To the Darklings

Tonight, I found myself unexpectedly diving back into 90s punk, industrial, and the general dark scene I loved as a kid. I was about ten years old as I recorded Type O Negative and Marilyn Manson onto a taped cassette from the radio, and I remember slipping the thin headphones onto my ears from my off-brand Walkman as I rode in the back seat of the car. It was grocery shopping eve, and rain was pattering against the window as I looked out across the road. Type O Negative’s ‘Love You To Death’ soothed me into an early moment of awe. I was forming an early taste for the darkly romantic before I even knew what romance was.

If my parents knew I was listening to the band Orgy and obsessing over Poe, the musician, they would have been concerned. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV for the longest time, and they kept a pretty tight grip on the movies and media I was allowed to consume. Keep it G or PG, basically. Nickelodeon dot com. Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis. Disney movies. All of that stuff.

My mom did get me the Garbage 2.0 album though. I think it was because she’d heard one of the songs on the Now 2 compilation — the second Now That’s What I Call Music album. Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, wasn’t really vulgar, but her music delved into some pretty dark stuff that I shouldn’t have understood as a kid, but I was already struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide from being bullied, and I was taking Zoloft and coping with disabling agoraphobia.

I remember being very young when I fell in love with horror as well. Goosebumps were my introduction, and I knew my dad loved Stephen King, who is considered a modern horror master. I stumbled upon the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy, and that was one of my first tastes of truly being afraid of literature. Granted, the reason they were so alarming to me was because of the Bloody Mary legend, which was really popular then. It was used to traumatize me at a birthday party, and I was forever afraid of the dark.

While I didn’t have access to a lot of media due to a strict rule on what I was allowed to consume, I regularly discovered things in secret. My love for vampires was sparked when I snuck the Interview With A Vampire VHS from the video cabinet in my parent’s room, and I remember how entrancing it was to see for the first time. I didn’t yet know what love or warm and mushy feelings felt like or meant, but when I saw the vampire Lestat and how bratty and brilliant he was, I think that’s what sparked some kind of sexual awakening.

I guess I should take the time to say, too, that I stumbled upon all sorts of ‘forbidden’ things like that as a kid, and I turned out alright where having morals and being a good person is concerned. And a lot of the media I enjoyed and consumed was very dark.

Something inside me was yearning for… something from a very young age. I never truly felt a connection to the Christian religion I went to church for. I always felt very weird compared to other kids, and listening to Marilyn Manson in daycare definitely didn’t win me any friends. I didn’t go out of my way to be strange or stand out just to be cool. Even as a teenager who wore Tripp NYC pants with chains, spiked collars, and hoodies year-round to hide my self-harm injuries, nothing I did was to make a point or stand out.

I’d been naturally drawn to darker things for as long as I’ve been able to have any sense of self. I’ve always understood the dark because it understood me. And then I wonder if some people are just born with a darker aura. Some of us just belong in the dark, and it’s not a bad or negative thing.

Those in the dark tend to think deeply, feel intensely, and most have an urge to express themselves artistically in some way. Speaking for myself, I’ve been writing stories since I was seven. Even then, I remember a few darker things I wrote that I couldn’t have possibly understood. I don’t even know how my mind was able to concoct a story about a woman who was escaping an abuser only to stumble upon multiple horrors like a badly written horror film. I was probably about nine or ten with that one.

I’m no stranger to trauma, and I have enough mental health diagnoses to get tongue-tied. But before the life-altering trauma that gave me PTSD, way back to my earliest memories of Kindergarten, I experienced intense fear. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for as long as my memories exist, and even before that, I had chronic nightmares and night terrors that followed me into adulthood and the present day. I started keeping a dream journal that’s been scattered in many places over the years. More recently, I’ve started turning my nightmares — including the most traumatic ones — as well as my sleep paralysis experiences with the entity I call the Intruder, into short stories.

My most recent complete book explores all of this. All of my childhood memories that were traumatic, all of the frightening thoughts I had as a kid that I’ve rarely uttered to anyone else, and my journey through nightmares and trauma as I grew into a teen. The book ends with my adult years as I face down my sleep paralysis entity — the Intruder — and confront fear itself through a series of horrific dreams. And the dreams in the story are real — taken directly from my dream journals. All of this is, of course, weaved into a bit of a side plot with angels and demons to make things interesting. But there is more truth than fiction in the book.

I’ve tripped into one thing after another in this, and I’m not sure where I meant to end it. Tonight was filled with a lot of introspective moments, and it was inspired by some music from the 90s I’d missed out on. When I hear something unique like I did tonight — something that makes everything in my constantly buzzing brain come to a halt the moment it hits — I am overwhelmed again with a love for art. For all forms of artistic expression that humans use to show the world something that can’t otherwise be perceived. And when it’s done authentically, and when the artist truly means what they are saying and showing and they can capture that in their work, that’s a rarity that makes life beautiful. It’s like magic.

There is beauty to be had in the dark that way. And some of us are just meant to make friends with our demons.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

It’s Just the Wind

I exist e v e r y w h e r e

but at the same time,

I am nothing.

A ghost with unfinished business;

a bleeding heart with too much hemorrhaging.

Others are not responsible for my happiness,

yet I continue to reach for them in the stars.

Their lives flash by and I am but a speck of dirt on their window–

to be washed away by the rain.

The passion I pour onto a page is muddy water.

It is no more important than the speck on the window,

yet the pool of mud delves deep into the earth,

deep into the life-giving center of everything.

And as time passes, the trees blur by the window.

And I become a tree only to blur past.

Another

another

another

anotheranotheranotheranotheranother

I’ve become a storm;

howling and knocking people off their feet.

Yet I am invisible and my yelling is merely nature;

temporary.

It’s nothing more than the wind.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

When I realized I was different

It’s immensely hard to wake up one day and realize you’ve been playing a part — wearing a mask your whole life.

And I don’t mean a literal waking up, as in waking up in the afternoon like I do, and then noticing, again, that I can’t sleep a full night and haven’t since I was a kid. That I can’t go to bed before the wee hours of the morning.

I mean the ‘AHA!’ moment-that-rocks-your-world waking up. The kind of moment I felt when I realized I was transgender. And that was very much solidified after I had top surgery — a double mastectomy — in July of 2020. I couldn’t stop smiling and I felt complete.

Something else was always wrong. Even though I’d finally accepted my gender identity back in 2015 and transitioned as fully as I needed to, there was still something under the surface. Things relating to stuff I joked about for years — even with friends. Things that felt so far out of reach because I kept them that way. I was ashamed of a lot of things I did in private, sometimes because of the fact that they were common poking points when I was bullied. Some things were habits I had to learn to not do, especially in public, because they were embarrassing to the person I was with or people would stare.

Having an anxiety disorder from birth did not make it any easier to be myself. But as a child, I remember being bossed around easily. Even if my friends ‘hurt,’ I did what they told me. I let bullies beat me up, kick my head in while buried in the snow, and I would often end up playing by myself or with kids who were incredibly cruel to me at times. Sometimes, I’d have one person who I didn’t speak to often, or even after the particular day, who I’d spend alone time with.

I remember a few peaceful moments as a kid on the playground, though. One in particular involved a girl I don’t remember. We were at peace wandering along the fenced off barrier of the school grounds, and we would sit to pick flowers or dig up clay far from others. While the other kids played pretend and chased each other, or went down slides and chatted in groups, I was happy picking at grass and being convinced that the little white flowers that bees fed from were also nutritious to humans too.

I remember one constant friend I had who was developmentally disabled I got along with best, and we never played in a group but among ourselves.

During this time, I would sometimes have to wear Pull-ups to school, or ‘big kid’ diapers. I had to wear them to bed as well because I couldn’t stop wetting the bed. I got in trouble whenever I did, but I can imagine how frustrating it would be to have a kid, making their way through elementary school, who still soiled their own bed every night. My doctor at the time finally explained that I just hadn’t developed the antidiuretic hormone yet, which is a hormone usually developed by the age of 5 that causes the body to produce less urine at night.

Among being bullied for that, I was quiet and shy, and often kept to myself. I would memorize my favorite horror stories from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark until I could recite them word for word. And I was so proud of that. I often wrote stories from the age of 7, and writing is still a passion of mine to this day. Books and notebooks, pencils, and other office supplies make me lose my shit with happiness, even if I never could learn to properly grip a pencil in a way that doesn’t make my fingers feel as if they’ll break (or the pencil, in that case).

Besides the social ineptness, like not being able to start conversations with other kids well or even maintain healthy friendships, if any friendships at all sometimes, I never had imaginary friends. Not one. But I did treat my stuffed animals as if they were creatures with feelings and souls. I still do to this day, and would not have admitted it before now. I would often cry if a stuffed animal was the last of its kind on the store shelf as a kid, begging for it to be taken home with me because I didn’t want it to be alone. I still have the lion I remembered doing that with.

I’m clumsy. I trip over myself, drag my feet, walk flat-footed, and I run into tables and doors. I can’t judge distance to save my life, literally. While driving a car, my depth perception just doesn’t exist. It took me weeks of driving school and I still failed the maneuvering lessons. I magically passed with my one stroke of luck on the actual driving portion of the test, but haven’t driven since.

When I get excited, I get the urge to flap my hands or wiggle my fingers, which I’ve been allowing myself to do freely now. I realized it’s been an unconscious thing for a long time, and probably much longer than I’m conscious of. It comes on strong when I get happy and experience joy so intensely I start trembling, and I grow hot and anxiety-like from being overstimulated. Sometimes this will devolve into a shaking panic attack if I don’t reign it in. This was something I got very good at hiding, but at the cost of complete exhaustion after I returned to a private space.

I’ve asked at least two close friends about the hand flapping, worried that it was a side effect of my medications, but it couldn’t have been because I could control it. I could make it stop. But yet, it happened autonomously. Commonly while I am on the phone, because I pace quickly and continuously while talking and have for a lot of my life. I cannot sit and have a conversation. I’m usually out of breath by the end of one from the laps around my apartment.

Among many other things, lastly at least, I have always had trouble taking a joke, and I have asked friends how to start or continue conversations with new people. I cannot clearly read sarcasm, teasing, or joking. Often, I’ll get defensive and upset and over-explain, only to feel embarrassed when I’m told it was only a joke or a tease. My mom confirmed this as well when I last talked to her. 

But now I know why all of these things have been so troubling. From communication issues — and losing friends over completely failing at expressing myself or reading them — to my constant downplaying of my experiences, as well as my clumsiness and severe social ineptitude. My formal way of talking, even in text, that I often try to break because when people have read some of my stories in the past, they’ve expressed annoyance at the ‘purple prose’ that just was naturally how I like to think. It’s an explanation for why I become so intensely obsessed with things and it overwhelms me and I cannot focus on anything else, and I annoy friends with the same subject over and over until they’ve told me to stop at times. This is another thing I taught myself to reign in, or to mask as best as I could.

My ‘aha!’ moment was when speaking with autistic friends, which I realized I have a lot of; when I noticed that I’ve always related to them and find conversations easier with them than most other people (obviously, there are a few exceptions, and I don’t want to invalidate my few closest friends who are not on the spectrum. They’re dear to me and we have a lot of years behind us).

I am incredibly certain, if not as certain as I was when I realized I was trans, that I’m autistic. And the reality hit me like a ton of bricks. It was hard to see that I had been unknowingly taught to mask my symptoms out of fear of social rejection. The end goal for me was always to find ‘normal’ or some semblance of a normal life like everyone else. As an adult, I had no business keeping stuffed animals everywhere. I had no business messing with fidget toys or enjoying things I enjoyed in the past as a teen or a kid. I had to grow up quickly, learn to pay my bills and manage my finances despite my dyscalculia, and grow a damn backbone.

And now I see it was all a well-rehearsed act in a part that society and others expected me to play. An ableist society that looks upon autistic people with unease as we flap our hands or do harmless things like stim in public — especially with objects that appear to be made for children when we’re older. Or in my case, like when I’d bite my hand in the middle of a store.

We’re considered annoying when we obsess over things, and often people lose patience with our needs, like a need to be in quiet places when necessary due to sensory processing issues. As well as that last one, I’ve had issues with doctors even making jokes that they’re surprised when a medication sits well with me. I’m so sensitive that I feel every side effect, even if it’s not serious, intensely. I have often tried and gone off so many medications because I’ve joked that my body just doesn’t like medication.

Nothing I’ve grown up joking about is a joke anymore. I really don’t understand when someone is flirting with me. I truly am clumsy and half the bruises I get are from me bumping into things or injuring myself. I really don’t understand sarcasm or jokes that well, especially if they aren’t clear or given some kind of inflection to clearly note the mood of the speech or text. I really do need to flap my hands and wiggle my fingers, and move in rhythmic ways sometimes to stim and it feels nice and helps me cope. And I’m allowed to do it. I shouldn’t have to hide it like I have been.

Among a plethora of other things and information I won’t delve into other than with my therapist and psychiatrist, realizing I’m autistc has explained so many things in my life I felt were faults. That I thought were weird things that made me a messed up person. And it’s a devastating thing to realize you really don’t know how to be you after all, and you don’t even really know who you are.

But I am starting to realize who I am by reflection. I am looking back at my younger years and recent ones, and I am finding patterns that have caused me to swallow down the need to start sobbing because I’m so confused. How do I live without that mask? How do I take it off and be comfortable with who I really am? How?

It seems impossible, but I am finding that coping mechanisms I forbid myself from using due to my age are helping. Despite the distress I’ve felt over the realizations I’ve had, my moods have been good. I’ve started going on walks again and I have felt happiness, at least so far, for a small stretch of time. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be me. It’s okay to embrace those things I forced myself to hide or unlearn. There is nothing wrong with me after all, and that’s a feeling that settles in my chest in a way that makes me both anxious and nauseated. It’s a hard thing to accept, but if I can finally start using the right coping mechanisms in therapy, I feel my outcome will be much better than what it was.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

Cover photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels