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The Dial’s Stuck at 11

By Anne Johnakin

Art by Shena Han

Author’s Note: Neurodivergencies and mental illnesses are misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed for those assigned female at birth. Compounding that, women of color and other persons of color are less likely to receive an accurate diagnosis and care. Within our society, cis white men are often given the ability to present themselves as they are, a freedom that not everyone else is afforded. Being socialized as a woman leads to the concealment of neurodivergencies, hiding how much you are struggling from the world. Until one day, the seams holding you together burst.

There’s a clinking metal sound. A bird flapping its wings inside my pipes.

The boy who lives three doors down calls his girlfriend in the hallway every night. He doesn’t like his roommate, and he’s developed a cough.

Yesterday, it smelled like a dentist’s office here. Now, the indoor pool where I learned to swim.

My fan is only six inches wide, but it’s too loud. When I turn it off, I get twenty percent of my brain back.

The masks Dartmouth gave us scratch my face. I feel like I crawled into my body wrong.

I am tiny.

In my memory, this place was bright and shiny. I clasp my hands and keep myself pulled together. I grab the food that has the smallest crowd around it. The light on the ceiling in front of me is blinking. A friend offers to switch seats with me so I don’t have to look at it. I wear my noise-cancelling headphones, which barely make a dent in the voices compressing me from every side. The bass from the music FOCO chose makes my head feel like it's being slammed to the ground. I’m squeezed out of my own brain. There is no room for me.

I’m paying too much attention now. And they keep looking at me. I don’t think anyone believes me.

When I play pong for the first time in a year and a half, the knocking of paddles against the side of the table makes me want to fold into a ball on the wet floor under the table. Instead, I go outside and cry. I envy those who are comfortable.

I cry in my closet, covering my ears and rocking back and forth. There's a ringing that’s tearing me apart. The exact frequency to make me shatter.

Is this how the world always sounds or am I losing my mind?

I call my mom and the ringing is gone.

Sometimes, in the early morning, I think I’m in my room at home. I can convince myself that the boy in the hallway sounds like my sister. It’s quieter there, darker.

I’m trying to make myself miss this place, too.


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