Something that I will always be able to admit to is that I’m a brat. I’ve never not been a brat, I always will be a brat, it’s kind of just part of who I am. I’m sincerely just a pouty mermaid at heart. At this point in my life, I am able to honor and accept my flaws.
I got a lot of grief growing up about being a brat. It’s understandable. Without any knowledge of how to set or honor boundaries, without socio-emotional education around how to compromise, express my emotions appropriately, and be diplomatic, of course my brattiness was a burden.
I’ve always been a pain in someone’s ass.
But here’s the thing, my brain is not “normal.” I have ADHD, anxiety, and depression. All of which manifests in my personality and made me behave in my youth “differently” than you would expect from a “normal child.”
I will never forget how scarily relatable it was in The Joker, 2019, when I watched Joaquin Phoenix write down, “The worst thing about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
The way my brain is wired made me behave in ways dominant society deems inappropriate or negative in little girls. For example, my anxiety makes it difficult for me to cope with extreme sensory experiences; bright lights, repetitive noises, tight clothing, strong smells, etc. Therefore, the fluorescent lights at school gave me severe headaches all through elementary and middle school before I had the power to dose myself with ibuprofen. My headaches made me cranky and I would often be short with people when I would respond to things, leading to being labeled with an “attitude problem” or as a “bitch.” All I desperately needed was alone time in a quiet darkened room, but I had no ability or knowledge to help me express that.
The most difficult parts of my personality, though, are associated with my ADHD. My ADHD, although not a mental illness, is closely linked to my anxiety and depression in that it had a lot of impact on my self esteem. Therefore, a lot of the triggers I have for my anxiety and depression come from personality quirks associated with my ADHD.
With ADHD I: zone out and get distracted easily, have moments of extreme hyperactivity, can be SUPER LOUD, have difficulty finishing tasks, can’t stay organized, get super excited over seemingly small things, exaggerate all the time, and can’t sit still. The consistent negative feedback I received as a child as a result of these quirks showed me how ill suited I was to many traditional institutions. This resulted in me suppressing all of these parts of my personality in order to be accepted by those traditional institutions. This suppression doubled down on my anxiety and depression.
Eventually I wanted to kill myself.
Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about:
Example: My habit of exaggerating and getting excited about things means I am a really passionate person. This means that when I start something new, I am super passionate (ok, maybe a little obsessive) about it. Same thing goes for: new friendships, new relationships, new projects, new goals, new jobs, etc.
It took me a lot of social missteps throughout my life to learn a balance so I don’t come on too strong.
See, social boundaries like that are something everyone assumes people just have. When really, my ADHD means I’m not necessarily naturally equipped with the understanding around those boundaries. And since everyone just expected me to know them, no one ever really taught me about them.
I had to learn through repeated rejection.
We live in a harsh world.
Then, my anxiety and depression kicked in, and all of the sudden other peoples’ approval became tied to my self worth. I developed a mindset where I felt I had to change everything about myself to get approval, or it would prove I was worthless. I suppressed my passion for other people. I became aloof. I made relationships impossible.
A second example: My abstract mind.
My mind moves really quickly. I am also an extremely analytical thinker. This means I process information at an extraordinary rate. I am also able to see connections and patterns across information quickly. Basically, I am on Step E before most people finish reading and processing the directions to Step A.
This also means I have a great ability to have empathy and see nuance because I see many different contributing factors and extenuating circumstances in every situation. I explore everything through multiple perspectives.
Therefore, I usually want to discuss decisions, assumptions, and conclusions so we can all reach a consensus that would be best for everyone involved.
The problem is, no one ever taught me that people in authority expect deference to their status and respect for their position when suggesting counterpoints to their confident, absolute, assertions. No one ever taught me about social politics, or about the types of bias people carry with them that will change how they look at you.
No one ever told me about the privileges I have in this regard, nor taught me how to sense in a situation when it’s actually time for me to be quiet.
I had to learn the hard way through being called a “know it all” and a “bitch.” Being told I’m “difficult,” “ abrasive.”
Or, “People would listen to you more if you just worked on your tone.”
I didn’t realize speaking to you as if I’m your equal was offensive to you.
I was taught to shut up. By the people on whom my voice was a burden.
A pain in the ass.
They used their power to stifle my voice because they didn’t like what they heard.
People with authority over me bristled at my arguing. They became apoplectic at my persistence, and convulsed at my constant questioning.
I learned how to turn my voice off ALL the time, just to be safe. So I could avoid upsetting what felt like everyone.
I forced myself to come off as demur, submissive, “laid back” *cough*easy.*
I forced myself to disappear.
I was miserable.
I almost killed myself.
We live in a harsh world.
Sidebar: Luckily I’ve started to figure out when it truly is not my turn to speak from the voices of people who have been brave enough, generous enough, and thought highly enough of me, to tell me when I need to shut up and listen. The people who shouldn’t have had to be the ones to teach me this, but did anyway. The people to whom I have unending respect and gratitude. The people whom traditional societal institutions have failed even worse than they’ve failed me. Find a list of resources to explore more diverse voices below.
“Normal” institutions and structures in our society have never served everyone, even before Corona came and fucked them up.
And I am a voice with a lot of privilege in this regard.***
But my brain is different than the “normal” student our school system is designed for. I learn differently. I have a different set of natural interpersonal skills. I am sensitive. I am intensely moral. I am passionate. I am bisexual. I live outside of binaries.
Dominant society takes what is unique about people, that which separates them from the status quo, and punishes them for it. We break people down, strip them of their joy, their culture. We force them to assimilate.
I am one of the lucky ones.
Being able to suppress everything about myself in order to be accepted by the status quo is a privilege I have, as my “otherness” is not visible.
And even with that being the case, I still felt so alone,
that I wanted to kill myself.
As we approach our lives moving forward after Covid-19, I hope we can take all of this into consideration.
Covid-19 is scary. There are so many unknowns and variables here. It really sucks to feel as though you are trapped in something you can’t get out of.
The anxiety is real. Honor that. Process that. Seek therapy. Take care of yourself, please.
Then, when we’re ready, let’s take a critical look at our values and needs as a society moving forward. With many institutions falling apart around us we have an opportunity here.
An opportunity to potentially build a socio-emotionally focused education system that takes mental health, learning style, race, language, LGBTQ+ status, social class, access to technology, culture, etc, into consideration when designing policies, processes, and curriculum.
We have an opportunity to fight for a health system funded by taxes from the people who have made great shows of donating money to hospitals and other relief organizations… because maybe if the tax funding was there, the medical supplies and food would have been there before people started getting sick in the first place (gasp! But isn’t this socialism? Yes. Yes it is… But can you guess who has socialized healthcare? South Korea. Can you guess who has also successfully managed and moved past the Covid-19 pandemic? South Korea******).
I realize I am being hella idealistic here. But I feel like it’s about time someone was.
Because people who have been failed by society this whole time already know what it feels like to live in a perpetual state of anxiety and survival. So this feeling isn’t new for them…
Over the course of my life I have felt my otherness, and therefore suppressed my otherness. I hid in my privilege and fooled even myself into thinking I was perfect. And no one called me a brat for like 15 years.
So my bratty-ass self is back and I’ve finally unleashed her full power. I will assert what I want and need because I deserve to be happy and successful as myself, just as everyone else does. I am fragile and I am sensitive and I am dramatic, and everyone is just going to have to deal with it.
This time around though, therapy has given me the skills I need to balance my many needs with my desire to love and be a good support system for others.
This time around, I have the education I need to build and maintain healthy boundaries.
This time around, I am working on how I can make myself feel seen, validated, and loved.
Just like everyone else right now, I am still in my struggle.
But I am working on it.
*** I mentioned several times above that when considering how societal institutions have failed us, I am a voice of privilege. Below you will find resources to learn about how the education and healthcare systems have failed a diverse range of voices (I figured you should hear about these experiences from the actual source:
****** I recognize this situation is far more complex than I am making it appear here. I just want to remind you how I use hyperbole in the artistic craft of my writing. If anyone has any reliable sources on the actual details of the way South Korea handled their Covid-19 situation, comment a link?