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.
I 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.