How Old Am I?

For virtually all of my life, I’ve felt like there has been some degree of asynchronicity between my biological age, my emotional age, and my physiological age. At certain times when I was growing up, I felt like an adult trapped in a little kid’s body; even as young as four-year-old, I possessed a degree of precocious self-awareness that had me considering what I would be like as a “grownup” and often felt I had certain qualities and preferences more aligned with those of adults. While this was true in certain realms, ironically, I was also simultaneously immature for my age in other. For example, I sucked my finger at night until I was almost ten and needed my baby blanket, affectionately named Gankie, until I headed off to college. I was emotionally volatile and super sensitive; I cried at the most benign triggers, frequently finding myself in situations where my feelings were hurt (again, over inane things most kids would have brushed off). Looking back just now, I see how some of these “babyish” behaviors are at least partially a product of autism—stimming for comfort with the finger sucking, alexithymia and lack of emotional regulation skills, a highly sensitive nature, etc. Until this instant, I had actually never considered this link. I had an odd blend of mature and immature interests: I was a budding scientist, astute in my observations and independently-devised experiments (especially involving geology, meteorology, and astronomy) beginning around the age of six, while also perpetuated my love of playing with dolls and handcrafting miniatures for my dollhouse well into my double-digit years.

Because I was also so small for my age, and was constantly called a “late bloomer” by both my parents and pediatrician, I also felt a disparity between my actual age and my physical development or “body age.” I didn’t lose my first tooth until most people had lost nearly all of theirs, I was consistently a head (or two, three, or four!) shorter than my peers, and my growth was barely detectable from year to year.

The extent to which I felt both the issue of simultaneously conflicting ages and a stark mismatch between my true age and my emotional or physiological age increased in adolescence, and has continued that trend in widening the gap ever since. Physically, I never really went through full puberty, and whatever maturation toward womanhood (terrible wording!) my body eventually experienced was well into my twenties—at least a decade behind the expected timeframe. It’s completely safe to say that during my entire adolescence and young adulthood, I was a teenager or maturing adult inhabiting a child’s body. Everyone always guessed my age to be at least eight years or so shy of my true age. When I would embarrassingly admit my real age (and flush red hot with feelings of shame and inadequacy (though I’m not entirely sure why)), I would receive the same stock answer meant to assuage my apparent, or perceived, humiliation: “some day, you’ll be glad because you won’t age so quickly!” Ironically, and unfortunately, that sentiment hasn’t come to pass in many regards. While I still look young for my age from the outside, my internal body—my physiological age—exceeds my real age by decades. Many internal components, especially my bones, reflect years of wear and tear far beyond what they’ve actually endured. My mind still accurately thinks I’m in my early 30’s, but I’m unable to functionally perform at that age. Particularly athletically, I should be at the prime of my life, but I’m woefully unable to do much of any of the exercise I’d like to do because of massively premature structural damage and degradation. It breaks my heart on a near daily basis and constitutes a major feeling of continual loss.

The disparity in my real and emotional ages has been all over the map, again, even more so than it was in childhood. I’ve almost always felt that any given time, there are aspects of my personality, mindset, cognition, and psychology that feel well beyond my years, while others revert me squarely back in the toddler, kid, or teenager camps. It can feel strange to try and reconcile these clearly disparate, but concurrent, perceptions. Since it’s been a dilemma I’ve faced for the entirety of my life as it exists in my memory, I’m somewhat accustomed to it. Still, I find it jarring, uncomfortable, upsetting, frustrating, and bewildering at times, depending on the situation and my current state of mind. Currently and historically, it’s usually easier for me to befriend and jive with people about twenty years my senior, the reason for which mostly eludes me, aside from this inherent propensity to embody (at least partially) a mindset akin to someone much older than me.

I’ve retained my childhood phenomenon of interests that run the gamut of customary age-appropriatenesses. My inability to identify my emotions (alexithymia) and control them is still largely underdeveloped, even in light of all of the self-improvement and mindfulness work I’ve done to target these lagging skills. In our society, emotional and sensory sensitivity carries an inescapable air of immaturity as well, though assigning that descriptor seems unnecessarily judgmental and somewhat arbitrary; knowing that I have sensory processing disorder, which is indeed a recognized problem, shouldn’t mean I’m unarguably immature, although that’s the general consensus of most peoples’ opinions.

I also believe that even since I was young, I’ve possessed an understanding of the fragility of life, the importance of gratitude for each little blessing, and a capacity for empathy far more mature than my years. Even as a child, I seemed to grasp that I was mortal, that everyone was facing some sort of battle or hardship (although within that universality, there’s a lot of disparity and inequity in the world), and that everyone needs to be loved. I’ve been an empath—one with the unintentional ability to actually feel the emotions of others—since the age of four or five. I used to cry in preschool when other kids got hurt, for example. Because I’m blessed to be intellectually gifted, I often was doing advanced studies pertinent to higher grade levels throughout my schooling, yet another instance of asynchronicity.

Some days now, I feel like a little kid trapped in this physical body that’s aged beyond its years. Other times, even during the same day, I’ll feel like a peer to my mom’s generation—some 35 years my senior—instead of my own. Every once in a while, I feel exactly as I imagine I should as a newly minted 32-year-old, although these moments are rare enough that they feel most foreign of all. I don’t know if that will change as I hit my advanced adult years; I’d like to think I’ll feel young at heart, mind, spirit, and body at that point!

3 Comments

  1. Are you hypermobile in any way? EDS is increasingly being recognized as commonly comorbid with ADHD or ASD, and folks with it commonly look much younger than their true age. I feel the same way – too adult as a child but now sometimes too young to be a thirtysomething. It doesn’t help no one believes I am one in looks.

    • I am hyper mobile. I did have one rheumatologist diagnose me with EDS type 3, but when I saw the geneticist, she decided it was general hyper mobility and not true EDS. I get a lot of dislocations and subluxations though.

      • I wonder if you’d qualify now as you’re getting older and the systemic nature of the disorder is becoming more apparent. If nothing else, the looking young probably is related. I guess it *will* be nice when I’m in my 60s and look literal *decades* younger. (The magnitude of how far off from your true age you look seems to compound in my family with age), but for right now that plus the ADHD “immaturity” honestly kind of sucks.

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