Note: Not all of what I’m going to share is specifically sensory related. However it all interconnects in showing how being self-conscious about areas where I struggled and felt different impacted my self-confidence. While this is humiliating to recount, it’s necessary in order to show the full picture. So it needs to be shared.
Also, I’m not calling anyone out by name. That’s not the point of writing about it. So anyone reading who happened to go to school with me at this time, don’t try to figure out who I’m referencing. Many people do stupid stuff when they’re this age. Kids are mean. It’s unfortunately universal. … Moving on.
I went to a small Catholic K-8 school. There may have been a total of 250 students in the school. We had two homerooms for each grade level. At the beginning of the year (or maybe even before school started, I can’t remember), sixth-graders were given a placement test. Some students remained in regular 6th-grade level English and math classes. And some scored high enough to warrant jumping to 7th-grade levels. I have no idea how, but I managed to rank well enough to skip. I doubt my fifth-grade teachers recommended I skip a grade. I think I was on the low end of an acceptable score so it was more of a family decision of what I should do. So I’m sure we saw this as proof that I was doing better academically. We went for it.
I don’t know how long it took, but eventually it became quite clear to me this was a bad decision. I was not ready to handle the material, the assignments. Class time was a huge struggle to keep up. And yet, I didn’t vocalize this problem. Maybe I didn’t think it was possible to switch classes. Maybe that didn’t seem like a choice at all. But I had to push through somehow and make the best of it.
Now the unique thing about attending 6th grade at this time was that the school was growing and in early stages of expanding. So our home rooms were two mobile units. Most of our classes were in the units and the teacher came to us, a change from the traditional middle school experience.
There was a bathroom in each mobile unit. One bathroom was designated for boys and the other for girls, to maintain decorum, I suppose. It would make complete sense if there were multiple stalls, but these were single-occupancy bathrooms. Each should have been viewed as a classroom bathroom.
This became a big problem for me because in 6th grade, my bladder control issues cropped back up again. The need to use the bathroom would hit suddenly during class. And asking permission to use the bathroom meant disrupting my class, walking across the ramp connecting the units, disrupting the other class and then more disruption on the way back. It’s bad enough to draw attention to yourself when asking to use the bathroom and walking around your own classroom, but to randomly open the door to the other unit in order to use the bathroom seemed like a big ordeal. Since I was struggling in class, stepping away even for five minutes made me think I was going to be even further behind. So I had frequent accidents.
I wish I knew why peeing my pants seemed a better alternative than getting up. I have no idea. Obviously both are going to draw attention, for very different reasons. But I guess the idea of having to walk all that way and interrupt two classes in the process was just too much anxiety. And feeling lost in class added to the paralyzed feeling. I was in a no-win situation.
I took refuge in the fact that our school uniform was a dark plaid skirt for girls or you had the option of wearing navy pants. At least the skirt would visibly conceal that I had an accident. But I still smelled.
And this year was also a time when friends I had the year before didn’t seem to be there now. A natural part of growing up and finding new circles of friends, but it meant being even lonelier.
My routine each day was to linger at my locker, shuffling books for what I’d need for homework and what was required for afternoon classes. I was always the last one to grab my lunch bag from the big cabinet where they were stored. I’d walk with our math teacher to the cafeteria and, as we parted, I’d wish her a good day. “Same to you,” was her constant reply. Each home room was expected to sit at the same long table, so I had a place to go at least; I wasn’t sitting by myself. But it wasn’t a happy time.
I believe this was the year I began going to a psychiatrist, to address emotional problems and my newly established anger issues at home. I was diagnosed with depression and so began the effort to find the right medicine and dosage for medication. If afterschool transitions home were touchy in earlier grades, they were really challenging this year. The outbursts at home were strong. And no wonder, considering what I was dealing with, but it wasn’t something I could talk about with my parents. (What a recurring theme! Constantly feeling like I couldn’t open up to my parents, convinced they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t be interested to hear.)
In counseling, we tried to address the bathroom issue by having me purposefully trying to go after eating lunch or before recess ended. The accidents tended to be an afternoon issue so that was a logical attempt at improving the situation. But if you don’t have to go, you really can’t force it. I usually didn’t have to use the bathroom right after eating lunch, and then I would get so distracted during recess that I didn’t get a chance to try again before we had to line up for class. And the major afternoon class was social studies, a class that was hard to follow. Our teacher tried her best, but, well, let’s just say it wasn’t an engaging class.
Once during the year, a kid from another school shadowed our class. He was looking at transferring. He fell in quickly with the more popular kids in our class. Well, maybe these kids weren’t all that popular, it’s hard to say, but they were vocal, opinionated, and had a rebellious streak that tended to make them “cool”. Anyway, the visiting student gravitated toward them. I remember there was a time during art class, I believe, when my classmates kind of pointed to me while talking to the visitor. Maybe it was within earshot or maybe it was just a vibe, but essentially I got the impression they were telling the visitor he shouldn’t waste his time with me. There was a moment later on in that day when the visitor did approach me. He said something along the lines of “you know they talk about you, right?” But I wasn’t in a position to defend myself. What was really the use, anyhow?
Maybe it was the same day or completely unrelated, but I remember being at my locker when another student quietly talked to me. I believe she was new to the school that year. But she said something to the effect of “I like you.” So all hope wasn’t lost. I was an outcast, but not banished from everyone.
There was another instance when our class had returned to the mobile unit after P.E. We got settled in our seats when for some reason I was asked to change seats with another student. I’m one of those people who sweats a lot so it was a perfectly natural thing to stand up from my seat to see some sweat marks on the chair. I knew this wouldn’t bode well, but there really wasn’t much I could do. The girl who was to take my seat saw this and immediately yelled out “Ewww! Lindsay peed in her seat!” For once, I could have easily explained this was sweat and I actually hadn’t peed. But there just didn’t seem to be any use in speaking up. No one would believe me anyhow. The teacher didn’t make a big deal of things and class continued as normally as possible.
I was isolated, run down from trying to keep up with classes and just feeling more and more insecure. I didn’t like myself. My personal hygiene wasn’t a priority either so there was greasy hair and lots of dandruff. It was a really dark period for me. And then one day I was scratching my head, watching the white flakes of dandruff fall to the desk, when I felt a scab on my scalp. I’m not sure how it got there, what had happened to cause a scab, but I picked at it. And eventually that became a thing, picking at the scab on my head. Sometimes it would really hurt, but I kept doing it anyway. Maybe because there was so much anger and frustration and emptiness, so much that seemed out my control, that I was trying to recapture a sense of power. I don’t know, but it was a disturbing habit. And I can only guess what classmates must have thought if they noticed.
I’d get home from school and make a beeline to my brother’s room; that’s where our current guinea pig lived. Her name was Cyclone. She earned her name by escaping our attempts to pet her and running around the cage so fast that pine shavings would fly out the sides of the cage. (Back when pine shavings were an acceptable source of bedding.) Eventually she got used to us and learned to calm down so we could pet her. But I would go there after school and pet her. I’d pet her and talk to her. I’d tell Cyclone about my day, what was bothering me, what I found frustrating. I’d wonder aloud why I was different, where did I fit in. I could talk to Cyclone because she didn’t talk back, she didn’t argue. She listened. She was there with me and not distracted by other things. She seemed accepting of me. She didn’t stare me down as I tried to vocalize whatever it is I wanted to share; she was patient.
I’d contemplate running away. Thinking that it would be better for everyone if I just wasn’t around. Occasionally I’d walk out the front door without telling anyone. The whole time I was gone, walking around the neighborhood, I’d convince myself that my parents wouldn’t notice I was gone. But of course I never packed anything with me, and eventually I’d return back to the house. Maybe I just needed that alone time to vent and move and that the exercise made me feel better. I don’t know. But I was never greeted at the door by someone wondering where I had been. Of course, I might have only been gone an hour. I’m sure if it had been longer than that, everyone would have been concerned and worried.
Despite everything that was happening in my life, not everything during this year was horrible. I made the junior high basketball team. I was one of three sixth-graders to make it. Although, it’s kind of hard to cut the tallest girl in school; I was about 5’10. I’d come a long way since my initial efforts at playing, but I still needed to work on being aggressive. Man, I wish I could have channeled my rage and anger more on the court. I had plenty of it building up inside! That would have been a great outlet. But it was basketball and not wrestling. Besides, the girls I was playing against weren’t the ones causing problems for me.
I also played soccer for the school team. I wasn’t very good, but everyone who tried out made the team. In fifth grade I played soccer with the boys during recess. And I had gained a sense of respect from them by my ability to kick the ball really hard and far. But I was kicking with my toes and we were using a ball that was a bit softer or not inflated as much as a regulated soccer ball. So when it came to being part of the team, the coach addressed how we should be kicking with the side of our foot instead of our toes. I had a hard time adjusting to that. I went through the ball-handling drills, even though my agility wasn’t on par with my teammates. I had no idea what the different positions really meant or how to gauge position based on the geography of the field. I was primarily a bench warmer, but I was still part of the team. And it meant spending time with other students, being engaged in something else and being able to focus on the team.
And apparently I wasn’t a complete social pariah. I came across a journal entry during a class field trip. It described how I sat on the bus by myself and at first girls were passing notes but not including me. However during the course of the trip, I did record how I received a note from another girl. So I did get included to a degree.
Solution for the next year
I guess that some of the problems I had been having were eventually discussed with my parents because we had a talk with the principal at the end of the year. There really wasn’t much assurance that the classroom environment and isolation could be addressed. So we decided that I would stop going to that school. Next up would be my first experience in a public school.