The Girl That Wasn’t There

Around the age of 6, I developed the delusion that I was invisible.  Not all the time, of course, but it seemed to be a condition that would come and go, with increasing frequency.  It started in little bits.  Outgoing and chatty around close family and friends, I had always been silent and cautiously observant with new people — not so unusual for a young child.  But reaching school age set in course a series of events that fundamentally changed how I viewed the world.

Abuse in daycare taught me to hide.  Silence and avoidance became a matter of both physical and emotional survival.  Initially, school became a place to thrive:  I was bright and engaged, and eager to please my teachers.  I wanted to make friends; an unexpectedly difficult task.

imnothereI had a few strikes against me.  My peers came, for the most part, from two-parent middle-class homes.  I was the only child I knew whose parents were divorced, which made me a curiosity among the other children and elicited sympathetic looks from the teachers.  My mother was also about 10 years younger than everyone else’s parents.  Ultimately though, I knew it was my own personality that set me apart.  I was odd.  This was clear from how the other children looked at me, and how they laughed and whispered.  I noticed how I didn’t get invited to parties (or how I would get invited once and never again).

So I stopped trying to connect.  It was just easier.  Interaction at school risked rejection.  Interaction after school at the day care risked physical or emotional torture.  I made myself quiet.  I didn’t draw attention to myself.  I disappeared.

This did nothing to lessen my anxiety.  It became more and more difficult, for instance, to avoid the other children at recess.  My lack of participation there made me a target for bullies.  I couldn’t hide out there in the open, exposed.  I found any excuse to assist the teacher during recess to avoid going outside.  When that stopped working, I developed (literally) gut-wrenching stomach cramps and was prescribed anti-anxiety meds for stress.  I was 7.

But then, an escape presented itself:  the nurse’s office.  When things felt overwhelming, I would complain about my stomach and ask to go to see her.  She was kind.  She let me lie down for a bit and then would send me back to class.

And then one day I went to her office and no one was there.

I knew I should probably go back to class… but I didn’t.  I lay down on the cot.  I thought for sure someone would come and find me out, but they didn’t.  After about an hour I went back to class.  And the next week I did it again.

I would disappear for hours and no one seemed to care or notice.  

They forgot about me completely.

Of course as I got older, I recognized that logically I couldn’t really be invisible.  But I seemed to be forgettable.  People I’d met before would have to be re-introduced.  And so I stopped introducing myself to people entirely, unless prompted.

I still fight the voice in my head that tells me that people don’t see me.

I am easily put off trying to connect with others.  If someone gets my name wrong, or fails to acknowledge me when I am with other people, I assume they don’t remember me.  When I meet someone I know, I always wait for them to acknowledge me first — I need confirmation and reassurance that I have made an impression.

It takes me time to open up with people, but once I do, they are surprised to find me gregarious, opinionated and blunt.  A lot of friendships have ended at that moment — the moment people are exposed to the real me.  I overshare.  I lack tact.

The difference between the invisible girl and the woman I am now is that I want to be seen.  I need to be seen and to be remembered.  I need to leave some kind of mark and for my name to mean something.  I need to be valued and hold a place in people’s lives.  And what I’ve discovered is that those who want to be around me — the ones that don’t turn away because they find me odd, or difficult or strange — are the people I want in my life.  They confront me, challenge me and discuss our differences.  They support me.  They don’t reject me or withdraw their affection.

And most importantly, they don’t let me be invisible.

/rk

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9 thoughts on “The Girl That Wasn’t There

  1. I think we’re a lot alike in some ways. Fortunately I did okay connecting with kids in school, mostly, but I suspect some of that is just down to me being pretty oblivious (and it being a very very tiny school). And it was a lot easier to get away with in grade school.

    I definitely started realizing I was…wrong, somehow…in grade 7. That was when my grade school class of 8 people got subsumed into the 25 or so people in the new middle school.

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    • I feel like it’s hard to get true perspective on it now — I think I am different in a lot of ways, but I’m starting to gain some insight as an adult that my bipolar colours how I see people. I’m very prone to paranoia and my mind creates scenarios that quite possibly don’t exist. And obviously early experiences impact how you approach later interactions in life. It’s only a very recent realization that there is no such thing as “all people do this” or “all people will behave this way”. I am more likely now to give people the benefit of the doubt and give them a chance. It’s a scary thing to do because it risks getting hurt, but the difference now is that I at least acknowledge the possibility that other people’s choices may have nothing to do with me.

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  2. This, especially the last three paragraphs, really resonates with me. I wasn’t a quiet or shy child — I was loud and weird and tactless, largely unobservant of my surroundings and unaware of how inappropriate I could be. As I grew up I realised that my behaviour put the majority of people off, and that my brashness and strange interests meant that I would never be widely well-liked. In becoming an adult, I’ve learnt to be softer and more observant in my approach, keeping my opinions to myself; becoming, seen from the outside, a blank slate. I don’t feel seen or remembered by people, because I don’t leave much of an impression; and it often takes me days or weeks to connect with people because of the fear of revealing too much of myself and being rejected.

    Wow. That was a lot of stuff I’ve never put into words about myself. Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing! I’m sorry that you’ve been made to feel that way — but I will say it is gratifying to hear that I’m not alone in this type of experience. I wonder sometimes how much of how I felt growing up was because of mental illness and trauma, and how much relates to being female. Society doesn’t tend to reward women for loudness and brashness.

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