Small and Vulnerable

Anyone who is dedicating the majority of their time or money to Effective Altruism needs to ask themselves why. Why not focus on enjoying life and spending your time doing what you love most? Here is my answer:

I have a twin sister but neither of us had many other friends growing up. From second to fifth grade we had none. From sixth to eighth we had one friend. As you might guess I was bullied quite badly. Multiple teachers contributed to this. Despite having no friends my parents wanted us to be normal. They pressured me to play sports with the boys in the neighborhood. I was unable to play with an acceptable level of skill and was not invited to the games anyway. But we were still forced to go ‘play outside’ after school. We had to find ways to kill time. Often we literally rode our bicycles in a circle in a parking lot. We were forced to ‘play outside’ for hours most days and even longer on weekends. I was not even allowed to bring a book outside though sometimes I would hide them outside at night and find them the next day. Until high school, I had no access to the internet. After dinner, I could watch TV, read and play video games. These were the main sources of joy in my childhood.

Amazingly my mom made fun of her children for being weirdos. My sister used to face a wall and stim with her fingers when she was overwhelmed. For some reason, my mom interpreted this as ‘OCD’. So she made up a song titled ‘OCD! Do you mean me?’ It had several verses! This is just one, especially insane, example.

My dad liked to ‘slap me around. He usually did not hit me very hard but he would slap me in the face all the time. He also loved to call me ‘boy’ instead of my name. He claims he got this idea from Tarzan. It took me years to stop flinching when people raised their hands or put them anywhere near my face. I have struggled with gender since childhood. My parents did not tolerate even minor gender nonconformity like growing my hair out. I would get hit reasonably hard if I insisted on something as ‘extreme’ as crossing my legs ‘like a girl in public. I recently started HRT and already feel much better.  My family is a lot of the reason I delayed transitioning.

If you go by the checklist I have quite severe ADHD. ‘Very often’ seemed like an understatement for most of the questions. My ADHD was untreated until recently. I could not focus on school or homework so trying to do my homework took way too much time. I was always in trouble in school and considered a very bad student. It definitely hurts when authority figures constantly, and often explicitly, treat you like a fuck up and a failure who can’t be trusted. But looking back it seems amazing I was considered such a bad student. I love most of the subjects you study in school! When I finally got access to the internet I spent hours per day reading Wikipedia articles. I still spend a lot of time listening to lectures on all sorts of subjects, especially history. Why were people so cruel to a little child who wanted to learn things?

Luckily things improved in high school. Once I had more freedom and distance from my parents my social skills improved a huge amount. In high school, I finally had internet access which helped an enormous amount. My parents finally connected our computer at home to the internet because they thought my sister and I needed it for school. I also had access to the computers in the high school library. By my junior year in high school, I was not really unpopular. Ironically my parent’s overbearing pressure to be a ‘normal kid’ probably prevented me from having a social life until I got a little independence.  Sadly I was still constantly in trouble in school throughout my high school years.

The abuse at home was very bad. But, to be honest, the absolute worst part of my childhood and adolescence was the constant sleep deprivation. Even at thirty years old I cannot handle getting up early; I rarely wake before nine-thirty. A year ago I briefly had to be awake at six-thirty for work. I felt terrible all day and could not think straight. When I was younger I had an even stronger need to sleep in but I had to be in school before eight. People were amazed at my ability to fall into a deep sleep in the middle of a loud classroom. Unless someone woke me up I would just stay asleep at my desk. This was a horrible experience and surely terrible for my brain. I got a break from this torment during the summers but I didn’t really escape until I made it to college.

Obviously, I was an outlier in many respects. But many people are outliers in some important respects. They still deserve an environment that is healthy and lets them flourish. I wanted to learn all sorts of things. But instead of helping me, the school system tortured me and permanently damaged my brain. No one deserves to be treated like that.

We should not frame this in terms of my parents being aberrations. I live in the United States. Many groups here normalize far more extreme repression and physical punishment. In some subcultures, my parent’s behavior is considered unacceptable. But much of what happened to me is still normalized. Even supposedly liberal parents are often terrible to trans children. Society isn’t going to stop sleep-depriving children anytime soon. And there are many people being severely mistreated in very different circumstances.

I cannot get my childhood back, can’t go back in time and transition earlier, and if my brain was harmed the damage is permanent. Whatever other traumas I have won’t fully heal. But I eventually got out. There are millions of people in prison, trapped in abusive nursing homes, or starving in Yemen. There are many more animals on farms. Those people haven’t escaped yet and it is unclear they will ever escape to somewhere safe. Society never should have normalized what happened to me and we shouldn’t normalize what is happening to them. This is an emergency.

When I was small and vulnerable I needed help. For the most part, no help came. I was forced to stew in boredom and misery until I grew bigger, stronger, and accorded more respect. It is always hard to compare experiences. But I know what it’s like to spend about a decade miserable, knowing you are being mistreated and being unable to defend yourself. Maybe one day I will again be unable to defend myself because I am sick or in prison. But for now, I am relatively healthy and free. I cannot just abandon the people and animals who are still trapped. Every day I try to imagine them somehow watching me and I ask whether they would think I forgot them. I hope I never forget. I hope my actions always show I have forgotten neither my past nor their present.

Author: deluks917

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" I am trying to help animals and increase the odds of a good future. Stereotypical nerdy transgirl. Right now interested in crypto.

2 thoughts on “Small and Vulnerable”

  1. I’ve been through some garbage myself. Eventually I got it through my head that no one ever respects the weak, and that pity is a very poor substitute for respect. My approach – which works for me – is to focus on getting stronger, more capable, more personally powerful. The universe demands that you earn its respect.

    Strength is freedom. If you’re strong and they can see it, you can get away with anything. If you project weakness, they will use the flimsiest excuse to abuse you.

    Self pity is a waste of time. Hate and resentment are a waste of time. Appeasement is a waste of time. Trying to fit in is iffy at best. Trying to force everybody else to change just makes everyone hate you even more. (There’s a lot of that going on lately.) Self improvement is the only thing that ever delivered consistent results for me.

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  2. “Anyone who is dedicating the majority of their time or money to Effective Altruism needs to ask themselves why. Why not focus on enjoying life and spending your time doing what you love most?”

    I’m not in the mood of writing my life story, but I feel the urge to answer the question, so I guess I’ll try to keep it short.

    Growing up, my life wasn’t so bad, and the person I was closest to in the world was my mom. Unfortunately she and my dad were polar opposites, and his extended family was abusive. My mom ended up falling into depression, becoming an alcoholic, and my dad in the meanwhile did nothing. Probably because his own deeper emotions withered up a long time ago due to being abused himself. So they divorced, my dad got custody since my mom knew she couldn’t really take care of us. Since she wasn’t working at the time, she went back to live with her parents. Unfortunately alcoholism and mental health issues seem to run in the family, and due to abusive treatment at home, she moved out. Unfortunately, she was still an alcoholic, and depressed, so she eventually ended up in the hospital with liver damage. She met someone during that time who helped her quit drinking, and they ended up together. Until, wait, you guessed it. It turned out to be another abusive situation. What makes this all worse is her parents live in another country, so when my parent divorced she left the country. Meaning she’s trapped right now in an abusive situation in another country, has been for years, and I’ve been unable to help her……..

    Why have I been unable to help her? You see, when I was 16 I ended up getting inexplicable health issues that caused brain fog, joint pain, muscle pain, extreme fatigue, tmj disorder, heat intolerance, depression, etc, etc. These health issues completely destroyed my self image. I had a view of myself as someone who loved learning, and experiencing new things. As long as I could keep growing as a person, I could manage. Well, my health issues kept getting worse. They continued into college, until I couldn’t function anymore. Depending on the specialist, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, myofascial pain disorder, conversion disorder, somatoform disorder. It reached a point where I was so hopeless about my future that I learned to stop caring. I learned to stop expecting good things to happen. I learned to stop having an identity, because an identity could be falsified. I learned to stop wanting, because desires lead to pain. Eventually, even suffering ceased to have meaning. And so for a good few years I was left a husk of a person who functioned on autopilot and distraction. Gradually, I did find medication that worked for my health issues and depression. Certain antidepressants, copious amounts of weed, allergy meds (turns out I had severe allergies I didn’t know about). But by then the damage had been done. What eventually got me out of the depression was probably the vestiges of desperation, and an intense acid trip that temporarily showed me what it felt like to be whole. I straight up hallucinated a voice that was telling me what I was doing wrong, and somehow anything that voice said I experienced instantly.

    It’s been a long uphill battle. A constant fight against dissociation and regression. And, I’m not sure I’ll ever return to normal. Maybe that old me is dead and gone. I mean for half a decade now, I’ve been unable to feel pleasure of any kind. For years at a time, reality around me didn’t feel real. I didn’t feel real. And yet lately, Ive been able to cry again, love again, feel compassion again. It doesn’t come easy though. I have to practice everyday, or I tend to regress. I’ve only recently gained to the autonomy to be able to help my mom.

    So to answer the question: Why not focus on enjoying life and spending your time doing what you love most? To be honest I don’t know. Maybe it’s because pleasure seems meaningless, since I rarely ever feel it. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced enough suffering to have more empathy. Maybe it’s because every time I imagine suffering, I think of my mom, and it hurts. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of all of this meaning nothing. But I suspect the primary reason is because I despise being no-one (identity-less, emotionless, apathetic)– a robot who sees the world as pure information with no extrasensory meaning. Feeling compassion for others makes me feel more real, and it’s the one emotion I seem to be able to feel with ease.

    P.S. Sorry if this is a double post. Tried to post already, but not sure if it worked. Not used to WordPress.

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