So, yesterday I had a realization.
Realization is putting it lightly; it was a paradigm shifting, world shaking revelation.
It began with reading a fic that focused on a suicidal character, which prompted a stray thought about being grateful I’d had someone visit me at the psychiatric hospital when I was thirteen.
That led to recalling how my theater class had made me a poster to present to me after my weeklong stay.
It’s sort of amazing how belief perseverance can make you blind to things that seem obvious to anyone else, or to yourself once you’ve had something manage to wriggle its way through. (Especially when that belief is tied to a trauma.)
I spent the past ten years believing that everyone hated me.
I spent the past ten years believing this so strongly that, at fourteen, I sobbed in my mother’s bathroom because I couldn’t feel loved, and I was terrified I never would. I had no idea why, and I assumed I’d always felt that way.
I spent the past ten years believing this so strongly that, at twenty-two, my best friend told me her heart sang when she was around me, and my reaction was essentially, “cool, she tolerates me.”
She tolerates me.
I spent the past ten years assuming people hated me, that at best they tolerated me, despite a metric (pardon my French) fuckload of evidence to the contrary.
This belief also led me to using the word “friend” casually and without feeling. Anyone who spoke to me regularly was my friend, even if I believed they hated me. I believed I didn’t have friends. The cognitive dissonance I was unaware of wouldn’t allow me to see the contradiction of this person is my friend and they hate me, and when it did it went the wrong direction––instead of “if they are my friend, they can’t hate me”, it went with “they hate me, so they can’t be my friend.”
If I had noticed, I would have had to confront it. I couldn’t believe that people could like me or that I could have genuine friends.
Despite my friend coming to see me in the hospital at thirteen. Despite my classmates making me a heartfelt poster. Despite the friends I had at fifteen, at school, who invited me to hang out and joined the writing club I founded. Despite the friends I had at theater, who spent my sixteenth birthday party laughing with me and running around the park.
Despite the friends I met online who spent hours Skyping with me in those three long late-teenaged years. Despite the friend I routinely confided in, who asked me to be a member of their wedding party when I was nineteen.
Despite the friends I made in my first year at college, or the friends I made in my second year, who became like family to me and who I still believed merely tolerated me.
This all slid past me like oil on ice.
Yesterday, I realized that there was no reason a group of eighth graders would make a poster welcoming back a student they hated, especially not one they wished dead.
I realized that I hadn’t believed people hated me, in sixth grade. I didn’t quite get along with others, but I didn’t believe people hated me.
It resulted in some serious cognitive dissonance. I had to fight to reconcile my beliefs and to process.
Initially, I attempted to write a post on here about it. My thoughts were too scattered, too difficult to pull together, to be able to. Instead I turned to the venting channel of a Discord server my friends use.
I spent nearly an hour typing my stream of consciousness. I was able to realize where the change was.
In seventh grade, I befriended someone in gym. I’d had friends before her, but only losers like me––this girl was one of the cool kids. I thought she was really neat, and when she was nice to me, I was desperate to please her.
I was twelve years old and autistic and used to not getting along with most people, and I became a cliche. There was another girl in my gym class that idolized me. When I befriended the new girl––we’ll call her Z––I started shunning my old friend, C. C had some sort of disability. Cerebral palsy, I think. She was treated with a mixture of disdain and patronizing quasi-affection by the other kids.
C didn’t really understand why I didn’t want to talk to her anymore, and the way I treated her is the only thing one of my strongest regrets. I wasn’t actively malicious––although it might’ve been kinder if I was. If I had been actively cruel, she might not have understood why, but she might have at least given up. Instead, I just ignored her, which furthered her efforts to get back on her only friend’s good side.
I made fun of her, once, to try and make Z laugh. I don’t recall if it worked, only that sense of childish desperation, and that sick feeling in my stomach because I knew that C didn’t get it. I ignored the sick feeling.
For several months, Z and I were… friends, of a sort. We didn’t hang out outside of school, but we sat together at lunch and always partnered up in gym.
I think it was a spring day when that changed.
It was sunny out, so the coaches had us out by the track.
Most of the class was standing by the bleachers.
I don’t remember what prompted it. But I remember her exact words to this day.
“I never really liked you,” Z said. “I only pretended to because I pitied you, because everyone hates you.”
Sharp. Cutting. I could barely see. I shoved her, called her a bitch, and ran.
I feel it important to note that until I was nearly seventeen, I was the sort to call people out for using such minor swear words as damn. At twelve, I’d once went up to a sixteen year old jock to tell him off for swearing. Yet I called her a bitch, the first time that word had crossed my lips.
It was one of the most intensely painful moments of my life, and this from someone who first tried to commit suicide at age six, who had been on-and-off depressed since toddlerhood.
I got suspended for a week. I was told that her mother was considering pressing charges, considering getting a restraining order against me. No one asked me what happened. I suppose they all just assumed that the crazy kid had snapped for no reason.
And because no one asked what happened… no one ever refuted what Z told me.
The rest of the class rallied around her and babied her the rest of the semester. I was treated with disgust. Poor, sweet, heroic Z, who tried to be kind to a monster like me, and look what it got her.
Now, I want to be clear––I don’t bear any ill-will to this girl. I don’t hold a grudge. I can empathize with what may have been her plight; I can imagine she may have been losing her popularity by associating with a loser like me, rather than my original hopes of ascending by association with her. She was only eleven, and I cannot hold it against her. Junior high is hard. She was trying to protect herself and I’m sure she never realized how badly she broke me.
She did, though. Break me. Because I spent the past ten years believing what she’d said. I internalized it. People would be kind and I assumed it was pity, or that they wanted something from me. People hated me, I knew it in my shattered heart.
I’ve spent the past few years putting myself back together from all sorts of childhood traumas. Yesterday, I managed to heal one of my innermost hurts. A core trauma has sealed.
As a result of that hour spent barreling through cognitive dissonance, I managed to process a decades-old grief. I managed to purge it. And, for the first time in ten years, I felt like people liked me.
I spent the next several hours having thoughts every few minutes of, “oh my god, people like me!” interspersed with “oh my god, x likes me!” Where x was any number of people: my dungeons and dragons group, my brothers, my best friend, the people who’ve been crushing on me for ages and have told me so repeatedly.
Yesterday I had a revelation. They say that change doesn’t happen overnight, but for me, I leapt forward in an hour.
I don’t expect it to be miraculously and entirely cured. Likely, I’ll be sore for a while. I’ll have doubts.
But I managed to sew together a long-gaping wound and a hole is gone. There’s only bruising left in its place.
Yesterday, I had a realization, and holy shit.
People like me.