There were times, as a child and young adolescent, when I spent many carefree years just being me. I was encouraged to do this, so I didn’t hold back. I wasn’t always happy doing this, and the world’s responses were sometimes negative, even brutal. But sometimes they were positive. There were people who liked how I was, or at least I thought there were.
Then I grew up.
Or maybe I grew up as the next step. Maybe first I stopped thinking it was OK to act as I wanted to act, to relate to the world and other people the way I felt most natural. And maybe that’s called growing up.
I wasn’t a fun child (or adolescent) in many ways. My life isn’t the story of a winsome, adorable child with precocious, clever, and–above all–occasional creative things to say that adults appreciated. No, my life seems (now) to be the story of a child with a good, beyond-healthy dose of ADHD and serious verbal and behavioral impulsiveness. It was a fun way to live, except for the rest of the world. Well, part of the rest of the world, some of whom lived with and cared for me, and others were my teachers, etc.
So I got smacked down a lot–occasionally literally, but mostly just verbally. Lots of reprimands, lots and lots of indications (or statements) that I was embarrassing to be with. Lots and lots and lots of not understanding why I couldn’t just be myself. Because that’s who I am, inside. In my 40s I haven’t changed much; I’ve just worked very hard to build some strategies to tone down what might, I suppose, be called my symptoms, so that I can hold down a job and keep my family from abandoning me.
Being different is only fun if you’re different in the narrow set of ways your culture values. My culture doesn’t value some of my kinds of difference, so I’m one of millions upon millions who have grown up and finally, at some point, realized that it was absolutely not OK with everyone else for us to be ourselves. Life shifted from being a process of living with ongoing elements of confusion at why things didn’t work, or why people didn’t respond the way I hoped, to a kind of ongoing battle, every day, sometimes on a second-by-second timeframe, to maintain a sense that my self was OK in the irregular but overall consistent onslaught of messages to the contrary. The world has wanted me to be something other than I am, and has made it clear that failing to change will bring lots of pain.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve started to realize that the world has won. I have internalized the shame and guilt at some strong aspects of my personality that have always seemed natural and normal to me.