I was put in Jail for a crime I did not commit. For no fault of my own, I was imprisoned, tortured and ridiculed ever since I can remember. My only joy rested upon a tiny ray of hope that filtered through the window of my dismal cell. It caressed my cheeks as I lay listlessly in the bare two dimensional room, showing me more tenderness than anything or anyone I had ever known.
It is that very ray of singular hope that sustains me. It is the only meal I need to survive.
As a child, I remember only one emotion animating my existence; it was selfless love. I innately adored, befriended and loved anyone I met. My earliest memory is one of wanting to give gifts to other kids. I was acutely sensitive to my surroundings and sensed things others did not. Would I be considered egotistical or vain if I were to say that I was an intuitive child? Or is that also a part of my condition? After so many years of confinement, reality seems unreal. But, yes, I was a sensitive soul.
I was also a trusting child, never suspecting anyone, only believing in the goodness of humanity. Was I naïve to think so? I wonder.
You are born pure and sincere but this judging world starts to creep upon you, soon enveloping you with poisonous vines. You try and escape from this deadly grasp, but soon, you are helpless, trapped and suffocated by the tight unforgiving grip.
You try to escape- it’s not easy.
Early on in my childhood I realized that I was different. Whilst all the other kids were fooling around, I was memorizing numbers, learning the capitols of the world, solving mathematical puzzles and humming complicated tunes. I felt alienated because whenever I tried to convey these interesting and exciting facts to those around me, they would all make fun of me or call me weird. I was deeply hurt and confused, since to me, these amazing facts and figures engrossed me completely, so I could not understand the premise of this untoward backlash.
Slowly, over time, I became somewhat of a loner. Yet, I still tried to win friends over by giving them my toys, hoping against hope that perhaps they will not make fun of me if I appease them.
This plan of mine worked, but was short lived. Soon they became bored with the toys and the friendships became a facade, where I was the gullible clown who had nothing to offer but my toys. No one really bothered to know the ‘real’ me.
At a time and in a country where there were no schools or institutions for ‘gifted’ or ‘special’ children, I was enrolled into a school that all the other so called ‘normal’ kids attended. Come to think of it, these so called ‘normal’ kids were the ones who displayed an abnormal fascination for putting someone down.
I excelled in academics, got straight A’s in Science and Arts. It was never proud and I never wanted to be a Mensa kid, but I was intensely curious about life, about the natural world, about the cosmos, about everything. It was simple as that. But they found yet another excuse to poke fun at me. “Oh there goes that weirdo.” The whispers pierced my eardrums.
Wildlife, geography, history, science, there were so many facts I yearned to share with others. But no one cared; they only stared.
My intelligent mind learned to cope with the cruel glances and thoughtless comments. I simply used to smile, shy away and tried hard to completely forget the incident- but how can one forget a cruel remark? It was interesting how I started developing self-coping techniques to block out negativity by constantly repeating the lyrics of my favorite song silently in my head. This was a useful trick that prevented me from being inwardly hurt on a daily basis. It was a part of my survival kit. It worked, for a while at least.
I noticed something odd. I could hear sounds and voices from long distances. At first this startled me, then, I gradually became used to this extra-sensory perception, if one can call it that. I also perceived colors and objects differently. Often, I saw a spectrum of hues in an otherwise apparently barren landscape. I floated upon a grand sea of curiosity and life seemed so beautiful when I was immersed in books. I could enter in and out of this imaginary world where people were kind and the sun shone bright. Actually, until today, I still do not understand why people judged or ridiculed me. I had not hurt a fly in my entire life.
I gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking to myself that perhaps they perceived life a bit differently than I did. What appeared normal or interesting to me, was inconsequential to them. We are all unique individuals and so we all perceive life differently. I still think that the world is a beautiful place, where every single person is gifted in some way or the other. Labeling or judging someone is simply an act of ignorance and supreme cruelty. One can never fathom the complexities of another mind, therefore it is wrong to judge another indiscriminately.
But then, I’m branded a weirdo, a loner, a derelict of normal society, so who really cares about what I think.
As the years progressed, my boisterous enthusiasm became jaded by intermittent and inexplicable bouts of melancholia and fatigue. At first I thought I was unwell and that there was something wrong with me. I went for a full check-up and was given a clean bill of health.
This was mystifying and highly disturbing. Because now, I had started doubting myself.
Rather insidiously, I noticed that I was unable to concentrate in class. I felt that everyone was staring at me. One day it became so bad, that I ran out of class and sat in the hallway with my head bent down. I tried to figure out what was happening to me, I was dumbfounded and lost at sea.
The new semester ushered in a new me. An introverted and wounded person with no lust for life. Ignorance is a monstrous thing only because it makes an angel look like a demon where there is none. I started to sit at the far back end bench of the classroom, away from crowd, away from the steely eyed looks, away from it all.
Years passed and my energy waned, gradually the spark within me faded, and the ability to hold a normal conversation died.
I was born inexhaustibly happy, but now I am inexhaustibly sad. An unending cloud of darkness hovers above my head, erasing the last speck of hope in me.
Family, friends, acquaintances…..have all become nameless, faceless, hollow masks that I cannot and perhaps do not want to recognize. I’m afraid of what I might find behind the mask. They failed to ‘see’ the real me, so now, I do not care to ‘see’ them. I have become an anonymous shadow – the shadow that is me.
Very soon, I was forgotten by the world.
Mental illness is a jail sentence for the one who suffers.
There is a small window that occasionally allows in brilliant dots of light.
And when those brilliant dots illuminate the dark shadows, they reveal profound depths that are so very beautiful. It’s like walking into a dark dull cave by candle-light. Look up and you will be dazzled by undiscovered uncut diamonds that are waiting to be found.
But how many of us really care or dare to care?
Unfortunately, even now, in our enlightened age, people stigmatize those with mental or other poorly understood illnesses. They fail to understand that this condition can be treated and like any other affliction can be managed by proper intervention.
The most important aspect of this malady is lack of awareness leading to lack of compassion.
Very often, people are misdiagnosed and treated unfairly by the medical community itself leading to mismanagement or to a complete lack of management.
Mental facilities are notorious for treating their patients like inmates.
The result is the wasting of a precious human life.
So folks, my story was not penned to gain sympathy or win approval and certainly not written to gain popularity. I am already serving a life sentence for a crime I did not commit.
But, I penned this story because I wanted other’s to know that they should not judge someone because they look or behave ‘differently’. They should never let go of their humanity and keep the candle of compassion burning. If you notice that someone is sad, alone or perhaps just needing a moment of your time, try to reach out and comfort them, instead of shrugging your shoulders and walking away. It’s so easy to walk away.
We are all beautiful unique individuals. We each have so much to offer.
Keep someone from serving a lifetime of solitary confinement.
Help someone escape from the prison of mental illness.
Most importantly, hold on to your compassion, it’s the only emotion worth anything.
Are you ready to walk into the cave and save a lost diamond?
-The Shadow that is Me-
Dedicated to a childhood friend.
By Dr. Ansul Noor