Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nothing is Right

I can't remember a time when I was unaware of exactly how different I was from other children.  When I was very young, I used to revel in it.  I knew that their mannerisms were not my mannerisms, and that the things they enjoyed were very different from the things I enjoyed.  For a while, I thought that this made me superior to them.  That passed, though, when I came to realize that a good many of these people I did not understand had very admirable qualities, and that I did, in fact, value them, even if I had no hope of knowing how or why they did the things that they did.

As I got older, I realized that certain things were just harder for me.  My parents did catch on, eventually, but every time I was evaluated by the school, it was decided that I was a "late bloomer" or that it was a phase I would eventually grow out of.  By the time my mother was diagnosed as bipolar, I'd started to be bullied regularly by another boy at school.

My mother's illness turned my mind in another direction.  I'd already been obsessed with the idea that I wasn't normal before, but her diagnosis made me begin to think that I wasn't sane.  It led me to question every aspect of my own behavior, from my tendency to write and draw all of the time to my inability to speak when I became upset.

Eventually, my father sat me down and explained to me that not only was I not crazy, but that if my mother received the proper treatment, she wouldn't be crazy either.  I was told rather bluntly that my ability to question my own perceptions precluded me from being mentally ill.  This message was repeated regularly, and over the course of years.

I understand what my father was trying to do and to say, but I do wish that he would have taken my concerns more seriously.  All I can say is that it was an honest mistake.  Still, there is a part of me that wonders--how must I have looked from the outside?  How honest was the mistake?

When I was in seventh grade and my relationship with my mother deteriorated into regular screaming/throwing/running away from home and meltdowns, she worried about me.  Now, at the time, she was refusing to take her medications, and most of the meltdowns were due to the constantly shifting, irrational demands that she placed not only on me, but on my brother and sister as well.  She was right about one thing, though--my reaction was not normal.  It's not normal for a thirteen year old to respond to the command "don't you dare walk out that door" by jumping head first out of a second story window.  It's not normal for a thirteen year old to start reading a novel at eight in the morning, and to forget to eat or drink until he finishes reading the novel at three in the morning.

From my perspective, Nothing was right.  Every time I had irrational demands placed on me, it was as if I was having an allergic reaction to their lack of sense.  When I was told "I don't care what you do, just go outside until dinner", I took it literally and rode my bicycle five miles to my grandparents' house.  When I was asked to do something, and then halfway through told to stop because I had forgotten some other chore, it felt as if I was being smothered.  Worse, because my mother was resisting her medication, it was often true that the thing I "forgot" to do was something I was never asked to do.  If I pointed it out, though, I was grounded for talking back.

When I took the "stay outside" command literally and went to my grandparents, I was grounded because I "should have known better."

When I fought with my mother and stormed out of the house, my father grounded me for "disrespect" (ironically, he then tried to convince me that I should go to him when my mother is being unreasonable, instead of telling my grandparents).

Nothing was right.  Not only was I put into a position I had no way of coping with, I lacked the tools to explain why every reaction I had just made things worse.  My brother and sister didn't react like I did.  In fact, oftentimes my outbursts scared them even more than my mother's did.

Still, I couldn't be insane.  I couldn't be.  Because if I was capable of questioning my perceptions, then I wasn't mentally ill.  Instead, it was a phase.  It was a "teenage thing" or "puberty" or "hormones".  As long as I was in a phase of life where I could be diminished, I couldn't have a developmental disorder or a mental illness.

When I graduated from high school early and went off to college, I supposed that things would be better.  I'd proven my maturity by knuckling down and working hard, and I figured that my "teenage thing" would fall by the wayside.

Four years later, I was still melting down.  It was worse, too, because I had graduated from college, I had student loans coming due, and I could not find a job.  I worried about myself.  My partner, Elizabeth, worried about me.  My family?  "College thing".  "Just starting out."  "He worked so hard for so long, he's taking a break."

I began to feel real hatred for the people in my life who could not distinguish the difference between my not being capable of finding a job and my not wanting to find a job.  Still, as that resentment boiled over, I heard that it wasn't anything I should be concerned with.  It was me being a "narcissistic twentysomething."

Through it all, nothing changed.  Not inside.  My perceptions now are much the same as they were when I was six or seven and I realized that I was not like other people.  I've learned about them over the years.  Since I coming to know what I am, I've gained a better definition for what they are.  Still, the simple awareness that I do not operate like most other people persists.  It's not a phase.  It's not a teenage thing.  It's not hormones.

It's nothing but the revelation that I was born into a world where people don't like to question the basic instincts that they have, and so they are not very good at explaining those instincts to others.  Most of those are instincts I don't share.  That's why, for me, Nothing is Right.