A natural introvert, I was often the target of teasing that bordered on bullying. No wait–it wasn’t just “borderline”; it fit the bill. After all, bullying encompasses harassment, in a distinct and repeated pattern, and that’s what I faced every day for about ten years, give or take.An introvert is often an easy target; the bullies assume (correctly, in my case) that I won’t fight back.
The entire class had already witnessed the fact that I was an inadvertent screw-up, the one who was always in trouble, not because I went out of my way to cause it on purpose, but because everyone else came with a set of instructions I was expected to be familiar with, but wasn’t.
And thus, everyone knew that in the early years, a teacher could provide me no cover. No love lost, no sympathy gained.
And so, I was alone with the teasing and harassment, which later transformed into the interrogation (read: veiled accusatory judgment) by other girls as to why I did “this” or didn’t do “that”.
After all, I was the one who wore clothing that had gone out of style too long ago. I was the one who inspected her hair so that I could concentrate better when listening to someone. I was the one who wrote scores of music during Home Ec. I was the one who preferred Shop class to Home Ec. I was the one who talked a little too quiet and laughed a little too loud. I was the last one to get the joke…especially if I was the butt of it. And usually, I was.
Picking on someone (perceived as) shyer or otherwise weaker is cheating. It’s not a fair fight. The playing field has a steep grade. Winning against such a person is not the victory it appears to be. But who knew then? And even if anyone did, would it have made me feel any better? Would it have made anything any easier?
And an undiagnosed Asperger’s/autistic girl who just wants to get through the day with no trouble and little fanfare is ripe for the picking. The Asperger’s/autistic status is often icing on the cake.
But that didn’t matter back then. It didn’t make me feel less alone. It didn’t quell the butterflies fluttering around in my insides. It didn’t lessen my urge to pee. It certainly didn’t lull me to sleep at night.
By the time I was in Grade 7 (age 13 or so), I was on the trajectory to attend university at Juilliard. I wanted to write soundtracks for movies. But despite the gracious encouragement coming from multiple directions, I wasn’t fully committed to that quite yet; my newest budding interest was Abnormal Psychology, and I dreamed of going to work in the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Department, profiling serial killers and making the world a better place.
I never did either one. In fact, my current degrees are the product of my ninth and tenth declared university majors.
Fast forward several decades and one unequivocal, slam-dunk, no-brainer Asperger’s/autism spectrum diagnosis…
Despite fancy titles and semi-extensive accolades, I struggle, living month to month, or even week to week (these days, usually the latter). My longest-time “special interests” include music, Legos, world religions, physiology, and human-pathogenic microbiology.
On most days, I kick myself for not going into the field of infectious disease. Pathogenic bugs fascinate me: how something a billionth of our size can prove to be so problematic.
What does this have to do with bullying?
Being harassed on a daily basis is not exactly a boon to one’s self-esteem. The self-concept and self-image take turns taking nosedives.
When bullied so consistently and chronically, one learns to keep their head down and their mouth shut. One learns not to make waves and to avoid attracting attention. One stifles themselves from blazing any kind of trail.
How does being Aspergian/autistic impact the situation?
In my case, the answer is: in every way imaginable.
Because I took their criticism and malicious laughter to heart. Involuntarily, I internalized every last word they said. I believed it. My mother’s reassurances and words of encouragement were no match for what I faced each day.
Because I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, my cognitive processing works in such a way in which not only did those insults enter uninvited and set up an internalized residence, they played in my head. Over. And over. Again.
I had a particularly tough time realizing those (frequent) instances in which the laughter that I tried to join in on in an attempt to act, was actually directed at me. And not kindly.
My laughing stopped abruptly.
Theirs did not.
So when I learned how to survive the school day, day after day, for years, it became routine. It became a force of habit. It became an integral part of me.
Even after the bullying (thankfully, finally) stopped, I couldn’t just erase its effects, nor could I simply pick up where I left off and live the life I was supposed to live, being the person I would have been.
It doesn’t usually work that way.
Instead, I was stifled and stunted. When presented with an opportunity, my natural inclination is to decline and let the opportunity pass me by. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would actually tap me on the shoulder for anything; I had been so convinced that I wasn’t cut out for it.
And the bullying made me weary, jaded, skeptical of the world and most of the people in it. Every social situation I find myself thrust into is a potential opportunity to repeat the past, and every stranger I encounter is a potential agent of ridicule and pain.
My devilish subconscious self says, “why bother even going there? You know what’s probably around that corner, or behind that door. You’ve been through it a thousand times. It never ends well.”
The bullying memories sap my spoons and my life to this day.
It doesn’t matter that they occurred over 25 years ago.
To clarify, I’m not one of the stubbornly miserable types who has only known pain and is thus determined to hang onto it, completing repetitive cycles of self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not all about that. I’m much more into letting things go.
What gets me is the personality changes and the resulting alteration of my modus operandi. That’s the crux of the issue, I think, if my systemizing abilities are firing on all cylinders.
As far as I can tell, it’s less of a locked-in reflex akin to PTSD flashback, and more of an issue of the forces of habit that came about from stress-induced personality alterations. Maybe the two are the same, for practical purposes. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet.
How much of my inertia or lack of executive function is to “blame” for my current predicament, and how much of it is indeed some kind of bullying-induced growth stunt?
The two might even be so intertwined by now that it may be difficult to ascertain at this point.
All I do know is that both are likely to be very much a fundamental part of who I am.
I also know one other thing: I’m working on it. 🙂 ❤
‘The Cheese Stands Alone’ ~ (a Neurodivergent Paradox) ~ September 30, 2016
I Tried To Be Cool ~ February 22, 2017
Shapeshifting ~ Part 1 ~ November 16, 2016
I Probably Would Have Preferred Not To Be Mainstreamed In School ~ November 6, 2016