My most vivid memories of being a child consist of me, balled up on my bed, sobbing with my guts, while the words “No one understands me,” scrolling, scrolling through my brain. The only notable difference in any of the memories is the color of the gingham-checked bedspreads I always had– the ones with the lace runners sewn down the edges of where the spread falls over the sides of the bed. I suppose my internal dialogue has always just been true, and rather a remarkable show of self-knowledge for such a young child. I am not a child now, and yet this is still my story.
Now, as the adult-child amalgam I have become, I know why this is just true. Nothing about my life as a child, or now as the adulter me, is very relatable. How could anyone understand the powerful combination of me, growing up with my own father licking my tiny, toddler vagina, jerking off on me, and I don’t know what else, and the single mother of an autistic boy me, who oftentimes doesn’t have enough left to give to another after an ordinary day. Both very specific and difficult paths to walk, and added together, a strange mixture of vulnerability, hopeful pride, fear, and uncertainty.
I find that being me is eternally exhausting. Trying to soften those self-defense mechanisms that helped me survive my childhood while facing new day after new day of blending my own fledgling happiness with my son’s constant needs and wants is daunting. Having an autistic child is a weird world of balancing his need of micromanaging and his need for autonomy in an overwhelming world. I have worked smart his whole life to make society fit around him, to show people that while autism is different, it isn’t scary. Autism just is. And, honestly, I hope I have demonstrated to the people that we all are different and none of us are scary. We just are. This is part of my everyday life, and it takes brain energy and emotional energy. I am functioning with a rather serious deficit of both, resulting in my jaggedy edges and some-encompassing fear of everything skewing my perceptions and robbing me of feeling safe and peaceful. Most days, I am so tensed up that my neck is barely visible and I am on guard against anything, all things.
Sometimes, I check out of whole conversations with people. I snap on my autopilot, seamlessly. The results of this trick vary. Turns out, my autopilot is manned by the parts inside of me that always tried to protect me from abuse. My pilots are judgement all, very. My pilots have seen and felt the worst possible betrayal, the most heinous acts wrought upon a child, upon me. They try to keep everyone out because how could they know who to trust? They could not trust my own father, so, of course, everyone is suspect.
The pilots don’t have any basis for understanding what a healthy relationship looks like, what it is, how it works. They don’t know anything about intimacy. They have little patience for hearing stories of regular, normal problems. After all, once you have been in hell, everything else is New Hampshire on a sunny day. And I get that. The defense mechs were totally awesome and entirely helpful for many, many years. I did survive the thing and do extremely well at school, I believe I faked normalcy for quite a while. And then the pilots and their mechs were drowned in alcohol for a decade, so it wasn’t a problem then, so to speak. I believe after sobriety came to me the trouble started. Sobriety is hard, as it turns out. feelings emerge. Actual, human feelings. They are everywhere, these human feelings. Flailing and wailing to be heard and felt.