Trigger Warning: This post will discuss trauma around bullying and the ableist slurs “dumb,” “slow,” and “stupid.” These words will not be censored and may be repeated throughout as well as contain references to other ableist insults.
The summer before 7th grade, I was moved to South Georgia. I would only end up staying there for all of three and a half years but that short period of time made a huge mark on my life and who I was as a person.
For years prior to this move, I was severely bullied from the second I started Pre-Kindergarten through every single year of public school afterward. I thought that this move would mean things would change and that I could “reinvent” myself so to speak. I mean, no one seemed to ever like me and I only had a handful of friends (who weren’t very good ones by the way). The year before my move, I was going to this siditty “school of the arts” downtown. The population was pretty white and I felt like the token black friend amongst all of my peers. Moving, although jarring and painful, at first seemed like a nice silver-lining.
When I got there, I soon realized nothing had changed except the people and the scenery. The same bullying that took place in Florida started up again when I stepped foot in the marshland city I would reside for three years. People just… didn’t like me. I tried so hard to appeal to others but no one every really properly understood me. I’d say things that came out all wrong even though my brain knew exactly what I meant but my mouth wasn’t on the same page. I had other girls wanting to fight me just because they could and everyone thought it was funny. I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t even understood how I ended up in a position to fight anyways. One second I’m on the bus and the next I’m in a field surrounded by other students egging another girl on to pull my hair out.
I just wanted to go home.
I thought going home would be a reprieve from the bullying I constantly had to deal with at school. How do you get away from bullying when you just seem to find it behind the front doors of your home?
I used to deal with constantly being picked on by my mom’s ex husband. When I would forget things or misunderstand something he was always quick to call me dumb and tell me that I was having a dumb blonde moment. I constantly had to hear “duh!” several times a day every day when I asked something that he deemed a “stupid” question. Since the answer wasn’t obvious to me, I had to be the problem. He insulted my intelligence often and laughed about it like it was some funny joke.
I didn’t get the punch line.
I remember he used to throw my trauma in my face and act like my suicidal ideations or threats to run away were all for attention. He never paused to actually ask me about it. No one did.
It was just assumed that none of it was real. That I wasn’t struggling to find reasons to live everyday even if it were small ones. I would have walked out into the woods in the middle of the night and never came back because that at least seemed like what everyone would have wanted from me. I mean, everyone made me feel unwanted and like I shouldn’t exist.
I was struggling to feel my place in a world that didn’t seem like there was a spot for me because I was dumb and I was stupid and I didn’t fit in anywhere.
I didn’t realize I was autistic or had adhd until a year or so ago. I never really connected the dots between my neurodivergent brain symptoms and my lack of true connection and understanding with neurotypical people. I thought I was just weird and extremely misunderstood. I was always being picked on and bothered for things that were out of my control. I thought I was just walking around with a huge target on my forehead that said “pick on me!!!”
When I started making friends with more autistic and/or adhd folks, suddenly I felt my place. I felt understood like this entire time I was speaking a different language and I finally found others who could understand what I was saying. It started out simple, seeing different memes about ADHD and ASD symptoms and relating to… almost all of them. Then I started seeing more people talking about their symptoms and it was like a million lightbulbs started going off in my brain and endless repetitions of “that’s me!” every single day.
I wasn’t dumb or stupid or whatever. I was just constantly being held to a neurotypical standard my brain couldn’t function at and I didn’t see it because my brain couldn’t even tell that there was something different about itself. I mean, I knew I was different but not in the “your brain functions differently” way.
I realized I’ve been stimming my whole life and I regularly go nonverbal, sometimes as a trauma response and other times because talking is too overwhelming and exhausting. I’ve had so many hyperfixations that lasted an uncomfortable amount of times and my brain is a chaotic mess filled with swirling thoughts and intervals of emptiness.
Even knowing what I know now and feeling the comfort and safety that comes with at least knowing that it wasn’t my fault for walking around so misunderstood, it doesn’t erase or begin to help with unpacking the trauma that comes with being neurodivergent in a world that expects everyone to be neurotypical and held to neurtypical standards.
I will never get back the years of my life I spent being torn down and brutalized. The scars on my self esteem and self confidence are six feet deep. I often find myself beating myself up for not getting something or for forgetting something or for my brain wandering off. For hyperfixating and stimming and infodumping…
All the things that make me autistic and adhd were things I’ve been called dumb for for so long that sometimes I can’t help but think that maybe I am and have been this whole time but you know what?
I don’t owe anyone some extreme amount of intelligence and talent. I don’t owe anyone the autistic savant trope. I don’t owe shit to anyone so even if I were all of those horrible slurs and more, it wouldn’t diminish my worth, right to respect and basic human decency.