You could have drawn a line dividing up my childhood at around my eleventh year.
Before was a kind of golden afternoon, and I have flashes of Barbies, sleepovers, handmade Halloween costumes, an inability to understand people that wasn’t a problem just yet. I could sit on a swing and watch the light through the trees, and if I’ve ever truly been happy, it was then.
Adolescence began with the terrifying transition into middle school, and around the same time, the fighting between my parents escalated from frightening but an only-sometimes thing to it all being bad, very bad, more often than it was good. Looking back, I’m grateful I remember as little as I do. Police getting called once while I tried to sleep and get away from the fear, leaving the stomach-knotting stress of school only to hear the yelling before I even reached my yard, constant, constant fear ever reinforced by my mother that we were going to lose our house, that the electricity was going to be turned off. My mother getting furious with me because she wanted to go stay at a friend’s house and I wouldn’t come with her because I was in bed with strep throat. Being told my father never wanted any of us. Later being told I was a product of rape. For years keeping a butcher knife in my desk drawer and praying every day I would have the strength to use it. Praying also for a terminal disease. RA I eventually got, but I wanted much worse.
Also around this preteen time, my older sister developed an eating disorder, and for the next few years, all my parents’ attention was on her. I was expected to babysit at a moment’s notice and often, even though the responsibility of it terrified me. The responsibility settled thickly on top of my growing depression, and because of a growing social anxiety, I stopped issuing and responding to friends’ invitations. Most of them dropped me because of this, one by one. I preferred being close to no one because I wanted no more attachments to a life I endlessly prayed for release from. I started intermittently losing the ability to speak, and because she dislikes being worried, my mom became angry, yelling at me that I was rude, threatening me with doctor appointments, nastily telling me we both knew I could talk if I wanted to.
Several times, I simply stopped eating. It took them a long time to notice. Once in my mid-20s I spent about three months eating only one snack every three days, and it was that long before my father noticed and convinced me to stop fasting. I was trying to make my soul leave my body. By that time, I had made three suicide attempts, two very serious and one more casual. Obviously, none worked. There have been four in all so far. My parents think there were three, my sisters two, as far as I know.
Starting in my early teens, my parents, each time I alarmed them enough, asked me if I wanted to try therapy. I didn’t think it would help, but I agreed to try. Then they wouldn’t do anything, make any phone calls, et cetera. Then the next time I worried them enough, they would ask again, and I’d agree again, and they would do nothing. They had put everyone’s lives on hold for my older sister. I didn’t and don’t understand why I, in comparison, meant so little. I didn’t talk back, sneak out, disobey, get into fights. I made good grades, helped around the house, and was unfailingly respectful to authority figures. I didn’t know what more I could possibly do. I knew my dad loved me. I wasn’t sure until adulthood that my mother does.
I finally got into therapy when I was around 20. I divulged very little to the first therapist, so there wasn’t much she could do. Being honest with the therapists during my inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations did no good; they basically just shrugged at me. My problem was environmental, I could not live on my own, too bad for me. My autism wasn’t diagnosed until I was around 25; insight and answers it gave me, but little more than that. My therapist at the time, the first non-inpatient one I was honest with about my family situation, told me I had PTSD from my traumatic childhood.
April was nice. I could tell she was worried for me. She’s the therapist who first told me I needed to scream, that it would sort of unclog me. I told her I couldn’t remember the last time I was able to do so, and that if I tried at home it would be disruptive. She said, “Do it now, then.” I tried. I could barely get a soundless breath out. She told me to do it into a pillow if I was worried about making noise. Still, nothing. And I feel like I’m still there, I’m still the useless adult crying because my mother sometimes hates me. I cry so often it’s like I’m making up for the heart of stone I had as an adolescent. But though I feel like I’m raving internally, I haven’t been able to scream.