I have trouble remaining aware of my surroundings, and as a kid it was worse. When teachers called on me in class, I rarely heard them. Even waving a hand in front of my face and saying, “Earth to Bryn!” wouldn’t always snap me out of a trance.
Trigger warning for talk of suicide.
I wasn’t good at talking to other kids, and I couldn’t remember anything I was supposed to do. One teacher suggested moving me to classes for mentally retarded children, as they were called then, but when we took our first standardized tests I did extremely well.
I began having occasional shoulder or whole-body spasms that lasted a few seconds. My mom took me to our family doctor, who ordered an EEG, a brain scan. I was supposed to remain awake the whole night before. Unfortunately, Prince Charles and Di got married in the middle of the night (on Illinois time) before that, and I watched all the wedding hoopla.
By the morning of the test, I hadn’t slept for a few days. They dotted cold gritty paste all over my scalp and hooked wires to it. I napped. A couple of times they woke me up by flashing a strobe light in my face, and afterwards, they washed the dried stuff out of my hair. My mom drove me to school, exhausted with sopping wet hair, to start my day.
Although he wasn’t a neurologist, our doctor said I had epilepsy and prescribed Dilantin twice daily. It made me very sleepy, so he added Ritalin in the morning to wake me up, which took away my appetite.
High school was better. I made friends with some other freaky kids. I could pay attention in class almost half the time now, enough to get good grades. My spasms hadn’t stopped, so the doctor added phenobarbital to my prescriptions. Soon after, I had my first experience with serious suicidal fixation. I didn’t feel sad, or feel anything: I just wanted to kill myself. I couldn’t figure out how to do it without making people feel bad.
I suspected the phenobarb amplified my suicidal tendencies. Once at college, I quit all the pills. The occasional spasms remained the same. I was so wary of drugs then I wouldn’t even smoke weed, though many of my professors did. By then I was an excellent student and had attained at least some social competence.
As an adult, I’m reasonably successful, and still flaky. I sometimes forget to attend events that mean a lot to me. When I pass work friends in the hallways, they know I won’t be able to notice them unless they make a point of flagging me down to say hello. Once in a while I still shake, and I have a few other quirks. I have trouble making eye contact, and I grow anxious if I’m in a group of people for too long of a time. I get obsessed with some topic I do not need to know about and research it for days or weeks on end, which isn’t convenient.
Mostly, I get by. I went into a creative field that’s more tolerant of eccentricity, and I have tools that didn’t exist when I was a kid (God bless you, Siri.) More than anything, I think I learned ways to compensate for my weaknesses.
If you have a kid with a brain that’s giving her trouble, it doesn’t mean she’ll never fit in or find her place in the world. I think traditional schools are particularly unforgiving places for kids with learning disabilities or disorders, and the brain can change itself and figure out some workarounds: it might just take a little while.
The cartoon is, of course, property of the wonderful and talented Natalie Dee.