Making Excuses for the Way We Are
When I was young, I was that kid. I was the kid who everybody hated, and who hated everybody, and enjoyed it. My peers singled me out from as early on as I can remember. Having very few friends, I developed a hobby, bolstered by an overactive imagination, of sensationalism and overreaction; some time around the fourth grade I decided I was an alien from outer space.
The story was elaborate: my alien parents had switched me with the real Rachael, and used the human child's DNA to make me an exact copy of her. My real self, the alien, had blue skin and eyes on long stalks, and seven fingers on each hand.
And so I became not only that kid, but the kid who thinks she's an alien, and my tale became fodder for even more taunts and abuse. Meanwhile, I started to change. I grew taller than the rest of my class, even the boys, and sprouted breasts; puberty arrived early for me. And so, in the height of my childhood rebellion, I missed the boat to normal adolescence. In middle school, as the other girls caught up with me and began to talk about boys, I still climbed trees and played with action figures and dug in the dirt and caught bugs. I read science books and played Pokemon cards, and my sense of fashion hadn't moved beyond t-shirts and jeans. Makeup was out of the question. I rarely socialized with my peers. Still, my body made apparent the fact that I was almost a teenage girl, despite my refusal to partake in the activities that the other almost-teenage-girls enjoyed. I was still that kid, and this is how the populace of my childhood came to know and treat me.
To this day I remain somewhat timid in the company of others my age, and though I have long since given up my cover as an extraterrestrial, I still feel like something of an alien.
Today in class we discussed mental illness as a social construct. Never before has a classroom discourse struck me on so deep a level as today's; as the classic childhood outcast and having been diagnosed with a learning disability at a very early age, not only was I forced to question the disability itself but the rest of my own psychological quirks. If depression, ADHD, PTSD, etc. were social constructs, than was this true of my personality, of the entirely of my psychological uniqueness?
Several of my classmates argued that mental illness is merely a story we tell ourselves to justify our differences from society: in a world so focused on technology and organized learning, is it any wonder that children, being playful, exuberant children, are diagnosed as attention deficit? Should we label our unhappier stages of life as depression, and if we are moody, are we bipolar? I related this to my childhood experiences because long ago I crafted a story to justify my own constant rejection - that I must not be human; I must not be normal.
Years later, the story has changed. My ever-present social discomfort must be caused by something other than myself; my unfortunate treatment by my peers when I was younger must then be the origin of this abnormality. But what if, like (as argued in class) learning disorders or depression, it is a story I have constructed to justify one of my many personality quirks. Perhaps I am by nature socially awkward, a freak of my own devices. Perhaps my rejection was just a product of societal attitudes towards what normal behavior should be. Perhaps I was rejected because of my personality, and any other explanation is merely a story, an excuse.
This, above all, truly frightens me.