I am twenty-nine years old. I grew up in north Florida, about an hour from the Georgia border. Despite being nominally separated from “the Deep South”, we were still very much a semi-rural backwater during my formative years. Baptist churches dominated the landscape, but there were also smatterings of Methodists and Catholics, a couple Churches of the Nazarene, and even a synagogue or two.
If you’re sensing a general theme here, you’re not wrong. My childhood was steeped in Abrahamic traditions, despite my parents expressing little interest in religion. My grandmother would take us to Vacation Bible School, I would hear my friends talk about church-related events or obligations. Never religious things, just church activities. I’d gone to lock-ins and even gave a half-hearted attempt at converting. For their own part, my parents expressed no real alarm at my brother and I attending church functions, but neither did they show any particular respect towards religion as a concept.
I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety at the age of twenty-eight. Looking back, it’s very easy to see the symptoms now, especially as more research comes out focusing on ADHD in women and girls. As a kid, I was only ever half-connected to the world around me: my life was books and I read voraciously. I read so quickly that my parents had to buy books especially for road trips that I was not allowed to have until the trip actually started. Too often, I’d finish a book halfway through a long car ride and be left miserable for the remainder.
Unfortunately, that hyperfocus deserted me in school and social situations. I was constantly unsure of what was actually going on. Couple that with low-grade childhood anxiety that manifested itself as never being able to trust my inner judgement for anything, and I was always monitoring myself and everyone around me, trying to guess if I was “doing it right”. The fear of screwing up shadowed me everywhere. As a result of my ADHD, I also cried easily and often, much to my unending embarrassment, over things that rarely justified the outburst of emotion.
By high school, I was suffering from undiagnosed depression, but still somewhat functional. I’m very lucky in that none of my diagnoses on their own are particularly crippling. Taken in total, they nearly strangled me. I was too afraid to try anything that I thought might be looked down on by my family or friends. Trying new things where other people could see me filled me with fear and revulsion, and even now I catch myself judging other people by that impossible internal metric.
I have to explain, however, that none of this precluded me from having a pleasant childhood. I was happy, I promise! It sounds a lot more dire than it is.
I write all this in preparation for the story I plan to tell over the next several blog posts, of how I came to find myself wandering around a tiny Pagan Pride Day gathering in Washington, D.C., alone and bewildered. Consider this the prologue.