This is the third instalment in my ’empathy chip malfunction’ series.
An education in disappointment
I didn’t enjoy school much. Most of the time I felt lost and didn’t understand why I was there or what I was supposed to be doing. It was generally uninspiring and felt like much of it was a waste of my time. Maximising potential didn’t seem to be a priority.
I got high grades in sciences and maths but did poorly in all the other subjects. To me, that means the subjects were taught poorly, the subjects weren’t particularly interesting, and that maybe I could have spent my time doing something more useful.
I read very few books as a child. I found reading quite difficult. I’d forget what I’d just read, repeat a phrase over and over until it lost all meaning, miss the tense or tone of a sentence as it jumped to a new line, and I’d get distracted by the rivers between the words and the patterns the text made.
Maybe I’m dyslexic, but that’s not something that ever came up. I definitely get numbers jumbled up a lot. Possibly nobody noticed, nobody cared, or I hid it too well.
The only books I really read were non-fiction, stuff about engineering and science. I’d look at the pictures first and only if the captions appealed to me would I read the text.
One of my favourite books was the dictionary, but not for love of language. It was because of the non linear potential for exploration. There was no beginning or end, and it could be approached from any point or direction.
It was only in my mid to late twenties that I began reading more, when I got a computer and realised I could control how the text appeared. The discovery that science fiction would keep me engaged was a bonus, something to do with other worlds, endless potential and possibilities.
Take your rules and shove ’em
I was never a rebel or trouble maker in school, in fact I preferred to keep my head down and not be noticed. Of course, it is nice to be acknowledged for accomplishments now and again.
The problem was, I would still get in trouble for things that were nothing to do with me. Like telling rowdy kids in class to stop harassing me, I’d be the one reprimanded. Well that made no sense, their rules made no sense.
However, I was impulsive and I’d sometimes get in trouble for things like throwing chairs or tables, or hurting people unintentionally. I was very short for my age and often felt that I had to overcompensate to be heard. I never really understood what the boundaries were. I’d either do too little, or go overboard.
Rules and expectations never made sense to me.
For example, school uniforms, the great way to control people and make everyone equal. I have a tactile sensitivity and can become uncomfortable and irritated by the way things touch my skin. Not being able to wear my own regular clothes to school meant I could never feel comfortable in myself.
I began to view school as a factory for harm. Nothing to do with teaching children how to be human. I was surrounded by people who were mean and disruptive, and the pupils were even worse.
One upside was, due to my history of migraines, and after throwing up in class a few times, it was easy for me to get a ticket out of class, or just not go to school if I wasn’t feeling up to it. My mum knew how much I hated school and would sometimes wake me up in the morning and ask if I was going to go in that day.
Are people mean, or just stupid?
Back on the subject of school uniforms.
They thought that kids from poorer backgrounds would have a hard time if they wore their own regular clothes. They didn’t seem to care or notice that you’d also be a target if your family could only afford lower quality or second hand uniforms, or the clunky shoes bought with vouchers. An example of a system that treats people the same, whatever the cost.
Individual needs be damned.
Another difficulty for me was having what I later discovered to be Poland syndrome, a birth defect which caused me to have a distorted ribcage, a missing pec muscle, and a nipple so small it might as well not exist. When I was little, I could never understand why I didn’t look like other people.
When I had the opportunity, I would eat. That wasn’t the fault of my parents, they had no control over me when I was out of their sight.
I basically became a very short, misshapen, un-athletic blob. So, not only did I not fit in because of how I thought about things, I also had body image issues. Of course, one way to help motivate me and improve my poor fitness and lack of athleticism was for the PE teacher to embarrass me in front of everybody. What a fucking prick.
Having said that, I was not alone.
Through my school years, there was a girl who had to wear a crash helmet, a boy who wore a wig because his hair fell out, a boy with very sticky out ears, a boy with no external ears, a boy with one arm, the highly intelligent – probably ASD – poor kid in ill fitting hand-me-down clothes, and the kids from very deprived backgrounds with distinct hygiene issues.
One can only imagine the shit they had to deal with. The problem is, as children, we rarely have the ability to think about anything outside of ourselves.
Unfortunately, for some of us, that problem follows us into adulthood.
Onward and upward
On the whole, I had a good and enjoyable childhood, but I was generally a loner who didn’t quite fit in and didn’t make friends easily. People seemed to be either mean and stupid, or ineffectual interfering do gooders, and the few kind people seemed to be easily manipulated by the others.
There were exceptions of course, truly inspiring people, and I did have friends, but they were few and far between. And the connections I did make with people seemed to be bound by the weakest of threads.
Edging toward adulthood, I’d learned that there was something about me that wasn’t quite like other people, there were rules and expectations that nobody had fully explained, and people were generally stupid, mean, or both.
I couldn’t help but wonder where all the people like me were.