I’m an adult with sensory sensitivities and diagnoses of both Aspergers and selective mutism. I remember what it was like to be a child with those challenges. Low-lifes took advantage of me. Adults who knew better laughed at me. Peers waved their hand in front of my face: “Yoo hoo! Is anybody in there?” At the time, I thought that because I was so different from everyone else that I must have be an alien dropped here and expected to know the culture! There are times I almost disappeared completely. Not speaking at all was and is a comfortable place. I realize now that the sense of disappearing is a common feeling. If I could write a note to “The Child Self” I was then, it would go like this:
Dear Child Self,
Your childhood truly is magical. There are so many wonders, so much laughter, so many animal friends to love. However, some emotions seem as big as the universe. You will experience fear, tragic loss, indignities and confusion, and all that seems overwhelming. But even huge uncomfortable feelings are survivable. They really are! Peers your age seem to know how to bond with each other. You watch them, puzzled, like an anthropologist. But Child Self: you can’t get the words out. They stick in your throat like the biggest lump ever. You cringe when people say “She’s so shy,” because you know that you are not shy. The word ‘shy’ minimizes something feeling more serious. But don’t be alarmed by that difference. What you can’t know, Child Self, is that your senses are cranked on high. If you could see your brain, you’d see it may look like other brains physically, but the way it takes in information, makes sense of the information and manages output is unique. Still…I understand right now, BLENDING IN seems like the most important thing in your life. (There will come a time later in your life when you realize it’s perfectly okay to embrace your Kimness.)
Your serious, all-out desperate meltdowns leave you sleepy, red-faced, and even ashamed, but also you feel somehow better afterwards and you should not feel guilty about that. The meltdowns leave your mother weary and that is hard for you to see but know that she is weary faced because she is worried and she is worried because she cares. You don’t know this now, but sometimes Moms are blamed for having children with ‘different’ behaviors and she too is feeling big emotions. Don’t blame yourself for everything, Child Me.
Sometimes you can’t even communicate to your own parents. You attach notes to clothespins and throw them into the living room for your parents to read. This is clever on your part, Child Me, because you show that you are determined to communicate! They do not read your clothespin notes. They will simply yell, “Stop throwing things!” At least you tried. You must know this: Many times now and throughout your life, your thoughts, feelings, and ideas will indeed go unexpressed. But they are valid! Guess what, Child Self?
You aren’t alone.
All this time that you isolate yourself, struggle, and are confused by the things others do, take my word for it– there are others who are just like you! One day when you are much older, you will know true peers who understand. You will find a belonging with these fellow anthropologists such as you have never known. This I promise.
Keep reading! Keep journaling! One day people will read what you have to say. Your words will become the biggest clothespins ever thrown into the world…and people will unclip the words from them and hear what you have to say! Keep creating! You have the ability to lose yourself for hours; ‘just’ drawing. You can’t begin to realize Child Self, how therapeutic art truly is. One day you will even show your paintings in galleries and you will sell them! Your art will be on the covers of books too! All human beings have ways to de-stress and for you that is Art, and always will be; even when you are grown up. Write what you cannot say aloud, and save those journals. Draw what goes unexpressed. And be easy on your young self when you are overwhelmed and lose control. So much of what happens is a learning experience even though it is often painful. Above all, trust me, ‘Your Future Self’ when I say:
Your Art and writing will sustain you. It will always be your safe footbridge over turbulence.
If you cannot express yourself through your voice, continue to do so on the written page. The things you think about really are important.
You may not believe me but you are stronger than you think. You try harder than most to do what others seem to take for granted. The good news is, this is called perseverance and bravery. It makes you a resilient person, just like that silly toy you have: the blow-up wobbly clown that keeps getting back up every time you push or punch it.
Take pleasure in being in your own company because one day others will too. I promise. So draw! Make Christmas ornaments from cinnamon sticks, glue and sparklies! Spread peanut butter on pine cones and enjoy watching the squirrels come for them. Write! These types of expressions will carry you all your life.
Being you, uniquely you, fully and wholly, is all you’ve ever had to be. It’s enough because you matter.
Kimberly Gerry-Tucker resides in Connecticut. It’s through her passion for art and her innate drive to create, that she expresses herself best. Her paintings have shown at numerous New England galleries since 2007 and have appeared in books, calendars, and on the covers of books. Kim has been a published author since 1999. She is the author of Under The Banana Moon (living, loving, loss and aspergers). She has several chapters in an upcoming book (and her artwork and likeness appear on the cover) with Carl Sutton called Selective Mutism In Our Own Words: Experiences in Childhood and Adulthood Catch her blog here: ravenambition.wordpress.com
The Art of Autism is accepting Dear Me letters and videos from autistic people and their parents for an ongoing Dear Me project, letters to our younger self.
I just found this and this is truly beautiful and powerful. I am on the spectrum and have suffered from bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders and likely some PTSD, and this is just what I needed to read. I have really neglected my younger self and become detached from joy and wonder at times more than I would like to going forward. It’s hard for me to connect to my younger self sometimes, because I had serious depression starting when I was five. I think my younger self is just really sensitive and alone and vulnerable and scared, and I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with those feelings. My present self feels them, too, and I think we all do. I am learning to not be ashamed because I have found amazing mentors and loving friends, too. It can be a struggle to remain secure within the moment, but reading this helped me to feel connected. I really related to the part where you tell your younger self she is not alone. I have just started to do that in my own life. I used to be really angry and bitter and mean as a kid when I couldn’t express my sadness, and have said some things to the people who love and care about me I’m not proud of. I struggle to forgive younger myself at times, because I didn’t and don’t want to be the bully who picked on and hurt people just because I’ve been picked on and hurt. I am starting to remind my younger self that it is not his fault and that I have grown to be a better person as an adult through the arts. I relate to the part where you talk about your art sustaining you. I play blues guitar and write songs and paint and do photography, and these things keep me alive and connected to myself and help me meet and connect with other people as well when I’ve had art classes or open mic nights and things of that sort. It’s still hard, but I’m realizing now that I’ve been resilient and can continue to be.
Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to share it with my mom, too. Your triumph inspires me.
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