Photograph of a bright red sycamore leaf standing out among dead brown autumn leaves

I was crying behind a shed in a field last weekend. Exhausted from all the processing I’ve been doing lately, feeling worn out by my brain constantly scanning for anger or hatred or disgust in people’s faces or Facebook messages, and often finding puzzlement in their eyes. This sense of unease I seem to inspire in people. Feeling like a weirdo (but not in a good way apparently, because it’s me). Because I don’t fit in. Because I don’t know how to interact with people. Because I am just strange and awkward and not quite right.

I was a bit overtired. I took myself off somewhere to cry. It’s something I have a lot of practise doing.

Everywhere felt pretty exposed, no good crying spots. There were a lot of people. The toilets were in another building and would mean walking quite a long way out in the open, and I needed to tap that crying well now. I left the airhanger-like outbuilding the games were taking place in and found somewhere closer which I judged would not be visible to most people coming and going. Behind some kind of storage shed, on an empty sports field.

I was on my haunches having a good, loud, sobbing, self-pitying cry about being so awkward and different and weird in a crackling drift of dead leaves. They were all brown, hundreds of them, so deep I was afraid of squashing a hibernating hedgehog.

All except for this one bright red leaf that was blown in front of me on a breeze. This singular beautiful leaf standing out among all the others and glowing with this unearthly cherry colour. Ridiculous. Like a sign from some higher power. I took a photograph.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately. One of them is the idea of working within my limitations, sticking to my strengths, narrowing my focus. The strengths people have in their differences, the value in their own particular, specific ways of being.

Self shot photograph of legs on a sports hall floor, purple knee high socks which say ‘NERD’

I had travelled a couple of hundred miles down south to play a game of roller derby, to hang out with my teammates, to see former teammates, and to fulfil an obligation which I had previously made, even though I knew it would wear me out. I wasn’t feeling great, but in the end I did put my skates on. I quickly realised I wasn’t up to it when I fell for the first time, and getting up felt like an enormous effort, I felt foggy and blurry. So I took my skates off again. I felt pretty proud of myself for that small act of respect for my limitations, even though travelling all that way in the first place was something I knew was going to take it out of me. But I like to fulfil promises wherever I can, as there’s lots of times I can’t.

Seeing my old teammates be amazing set me off. Beautiful footwork, a natural grasp of the game, joy and satisfaction in their faces. Knowing that I am going to have to retire from the sport, at least for now, having never really lived up to that kind of skill and finesse, made me sentimental. Recognising that I might never enjoy the sport like that, I am too anxious a person, I have too many health issues, it’s been a yawningly slow dawn. I hadn’t slept well the night before and am always anxious about being around my peers. I felt pretty rough. Being down south reminded me, too, how bad I had been at establishing or maintaining friendships when I was there, what an odd duck I was. I had serious fatigue issues at the time, and depression, I was caring for my partner with no support, hundreds of miles from our families, I was still cut up and confused about losing my job and about why I still wasn’t coping. I needed friendship and support but couldn’t give much myself. Which tends to throw things off balance. Friendship doesn’t work like that. And I haven’t been much better since we’ve been back.

Image of a quad roller skate with purple wheels

So I did some crying in a drift of dead leaves. Even when I would like to be comforted, it’s something I struggle to ask for directly, and I’ve spent an enormous amount of time crying in toilets or in corners. And then I saw this stupid leaf, and I thought about the book The Nine Degrees Of Autism, and its emphasis on the beauty and value in difference. It felt like divine intervention, but I think perhaps what was amazing about it was that my historically cynical, negative, depressive brain had the capacity to read this sign in a positive light and to feel a little better. My cocktail of meds is helping.

I know I need to actually rest, I’m exhausted. I habitually push myself too hard. I have consistently transgressed my own boundaries because I couldn’t feel them, my nerves were all seared, nothing felt good anyway, and I just needed to feel seen, worthwhile, worthy, capable. I went through the motions wherever I could.

I’m trying to establish routine for the first time in my life, and learn habitual self care. Getting up and showering in the morning, getting dressed even though I’m not going anywhere, drawing in the studio. I only have so much energy. For a while I used that energy solely for skating — it kept me going — practice 3 times a week, when I could manage it. Pyjamas all day, auditing every vaguely watchable show on Netflix, crying a lot (until I started taking prozac again) then into my skating gear, because exercise and being around people is good for you.

But I need to redirect my energy. I have priorities. I need to work on being a human now that my ADHD is medicated. Now that I can actually sit down and spend hours drawing and writing, that is what I want to do. With the chemical void-filler of stimulants and the emotional edge-blunter of my anxiety medication, I might not desperately need love, approval, validation all the time. I can stay a bit more still and solitary for a while and maybe my nervous system will start to calm down. The pregabalin doesn’t blunt the edges in a numbing way, it sometimes helps me to feel compassion and joy.

I want to hibernate now, hide from all the things I’ve tried to be that were not me, stay away from the spaces where I felt exposed, for a while. Figure out what my limits are. Sometimes life feels like constant humiliation, and I smile and laugh about it, I’m always up for some self deprecation. But it wears me down. Haha, I’m so clumsy and awkward. Haha, I’m way more honest and verbally impulsive than is socially acceptable. Haha, I’m so quirky, my social rhythms are a bit wrong. Haha, I am really far to the left — no, further. No, further. I’m so far left I’m in the bit just outside agreed upon reality, and that’s in danger of being defined as insanity. Maybe I’m just spending too much time in the wrong spaces. Insanity is subjective.

My studio desk. Open sketchbooks, drawings of squirrels, a portrait of a girl and a coloured image of a ram skull. Scattered markers, pens and art supplies.

I’m tired. But I’m okay. I don’t want to die anymore. I feel better in my skin and I can sit down and get lost in the things I haven’t been able to do for years. I can put aside the need to be all things to all people now, I hope. It’s a ridiculous thought, that I could ever think of myself as this polymath of life, a social soul, a philosopher, a writer, an illustrator, a sportsperson, a carer, a counsellor. I wanted to be everything. Who actually am I? Time and space to find out, I hope.

I will rest for as long as I can. I may finally have the privilege of being comfortable in relative solitude.

I’m also hiding, and licking my wounds, wounds from imaginary slights. It’s hard for me to be around other people. I spend a lot of time feeling lonely, angry, bitter or slighted. I definitely have attachment issues, an overactive imagination, and some fixations with intimate friendships and the idea of being an outcast which I worry make my behaviour negative, manipulative, and unpleasant.

I don’t want to be that person. Even if I can’t change those flaws in who I am, perhaps if I don’t give them fuel then I at least won’t have to think about them as much for a while. Not everyone is a social butterfly.

So I’m hibernating. A social fallow period. Is this an act of self hatred or an act of self love? I think it’s both.

Like what you read? Give Snowflake a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.