My Life as a Teenage Alien
I was about 10 years old when I started to feel like I wasn’t human. This dysphoria, which made me feel as if there were millions of miles between me and those closest to me, led me to assume that the answer must also lie somewhere that far away. Clearly, I thought to myself, feeling this way means I must be some kind of extraterrestrial from outer space. Once I decided this was the reason for my strange inner sense of distance and misshapenness, I created a very elaborate personal mythology to prove my alien nature. With all the standard trappings of preteen precociousness, I explained to anyone that would listen that of course I looked like a human, I was designed to so I wouldn’t raise alarm with my presence on earth while I lived here and observed. Naturally, to get here, I was refashioned as a creature small enough to fit within a zygote and develop like a human would after being planted in my mother’s womb. I came up with my own symbols to represent my original language, and wrote logs describing memories of my former planet. (Of course, looking closely at them, you could eventually figure out that they were just reconstructions of the 26 letters of the English alphabet) As the dysphoria grew, so did my desire to prove I was actually an alien. I would try to trick my little sister into thinking I had the power to turn invisible. One time on a phone call with my best friend, I decided it was time to end the call, but rather than just say I was tired I started kicking the front door to make gunshot noises and told him “Sorry I have to go, they’re coming for me.” Eventually I was, in fact, very terrified of being pursued and caught by authority figures who would probe me, and I started to feel very wary around adults with any kind of power over me. (Especially the rotating cast of doctors we visited to try and explain my distress who were actually probing me in every possible orifice)
I felt that my mother never really questioned this behavior over the years, because she used to do the same thing in her youth. She gave me the space to act out this story. At the same time, she also wouldn’t let me watch the movie “Martian Child” while I was going through it. My best guess is that she thought the child actually did turn out to be an extraterrestrial and that she didn’t want me to watch it and stay permanently stuck in some kind of “delusion.” This is a painful piece of irony that is reflected over and over again in my childhood. In that movie, which I later watched as an adult, the child has gone through traumatic situations and taken on the “alien delusion” as a way of finding comfort with daily existence. This was one of many times when attempts to protect me unintentionally kept me from accessing things that might have helped me “move on” more quickly. I was a very sensitive, imaginative, and curious child, so I do see there was a need to protect that innocence while growing up. Unfortunately, because I had those 3 traits, I already knew something was wrong with my surroundings, and so I was emotionally and physically responding to it regardless of not knowing all the details. My parents could create physical proximity from other members of the unhealthy family system, but they could not create space from how their emotions affected me. In the same way I was trying to communicate my inner distress and be known by them, I was also trying to create some kind of energetic boundary between me and them so I could have the space to calm down. My alienness reflected a desire to be a distinct individual who wasn’t entangled with them and whatever mysterious darkness they were trying to steer me away from. It came from my desire to show I was worthy of knowledge about how to live safely in and amongst this world. My fear of being caught came in part from a sense I didn’t yet know how to defend myself when confronted with darkness other than just avoiding/hiding from it. And so when my parents’ secret pains became the source of the darkness for me, I learned I should hide from them too.
It seems like nowadays there is often a binary choice between pathologizing this kind of imaginative thinking as “delusions” or turning to some kind of brand new identity to reconcile the inner sense of dysphoria. As an adult, I have read a lot of blogs online about being a “twin flame,” or an “angel,” or a “starseed,” some kind of spiritual being implied to be beyond the purview of ordinary humanity (whatever that is). Similar to many religions, these blogs use spiritualized language to describe these inner phenomena by connecting individuals to some kind of special-but-ambiguous “mission” and/or identity. At their best, they provide creative language and community for individuals to communicate about their dysphoric feelings as they struggle to make meaning of their circumstances. At their worst, they prey on the victims of trauma and uncertainty to sell products and services. Their messages still resonate with that hurt part of me, though. But now I ask myself: why couldn’t an ordinary human feel like that? Looking back, I think that my alienness was perhaps profoundly human.
I try to walk a third path; I believe my experiences as a teenage alien were predominantly symbolic meaning-making to try and communicate what was in my inner space to those that lived in the “outer space” outside my self-perception. By saying I was an alien, I believe I was trying to close the distance between myself and those around me by sharing a piece of my emotional core. Now I might be more likely to describe it like this: “Sorry I’m not able to fully be close to you right now, it’s because I’m feeling distant and centerless, but I hope you will still draw nearer to me.” I craved closeness and warmth and felt I was missing some essential aspect of humanity that would allow me to grasp it — but maybe if others saw I wasn’t human, they could teach me how to be so that someday I could. I really didn’t want to be “special” or “weird” for their own sake, I just thought it was the only way I could get my needs met. I knew I was doing it on purpose; I knew deep down I was “making it up.” But I also knew that my imagination and symbols were the only way I had to communicate feelings I didn’t have language for yet. Ultimately, I think it is probably a very human thing to want to make meaning of everything, even if you choose a meaning that says you aren’t “fully” or “just” human (whatever that is).