25 January, 2011

stuff I wish I'd known

being in 9th grade and being cast in this play as a character who didn't exist--the teacher who was directing planned to divide up lines between my character and another character. During vocal warmups every cast member had to say one of their lines and we would all repeat it, but this made me feel awful because I didn't know which lines were mine, because we hadn't gotten to blocking that scene yet. I didn't want to steal someone else's lines. I dreaded warmups so much, because of this one moment, that I tended to skip rehearsals and go to the art room and hang out with Joan. Eventually I got caught, no real harm done; I explained to the teacher several years later, once I could talk to her.

being in 9th grade and always being told my mom to wash my face in the morning and brush my teeth with the electric toothbrush. I didn't wash my face usually--it just happened--I couldn't really explain why I dreaded the sensation of putting water on my face. I just avoided it and felt guilty because I knew it was my fault I didn't have better skin. The electric toothbrush was so loud and full of movement that it filled my head with compulsive horrible thoughts; I usually used it but sometimes I had to turn it off or use a manual toothbrush.

same with toilets (always).

being in 7th grade and having to go to tae kwon do lessons. It started with this ordeal of "conditioning"--running in place, holding weights, while loud music played. It wasn't the exercise, I liked other parts of tae kwon do, but the combination of the movement and the loud music caused all the compulsive horrible thoughts. On the mornings of lesson days, at school, I'd write these little rhyming poems that I could repeat over and over in my head during conditioning to try to keep from having the thoughts. Or I'd memorize certain Yeats poems, which had a good rhythm.

why didn't I tell my teacher to just turn the music off? I guess for other people the music probably helps. It just didn't occur to me that the music was anything other than part of life. Maybe I thought that the compulsive thoughts were part of what conditioning was supposed to be like. It didn't occur to me to say it out loud.

I remember beautiful things like all the time I spent figuring out how to trace words in my head. Like, should I connect the letters? Tracing every word that I thought or heard, like in sixth or seventh grade I think this was. It took time but I had time.

But I also remember that I didn't just tell Mrs. M. that I was upset because I felt like I was stealing other people's lines. Or that I tended to just avoid loud things without thinking and couldn't explain why. And I knew my diagnosis for a lot of these incidents. It's just I didn't know how to talk, or that no one was there to tell me what it meant.


  1. I have a lot of problems with obsessive thoughts, but not ones that are triggered by things like noise and so forth. Though perhaps the underlying trigger was stress, which in your case was brought on my sensory issues. That would be my guess, anyway.

    I think things got a lot better for me once I became better at analyzing and verbalizing my inner state, which was definitely something I got better at as I got older. To the point where now I tend to deal with my emotions in this hyper-rational way. I often think I became a much more logical person in response to having to deal with overwhelming emotions, which really doesn't fit the standard narrative about really logical, analytical types at all.

  2. This feels very, very familiar. Thanks.