When I Was Fifteen

One of Mama Kat’s writer’s workshop prompts for this week is to explain how a parent or sibling would’ve described you at the age of fifteen. What an interesting thing that Mama Kat should mention age fifteen!

I turned fifteen in June of 2001. By August, looking back, I was close to insane mentally. This was the summer when I first realized I had alters inside of me, although I didn’t know what they were at the time. I just heard some type of voices that were and at the same time weren’t mine.

Neither my parents nor my younger sister knew this at the time. Still, they did realize something was up, if for no other reason, then because I didn’t care about school. I had always been a pretty studious kind of child, but this changed by November or December of 2001.

In addition, I was a rather angry, moody child. I had suffered from depression on and off since age seven or so, but it was particularly bad at age fifteen. I even made suicide plans several times during that year. My parents, being the type to dismiss mental health issues, felt I was just attention-seeking, of course.

My life turned around in a sort of positive way a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday, although no-one saw either the change or how positive it was at that point. On June 16, 2002, my father called me autistic as an insult. This led me to search the Internet for autism and to discover I may be on the spectrum myself. Although it’d take nearly five more years before I was diagnosed, in part because my parents and teachers didn’t believe me, I see this as a pivotal point in my life.

The day after this, June 17, I finally disclosed to my teacher what had been bothering me over the past year. I sugarcoated it a little, not mentioning the voices or suicidality or autism for that matter. I did tell him I was struggling with being blind in a mainstream school and that I realized I had been less than good of a student lately.

My father, at the time, worked at my school. My teacher told him that I had disclosed something to him, but he refused to tell my father what it was. This led to a really traumatic experience, because my parents demanded to know too and they weren’t kind about it at all. I am pretty sure they just tried to gain fuel for their idea that I was one giant attention-seeker.

Many years later, my parents used many of my struggles at age fifteen to “prove” this very point. I can see their perspective, sort of. Thankfully though, my current professionals don’t go along with it.

Mama’s Losin’ It

An Eighth Grade Memory

I’ve been meaning to write a lot, but I can’t. I am having a lot of memories. That’s what they’re supposed to be. I already survived and am now safe and an adult, age 32, living with my husband. I don’t care, this pretty freakin’ hurts. One of my inner teens, Karin, hurts the most.

On November 17, 2000, I hid under a coat rack during recess. I don’t even know why. I mean, yes, I was feeling miserable and lonely. Kids in my class were bullying me and I had no friends. I was mainstreamed at the time, being the only blind student in my school.

My French teacher found me and called for the coordinator. My tutor had just gone on sick leave the day before and never returned to our school. The coordinator would act as my tutor from that point on. He sat across from me in the room where I’d been hiding under the coat rack. He held my hands and said: “Is something wrong?” I couldn’t communiicate. Not speak, not move, nothing. I was completely frozen.

Several months later, by the time my now tutor had become aware that I was feeling left out and lonely and being bullied by my classmates, he organized a class conference. Without me there. My classmates were allowed to say what they didn’t like about me. Then I was supposed to change those things. I was supposed to take better care of my personal hygiene and develop better social skills, so that I’d be less curt.

My tutor died in 2016. He cannot read this now, but my old tutor, the one who went on sick leave just before the coat rack thing, can. She found my Dutch website last year. Granted, it has my real name in the URL and this one doesn’t, but still. Maybe I shouldn’t write this, or publish this. But I want to. I want to get this off my chest.

I want to show that it’s not okay to blame a bullying victim for being bullied, even if the victim “elicits” it by acting weird. It’s good to teach a child about social skills and personal hygiene. I won’t deny that. It’s quite another thing to link that to bullying and say “You bring it onto yourself”. That’s what many people around me did say. That’s victim-blaming and it’s not okay.

Another thing I want to say is, if you wouldn’t subject a non-disabled student to something, chances are you shouldn’t subject your disabled students to it. Another boy in my class was being bullied too. My classmates asked for a class conference similar to the one held about me. The boy didn’t want it and this was respected. I was never even asked whether I wanted a class conference, because apparently, being blind, I was so special that I shouldn’t have a say. For clarity’s sake: I think class conferences like thsi one are an example of victim-blaming whether the bullied student agrees to them or not.