So, I was moved on, at age ten, to a well-known private secondary school for girls. I was ready for it; in fact I had pressured my parents into allowing me to move because I had become bored with my first school. It wasn't my fault they decided to put me in the next class up from the one I should have started in!
So, the first morning at her new school, the Little Professor stands at the window and starts talking about the clouds whilst the other children are filing in. &Quot;Look, that's an altocumulus cloud" isn't really the most socially apt of greetings, is it? Hardly a way to win friends. Sadly, I thought the complete opposite at the time: I was so excited that first morning thinking I'd learn loads of new things at that school and that there would be other kids like me interested in the natural world and science. So this was simply my clumsy way of trying to weed out new friends. I couldn't have been more wrong.
This little incident is very Aspie.
Despite having created such a bad first impression, in those first few months of starting senior school, I was sufficiently confident to continue behaving how I had at my first school. I was rather outspoken in my opinions, which I gave readily even when not asked, and I used to be vigorous in my disapproval of injustice, to me or to anyone else for that matter. That didn't go down well either. In addition, most of the girls were at least a year older than me and I was dismayed to find that many of them were those who had been in the year or two above mine at my previous school. The young usper who seemed so confident obviously put their noses out of joint - and they began to be very keen on showing it!That is, apart from the naming the clouds stuff - I'd learnt that doing that one was a bad idea!
I kept on trying to make friends in those first few months. I'd go up to various children in the playground and, being analytical and philosophical, would try to turn the conversation to things I knew about because I wanted to explore other people's ideas. However, the other girls appeared only interested in talking about boys, makeup, pop music and clothes - things I just thought banal so I'd poo-poo them! I was collecting black marks against my character at a dramatic rate, not least because the teachers seemed to love me: I was always able to answer questions that others couldn't in science lessons and my marks for all subjects were always high. Combine that with my unfortunate habit of responding to something I genuinely found interesting by saying either of: "fascinating", "intriguing" or "curious", and you can imagine that pretty soon I began being called "Spock" and "teachers pet". Now the former label is interesting in itself: that character from Star Trek, Mr Spock, is well-known to be a hero for many children with Asperger's Syndrome. Little did I know then that over twenty years later I would actually be given that diagnosis!
It is obvious to me now that the girls thought this arrogant new-comer who could proudly name many of the constellations, the types of cloud and come out with various other wordy or deep bollox at such a young age, but was not interested in anything "pop" was just plain weird. So the other nickname I had to cope with was being called "square", which I didn't understand for ages, but eventually came to realise it was their word for "nerd"! Another problem was that I tended to be gullible (again, this is a very common trait in Aspies). Of course the other girls dined out on this vulnerability, so sometimes I'd find myself being set up only to be devastated when the truth revealed itself via the girls running off gleefully shouting things like "dimbo". This was probably their way of trying to pull me down a peg or some, since I seemed to be such a know-it-all and do better than most of them scholastically! In retrospect, they were right! I was rather a pain in the arse and a complete dimbo as far as social interactions went!
So I'd set the scene for how I was to be treated for the next couple of years. It certainly taught me the importance of first impressions: if you create the wrong one, you are never forgiven for it.
School breaks, lunchtimes and sports are the biggest nightmare of all for the bullied and therefore for me in that approximately first two years of senior school. I got attacked in hockey, so much so one day that I had to go to the doctors because of the bad bruising on my shin. Luckily, I had always been a fast runner, so in future I just switched on that skill if anyone came near me! At that point, I'd do anything to avoid a fight with these older, bigger girls. My apparently "chickening-out" over nothing made me none too popular with the sports mistress who, of course, had no idea that I was being bullied! I'd learnt that to tell was a bad idea.
In breaktimes, I would rush out of class and 'disappear' to out-of-bound areas just to be away from people; more than ever (always a loner at the best of times) I just wanted to be on my own because that was the only time I seemed to get the peace and quiet I yearned for! This was quite exciting because I found an old tip and in it discovered all sorts of interesting metal bits of shiny orange. I now know these were copper plumbing pipes obviously surpluss to requirements. So for a while I was kind of a "Stig of the Dump". I am sure they would have called me that too, had they known where I used to sneak off too - and I did get asked, and people did try to follow me, but I was too clever to be caught! This dump was in a lovely wood, so I used to spend a lot of time wandering around there and making a camp out of dead branches. However sometimes, in the dappled sunlight of that wood, I would feel so lonely and sad it hurt.
Sneaking about out-of-bounds was all well and good if it was not raining! Otherwise, I would have got into trouble for getting wet! So I'd end up sitting silently in a toilet. One day, this hiding place - always in the same cubicle - got found out. Some of the girls evidently wondered who it was that had been in a toilet for so long and wasn't answering. The next thing I knew, there were a load of faces looking down on me from the top of the partitions each side of my cubicle. I had to come out, and the girls began kicking and shoving me. Then someone grabbed hold of my head and pushed it down the toilet and flushed it! I had read about this being done somewhere and thought it only happened at boys school! It was a terrifying and humiliating experience: the girls just ran off laughing and taunting me, leaving me sat in a puddle of wet misery. As if things couldn't get worse, the sports mistress came in (her "office" was at the other end of the loos/changing room) and had a go at me for being a wimp - she didn't even ask me what had happened!
I was really desperate for friendship at some point during all this, and had decided that I wanted a particular girl to be my friend. I began to follow her around everywhere - I didn't see anything wrong with this at the time - she just seemed kind! However, in the playground (or quietly in the classroom) I began to get called a word I didn't understand - "lesbian". I asked my mother what this word meant on route to the shops one day (I remember it clearly). Her description and reaction told me that I shouldn't tell her that this was what I was being called! When I say the next bit, please remember that the world was a far more prejudiced place back in the eighties :-(( I was horified at having such a label, mainly because anything to do with sex really embarassed me and, not having been told much about sex by my parents, I knew hardly anything about it anyway - it was a kind of taboo subject in my family's household.
Interestingly, that girl was really nice and, when the bullies weren't around, she'd be kind to me. I had stopped "stalking" but got to know her her graduall better through Pony Club. I even stayed at her house a few times - her whole family were really lovely - farmers. One thing I will never forget is how kind she and her family were about my bed-wetting. I shared a room with her one night and found I had wet the bed. This was the first person at that school with whom I had stayed, so I was desperate to create the right impression. So I cried inconsolably for ages. She was really so sweet and promised she wouldn't tell anyone at school. She actually stuck to that promise and I'll never forget her sensitivity in doing so - a very unusual trait for someone only about twelve years old from my experience. When we became friends, she told me she was being forced to hang out with some of the bullies, because they made her life hell if she didn't. She was such a gentle soul (which was probably why I liked her) but that she didn't have it in her to stand up to them meant she wasn't able to hang out with me at all at school.
Though I had always been so confident, I was also highly sensitive (just not good at empathising with other people as is the case with all Aspies). It meant that the continuing victimisation I received from my peers began to seriously erode my confidence. Initially, I used to moan and whinge about school to my mum - thinking it was my peers' fault - and tell her a bit about what had been going on and how stupid they all were. She, probably out of fear knowing that in fact the problem was that there wasn't something qutie right about me but she didn't want to say that, blamed me and said I had to make more of an effort. Her oft-quoted line was "The world is full of people - you've got to learn to get on with them and be more tolerant". She was right, of course. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she went and saw the headmistress about it all. However, this was a posh private school and my father was a well-known sportsman. There was no way that the headmistress wanted me to leave, so she feigned complete ignorance that there was any problem to my Mum - even though she and the teachers knew there was! So Mum decided I was making a fuss about nothing. As a result, I stopped talking to anyone about the bullying.
As the bullying continued, and because of my mother's response, I began to suspect something must be seriously wrong with me that I was treated thus... So, whereas once I blamed the other children for my problems, I began to blame my fate upon myself. This was actually a really good lessson to learn and has stood me in good stead. However, it was the final straw in my confidence erosion and I began to develop a personality that was the total reverse of what it had been: I became introverted to the point of developing speech difficulties and shy, qiet and cynical. Only the company of my self felt truly safe - I didn't hurt me (or so I thought)! Unfortunately, the teachers were really sweet about it - one of them gave my year a talking to about their behaviour in my absence - but that just made things worse since they thought I'd told on them (which I hadn't)!
As my confidence faded, so too did my grades. I began not to bother with my homework and tests on purpose - I just wanted to fade into the background. I must have been a nightmare at home. I became intolerant, uncommunicative and surly - not just teenage angst, but the result of being bullied and hating life. I was still wetting the bed and would periodically go into deep depressions where I just couldn't get up and would sometimes cry hysterically so the doctor had to be called out. One time, I actually tried to drown myself in the bath and the only person that could persuade me to come out was my dear gran. Another time, I had to be coaxed from jumping out of the upper-floor window by my Aunt who suspected something was wrong as I would normally come downstairs and talk to her because she was nice. In the end I was put on anti-depressants at about age 14, a side-effect of which was to stop the bed-wetting. This mostly worked, but not always. In addition, I became expert at feigning illness and this worked more often than not, but I had to remember I was ill when I was at home, otherwise I would have been caught out!
There was some respite in those first three years at that school: oddly, I found that I did get on with some of the girls in the year above mine. I think they thought I was something of a novelty but I will always remain grateful to them for sharing with me some fun times in the odd moments I was able to spend with them. Seeing me hanging out with older girls didn't do anything for my popularity with my peers either, however - I couldn't win! Teachers/parents considered moving me up, but since that was too big a leap, I had to stay put so the bullying continued and of course those nice girls left to go on and do their A-levels.
One day, at about age 12, a couple of years after I had started at that school, an incident took place that was to have a profound effect on my personality. On that day, 3 girls jumped out at me from around the corner of the school yard as I walked out towards the car park. Two of them held me, whilst one of them began kicking me and calling me names. I had no idea why! I hadn't even spoken or done anything to them for ages - I just used to avoid them. It felt like they were so unhappy at life themselves that quiet little me (by that time) was simply an easy target for their collective angst.
Well, whilst they were kicking me, something just "snapped" in my head. It's like all the injustice that had been thrown at me rushed into my conscious and I went nuts! I punched out as hard as I could and hit one of them. She fell over like a sack of potatoes and it turned out she had knocked herself out on the wall behind. The result was that as she was carted off to sick-bay and the other girls said I'd done it and ran off calling me "psycho" I was sent to the headmistress! She was surprisingly kind about it actually, and said "We understand that you are having a difficult time, but we will have to suspend you if the girls parents complain. However, you must know that young ladies should not go around hitting each other." I have to confess, this still makes me giggle! Luckily, the parents never complained - there's no way one of the biggest girls in my year would confess to having been beaten by the youngest in the year - so I was not suspended. However, it meant that I was ostracised even more for a while as the word had got around that there was a "psycho" in their midst!
That incident unleashed something inside of me. It was to result in my developing a kind of split personality where I would bear unjustice, which might just have been someone behaving in an illogical and unfair manner, for an abnormal length of time without feeling inclined to defend myself. I would just shut up and put up. However, some catalyst would make me eventually errupt in a violent rage (sometimes out of all proportion to the apparent catalyst). I believe this is because of the pent up repressed energy of anger and resentment that had built up within me. Mostly I would lose my temper in this way at home (home life was never easy, partly because of me but mainly because Mum and Dad were simply unable to deal with a bright child with autistic traits) and that temper was certainly to cause me a good deal of problems in later life.
So, the psycho thing was great! In fact, I played on that image because it meant I got left alone - I never got physically bullied again and, unless there was more than two girls present, they no longer taunted me either! They were scared of me! Wow; at last I had achieved respect - but how tragic that my only means of doing so was through physical violence! So often it seems to be this way in the playground. Funnily enough, shortly after that incident, one of the bully girls asked me for an arm-wrestle. My unusual physical strength at that age meant that I beat her hollow. So, a bit piqued but intrigued, they called in a couple of the girls from older years and I beat them too! In fact, I remained unbeaten - I just used my repressed anger - it was easy! I was a bit of a freak to them, I think - they would use my strength for amusement if it suited them and during that time I'd seem popular. However, as soon as they'd got bored with that entertainment, they'd go their way and ignore me.
Then another situation came to my rescue. During the first few years of my schooling, my art teacher had seemed to take an interest in me. It seemed she had talked to my English teacher who had mentioned and shown her my poetry and writing and the art teacher told me she thought I could do much better than I was doing in art. She began to encourage me to express myself on paper. I was useless to start with - I neither understood what she saw in me or what she wanted me to do! But with a peculiar blend of coaxing and mild bullying (never in front of the others) I "suddenly" found myself drawing something really rather weird when I was about twelve years old. It was like a real Eureka-style moment - I suddenly got in touch with something in my head that I didn't know was there. The art teacher was thrilled and said "Ahah, now that's what I'm after". AFter that, there was no stopping me. Art became my salvation. This excellent teacher allowed me free rein in the art room (so I had a place to escape to during breaks) - it was wonderful therapy.
What I had discovered was that, when I was in the kind of distracted state one gets into when one is mentally extremely stressed, i.e. as caused by the bullying, I could seem to go into a kind of trance where I freed myself from my conscious and its conditioning. At that point, all the junk and confusion would seem to flow out of me onto the paper. So I developed a way to switch off my head when I drew; it seemed like I didn't see what I was drawing consciously, until the end when you find a result that has appeared on the canvas as if by magic! Inspirational stuff I guess; and the amazing cathartic feelings of euphoria and the mental freedom when I was doing it I would sometimes find myself crying!
I always say to people now to draw or write poetry if they feel down/freaked, even if they don't think they are very good, for though I was better than average, I was never that good at actual drawing (I am no artist in that sense), but it was my imagination that that teacher must have seen as my potential. I believe that everyone has that potential - they just need to find how to tap into it!
The reason this situation came to my rescue was that the other girls deemed this teacher to be "cool". So, the fact that she seemed to think I was cool - and she was very obvious about this - seem to persuade them that I wasn't so bad after all. I'd get girls coming up to in my eisel right at the back of the artroom to see what I was doing - sometimes a group of them would gather around (to which, luckily, I would be oblivious if I had got into what I was doing). Some of my paintings even got displayed at an art festival in the local town and I also won some competitions.
At about the same time, the drama teacher (who happened to be a friend of the art teacher, so I wonder if that's why she did this) took me under her wing. She suggested to my parents I have extra drama lessons. I was ecstatic - here was something else I could do in the nightmare lunch breaks! She was such a lovely person and a great support to me - she was the one teacher that would get me to really open up and talk about my problems and I developed a great trust in her. When the whole class was being taught by her, she'd show me in little ways that she was being supportive by giving me a little look in a certain way when she knew the other's weren't looking. I was very lucky to have her as a teacher. I gained some LAMDA exams and she thought I was good enough to go to RADA! However, because of my bad experience forgetting my lines, I wasn't so interested in acting and instead developed a passion for characterisation and directing. The stage became just another canvass on which I could paint - but instead of paints, using people, words, sound and lights. However, it wasn't at school that those skills were really utilised. That comes later.
The other thing that stood well for me was that I was very good at swimming. It was the one school team I was forced to join (I didn't want to, in fact I hated it because being in the school bus was an opportunity for more bullying to go on). However, I did enjoy that I could thrash the pants off everyone in butterfly and backstroke, nearly everyone (bar one girl) in crawl and breaststroke, and always won diving competitions. I got more swimminng awards and got a bit of peace from the sports mistress who thought my swimming, at least, was cool. She used to go on and on at me because of my father, and grandfather, having been famous sportsmen. I had asthma, so couldn't do most things (one day she made me and I got an asthma attack, feigned that it was worse than it was, and she got told off by the headmistress so left me alone after that!). Asthma never seemed to affect me when I was swimming though, and the sports mistress said she'd support me in trailing for county level when I was about fourteen. However, my riding accident put paid to all that because I damaged my back!
So, because I'd punched a bully, because the art and drama mistresses thought I was cool and because I was good at swimming, somehow these things restored my status in the eyes of my peers! However, nothing was static - it all went in phases. Sometimes, the other girls would be nicer, even complimenting me on my work. Other days, they would turn on me again for no apparent reason (I was not at all like the confident girl I had been by this time, so would not have said anything to be big-headed or anything to annoy them, I don't think). Anyway, this lack of consistency I found utterly confusing and added to my already large stash of insecurities; at least if they were just nasty they were nasty - I would have preferred some kind of constancy!
In this phase of having slightly recovered my reputation, I did at least manage to develop a couple of friendships. There was another geeky girl that started at the school when I was about thirteen - she was a lot socially brighter than me, that's for sure! I say that because she had learnt that the way to gentle-down her geeky image, which may otherwise have lead her to be bullied, was to have something that the others thought cool. For her, that was that she had the filthiest mouth of anyone I have ever known. She could tell the most disgusting and outrageous jokes (now I am older, it makes me concerned to wonder where she got them!). Anyway, she used to have the other girls in stitches and they thought she was excellent. This girl was the one that taught me about sex - and the terminology and colloquialisms associated with it! I had no idea being that my parents never spoke about it. This meant I was finally able to decode all the language of the other girls so I could laugh at the appropriate points in the conversation - initially to much bemusement! I never had the confidence at that point to tell jokes, but I did develop a way to come out with the odd drole and smutty comment. This certainly improved my popularity, though at the time I had no idea why - I was just following what seemed to work! Eventually, that friendship went wrong as I became, yet again, too possessive. I had become so insecure because of the bullying that once I got a friend I was so desperate to keep them I'd get over-possessive. Ironically, I was just the same at junior school but for a totally different reason - back then I just thought I owned any friend I had!
The next friend I had was when I was about fourteen: another girl I had got to know through my horse riding. She was also deemed okay by the others. One day when we were sitting in the fifth form common room, somewhere I would rarely visit on my own, and the other girls were just in the mood to have some fun with me. She really had a go at them and stuck up for me - the first time that had ever happened! I stayed at her house once, luckily in a separate room because I needed to set my watch every hour in order to wake myself up so I could go to the loo and hopefully prevent myself wetting the bed! She stayed at my house too - this was the first time I had a friend to stay at my house from my senior school - how sad is that! However, after a few months, my over-possessiveness lead me to ruin that friendship as well!
There was another group I'd hand out with occasionally - they were deemed okay because they had several earings in each ear and wore nail-varnish. They seemed to be okay with me and were kind of a bunch of misfits, but tough misfits - no-one would bully them. After my "psycho" incident they allowed me to tag along from time to time. I was even invited to stay the weekend at one of their houses too. But when I got there, I found they had several other girls staying, one of whom had been one of the girls that had bullied me. We were all staying in bunk beds and they thought it most odd that my watch alarm would go off every so often (I tried to hide it under my pillow) as part of my bed-wetting prevention strategy! Luckily they never found out why! So, though no-one was really nasty to me, it wasn't much fun at all and I didn't go again.
After that I just kept my distance from everyone, having decided that friendships were never going to work for me. All the problems I had with friendships, and people liking me one moment and then going off me the next and being nasty, gave me problems with trust. When people were nice, I would just begin to trust them and then would appear to be rewarded for my trust by unpleasant experiences when they turned nasty. Thus by the association of ideas, I began to associate trust with nasty experiences, so it followed for me that I should not trust anyone.
In between all this, my relationships at home were going from bad to worse as I sought not to be conditioned into being a dutiful and obliging female. My brother (who was mostly at boarding school by this time) had very distinct chores from mine. He got to do interesting things like chop logs and hang out with Dad. I, however, got given girly chores like washing up! I got all sorts of comments about how I should be more lady-like. Two bad occasions was firstly when we were on holiday (Dad travelled a lot being a sportsman, so we often went too) and Dad told me I should start wearing make-up. Upon my usual question "why" he replied that if I wanted to get married I would have to! It didn't go down too-well that my logic made me reply something like when I get married, will I have to wear it in bed then and that if that was what men expected, then I wouldn't get married! The other bad occasion was when we went to some of Mum and Dad's friends on evening for dinner (their daughter was one of the nice girls from the older year at school). Her Dad pinched my bum and I got cross with him. On the way home, Dad told me off and said words to the effect of "you're going to have to get used to things like that, and worse, if you want to get anywhere in life.". So in retrospect, my family was indeed very sexist. Luckily they are not that way at all now - I have shown them just how much suffering such traditional and sexist attitudes can cause. It is a very Asperger's trait to not succumb to such personality moulding. I had my own opinions and my own attitudes - sometimes markedly different from my family - from a very young age and they were based on logic. My families' attitudes seemed however to be based on something else - something that didn't make sense to me at all at the time! Of course, I now know that is "conditioning".
Anyway, I became so difficult in my contrariness to being conditioned that my parents eventually kind of gave up on me when I was fourteen, and I went to live at my beloved grandparents farm. My grandparents never judged me and never tried to change me into something I wasn't - they just let me be! So, I lived in the farm cottage near their house and had total space and peace and quiet. I had my own small living room with my telly in it and, although my gran used to cook for me, I had my own little kitchen too. Although sometimes I got very scared rattling around that cottage on my own - especially when it was windy and the barn doors used to creak and clang - for the first time I had no-one to force me back into bed! I'd just turn all the lights on, make myself a hot drink and watch the telly until I was lulled to sleep! Such freedom was, on the whole, fantastic - and I found I slept much better when I wasn't being forced to go to bed - or stay in bed - at a particular time. However, I did have a lot of time to ponder. My gran was the sweetest person, but I had stopped talking about bad things because she was often getting into trouble with mum and dad for sticking up for me and I didn't want to trouble her. So, sometimes I'd get depressed - I'd feel so alone, so desperately lonely.
At this age, I had become more fashion conscious as a result of having had, albeit briefly, some friends from whom I could learn. And also because I had developed my first crush - on a friend of my brother's who seemed to like me and used to write to me from boarding school. It is ironic that previously I had always shunned what I defined as sheep-like behaviour (back then I'd use the word ovine, just because I could, and because it annoyed the grownups that I could use such words, which sometimes they'd have to look up!). However, sheep-like for a while, I became. I even began to get into pop music and watch top-of-the-pops! I guess this was when my hormones were really kicking in.
So, with being more "trendy" in mind, one evening alone and bored in the farm cottage I decided to peirce my ears. I had already had them pierced once with my parents consent, but at the time it was the fashion to have at least two or even three earings and my parents wouldn't allow me. So I just decided that, since they were my ears, I'd do it myself! This is a definite "do not do this at home". But so determined was I - if I started something, I just had to finish it, such was my nature - that I used ice to numb my ears and another earing to pierce another hole each side of my ears. Boy did it bleed and hurt! I had an awful fight with my mum about it, but keep them I did! And they thought it was cool at school, especially when I told them a) I'd done it myself, and b) how much trouble I had got into with my parents! Again, this seemed to increase my popularity and mostly that last year of school I was left alone as a result, not least when I pierced a third hole in one of my ears in front of some of the other girls! They thought that was "hard" - long live my "psycho" image, I had decided! But still, I remained lonely - I had gone just a bit too far in my quest to seek friendship and approval.
By the time I got to fifteen years of age, I'd got so bored and lonely and still had hope there must be something out there for me if I just looked, that I couldn't wait to leave school. So, I began to play truant. I had some great times sneaking out of school and going on the bus to the nearby town! Luckily my gran or parents (if I was staying with them) never asked why my schoolbag seemed to be so bulging when they took me to school - of course it was full of home clothes that I would quickly change into behind the bus stop! I was very careful to choose the safest times to truant - Friday sports afternoon was my favourite, and study time (as you got when you were fifteen and studying for O'levels - I was a year ahead remember!). My absences were never noticed at those times. I left that school as soon as I could after taking my last O'level, having got permission from the headmistress which you had to get if you wanted to leave before you were sixteen. I couldn't wait to start work and earn my own money. My logic was that adults always seemed to be kind to me (the teachers) so that if I started work, I'd hopefully meet more nice adults, perhaps even make friends. Again, I couldn't have been more wrong.
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