Ask an Aspergirl

Essays and poems about Autistic experience, mental illness, & (post-) ABD life

Telling stories 

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Kat. She has another name, often used in her little hamlet (read as: college town + low-income rural community – white flight suburb + lingering BU students) of Wacotown. But she often wished she had a nickname, since she was a little elementary school-aged girl. So her poet persona became Kat. A misspelling of a shortened form of her middle name. Pseudonymously hers.

In 2013, she started a blog, assuming she was mostly talking to herself. This was before she divorced her bio parents. Before she created her home. Before she left her grad program. Before she joined a PhD program. Before she fled All-but-dissertation completed. Before she spent 10 days in May at a psychiatric hospital. Before she met Dr H and A. 

After: she entered and exited several depressive episodes. Some acute. More severe. After she met a therapist whom she trusts with her life. After she saw and sees a psychiatrist who believes her and helps her. After she stopped writing. After joy returned. Then left then returned. 

Now: hoping to hope and wondering where she is going. Reminding herself, sometimes hope is not knowing or believing at all. Hope is wondering. Service terrier in her lap, on-call for her and wearing his camo vest. Sleeping on her lap.

Image description: Black and grey terrier laying on a lap. He is wearing a service dog vest with colorful buttons pinned on it.

This is me telling my story. 

Before. After. Now.

This is why. This is why. This is why. I write.

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Footnotes from an extended hiatus 

Dear readers, it’s been a long [fucking] time since I’ve posted to this blog — even longer since I’ve written anything resembling a longform piece. But here I am, with my service dog — Marty the terrier — in my lap at Common Grounds (aka the neighborhood coffeehouse). 

Image description: Greyish black terrier wearing a service dog vest

Since we last talked I fell back down the rabbit hole that is severe depression (with some pure-O CD and generalized anxiety for company; I swear, sometimes I feel like I acquire co-occurring mental illnesses like mangy feral tomcats). But I’m still “finding ways to survive.” [1 — thanks Next to Normal for those Light lyrics].

I finally found an antidepressant combo that works — somehow,  Dr A, my psychiatrist doesn’t even entirely understand the why or how — Lithium and Lexapro (both generics — For Medicaid, and SSI, I give thanks). 

I’m still in therapy and probably always will be [thanks for hanging in there and educating yourself about (anxious and depressive) Autistic women like me, Dr H, trauma psychologist made of empathy and stubbornness].

Image: a whiteboard covered in stick figures and captions. For more of this growing therapeutic art project, see my Instagram: @askanaspergirl.

My days are simpler lately: therapy, psychiatry, pharmacy, art, poems, texts, tweets, and instagramed photos. But they are good sometimes. I’m still severely clinically depressed, but I’m here. I keep living out of sheer spite and fury, occasionally joy and borrowed hope. 

Image: plate of eggs and hashbrowns, beside sheet music

And “I don’t have to be happy at all, to be happy I’m alive.” Until next time, be kind to yourselves. Remember, you are good. This life is hard. But you are good.

Image: white woman with red hair in profile and a grey terrier wearing a service dog vest


 

With glittery bits of joy and tiny sprigs of hope, Kat.

The song of the stars

The song of the stars is so much quieter than I remember.

In this state, I’m rarely listening for the sounds of nature. I know how to listen to silence.

How to not ask the stories she’s aren’t ready to tell.


So I often sit with stories untold. Waiting until these little girls turned women too soon — still children too — whose emotions overwhelm them.

It’s okay to be angry. It’s good to be angry. It makes sense you would be angry. I’m here. I’m listening. 

Often this dialogue is merely subtext — between sips of coffee, entering conversation — forgetting nuances — social niceties —


I talk. She listens. She talks. I listen. The unsaid screams until it’s all I can hear, but I cannot name what happened. Because I can’t know. Won’t know. Often know.

But this isn’t my story to tell. It’s hers. I fill the silence with validation. With repetitions of the obvious. Until feelings return to the face before me.


Two women sitting together in a cafe. Facing a world that often demands our smallness — no space at all; until we are nothing but our fears. Our anger. Our right to feel hurt. Be hurt. These are forgotten. 

Forced to forget the past, we lose these little girls who felt everything. That hurt until feelings stopped. A circuit broken by the violence of words.


When she begins to say the words aloud — I make space for lies, half-truths, and not yets. I know the story, but I don’t. It’s like a half-remembered melody barely heard. But I can feel the rhythm of music unfinished.


Suspecting abuse, I stay quiet — because I’m making space for her words. I begin to ask hows. Whys are best unknown. Differential diagnosing in my head. 


How bad? How long? What would even help? Do you want help? 

All of these questions echo in my mind as I listen for the harmony of silences. Nonexistent parents. No caregivers. A girl who raised herself. 

This is she. This is me. This is all of us. Making family where that word brought only pain. 


We are survivors of who knows what. Relentlessly braving what should have never been. And I am here until she is ready to join this chorus of shouting starlight.

Into skies of grey and black. Imagining the blue and purple of who we could be. Are together in the nighttime.

Shelter in peace

The girl who sits before you contains multitudes — feeling far too old to be this young. I’m getting used to this back-and-forth dialogue. That lives in present, past — where trauma echoes and hope lives. I contain bunkers and bomb-shelters, yet another reminder to self, “You are good; this is just hard.”

The coffee on the table nearby is steadying in this fog. Chairs find their way — just close enough to read text and expression of this twice-a-week narrative.

There is shelter in this place, a room contained by time and affirmations of feeling. Of belief. There is a peace in just enough questions when answers would be too easy to explain away. Sometimes why’s don’t help. I am living in the how.

Blue would be too obvious — an explicit expectation for a calm that makes no fucking sense. So the room settled for shades of green and grey-near blue. The sunlit boxes are my favorite. This space contains a multitude of words. Feelings identified in the expressions her body makes — pain, tension, pain. I thank my body for giving voice to what I’m learning to name. Sometimes simpler words leave me as my anxiety rises — a friend’s name… I’m sitting in a — oh, chair.

I apologize to my body for what she understands far too well. Pause for breath before the words flood this box of stories. Sometimes the best I can do is describe the inexplicable. There are no why’s; the how’s and when’s and what’s ache with a body who knows more than I do.

Present tense — wrist aches, shoulders in and of pain. All I have are these words — sometimes I cannot say them aloud without brain and heart attempting an exit. Leaving my body and pounding through my chest.

I’m learning to feel things in real time. My feelings are returning slowly — anxiety felt, disorienting, but recognizable. Anger is a cloud of words, tone questioning this nonsense that she keeps happening. Sadness is a relief away — she comes so briefly. Only when I’m safe enough to mourn. I sit in a chair beside her; trying to explain what I don’t understand myself.

There’s validation in being told I am real, seen, that the lists holding me together are working and it is a feat of bravery to hide, to ignore phone calls, to grieve a storm that hasn’t passed entirely.

Vibrant metaphors find a home here — in this holding space — banking, castles, shelters, waves — then plain words — I hate that this keeps happening. This hurts. Why do I have to be so strong? There are no answers, only the safety found in an expression of kindness, of surprise.

I don’t know what normal is anymore. I suspect she doesn’t either. I find shelter in stories of becoming and sometimes being with is just enough.

Writing in present tense

September 19, 2016; at womyn’s writing circle.

It’s strange not to know what to write about not writing — about not being myself and no longer wanting to write about in-between, but that demands a hope that she cannot muster.

Present tense is rather mundane until it is not and then the writing comes in an account, so that she might believe herself afterward. When the apartment is quiet, but not safe enough, and she is sitting on the floor asking a stranger to help her brain and body meet again.

When writing is a laborious exercise, it’s easier to not. When the feelings come, they pass by before they may be described, as she plays a game of 20 questions with herself: anger looks like, sadness looks like, fear looks like. But sitting in her bathtub with the lights off seems too much to be believed.

Why write about what has no perceivable conclusion that is at all satisfying? Sometimes all she can do is write the words of others she hopes to believe herself. Not writing is a scarily easy exercise when the descriptions are repetitive and concentration no longer working.

When she isn’t writing, she wonders where she is — this undefined space of not yet and right now is rather exhausting. And she cannot write her way out. Sometimes the only writing that comes is a frantic record of “I can’t believe this is happening. Do you see it too? Am I overreacting?”

When I mostly write notes to myself to contain the present — when so much of this description has happened before, it’s an exercise in realizations she never wanted to need. More pieces in the never-ending work of things coming apart, of losing — of fearing this memory will be underwhelming.

This narrative has happened before and she only writes in hopes of being believed. She documents events that seem utterly surreal in the telling. Almost laughable in the sheer absurdity of not hearing her at all. Why respond when it doesn’t even matter? Giving up on explanations, she settles for a silence marked by shaking body and fingers pressing into a keyboard.

The only writing that comes is here right now and then in the me too’s of “I know that ache.” When I believe you is still a surprising response. When the present reality is documented in frantic texts and images captured on screen — knowing that the why’s will not bring peace. They are yet another story she tells herself until sitting across from this witness; who is astounded, then sad — who seems to have more feelings than she does.

There is no poetry in this present ugly, cannot change, only survive, endure. Doing the best she can, not her fault at all.

She listens for truths she is trying to believe — hoping to reread them into existence. When there are no whys that want to stick. Only shaky misunderstandings in search of a how.

I don’t want to write about the fog anymore.

The writing starts in my fingers — trying to capture these shreds of words, of stories. This writing comes from the silences — from this void of understanding. My hands want to write; my brain doesn’t know where to begin — why aren’t I writing? Because every scrap of concentration I have left goes into this never-ending exercise in proving myself.

My tired head doesn’t know how to find the words, the inclination — that longing, searching for home voice is lost — in the never enough time; not the right words for a state that lingers. If I could run screaming from this ache, I would. But alas, I would take this fog with me.

Long-silenced voices sometimes forget how to speak. How to form the space between this is where I am and where I could be. What happens to voices in the absence of words — when lingering forms still have no answer? When this ache is largely invisible.

When all I know how to say is okay and the safe places feel so ephemeral. They are a step-over back into words that mean nothing again. It’s scary not to care because caring hurts too much. Pushing through the apathy when everything beyond it feels wobbly and uncertain.

When there is not enough and too much time — I don’t want to write about the fog anymore. My pen cannot begin to describe how little I feel.

I remember when the words flooded this brain onto page — when there were no feelings — only thoughts. But there were feelings, just a lack of recognition — good, bad — that was it. I fear I have returned there; no grey, no nuance, just the silence of a black and white photograph that never really developed.

I fear losing this voice entirely; the narrator, the comforter, the seeing outside at all. I don’t know what to call this in-between anymore. When it just keep going and drags me with it.

The writing left with the joy as the fog descended. Then cleared, only to return, refusing further description.

Tired wounds

The wound is deep — never really healed, just covered over — in I wish I could have done better. Knew more. In another text message warning me how I am destroying my brain.

From this womb came a girl — not wounded yet. That would come later when memories began. From this wound comes a bloodless tragedy. Only words. No bruises. No breaks. Wondering what memory hides in safety. A repetitious wounding.

A making small. Stitched over twice. This womb is a vacant space. It longs to be more than it is. A womb connects her to blood, a mistaken kind of love. Her words become a confusing array of letters. This love breaks, tears, and bleeds.

This womb will never be a home again. Did the words cross the barrier of flesh? Or was this a prologue to a repetitious narrative that always ends the same?

I’m tired of telling my story. Tired of the questions, tired of these words, this process. I’ve felt so lost lately in this space defined by its absence.

How do I describe hope when it feels muffled — when I’m so tired of being tired. Tired of trying so hard to pretend. I’m tired of being okay — a blah, neutral word that says nothing really, when I feel less, do less. I’m tired of these days spent getting through.

Tired of feeling little. Tired of wondering what went wrong. Tired of navigating a seemingly endless space. Tired of trying to hope. Tired of explaining — tired of introducing — tired of losing — tired of grieving — tired of pushing through.

The fog is thick and can no longer be contained. It’s unavoidable, unignorable. I’m tired of not feeling any different. Tired of words in the night. In the morning. Tired of running. Tired of circular dialogues — tired of living in lack. Tired of promises.

Tired of hope. Longing for hope. Hope is tiring. Words for a kind of nothingless persistence feel so tired. When these wounds still ache until they are numb and endless from a womb long absent.

Before you go

I don’t have a metaphor for this leaving, not yet. In the space between two ordinary chairs, there are stories.

Two more meetings, then a hand-off. But this is not a relay race, and I am not a baton. Lately this space has felt like a series of I don’t knows. Trying to describe a blankness, a lack of feelings. Lack of words. Lack of understanding. Lack of me.

What are you thinking? I don’t know — when my body is here and brain feels far away, not fully awake. Sometimes I wonder if the knowing matters. But I keep coming back. You need more scaffolding, she said. A few more months, and then you’ll go. And I’ll stay here. Never hearing the ending, but imagining for you.

This talking through is hard when I can’t explain. When I’m never fully present. Can you hope enough for both of us?

I didn’t want you to feel abandoned. But you need more — different — than I can give you. A more frequent dialogue. For this girl on a deadline.

I think you’ll like her. I’ve heard this several times, from the women who listen to my stories — my confusion — my pain.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re stuck, and I am moving on. But that’s not it either. Almost 4 years of witnessing this becoming. This fear of getting stuck. This anxiety, this depression. This fear that I am not enough to outlast the oncoming storm.

I am packing up my stories and moving to another room. Of unknowns and someone else’s process, hoping not to get swept away. Wondering if she will see this backstory.

How hard I’ve worked to stay floating in the rising waters.

She is helping me pack. Don’t forget your raincoat and galoshes. I am taking the metaphors with me. The stories and the rejoicing peasants.

I am going. She is staying here. As my life is expanding slowly.

Thank you doesn’t feel like enough. For pushing me just a little bit further. For watching, listening, being with. In this becoming. In the wondering how I will get through.

For the not knowing and the you can name yourself. This is not fixing or even changing. This is seeing into an adulthood she doesn’t recognize yet.

When I feel fragile and lost, it is memory-keeping. I am learning to hold onto this secret hope, believing in a process when the product seems uncertain.

Two more meetings to send me off. I’ve given you all that I can. Now it’s time to go somewhere new. New skills. New stories. I send you off knowing the believing yourself will come.

Even if it’s at the end of this story. This chapter is filled with footnotes. With she did it anyways. I want you to remind yourself when I can’t.

Because you are brave and resilient, even on the days when this feels like pointless suffering.

I wanted her to be proud of me. Maybe she is. This abstraction sitting across from me. I will carry her hope with me — the fertilizer and watering in the driest months.

Thank you for the ground — as I bring the sunlight — maybe that’s too big a task. Emotional nuance does not bend easily in the presence of metaphors.

Sometimes not giving up looks like continuing on, into the next story.

I look forward to its telling. In sprouts of words.

 

On not writing

What if I wrote about not writing, the why’s and hows are not enough; at best they are guesses. Trying to pin down a brain trying to float away. How do I write about this space that bores me to be with for too long; who can I blame for this disappointment — how some brains get lost in the middle of things and that is terrifying.

How do I write about how little I trust myself with hope buried underground; where is the autopilot in standing still. In forgetting my own history. Of feeling lacking for too long, waiting to prove myself right. When words will not stay under my pen.

Where is the poetry in exhaustion, in tiring of being tired; when steps require waiting and there is nowhere to flee; lost in myself. Filled with far too many I don’t knows. When there are no questions or answers. Just absence and a grief for what I fear will not be. I bury my hope. To keep her safe. She sends herself further underground.

She loses her words, only left with a distant moan; afraid she is hoarse from years of screaming. Is stillness any different from giving up — when focus is lost and words are weighted down by weariness.

Will words convince a brain trying not to move too fast? Lest it be seen after far too many attempts at its silencing. Where do the words go when she is gone? Is there a story in standing still, in forcing movement?

I am impatient with absence. With presence. With a fog that will not lift. That threatens with uncertainties and lingering fears waiting to be proved right.

Who will pilot this vessel through the storm, against the rocks, into a deep starless night?

On being angry and tired.

A pastor friend of mine says that anger is an alarm that sounds against injustice. My anger resounds in the back of my mind and will not stop. Once a month, I call the psychiatric hospital’s billing office to make my $200 payment on a balance accrued during a 10-day stay that made me better and worse. There is no simple story here and that makes me so mad.

There’s this mirror girl me who was never transferred to another psychiatric unit and saw her individual therapist every day. Who doesn’t have to remember being taken for a walk by the only person in the room, a nursing student, who knew how to keep me safe in a room that was much too loud and much too triggering. Where anger was only allowed to be seen in men. Where women were not allowed to get angry, to push for better treatment.

I have all of these stories, but I am far too tired all the time to write them. And it makes my brain feel like it’s going to explode. It makes my heart ache with far too many stories. Because I am so fucking tired of being tired. And so angry about being robbed of the only thing that ever made any sense to me: My words. A narrative that I could write myself when the world didn’t make any sense. I want to write my way through this pain. But I can’t. I fucking can’t and it makes me so mad. I needed someone to talk me through wonderland. But all I had was the safety of other women patients. We kept each other safe when the institution could not. I need to write my history. But the words don’t make any sense. Or maybe the story doesn’t.

No one expects adults like me to exist: Autistic and gifted. Adult woman who stopped being a girl at age 10. Who has to make up stories to send to a mother who wants a relationship that isn’t possible. This mother-daughter relationship is a seedling uprooted before the plant was tall enough to reach the sunlight. She drowns roots that have no base. Adds more potting soil to shriveled leaves. It was. But it can never be. Let’s stop pretending this plant is alive.

I’m so angry that I will always be my best advocate. I hate that I have to explain myself away to be understood. I made so many diagrams when I was in the hospital. Did so many unpaid autism trainings. But I was never seen. An invisible woman. Labeled Bipolar II on my discharge paperwork. I almost believed this. I was ready to have coffee with a friend of mine who shares this label. I could have readjusted to this description of my brain, if it were true.

My psychiatrist took the time that the hospital staff could not find. I’m still angry. She got out her copy of the DSM-5 and read aloud the possibilities. No elation. Only fear.

But my panic was seen as hypomania. When I was uprooted from the quiet of a trauma unit and moved to the general population, I was not warned until I had to go. Not given time to say goodbye. (This is an all-too-familiar feeling for the girl who grew up with unanticipated yelling.) My clothing and books were already moved. I just needed to follow the psychiatric tech to chaos. I’m still angry for that scared girl.

Of course labels matter. I cannot stand professionals who deny this reality of my life. I need words to describe what makes no sense. My psychiatrist kept reading until we reached the end of entries that made more sense. Major depressive disorder, with anxious distress. Yes. This felt true. Generalized anxiety disorder. This was already a familiar reality. We did not need to read any further.

I remember the red-headed MHA (psychiatric tech) with the cropped haircut who said I reminded her of ex-husband. That’s how she knew how to talk to me. How to listen without minimizing my fears. She believed me because I was familiar. I wonder if she had daughters. It seemed that those with the least power at the hospital had the most compassion.

One morning, I walked with the red-headed MHA, and we talked through how angry I was. She was the first person at the hospital who welcomed my anger; she didn’t need me to make myself any smaller than I already felt. She made me lists of things of topics I needed to discuss with my nurse practitioner. She listened. Really listened.

I remember the tiny blond nurse who wondered why I was transferred. Another who promised to look through my file for answers. Neither could change my situation or move me back to the quiet, predictable, safeness of the trauma unit. My psychiatric nurse practitioner kept alluding to the loudness of my symptoms, the need for me to make myself smaller. But she never said it directly.

She claimed my reassignment was merely due to space issues. I still don’t believe her. I’m angry that I’m still paying for being re-traumatized. I could adapt to the locked ward and the fixed schedule. But I’m still angry that I had to make myself smaller. “Where do you go when you go quiet” (Thank you Beyoncé). I’m angry that the men on the general unit could be angry, but the women had to be quiet. We had to wait for the official response. I’m still angry.

It doesn’t feel like enough to type through my journal entries from the hospital. They mostly make me grieve for the girl trapped in a locked unit, after she signed away her freedom, to get better. For the girl who knew the doorway in was so much smaller than the keyhole out. I know how to hide. I want to stop. I hate the fog that comes with my depression because it makes me feel gone. It makes me feel small. Not there in a life that I fought so hard to keep living. When giving up was the default option.

When I chose temporary captivity, I needed to feel safe with my captors. Maybe that’s impossible. Inpatient hospitalization is strange. I realized I needed to stop being real. To make myself smaller. I hated that. It was just like the rest of the world when we were promised a respite. I’m still angry. I need this anger to transform into something other than exhaustion.

 

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