Dark day, clouds low bruises; rain grazing the window, the roof.
In the middle of a sentence she says, “Childhood depression.”
I say, "I felt really old when I was a kid. Not age-wise old...more like exhausted, like someone who has been awake for a long time. Old in a way that has nothing to do with time. I would talk to other kids...and it was like I was really far away from them; I could feel this huge distance between us."
"Did you feel more mature? The kids I work with...spectrum kids...I hear a lot that they prefer interacting with adults."
"I didn't really feel more mature. It had more to do with feeling tired. I just felt so emotionally exhausted all the time, and it made me feel like I was very different, sort of alien compared to others. I think, in reality, I was immature, even for a kid...my social skills never kept up with my actual age. But emotionally, I thought others kids seemed much younger than me. I had trouble feeling any connection to people my age."
"And what about now? Today?"
"It's different now that I'm in my 30's, almost the opposite situation. I'm literally older...but most people my age are married, furthering careers, raising kids...you know? Doing meaningful, difficult things. And I'm just hiding from the world, alone. I don't have any money. I feel...I don't know...juvenile or something, when I compare myself to others now. But when I was younger...I would interact with kids...and something about the differences between us, it just made me feel beat down and old. Today, I don't know. I don't know what I feel anymore."
It's quiet for a bit. I listen to the rain. She looks off to the side, thinks. She says, "During my residency, I worked with terminally ill children. Kids who had a very short amount of time to live..."
"What do you do to help kids in that situation?"
"You help them understand what will happen. You answer all of their questions, very directly. You help them prepare. And what was striking to me: these kids, emotionally, grew up very fast. Once they grasped what was about to happen...they seemed to very quickly become old souls. In many cases, there was almost a role reversal with the parents...the child would begin to take care of the parents, at least emotionally. Mom and dad, understandably, would become distraught...and the child would try to console them, help them through it. I saw that more times than I could count, those little hearts maturing so rapidly, reaching out to take care of others."
I'm a little shaken by the discussion. She's calm, no emotion.
She holds out her hands, makes them into fists, looks at them. She says, "I used to see a little one...this sweet girl, she had advanced rheumatoid arthritis.”
“I thought that was an older person thing.”
She shakes her head, says, “Any age. She was hit particularly hard. We would have free-floating appointments...I'd see her when she was not in agony. She was 8, and was already having numerous surgeries on her hands. She told me one time, 'I feel so old,' and I asked her how old she felt and she said, 'Old. Older than everything.'"