I believe everyone has a dark secret: that embarrassing set of facts, feelings, and shortcomings they pray no one will ever find out, maybe not even their closest, most loving, most accepting friend. 

I've thought for a long time about whether to share mine here.

On the one hand, people I've tried to tell just didn't understand. They saw it as me being overly dramatic, making excuses for my shortcomings. I've tried my whole life to escape from this secret, moving to new places where no one knew about it or any of the events surrounding it, making new friends, but making sure they never found out about that, shutting down conversations that might lead to people figuring it out, avoiding people who I suspected had figured it out, but not enough to make them suspicious. I'm also an incredibly private person, one who pretty much lives by the rule that if someone can use something against you, you don't tell them about it. 

On the other hand, there are so many people out there who feel like they're the only ones with a dark secret. They just know that if anyone knew, they'd be ridiculed, shunned even. It never occurs to them that the very people they're hiding from have their own secrets. Knowing someone else feels the way you do can be so empowering.

I'm an artist. Artists tell stories. Stories show people new ways to see the world. Stories let people consider a new point of view. Stories can make you laugh, cry, think, shiver with fright, wonder, be fascinated...and they can also teach us empathy. They can show us we're not alone. 

My deep, dark, scary secret is that there's something wrong with me.

No one ever put a name on it. I don't want them to. Giving it a name makes a disorder, not just a different personality trait, which is the way I would prefer to see it.

But there's something wrong with me.

When I was a baby, I became ill and had to be taken to the hospital. I grew up hearing all about it. 

That would have been fine, except that with that particular illness, there's always the possibility of brain damage.

I've always been a bit of an oddball, which I'm cool with. Lots of people I admire are oddballs, too. But if you're an oddball, too young to properly explain what's going on in your head, and your parents and teachers are constantly on the lookout for signs of brain damage, you're in trouble. Everything you do differently could be a possible sign that there's something wrong.

Like the time when I was about 5 or 6 and I was in gym class and we were supposed to weave through lines of traffic cones while running. I must've been daydreaming when the teacher gave us the instructions. There were nine cones there, and the other kids were each only using one column of three cones. I wondered why no one had figured out how to weave through all nine, so as I waited for my turn, I carefully planned a way to run through all nine cones, using each one exactly once. I couldn't wait to show the teachers how smart I was. 

Except instead of being told how smart I was, I got told I was going the wrong way. This incident was used as evidence that I had some sort of spatial disorder. It's kind of weird when I think about it now. I don't recall anyone asking me why I'd done what I'd done, just that I found out later that it was used as evidence that I had something wrong with me without even considering an alternative explanation.

Most six-year-old children don't understand that if you do something differently than other kids, grown-ups will think there's something wrong with you. I was no different. But after enough "incidents," trips to see different doctors to figure out what was wrong with me, and even a brain scan (which, to my knowledge, were all inconclusive. I don't think anyone ever actually told me), I figured out that the grown-ups thought there was something wrong with me. When I was a little older, I started realizing the other kids thought so, too. Their parents had probably told them.

I was too young to have figured out a lot of my own identity just yet, so "the girl who has something wrong with her" became a big part of who I was, whether I wanted it to or not. I didn't really remember much before being labeled as defective, so I didn't have much to counteract it with. 

In time, I would try to erase that label by being the kid who wrote cool stories, or the star flute player, or the aspiring composer, or the funny kid. But somehow, none of those things could erase the fact that I had been labeled as defective by people who loved and cared about me, people I trusted.

Being bullied starting at age 8 only confirmed it. Being mocked by other people on a regular basis doesn't make most people feel very good, but if you are already operating under the assumption that you're defective, that there's something fundamentally wrong with you that means you'll never be as good as the "normal" kids (even when you're not entirely sure you WANT to be like the "normal" kids, because they're not trying to write their own music), it can really mess with your head. 

My bullies eventually grew up and started treating me in more acceptable ways. One of them even wrote me a letter of apology.

However, this was around the time when I started noticing boys. And the ones I noticed didn't like me. To any outsider, this was just another case of awkward adolescence. People suddenly are interested in romantic relationships and no one has a clue what to do about it and so they bumble around making fools of themselves. 

On one level, that's exactly what it was. I was just another clueless teenager trying to make sense of new feelings and all the conflicting information I was given about them and making my share of mistakes just like everyone else. 

On another level, every romantic failure was yet another confirmation of the message I'd been receiving since I was old enough to comprehend it: There's something wrong with you. You're not like other people. They're normal, good people. You're just damaged goods.

Where does that leave me now? 

I'm 33. Still an oddball. I live in a city I love with great friends who I hear were really excited about my move here. I write and record music and meet fascinating people through it. I draw and paint. I get to act in films and at a theme park sometimes. I get interviewed on the radio from time to time. I can honestly say I live a life I love.

But the dark secret is still there. 

I still can't quite shake the idea of being defective, even though I know it's irrational. I've studied Myers Briggs quite a bit, and being able to explain my quirks by saying I'm an INFP, which is just one of 16 equally valid and healthy types rather than some sort of disease or disorder, has been incredibly helpful.

But the dark secret is still there.

It's there when I see my friends pairing off and I'm still as single as the ace of diamonds. I don't know how to approach men that interest me.

It's there when I don't handle a situation with as much finesse as I think a person my age should. 

It's there when well-meaning more fashion conscious friends try to give me pointers on how to dress.

It's there when an unrelated medical condition I have flares up and draws unnecessary attention to me.

It's there when a some random stranger points out that I'm shy. (That does happen, and on behalf of introverts everywhere, I'd like to respectfully ask it to stop happening)

It's there when I'm going to record a new person and suddenly wonder if I'm going to do or say something stupid.

It's there when I work my day job and feel completely out of place.

It's always there.

Sometimes, I hate myself because of it. I hate the little girl I was for being tall and skinny and having out of control frizzy hair and making herself such an easy target for the bullies. A part of me knows that in being who she was when people wanted her to be different, she was actually pretty brave. But some days, I hate her with every part of me.

Sometimes, I hate the awkward teenager who didn't know how to flirt and scared off the guys she was interested in. A part of me knows that people learn by making mistakes and at least she wasn't afraid to make them, even if more than once, it was really embarrassing. But some days, I really hate her. I want to go back in time and slap some sense into her. 

It's always there.

But now it's not a secret anymore.

I hope that makes it lose some of its power.