing my head in a way that makes sense. The way my brain traps what I want and need to convey is one of the most maddening experiences. Because when people cannot filter through what I am saying, if they cannot follow my broken trains of thought with pieces missing and fill in the blanks themselves, then I appear to lack intelligence. But I don’t, on the inside, I feel incredibly intelligent. Of course, not in all subjects, but still if that barrier could be lifted from my brain, the one keeping my words locked in like a leech that has planted itself into my skin, bleeding the mind dry before it has a chance to fully express itself. If I could pluck it out of place and forget it ever existed, I think I could fly. Instead, I’m locked in, fighting to escape. I never have been able to reach beyond the barrier and fly free.

I’d love to fly someday.

Fly and never fall behind the false walls of this body again.

Even now my head is pounding at the temples with the effort it takes to conjure the words I need my fingers to find on the keyboard and make coherent. That familiar, dreaded heaviness surrounds my neck, builds at the base of my skull and I want to cry. Because I feel like this every day. I cannot recall one day in my adult life that simply existing wasn’t a struggle. I don’t think I was made for this world. I cannot recall one day in my formative years; the days I spent in public education that I did not feel like this. I remember how scared I was to express how I felt because I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to feel this way. I didn’t understand it wasn’t normal to feel like a zombie day after day, a zombie capable of greatness if only it wasn’t a zombie. I think part of me understood as a child that I wouldn’t be helped. It was my burden to deal with, after all the monster taking me over, bore the same name as myself, the monster was me. How I was built. How my brain transferred information, how it was stored and not stored, my constant fatigue, constant back pain, and eventually persistent menstrual pain, it all was happening in my body. So, it was my fault I felt this way.

I was the one lacking, I was the one to blame for my tendency to frequently fall short. The anger and disdain I felt towards myself manifested into this cemented fear of never being good enough. That I would never be important, that my brain would always prevent me from chasing dreams. That I didn’t even know what my dreams were because I was so focused on getting by in the moment, day to day, hour to hour, that thoughts of the future rarely made an appearance. I didn’t have time for the pursuit of self-interest because I had to focus so intently on everyday tasks, on working my way through the public education system without slipping through my cracks, so much so that making a life for myself outside of school didn’t cross my mind much.

Somehow, I understood I wasn’t going to be able to take care of myself. Perhaps it was a survival instinct, a safeguard my brain could get down with, and that became my sole focus. Surviving. Not surviving in the way the people around me were trying to survive because as far as I knew everyone’s mind and body worked the way mine did, but they were better, superior at working through it. They could take care of themselves. I couldn’t, and I recognized that in myself. I could scream and plead and beg with my brain to connect to the rest of my body, connect to the world and how I needed to fit into it and my tongue still cannot convey what my mind and soul have been pleading for all my life. For help, for the ability to catch myself with my own hands, to not tumble into another relationship that might financially take care of me but does nothing to encourage task to preserve self-preservation, nothing to develop the pursuit of bettering oneself.

I needed someone to help take care of me, even as an adult, even though I knew I had little to offer, my sole purpose in life became the hunt to find someone I could attach myself to so I wouldn’t end up homeless, or worse, dead. But that presented a whole new problem. I didn’t fit into the world, at least I didn’t understand how to, so I latched onto common examples of what I thought my role as someone inferior to society who had nothing to offer was. As a woman, that was sex. That was compliance, obedience, emotional, and domestic support. It was the sex part that found me in the worst of it all. No had become a bad word, one that I was afraid to use. I lived blindly and foolishly, and all the men that hurt me, well that was my fault, too, because, after all, I was the problem, right? There was a period where the assaults were frequent and worse, 2012 to be exact, was a hell of a year.

The number of times I was in sexual danger hurts to think about.

Someone asked me if I could go back in time and tell my kid self-anything, anything at all, what would it be? My answer was short, “you are stronger than you think.” The person asking was perplexed that that was my answer wasn’t more profound or a long-winded, dramatic dialogue. But those six words are a glaring example of how my mind works, how I perceive and collect information, and then how it is stored. If I could tell my kid self you are stronger than you think, it would have been enough to stop me and make me look at that information long enough to take it in and believe it, even if it was a temporary belief. Words are literal to me, maybe not as much now that I am an adult, now that I have more tools to assess information, people, fill in the blank, but kid me? An adult’s words, for God’s sake a kid’s words, were literal.

I would easily believe anything someone told me, a teacher, a book, probably even a stranger, and my mind would take that information in as fact. I would then proceed with that information, even if it was incorrect or harmful, and run with it like it was my golden ticket to being a fully functioning acceptable, and worthy human being. I would copy characteristics of others, fictional or real, and think, this is how I need to be, and if I can become enough of this, whatever this might be, then I would finally level up to being an independent human being who was capable of living and not failing my way through life clinging to the heals of people better equipped than I was.

As a kid, I remember paying close attention to how my older sister would color in coloring books and I would copy what she was doing. Sure, this seems like a normal kid thing to do, and it can be, but for me, I wasn’t only copying what she was doing. I was learning, I loved the way she blended colors and outlined caricatures and shapes as if she had drawn them herself. I wanted to be good at something like she was. Sure, we were little kids and sure coloring books are not the pinnacle of artistic abilities, but it made me feel good. She hated that I would copy her (as an older sister would) so I kept coloring the way she did, but I also had internalized that I was bad at art because even kid words like you suck at drawing were fact to me. I was told I was bad at art, no matter how much I enjoyed it, so I was bad at art. That was that. I never allowed myself to explore art beyond the pages of a kids' coloring book.

Being bad at art was added to the list of things that I wanted to be good at because the way my mind lit up (if I wasn’t frustrated) felt like an escape from the person I was locked inside of that was convinced she was never going to be good enough at anything. I never allowed my growing brain to rove over whether I had talent or promise in things that sparked my interest because I was all too often met with a sneer at my attempts, a sharp laugh of incredulousness at being interested in something I was perceived to not be capable of achieving in any fashion of the word. I remember in grade school being so excited to try out for the Christmas pageant at the church we went to at the time (religion honestly never made much sense to me, it's still not my bag now but for a while, I fell into a Sunday church habit thinking I would find a way to survive through God, yet again it wasn’t for me). I wanted to be an angel in the pageant, I wanted to wear the pretty white robe and fluffy angel wings, stand before the parishioners with the holiday glow of Christmas lights and candles all around us, and be admired and celebrated. I wanted people to look at me and be awed.

I had written it on my calendar when auditions were, my mom saw it written there one day and laughed. That sharp snort of a laugh that causes your heart to drop from its cage in devastation because you know what is coming, rejection and defeat. “Why would they pick you for that?” She said before leaving the room. I crossed out the audition time I had marked, heart throbbing because at that moment my kid self took what she was saying as fact. Obviously, as always, I wasn’t good enough. It was pointless to try. I had better stay behind the scenes, not make my presence known if at all. I truly felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Was I even wanted? Would I ever be worth it? If only she had known how I would internalize her demeanor towards me at that moment, how her words and feelings would become cemented facts in my brain, that my mind would perceive it as truth based on the fact I was being told so, things would have been different.

Understanding myself the way I do now has been the most enlightening experience of my life. A harsh illumination, but a necessary one. It’s painful to reflect over the past 32 years and see my life for what it is and not what I thought it was. I feel fooled, tricked by some cruelty with no other end goal than to suppress and sneer back at the crumpled being it left behind. I discovered early on that my family, the people at school, everyone, really, stranger, or not, would make fun of my weird external habits, the things I now know are sensory issues, triggers that would upset my neurological paths in a way that made me the primary source of a joke for those around me. I was so hyper-aware of my surroundings that I tried very hard to be normal, to not show how things that everyone else could handle or thought were normal and shouldn’t be a problem for me were in all actuality tearing me down. I was embarrassed by myself, and I still am. I had to keep my problems to myself. I felt shame when I shouldn’t have. I apologized for myself when it wasn’t warranted.

I hated being touched most of the time, I still do. A hug, shoulder to shoulder with the person seated next to me, an arm around me, can feel like an extreme invasion of privacy for me. Even someone being too close to me can raise the way my nerves flood me at a level and rate people find to be dramatic or rude. Imagine how that transfers to things like going to the doctor’s office where my body was subject to unwanted touch, to being pregnant and giving birth, to intimacy and overall bodily autonomy. It's not a pretty picture.

I think it’s equally important to note that the way I feel fear is much more intense than the way another person might react when fear rushes in. Fear imprints itself louder on me than does the neurotypical. It's why rollercoasters scare the living hell out of me, why I have a near irrational fear of falling. When fear calms down I will still remember it, even trivial fear, in my skin, my veins, my head, my heart, all the way down to my toes in the most uncomfortable rush of firing neurons imaginable. I know trauma imprints on everyone, I think it’s the way I physically feel it that makes it harsher on my person. I’m not talking about a few decimals of fear louder than others' trauma, but a wildfire rushing through dried wood and earth faster than the mind can understand.

It. Is. Terrifying.

Consuming, deafening, but most of all it is maddening.

I need people to understand the depth of this thing within me that has plagued me all these years. Mask after mask was ripped away from me over a period of days when I learned what was wrong with me. When the last one fell from grace and splintered into dust at my feet, I wished I could pick it up and put it back into place. I wanted to be the man in the iron mask. Please, suffocate me with neuro normalcy so my divergence doesn’t have to see, feel, and understand how long I have been suffering and the depth of it all. But it was too late, it fell from my face and laughed at me on the way down.

People don’t want to make space for what they see as different. If people didn’t want me around before, if I was already a failing, teetering thing, how would the world feel about me now? Now that I have no reserve of self-preservation concocted from societal normalcies that never intended to make room for those like me. For the neurodivergent. For ADHD, especially in girls and women. For Autism. In some ways I was like a chameleon, adjusting myself to whomever presence I was in so I wouldn’t stand out. I snaked in and out of different characteristics to conform to other people’s comfort, pleasure, and security. So much so that I am not sure how much of it was real and how much of it was fake.

The friends I haven’t seen in years, pandemic or not, please know how much I love you. The family that doesn’t understand what has been going on with me or where I have been, this isn’t about you. I have to be able to break through all these horrible habits and beliefs the past 32 years have encased me in before I can put myself in places, be around people, and not slip back into the shapes that have been harming me all this time. After all, I wasn’t doing it for me, was I? I was a problem for everyone else. It didn’t start as me suspecting I was the problem; it was my world showing me I was an inconvenience that needed to be handled.

That means that the person under the hundreds of masks I had come to know was covering who, and what, I really am. I’m not sure that the me I haven’t had the chance to fully be yet will be liked; I don’t think people will know what to do or how to react to me now that the curse of normalcy has been broken. I’m angry, every day starts with sparking infuriation and seething intrusive thoughts just by waking up. I feel robbed of life, of youth. My anger reaches its fury towards the people who have been primary characters in my life, towards my family members because they were the ones I was around the most for so long. I realize it's not completely fair, I’m aware that the lack of knowledge around girls with ADHD and Autism was just as bad then as it is now. But when you never really got a chance to live for yourself it's hard to not be angry about it.

Did you know that I love singing? No, no one would know that. No one knows because singing is on the list of things I was “bad” at, so I put the thought of exploring singing to rest. I don’t think (now) that I have all that bad of a singing voice, I’ll never be one of the musical greats, but the thrill I felt the first time, very recently actually, I felt myself use my vocal cords correctly, I could feel the notes reverberating through a talent I’ve mourned never having. I’ll chase that feeling for the rest of my life. Music, trying to sing, makes my mind soar with elation and enjoyment. I love to try to sing, I love to try to learn how to carry a note, and control my breath. But I hide it. I hide it because I’ve already been told I’m bad at it so trying would be stupid, right? Wrong. It was all so wrong.

I am Autistic. I have ADD. I have suffered under the reign of neuro normalcy all my life. I need to be left alone for now. I can’t find my way through this thing and maintain relationships at the same time. I cannot cater to others' discomfort anymore; I cannot deal with the way people pick out things that set off my sensory issues like I am a game to be played for their enjoyment. I need to find strength in myself without outside influence. I won’t be treated like a child anymore, the things I love and want in life will not be mocked or put down any more. I won’t put up with it. Who knows maybe some people will never see me again, I can’t predict the future. What I do know is that for years there have been friends and family suffocating me so painfully, so thoroughly that when I was a kid there were one too many times when I let my asthma get bad, and I would refuse to use my inhaler, because I thought if I wasn’t able to breathe anymore, I could snuff myself out and never be a problem again. Or the time I tried to hang myself in my dad’s trailer when I was in middle school. Or the times I sat in the garage with the door shut and my car on because I couldn’t handle the silent chaos my mind and body lived in anymore. I have to learn to stop treating myself like this, I cannot do that with old influences orbiting me.

It’s for that reason that I need to stay away for a while, why I have been staying away. If I don’t adapt to myself in my true form, not the forms I conjured from one moment to the next, then I will never be able to find my way into who I was meant to be. If I am still reworking myself to fit the narrative everyone believes of me, I think it might kill me. I wish I could show you how agonizing it is to put myself into the world and attempt to be ok, to be normal, or be what people have come to expect of me. But since I can’t show you, my words will have to be enough.

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