Autoblography Part 8: The Dark Year

By Shamus Posted Monday Sep 5, 2011

Filed under: Personal 68 comments

It’s the 1980-1981 school year. Mount St. Helens erupts. The Rubik’s Cube craze spreads to my corner of the world and I discover the pleasure of puzzling over one. Adults won’t shut up about “Who shot J.R.” Pac-Man fever is sweeping the country. I’m in fourth grade.

Things are not going well for me.

I’ve come to think of this period as “The Dark Year”, but it really took place over the course of two years or so, with things becoming gradually more intense in the last nine months. It’s not like the new year rang in and suddenly everything went to hell. This was the end of a long process, and I have trouble putting the various plot-points into proper chronological order.

I’ve struggled a great deal with what to say about this time period. This is a very ugly stretch in my life. I don’t want this series to be a chore to read. I don’t want this to deteriorate into a long screed of complaints and self-pity.

I could skip these events, but that would leave a curious and continuity-breaking hole in my life. I could be explicit, but that would involve a lot of ugly stories that would, I think, be unfair to the adults in my family, and my mother in particular. The only way to avoid making her look like the bad guy would be to tell the whole story, which would be incredibly long, bleak, and not terribly compelling.

Here is the best I can do:

Some adults entered our lives who were no good for us. As a result, my brother and I ended up spending a lot of time under the care and influence of some very rotten people. Just to assuage your worst fears: I wasn’t seriously beaten, I wasn’t molested, nobody died. Nobody gave me illegal drugs. (Although given the witches’ brew of prescription medication I was on, I was arguably higher than the adults in my life.) This isn’t anything that serious. This was a time of neglect, not abuse. Lots of people had home lives that were far more dangerous than the one I knew in these years. But it was rough, and it hit me in an area where I had very few coping mechanisms.

So instead of belaboring things in a litany of complaint, I’ll just pick through the anecdotes of the time and we can move on. Sound good?

I feel like I have very little control over my life. I don’t decide where I go, what I do, what I eat, or who I associate with. This is normal for kids, but it doesn’t feel normal to me.

I have a terrible relationship with our babysitter, who cares for us before and after school. I have a worse relationship with my teachers, who are frustrated and annoyed by my odd behavior and aversion to schoolwork. Worse still is my relationship with the other students, which ranges from apathy to open hostility. During an entire day, my mother is the only person that I can trust to not hurt me on a regular basis. I spend my mornings just waiting to leave the scorn of the babysitter’s and move on to school. Then I spend school waiting to leave and go back to the sitters, where I’ll spend my time counting the minutes until Mom arrives to take us home.

Perversely, I take comfort in the routine itself. Sure, the day sucks, but it sucks in a predictable and ordered way. The familiarity makes things more bearable. The only thing worse than the routine is having it change. Moving to a new sitter, riding a new bus, or entering a new class fills me with intense worry, and it can take me days or weeks to get used to a new pattern.

This year, I’m going to have to endure the biggest disruption to my routine yet. We are moving to a new house. A smaller, draftier house in a much worse neighborhood. A house at the bottom of the hill from the hospital, where wailing ambulances will pass by at all hours.

Home life is a little weird. Mom has a new circle of friends. Or perhaps, these are old friends and they’re just visiting more now that we’re living here. It’s hard for me to tell. I don’t keep track of names or faces, particularly of adults. At any rate, these people are scary, and my home is no longer a refuge from the outside world. There is no longer a wall between myself and the madness at the end of the day.

A lot of the adults around here like to roll their own cigarettes. These are crooked, tiny things, wrapped in special white papers you can buy at the corner store. They smell funny. One day I’m sitting on the couch, sorting through this handful of shredded leaves they like to smoke. I’ve folded an Omni magazine to cradle the stuff. As instructed, I’m pulling out the seeds to put them into a little pile. Apparently the seeds are bad, and you don’t want to smoke them?

I don’t mind doing this. It’s fun, in an arts & crafts kind of way. And unlike the stuff I do at school, this has a practical use: When I’m done, people will smoke this weed. I still didn’t understand why they go to all this trouble instead of just buying cigarettes, but I’m glad to be useful. I also know to clear out before they smoke these things, because that’s when things get creepy. I hide in my room, or (even better) leave the house for a while. (They actually ingest other stuff besides weed, but that’s not nearly as visible to a ten year old and I won’t understand it until later.)

I’ve begun getting headaches. Terrible, agonizing, frontal-lobe assaults that generally last several hours. Everything seems exceedingly loud, and I get tunnel vision. The pain comes in waves, starting as a dull ache and building in intensity, until I start clenching my jaw. It oscillates up and down, like a sine wave, gradually burning out as the amplitude falls in the last hour. These headaches will remain with me throughout my adult life. Eventually I’ll have the freedom to treat them by hiding in a cool, dark, quiet room and putting ice on my head, but for now there is no escape. Classrooms are unavoidably noisy and relentlessly bright places.

“I have a headache,” I tell my fourth-grade teacher. All I can think about is the quiet dark of the nurse’s office.

“So do I,” she says dismissively, and sends me back to my seat.

On another occasion, someone puts a “Kick Me” sign on my back. I have never heard of this before, and I don’t know what to make of it. I discover the note, and a wave of snickering passes through the kids around me. I’m not sure that to make of it. My first impression is that this must be a note from someone, to me. Are they asking me to… kick them? But why? Is it like a dare, to figure out who wants to be kicked? And why tape it do my back? I really don’t understand these people.

I do sort of get the sense that this is a prank, based on the reactions of others. Nobody kicked me, so I don’t really get the idea. It’s just a dumb note that makes no sense that you can’t read because it’s on your back.

As with most of my really serious social blunders, I decide to imitate. I take the note and put it on the next available back – that of the girl in front of me. She notices right away, tells on me, and the teacher is angry with me.

“Would you like it if someone did kick her, Shamus?” she asks indignantly.

“No,” I shrug. My face is bright red, and the kids who laughed at me before are now laughing at me again. I didn’t want to hurt her. I wasn’t even sure what to expect. I try to explain that someone had done the same to me, and the teacher reacts as if I’ve just told her a lie. I give up and stop talking, because I have no idea what to do from here.

The Dark Year reaches into fifth grade, although I have no meaningful memories of it. At some point, someone decided to add Ritilin to the mix of other drugs in my bloodstream. I don’t know if this is common for kids on Ritilin, or if the missing memories are due to all of the other problems in my life, but I remember first grade far better than fifth.

I can remember the teacher’s name, and the fact that he used drop a fat textbook onto the floor with a loud “smack” when he wanted to startle the students into paying attention. But that’s it. The rest is gone.

 


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68 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 8: The Dark Year

  1. Well, that entire entry is probably more than my memory that remains before the age of 12 (I’m 25), so I think you’re still lucking out on the memory retention!

    1. Gruegar says:

      Hell I’m 18 and I can barely remember my first four grades.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        Yeah, fourth grade I remember nothing of, first and second very little. I remember plenty of non-school stuff, but my time in school those years, I don’t really remember having any lessons, maybe because we didn’t have any.

        1. Zagzag says:

          I can barely remember anything except school from that period

          1. goatcathead says:

            who are you and why am I on this blog?!
            I’m 13 and can’t remember anything from before year 1 in primary school(I don’t know if grades and Australian year levels are the same thing).

      2. Kyte says:

        Beats being 21 and not remembering only bare snippets from when you were 14 or younger.

        1. Dovius says:

          ^This
          The worst thing is, that it seems to keep advancing. I can literally only recall snippets from last year, with barely any shreds from before that, and I’m not even 16 yet!
          “So Grandpa, how was your youth?” “uhmm…..look! My Little Ponies!”

      3. MrWhales says:

        First four years? Try the first 10 years

  2. Human memory functions in such a way that it “compresses” memories where nothing interesting happens.

    If your day to day life was more or less a schedule where nothing (to your perception) changed, that would probably lead to you remembering less of that period.

    This is why (in broad terms) old(er) people who sit alone most of the day feels like time flies, cannot remember much of the past month – but vividly retain memories of their youth (when the summers seemed to last forever).

    1. Tizzy says:

      There is more to it than this: recent experiments uncovered evidence that your objective time perception does change with age. They asked people to estimate a one minute time interval, and a younger person’s one minute is significantly shorter than an older person’s one minute.

      1. Mthecheddar knight says:

        Human memory functions in such a way that it “compresses” memories where nothing interesting happens.

        That explains why i can never remember school.
        OH DAYUM

      2. Will says:

        That is a function of comparison; the mind does a lot of comparison and estimates are no different. When you’re 10, a year seems like a very long time because its 10% of the entire time you’ve been alive, wheras when you’re 100, a year is only 1% of the time you’ve been alive, so it seems like a much shorter period of time in comparison to the amount of time you’ve already lived.

        That 1 year when you’re 10 will also seem even longer again because you won’t have 10 years worth of memories, so it will probably seem more like 30% of your life.

  3. Jarenth says:

    Wow. You know, yesterday I would have said that I would’ve enjoyed reading anything related to your story, irrelevant of size or bleakness, but… this was actually a little jarring to read, for lack of a better word.

    Shamus, thanks again for writing this. I get the impression that this trip down memory lane is hard on you sometimes, and I’m honoured, in a way, that you feel comfortable enough to share this with us.

    1. Mathias says:

      I second this. I think everyone has an uncomfortable story from their childhood that can be really jarring to put down on paper.

      1. Eärlindor says:

        Third. I can’t add much more to what Jarenth and Mathias have said.

        1. albval says:

          2^2ed. This also helps putting my own “problematic” youth into perspective… Thank you.

          1. Funny Money Guy says:

            Your Honour, I’d like to take the Fifth…

            1. Funny Money Guy says:

              Alternatively…
              I’ll take a Fifth… of Jim Beam!

      2. perry says:

        i beg to differ. i can’t remember any time of my life when i had to do anything remotely as weird(my vocab fails me) as rolling up weed. seriously, the most traumatic time in my childhood was when i got second highest grades in the class.
        i believe most people do not have to endure stuff like shamus has had to.

    2. SoldierHawk says:

      You said it perfectly, and all I can tack on is my own humble “thank you.”

      Although I feel like I’ve gotten to know you some just from reading your site, it really is very cool to get something of a peak at what *made* the man we all know and love today.

    3. Dys says:

      Speaking for myself, I appreciate the candour. It can’t be easy, I’m glad you feel that your audience here is of such quality that you’re comfortable sharing such things.

      A lot of the things you describe sound like symptoms of Aspergers or high functioning Autism. Those are really just names for certain personality traits, but it helps me at least to know that there is an entire class of people who think and feel much as you do.

      As time passes, I feel that the general awareness of atypical neurology is growing. People, particularly in schools, are becoming more likely to grasp the fact that some children do not think and act the same as the rest.

  4. Matt Freeman says:

    I’m finding these autobiography posts really interesting and I hope you keep writing them. I’ve had some of the same experiences with being unengaged at school and it’s great to hear from someone else that felt the same.

    Please keep writing them.

  5. Brendan says:

    Ive been following this since it started. Ive never come across a more stirring series of life excerts, mainly due to the similarities I’ve experienced. Im 24 now and still have major social, mental and emotional problems that I’m coming to terms with. Reading this has helped unburden me of all the childhood confusion I had over a world that didnt seem to understand me.

    To be so vunerable to so many takes courage that I can’t measure. Thank you for giving hope to people like me who the world still seems to think “Are not normal.”

    God Bless

    1. Dys says:

      To be honest, we’re not ‘normal’, or at least not ‘typical’. The two terms have an overlap, given that typical human neurology gives rise to normal behaviours.

      We are different, and there is nothing wrong with that.

      What’s so great about being normal anyway? :)

      Doesn’t make you any less human or valuable.

      1. Brendan says:

        It really doesnt. I am so glad that more and more people are realising that the image of normality is a sham and that we are all quirky and different. Its a tragedy that some schools still single out individuals who dont fit the cookie cutter. My niece is just like me except she has an Uncle who understands her unique nature and encourages it rather than trys to change it into something more socially pallatable. She thinks in ways that blows other childrens minds and gets a lot of flak for it. But thank God that there are people like you and me. Life would be boring without us quirky misfits =)

  6. MrGamer says:

    I am enjoying these autobiographical entries, please continue Shamus.

  7. Dwip says:

    One appreciates the openness and honesty here (and the editing, FWIW). I’ve had occasion to talk about my own (much, much later) dark years before, and the telling, but moreso the thinking through them, was incredibly cathartic and helped me deal with a lot of things. Hope this series is doing the same for you.

    Other thoughts:

    Hey, I’m alive now! Barely.

    Man, Dallas scared the crap out of me once. I don’t remember what year it was or anything else, but mom was watching it, and I walked in the room and started watching it too, and I guess some guy was talking to the Devil in the mirror or something? I had no idea what was going on, and it freaked me out. And it takes a lot for TV and movies to freak me out.

    I had about the same experience with kick me signs, but the one I really remember is chair tipping, which was super cool when we were in 4th grade or so. Everyone was doing it, so I decided to as well. Not sure if the plastic feet slipped on the carpet or I just went too far back, but next thing I know I’m staring up at the underside of the desk behind me, my head hurts, and everyone is laughing at me. Except the part where my head hurt, I was surprisingly untraumatized by the whole experience. Later, I got better at it.

    Not that my own years under the yoke of uncaring school authority were as bad as yours seem to have been, but I can sure relate to the bit about taking comfort in the routine of knowing how your day is going to suck precisely. In 6th grade, it was it was the crazy combative teacher who was throwing stuff at kids and locking me outisde. In 7th and 8th, it was the vindictive principal who liked to trump up reasons to get me in trouble because he was having his own private war with my mom (which meant the grade school and high school were fueding, since mom was the HS secretary – good times). The routine varied because it sucked a slightly different way each day. I got over that need for routine eventually, but I used to get freaked out about the exact same stuff.

    The rest of us eventually got over it, but I’m pretty sure my mom would still play Ms. Pac-Man all day nonstop if somebody would let her.

  8. Blanko2 says:

    thats pretty harsh, doesn’t look like you had a ball when you were a kid. well really at most points that you’ve written of till now.

    as far as the memory thing, i can relate, there’s huge chunks of my life that i don’t recall even vaguely because i had pretty crappy stuff happening around then. and im half your age plus one, so i have a lot less to remember or forget, really.

  9. ENC says:

    My bother and I? For a second there I thought you had schizophrenia Shamus.

    Like all the other posts dating back to the beginning of the site, I am enjoying this deeply Shamus. It’s a tragedy that you had such terrible teachers and psychiatrists/GPs that were more than willing to throw drugs at anything not normal.

    And as usual, kids like us imitate others when we have no idea of the purpose of the activity and thus get into trouble for it, it’s very frustrating and confusing. I think this happens from (very) bad parents who let their kids do anything and cannot control them/do not even want to. Except things are getting worse, now that kids can pass on 40% or less marks things are getting very, very bad.

  10. Dan says:

    I know that Rittalin was the drug of choice for many years for ADD and that more recently, a lot of people talk about Rittalin like it was such a horrible drug that did terrible things. I never experienced Rittalin specifically, but I did go through drugs to treat hyper active disorders.

    All I know is that the drugs I was on made me process the inputs differently. I still saw, heard, smelt, touched and tasted everything the same, but the way I understood what I was sensing was different. Because of this, it’s harder for me to remember what I was experiencing for the years I was on the drugs because I processed things differently then.

  11. Aanok says:

    I have to say, the whole weed thing, with the adults smoking and little Shamus sorting out seeds, made me a bit uneasy while I was reading. Makes me wonder about this famous “whole story”. I’d read it even if it were incredibly long, bleak, and not terribly compelling, that’s for sure :)

  12. Kdansky says:

    That was short. Write some more gloom, we can take it! Ritalin has gotten really bad press in recent years because of its long-term side effects.

    We will emphasize.

    1. JPH says:

      The word you’re looking for is empathize.

  13. Timelady says:

    All I can say is, I’m glad things got better for you.

  14. Mari says:

    I don’t know about Ritalin specifically but plenty of other psychotropic medicines designed to dull responses (even though Ritalin is a stimulant, it stimulates the brain to basically filter OUT more input thus dulling your natural (hyper)responses) can cause that sort of “walking fugue state” where memory is very hazy. I don’t remember most of 7th through 11th grades because of psychotropics.

  15. ccesarano says:

    I’m actually curious about your mother’s side of the story now. From what we’ve read so far, and even in the pictures you’ve posted, I can imagine she made those choices for a reason. I also imagine it was just as hard an experience for her (or worse, considering she understood what her children were now around).

    It’s interesting how many of your anecdotes trigger my own memories. I was in 3rd Grade and one of the bitchiest gym teachers was substituting for some reason. If I ever needed to imagine a witch, it was this woman with green skin and the black outfit. For some reason we’re eating packed lunches in the class room, or maybe it’s a snack, I’m not certain. I just know one of my friends sitting at my table began joking, tearing a piece off his napkin and eating it saying it’s great fiber. I don’t know what any of this means, so I give it a shot with my other friend at the table. For some reason I’m the only one this teacher notices. She doesn’t even wait for an answer, just keeps grilling me until she finally says “Should I call your parents? Tell them how their son eats napkins?”

    I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have the quick wit or the rebellious nature to be a smart ass (that wouldn’t be until later). Even worse, I was already made fun of for being heavier than the other kids, and I knew that there were going to be jokes made at my expense over this.

    I honestly don’t know if some teachers ever had children of their own, because looking back it seems to lack even the basic concepts of child psychology. This woman didn’t even wait for me to try and explain that it was my friend’s idea (not that she’d believe me anyway). She just grilled me like she had a personal vendetta.

    Which is messed up, because I was never the sort to actually get in trouble. So it’s not like all the teachers knew me as “that kid”.

    Man. The public education system really needs to screen their teachers better.

    As for Ritalin, my best friend of childhood was always different depending on whether he was on Ritalin or not. He was very hyper and had trouble keeping calm, though he started to learn over time. He was able to tell when he was getting hyper-active, and would even approach my mom to say “I need to sit down for a while” so he could get calm. When he was on Ritalin, he wasn’t really the same person. I didn’t understand it at the time, but on those days he wasn’t as imaginative, didn’t have as much energy, and just seemed to do whatever was suggested of him. But there wasn’t much emotion there. It’s not like he was even depressed. It was the most genuine form of apathy.

    1. Jack of Spades says:

      I was diagnosed with ADD at age 20, and had the benefit of an adult’s perspective on what Ritilin does to your consciousness. For me, it gives me a power I don’t normally possess ““ the ability to decide what is interesting; if there’s a distracting thing in my field of view, I normally cannot ignore it no matter how hard I try. To really focus, I have to be in the dark, where the only thing I can see is what I’m working on. On Ritilin, I get quiet and contemplative because I’m actually able to study things without distraction; perhaps that’s what your friend was experiencing.

      It turns out that all my creativity depends on making unexpected connections between the things I cannot ignore but that aren’t screaming at other people. It also turns out that not being able to focus well is an advantage in troubleshooting systems. I was on the drugs just long enough to get through college, and haven’t used them since.

      Interestingly, when I’m not on Ritilin, I can follow the logic of schizophrenics, at least superficially. On Ritilin, I can’t. There’s a research paper in that somewhere for psychiatrist.

  16. X2-Eliah says:

    Just a quick note to say that I appreciate that this could have been hard for you to put out in public, and that it – while perhaps not overly optimistic or ‘fun to read’, is still an incremental & essential part of your biography. Thank you for letting us see this part of the picture, Shamus.

    Also – I won’t bother to ask for more details about ‘the big picture’ an certain people’s involvement – it’s your story, after all, and a deeply personal one at that, so I respect the limit of what you choose to post and what you chose to keep :)

  17. Sozac says:

    Did you never watch TV, was there even TV back then?

    1. Cybron says:

      …how long ago do you think this is? Given that the ‘Who Shot J.R.’ business is a reference to the TV show Dallas, yes, there was TV.

  18. krellen says:

    Fourth and Fifth grades were my “dark year” too. Fourth grade was my first foray into public schooling (having attended a private Montessori school up to then) but it was supposed to be third grade. However, the principal of the public school I would attend had no idea what “Montessori school” did (I was working on sixth grade text books when I left the school) and wanted to put me into a “catch-up” second/third grade class. My mother fought him, and when he wouldn’t yield, simply did the paperwork to skip me into fourth grade. So I went into fourth grade a year younger than everyone else and really never socialised at all.

    And then that summer, my father got a new job and we had to move two hours south, out of little Los Alamos into big Albuquerque, and fifth grade I went to a new school – and all this meant I lost the only friends I’d ever known (the kids that lived in my neighbourhood in Los Alamos). I never really fully recovered from that – making friends is a slow process for me, and I never really grasped how to do it within a school year. I hung out with some kids, but never really made “friends” with any of them – certainly not relationships that lasted past school. Now my friends are mostly my (younger) brother’s friends from school (he has since moved away), as he’s much better at the socialising thing so they are the people I actually got to know.

  19. Falcon says:

    The Ritalin memory problem you mention, there might be something to that. I was on it for years and hated it. That said I have very little recollection of the years on it. That said I remember an odd thing or two about younger years. Like in kindergarten being upset at taking the bus, even though I lived two blocks from school, was nearly the last kid dropped off, and how this meant I now missed Yogi Bear. Third grade and up though, not much until jr high.

  20. Perseus says:

    Having an autistic shota roll your joints for you. Now that’s luxury.

    1. Maldeus says:

      I…Don’t really know what to make of this comment.

  21. Delve says:

    I have some small appreciation for the pain and danger you’re engaging in here Shamus. ‘Enjoyable’ is the wrong word to describe these posts but I can’t stop reading them all the same. The internal dialog of compare and contrast to my own life is enlightening and if these aren’t pleasurable in a mainstream sense they are still greatly appreciated. I hope you are drawing as much… therapy? Catharsis?… from them as I am.

  22. Vect says:

    Never experienced a Kick Me sign before. Then again, I was a kid in the late 90s and I actually remember just the bare bones of elementary school.

    I remembered that in Fourth grade my mother had a boyfriend with an English Sheepdog that I was somewhat fond of despite the fact that I hated dogs. Unfortunately it didn’t get along with my grandmother and at least from details that I remember the guy got kicked out of the house. Maybe there was more that I never learned about, but I get the feeling that even if I did it wouldn’t help anything.

    Still, I did remember Fourth grade being pretty unpleasant. New school (moved around a lot) and at least a principal that I didn’t remember with particular fondness. Then again, I think it was mostly me acting up, which I do seem to have a tendency of doing when I was younger (and at other times).

  23. MichaelG says:

    No comments from your Mom or brother? We could have dueling biographies here in the comments. What really happened to Shamus to make him the way he is? :-)

    Enjoying the series. I would never write up my life. At this stage, I was in the hospital dealing with suddenly becoming paraplegic. I don’t even want to think about school in those years, much less write about it.

    1. Mom says:

      I noticed Brother has gotten quiet too. I am content to let Shamus tell the story for now. He is more than fair to me.

    2. Shamus says:

      Pat visited last night to exchange birthday presents, and we gnawed on all the old bones. So, we’ve both had our fill of these days for now.

    3. Mom says:

      ” I would never write up my life.” Maybe someday you will want to write about your life. It sounds like you have a compelling story. Already I wonder how you are doing.

  24. RichVR says:

    I was wondering whether or not to post this. Mainly because this is about Shamus. But what has been written sort of hits home. I was sent to PS 179, an Elementary School at the age of five. I was essentially a momma’s boy. My father worked for ITT (this was the early 60s) and so spent time in Italy and Greece and various places that needed good old American know how to wire phone systems.

    Anyway. I did not want to go to school. At ALL.

    The first day of kindergarten my mom dropped me off at the school. I was brought into the auditorium. I was put in a seat and watched as my mother left. And I broke down and cried. I was told by some adult to stop crying. Strangely that didn’t work. And I wasn’t the only hysterical child. Eventually I was brought to the back wall of the auditorium and told to face the wall until I stopped crying. With the other crying 5 year olds.

    I didn’t. Stop. Crying.

    If anything I cried more because I was singled out. And then standing, staring at the wall next to other kids that were crying just added to it.

    Eventually I was brought to a classroom. There were a few cryers there. But they stopped. And I almost did.

    Until one of the other kids made a break for the door. And the teacher GRABBED THE KID BY THE FACE to bring him back into the room.

    To this day I will never forget her hand. Her nails were painted bright red. And she clutched this kid by the fucking FACE and dragged him into the classroom.

    I started crying again. And i cried every fucking day for a week afterwards.

    It got to the point that the teacher would tell the other kids to just leave me alone.

    “Don’t talk to him. Let him cry.”

  25. Destrustor says:

    Time to collect my yearly quota of hate from strangers! About those headaches… would anyone believe me if I said I never ever EVER get headaches? I seem to be immune to this kind of pain. To me it is nothing more than an abstract word, completely meaningless. Sure I do get some pain from brainfreeze, but I’m told it does not even compare to an actual headache.

    Sorry. I realize this is not appropriate, but hey maybe I’ll start a discussion. Win-win for me.

    1. MichaelG says:

      Lack of headaches is a reliable symptom of brain tumors. Get yourself checked. :-)

    2. retas14 says:

      Hey bro I’m going to hit your head several times so that you get a headache, so that when i get one you won’t be able to laugh at me because you never had one… not really going to do that but still i really hate for your “no headache” head, f you

    3. kmc says:

      You’re definitely lucky; my mom and husband both suffer from migraines. As for me, I never had headaches either. Like, ever. Then, last year sometime, I got a migraine out of the blue. Nothing triggered it, and believe me, I tried to figure out what might’ve. Scared me to death, and it was the whole kit and kaboodle–curled up in a ball on the couch crying and shouting, throwing up, although no visual effects like hubby gets. These days, ramdomly, stress and sinus headaches are my second most prominent pregnancy symptom. So, with all sincerity, appreciate your lack of headaches and I hope you never get them.

  26. Inwards says:

    Reading over this, I really get the Flannery O’Conner vibe from the short story “The River”.

  27. Jack of Spades says:

    If it helps any, Shamus, I’m around your age and I don’t really have any memories prior to high school. There are things I’m told I did, and things I’ve seen pictures of, but nothing firsthand. And I wasn’t on any medication.

    Thanks for sharing the tough times of your life.

  28. Yahzi says:

    Oddly, I don’t remember anything before I took Ritilin. I was only on it for a summer, but all of my memories stem from that date.

  29. RCTrucker7 says:

    I kind of feel like an ass saying this, as it can come across as being “glad” that your life began the way it did, but it certainly is not meant that way;

    Shamus, to me at least, this is some of your best writing I’ve read in quite awhile. Thank you for posting it.

  30. Meredith says:

    I just want to echo the others and say thanks for sharing your life story with the internet. It can’t be easy, but it’s certainly interesting for us (and it sounds like cathartic for many readers as well as yourself). I hope things get a little better for you in the next update, though.

  31. Alex says:

    No, Ritalin never gave me memory loss, although I do have an atrocious memory nowadays. What it did do is give me mood swings like a psychotic. I’m naturally trying to be happy or relax and daydream, then something like the “Kick Me” incident would happen and I’d be screaming and crying rage at the other kids, who were in shocked silence at the whole thing.
    My brother had been diagnosed ADHD and prescribed Ritalin years before (He’s 9 years older). He pinpointed it as the cause and I told Mom, “Fuck this”, as an elementary school kid. She took me off it, but it was too late: Middle school started next year and I was the only sane child in a pen full of shrieking chimpanzees, relentlessly prick-waving and fucking around. Joy.

  32. I too have trouble with headache/migraines
    I got my first ever headache when I was 18 and have had the same constant pain to this day
    At first I didn’t really know what the feeling was, but I could only base it on the descriptions other people gave for headaches
    I’ve gone through different medications and therapies to no avail
    To add on top of this I have extreme light sensitivity and have to wear dark glasses all the time (outdoors and indoors)
    My glasses are very distinctive, with leather on the sides of the lenses to block out ambient/reflective light
    Some days are better then others, but when I have a migraine my light sensitivity gets so bad I actually go temporarily blind (only seeing a white wash out) and must retreat to a dark, quite room and rest my eyes
    I’ve lived and worked for decades with this
    And I chuckle to myself whenever someone at work asks for an extra break because they have a headache (from low blood sugar or too much revelry the night before)
    Sometimes I wonder how we ever get any work done

  33. asterismW says:

    Reading this series makes me reflect on how much easier your life would have been had you been able to explain yourself then as you can now. But of course kids can’t put these kinds of feelings and experiences and questions into words; they don’t have the experience or even the vocabulary to do so. If a child told me “I have a headache”, I probably would have dismissed it out of hand too, especially if it was a child who I had trouble dealing with. But if he described it the way you did, I would have immediately recognized it as a migraine, and gotten the kid help. Same with all of your other experiences. Makes me wonder, when I have kids, how I can communicate with them to find out what’s really going on.

  34. Chris says:

    Don’t worry about the dark stuff becoming a chore. I think your tale is resonating with a lot of us, and the details aren’t going to scare us away. Plus we all know and LIKE the fact that Shamus wears his complaints on the outside these days – that’s part of why we keep coming back here.

  35. Kate says:

    I’ve been reading your posts for quite a while, and only now I’ve worked up the courage to actually comment.
    Yeah. I know. I’m just another crazy internet kid without a social life (not entirely my fault, though: I have Asperger’s – seems like a fancy way to say I’m genetically predisposed for nerdiness.)
    Anyways, about Ritalin and memory gaps: I’ve been taking Ritalin/methylphenidate against my ADD and it hasn’t really affected my memory – or maybe it has, and I just don’t really notice… but what Ritalin did to me was completely kill my appetite. Worse than watching a CSI episode, probably. Changed to another methylphenidate based stuff, stopped having problems with eating.
    Hell, now I’ve spilled my dark secrets just like that. “Hello, I’m Kate, and I have dark secrets. I have Asperger’s, and ADD, and I’m posting it so every stranger can see it.” (And I’m paranoid about strangers on the internet finding out anything about me, even the names of my cats.)

  36. Alexander The 1st says:

    The only way to avoid making her look like the bad guy would be to tell the whole story, which would be incredibly long, bleak, and not terribly compelling.

    Oh! Oh! Sell it as DLC! :p

    Or go the FFVII route as sell it as an entire other biography. <_<

  37. Winter says:

    For what it’s worth, i was never on prescription drugs when i was a kid (err, not that i know of?) but i do have severe memory loss. I remember faint, scattered things of my childhood and various times throughout it–not in any particular chronological order, though i can sometimes piece that together. It also shifts around–sometimes i’ll remember some things, sometimes i’ll forget those and remember others… probably some of it isn’t actually real at all and is just my mind putting garbage data into some sort of coherent order. However, most of the stuff i know about my childhood comes from reading things i, or someone else, wrote down. Sometimes it’s pretty bizarre.

    I have had people talk to me about how i was a jerk to them in various ways in school, which is weird to me because i don’t remember doing anything to anyone. (There are two notable exceptions: one kid who had the misfortune of being even more socially awkward than me, who never shut up, and who wouldn’t leave anyone alone. There was shunning. I was a part of it. I do not feel good about it now. The other i won’t talk about.)

    Anyway, i remember these people and not being particularly fond of them, but i don’t remember interacting with them even slightly. Do they have me confused for someone else? It wouldn’t be a difficult mistake to make, as i was mostly absent (physically or mentally) from my classes. It’s incoherent, it doesn’t fit with my personality at all, and it’s worrisome. I feel really bad about anything i did do, and yet at the same time i’m not sure i trust these people. Of course, i don’t trust my own memories… yet generally i remember fragments of something. I do remember some pretty horrible things, too… so it’s not like i’m repressing “the worst parts”. Are they right? I don’t know, could be. I hope not, but at the same time who am i to say? They remember it, i don’t. How can i say? It’s troubling and awkward. Fortunately, not a big issue for these people anymore. I tend to not talk about memory loss to people for fear of people taking advantage of it. Of course, that means it’s even more difficult to piece the past together…

  38. Grown ups aren’t too bad. You should find some nicer people than the people you don’t like to be around.

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