Ask an Aspergirl

Pondering popular culture, generalized anxiety, and being Autistic

I am / I am not

I am here — this I know — and yet I am not. My feet hit the ground, while my brain travels further away; to worries of what will be — to what is not yet. I am okay. I am not okay. I no longer know what that word means. I’m trying to describe a state distant from myself. Could we avoid that dialogue entirely?

I am a writer. I am not writing. Not for me, but for a broader scientific voice. I’m not ready — for the morning to come again — for the night that lingers. I want to see outside myself. I am too far buried in this ever-present tired.

I am not fast enough, I fear. I sit with an unfinished document — ideas explored at the surface level. I am not me. I am coping and doing and telling myself the things I need to do. I am lingering over spaces — with lengthy pauses between actions.

I am not sure how long I will feel this way — a low battery — a flickering light — a buzzing hum. I feel the words coming more slowly, processing at a pace that feels heavy. I am unsure. I sit with scribbled words, trying to name a state I’d rather see leave. But it is absence. I find myself again in these fleeting moments of connection.

When the words return and I find release.

I am lost in this space of wandering through, wanting to simultaneously reject and claim the names for the milemarkers. I am here. I am not here. Uncomfortably far away from myself, longing to return to a place I recognize. I map my journey so far; longing for patterns and sensemaking. Where I made a wrong turn — settling into metaphors of storms and roads.

These intentionally drawn diagrams try to show me where I am. In the all-too-long middle. In what I fear will never be. I am not sure of myself anymore. I’ve been derailed a series of times — only to return here — too fast and too slow — utterly overwhelmed, then exhausted.

I don’t know how to be here, but I am nonetheless. I am unsure of present — future — will be. I don’t trust my words to adequately describe this space. I fear I am not enough for this. I want to describe what I cannot name — to say it aloud would be to enter a place of not knowing.

I see myself going through the motions, wishing for more explicit directions. A model to follow. A certainty I wish I believed. If / then — a recipe for what next. A paint by numbers for a life I’m still exploring.

I am working through; I am managing — still trying to understand these concepts. Sometimes dialogue feels like Mad Libs. I fill in what is expected. Unsure of how to further describe this weary silence.

 

On tessering

“How are you?” It’s a question that begins most of my conversations these days; I’m never quite sure how to answer. Most of the time, it seems like an acknowledgement of the other person’s existence, not an inquiry about our deeper feelings.

This is not the time for me to unpack my emotional states or the worries I’ve tried to quell all day: How I can’t seem to shake the idea that something is wrong with me and my subsequent actions are making me feel worse. How I often wonder if I’m missing something. When I fear I’m not enough.

This is merely a time for social niceties. When I respond with “okay” or if pressed further, with “managing.” Managing what exactly? The world around me? My own anxieties? Because both tasks seem daunting.

What if I’m tessering? But that response would require greater context. I would like to look outside of this exhaustion and fears that I’ll always feel this way — to see a kind of hope, a will be that hasn’t arrived yet. In A Wrinkle in Time, tessering is a more efficient form of travel between time and space, but the in-between still hurts. That’s where I am now.

“What if you stopped contingency planning?” she asked. What would it be like to just be here? “I don’t know,” I responded. Because this is the space I’ve inhabited for as long as I can remember. I don’t know how to be in the present without looking further ahead and subsequently worrying about how things could fall apart (because of me). Self-doubt is vicious.

Some of this is ableism. I’ve internalized the norms of a society that doesn’t recognize disabled experience as a way of being in the world. So when I’m utterly exhausted, it must be my fault, and I should have coped better (forgetting how much harder it is for me to steady myself).  There are fewer models for graduate students like me. I’ve mostly learned to self-accommodate; I create structure when I can (wishing more was in my control) and seek help in coping with my anxiety. I take meds; I attend therapy. But I’m still tired.

I recognize that this weariness is normative among graduate students, but it seems to hit me harder than others. I’ve reached the end of yet another exhausting semester where I’ve pushed myself to keep writing and breathed my way through shutdowns. When I’ve just stopped because my processing was too slow to continue working. When I feel lacking as a grad student. When I fear for what’s next for someone like me. For me.

I keep an ongoing mental list of the things I’ve managed to do while anxious and/or exhausted. Sometimes reviewing this list helps. In the middle of things, there isn’t an endpoint, a definitive will be if I follow these steps. I’m tessering because I’m not completely certain of my destination. I hope for what will be in the midst of not knowing.

I feel pressured during these holidays to gather myself back together. To rest intentionally and then return to school ready to write (and ignore my feelings). There must be an in-between, but the “how things got better” narrative dominates. I’m afraid to admit when I’m still struggling. What if my academic supporters lose patience with me?

Perhaps more graduate students like me are struggling to balance self-care and productivity? Maybe even wondering why they’re still pursuing a goal that feels so abstract? Are we hiding out of shame and self-preservation?

For me, sometimes hope means worrying about the future. Because that action assumes I’ll find my way through now. Sometimes the best I can do is to acknowledge both realities: that I don’t know how my exhaustion will resolve, but a future where I’ve cared for myself and completed my PhD exists. Maybe I’m even earning a sustainable income in a context I enjoy. Maybe.

I imagine myself looking at a door to a world parallel to my own. Where what will be exists and hope lives. I stand in its entryway as I remind myself, “You are doing the best you can with the resources that you have. That’s enough. And so are you.”

Into entropy

In such turbulent times, I feel smaller and lapse into doubt and disbelief. When suffering is so relative and my life feels rather slow. And yet my mind worries, perhaps coming from before. But this day-to-day is long enough. I cannot imagine mass-scale casualties or loss of lives. And ideology of violence and  hatred feels too abstract.

Chaos reigns, said the fox. We go into entropy. My thoughts overly examine will overwhelm. When there are not enough lists to contain the will be’s on this tiny dot of green and blue. It’s hard to imagine a year from now without falling apart into blank pages — all I see is not yet and I don’t know and the vast lostness of what I cannot know yet.

This turbulence happens on a micro-scale: missed bus, forgotten meds taken close enough, trying to imagine  recreating my network of professionals.  I stare into the storm of will be’s, when the list of nows could overwhelm.

There will always be things left to do is hope and reassurance.  Damnation and statement of fact. I could imagine myself through this space, but I lack the imagery.  In these turbulent times, my problems feel small and yet this life of doing enough and being with this precarious enough.

I feel like a spider whose web is facing winds and rain; nearly blown away, but threads remain. In these turbulent times, I cannot process everything at once, or see beyond myself. Global pain is an abstraction. Over there captured in imagery that comes to my screen in 140 characters and infographics.

We share personal narratives to make sense of these larger patterns. A chorus of me toos on #ThatAbleistScript. My day-to-day barely touches this larger space — mine is getting by and hoping for more; while doing what I can, wondering if it’s enough.

My emotional weather is enough to track. Problem-not-to-scale are problems enough. Tracking the befores and afters, hoping a pattern would emerge. Because sensemaking is comforting. And yet so much of this storm predates me.

I don’t know how to have a conversation with you. Instead we talk of cooking fish and doing errands. There’s a script we’re both following with parenthetical dialogue. The storm passed; is passing — but the narration is absent.

In these turbulent times, I need an emergency power-down switch. Before overload comes, I wish my brain would tell me how I’m feeling. And yet that usually comes from fictional characters. Body and brain in disconnect — sometimes asleep at the controls.

In these turbulent times, I’m catching up with myself. Running down checklists of tasks I wish weren’t mine. Making up certainties from an imaginary will be. I’m not there yet. This waiting place is task enough. What next? A fictional future appears.

I tire more easily these days. As if my body knows what my brain will not reveal. In these times, normal is relative, ill-defined. I have so many stories that remain my own, but what if community emerged.

What if we are creating this busyness? In failing to rest, we miss this obligation to ourselves. I get lost in the not yet, fearing what I cannot anticipate. External turbulence is pervasive, yet inexperienced. The end draws near for some, yet here we are.

It all seems so random — maybe this turbulence is entropy, the chaos of a universe behaving like a toddler, toys scattered across the floor. Until Legos press into skin — leaving indentions.

How can we can we steady ourselves in a space unknown. Unexplored. Too vast to imagine anyone but ourselves. People not like us become monsters, dissidents, the ill-fitting. Am I us? Are you us?

What keeps our planet steady when we are not? We are pieces of stardust in a seemingly limitless galaxy. We are nothing and everything. We are enough to be with this chaos.

These spirits are absence.

The spirit of grief lingers with me, through time and space, not easily described or grasped. It aches, sometimes desperately and violently, until I can feel no more. We live together in a space barely explored. Where words are deprived of their meaning. When the violence of metaphor barely explains what it is like to live here in this.

Anxious, trouble, troubled, but only after the fact. In the excruciating now — would be too much for her to handle. I would be too much in overwhelm. Fearing she would encroach upon my space — my anxiety — to handle. To throw pills and magic words at an illusory condition. To will myself here and have my mind wander anyway. To accept myself as I am. But you need me to be better — but that’s not myself.

I have so many metaphors to describe these lingering spirits of worry and overwhelm — as they loop and surpass I and then. I lose myself in imagery, trying to describe what outsiders cannot feel. These ghosts of what was and is. How I grieve for what never was. As I become myself, the violence of words plagues me — as anger and unintended cruelty visit me in yet another form.

A brain against itself cannot stand; but it can breathe, sit, be with the moments I wish away; on floors of clean, well-lit spaces, as I wonder if I’ll always be here. Clinical language cannot describe this viscera. It just is. I sit with my worries and unsteadiness until I safely return. Sometimes after the flood of words and the torment of shame relents.

I sit here waiting and hope is here too; a ghost of memory reminds me why I cannot pray to far away or up close. I was abandoned unto this. So here we sit with a community of ideas and bodies. Of an after this, when we live here.

Grief is like a boomerang, distant storm clouds that shake bodies into memory, into being together in the inexplicable nothing. In the why would God; why do we still believe in anything; when it breaks so easily. My words go into air as I grieve for an idea that becomes being. Here in this place; fitting; belonging.

I was talking to a ghost. A paternal who never was; could never be, as grief cycled through generations of men and abandoned us here in the echoing silences — between the floods of angry words. Here we are after the storm. It is too quiet. Can’t they hear the distant thunder? See the cracked earth? The dead leaves — crumpled under feet as earthworms turn to soil.

In the post-conflict of grief, I sit and sing and be with a figure I’ve never known well — a jello-molded god of what was not. Can I be disappointed in non-existent, maybe is imaginings? Is it easier to find a ghost than to implicate absence? I’m angry with an idea, but today we sit with a grief I share, but never knew myself.

You hurt, I cry. As you speak of a kind man I never knew. I wish I did. Mine leaves me vaguely written well-wishes. Any more contact beyond these ghosts would hurt me too much.

Sometimes i don’t believe my own phantom pains. Wondering what could have been, if they, if I… But these what might be’s are only ghosts. And I am here with aching grief — inserting hope into a pain I am only beginning to explore. These wounds are deeper than I know.

I wait to be minimized. For a proclaimation of not enough pain to count. But ghosts don’t care. They linger and remember the was and is. As I hope for what will be after the violence of memory.

Being in community and sitting together

Sometimes I feel like Larf the Sasquach from Ashley Spire's storybook.

Sometimes I feel like Larf the Sasquach from Ashley Spire’s storybook.

I remember how I felt reading Emily White’s book, Lonely for the first time. I felt known, like she was putting words to the aching isolation I knew all-too-well. That was during my first year of graduate school, before I’d realized I wasn’t a school psychologist.

Before I knew I was Autistic (pre-ASD diagnosis, before I’d found women like me online — via WordPress, then Twitter and Tumblr); back then, I was merely odd and disconnected for reasons unknown. But Emily White knew my story; because she was lonely like me.

I recently finished her second book, Count Me In, in which Ms. White describes how she attempted to develop a sense of community — to feel more connected and make like-minded friends. The passage that stood out to me was about how we can map our social connections:

I can close my eyes and imagine physical spaces where I feel safe — where trustworthy people who accept both me and my disability (because they are both aspects of myself) exist. These are spaces where, as my refrain goes: “I am known and loved, because of, not in spite of myself.” With these elder women and friends whose families were as unsteady as mine, I feel safe. They know my backstory and my present states. The emotional weather patterns I’m still learning to discuss in plainer language.

Over the past couple of weeks, or maybe even the last month or so, my anxiety worsened. I’ve sought out supportive people. I’ve found myself stuck in public spaces, needing strangers’ help. My memory lingers on an afternoon at the library last week when I, mid-shutdown, didn’t feel present or safe because my processing had slowed to near halt. I monologued and tried to determine what I was feeling (mostly anxious).

And so an undergrad whom I barely knew sat with me, as I tried to calm myself — to slow my breathing and find a pastry and coffee in the atrium. I remember being ashamed and grateful — into infinite loops, it seemed — the feeling burdensome and too much. But there I was being helped by a young woman kind enough to sit with me in the overwhelm — my overwhelm. I apologized a lot. She thanked me as she headed to class, and I safely walked to the bus stop. I couldn’t understand why she was grateful.

Vulnerability is terrifying. I spend much of my professional life hiding and explaining away the seemingly quirky things I do (read as: appear visibly Autistic when I stim and monologue). But when I become utterly overloaded ( >7 out of 10 on my loosely defined anxiety scale), passing is no longer an option. Unless I want to shift into the unpleasantness of uncontrollable crying and rocking that comes during my rare meltdowns. All I can do is try to steady myself. That’s enough to exhaust me.

Growing up, all I wanted was someone to sit with me and tell me what I was experiencing was real. That I would be safer soon and that it was okay to feel however I needed. I desired presence. I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes from Lars and the Real Girl:

“This is what we do when tragedy strikes. We sit.”

I’m finding community, even in my hardest weeks. I’m grateful for friends who have learned how to be present with me when I’m struggling — for those who ask how I am and accept the honest answers. They steady me, even in overwhelm. For safe spaces and people, I give thanks.

To be believed…

If you were to be believed, if you told the stories that remain unshared, what would you say?

My parents fought; that’s the easy way to tell this story, but that isn’t true. Not really, and the loss I feel in that telling hurts, desperately and violently. And I ask myself why I’m lying. For them? For me? For all of us not ready? Because I’m not ready.

For that face

that follows the telling.

I am believed, but scattered too — as unspoken things come to light — always too soon. I’m not ready and neither are you — never will be for this litany of sorrows. No substance to blame, a simpler before to predate an angry after. Only a sadness described: “My dad wasn’t a nice man; I wanted to be better,” he said. “I can’t.”

This hurts to speak, to write, to be. I know. The pressure of heart and mind reaches my pen, my hand, my being. My side is pain. Tension in the telling. I am here and there in the telling. My dad yelled. I hid.

In science fiction and tessering narratives. In families not as sad. In stories I could recognize. I tessered to — traveled away from here. To an unfamiliar better; but that room of spackled ceiling and little girls hiding — one distant, the other all-too-present — remains, and they hurt.

I tell you — sitting across from me —

“All families have problems.”

“Not like this.”

I want to shake them, but instead I nod. “I guess so.” This hurts; I know. I try to speak again — of never knowing safety, then having to patchwork it together in a dwelling that is solely mine, with only the company of an orangey tabby.

You are safe; you are here — a repetition I hope to believe, need to believe. Sometimes do and it hurts. “Excruciatingly so?” The woman across from me, the sage, inquires. I am here and there simultaneously.

My thumb and forefingers cramp, in the memory of being misunderstood. Where is belief without mutual understanding, a shared pain? I wish you did — but you don’t. How could you? You want to believe me, but don’t know how.

So we sit with a coffee or two between us, as I share this lengthier tale.

What’s in a name (or diagnostic label: 299.00 and 300.02)

Hi my name is… like those plainly typed paper badges where I scrawl myself into that adhesive space. Hi, my name is pen name — hi, my name is disability — expecting to be corrected for identifying with myself; that isn’t proper.

But names are identity and backstory and narrative — the interconnected tissue of my being. When I stop pretending to be anyone but myself, I am named. I’ve given myself a series of labels — not the sticky kind — the ones that come with diagnostic codes and insurance billings.

I’ve had names bequeathed upon me — quirky, autistic, wordy, enough, creative, becoming, herself, myself. But to name myself enough, and then to repeat it, feels powerful. To claim enough space for myself — identities that were mine only out of recognition, then declaration.

Perhaps a name is a story — my story — the one that begins in a cramped room with two chairs and I. Where I felt inadequate, incomplete, lacking. Missing pieces of a puzzle I had not discovered. Then throwing away the unrecognizable picture on the box. Recreating images in cut-up paper and magic markers. We start in the middle, only to find myself in loop — in between — but further from the beginning.

These words — the ones I share in illuminating dialogues — are magic. I recognize the space your child occupies. I can name it because I live a few blocks down. With a map covered in landmarks and identifying places. I don’t know what they are thinking and feeling, but I can share the value of my own story and marvel in the recognition.

To know, or feel rather, that the most painful spaces matter — where I occupy and never leave — with the figures I never invited. I am a guide, but also a traveler. We become in a space we’ve walked lengthy times, but never named or fully recognized. I am… and so are you… and in that is a community I never expected to find… where both you and I belong; a wavelength undiscovered.

Where time stretches into narrative space into naming and being; experiencing and reliving; where identities and persons blend together into place unknown. Where we find ourselves together.

Here.
Is.
Enough.

In this space of now and not yet, we name ourselves and live these experiences. Merely being here now; in recognition of selves, we story on.

At first light

I resist its presence — covering my head, resenting the blackout curtains for doing such a poor job. I hide from a day approaching — resisting its start until the alarm.

This was before. I don’t know if I’ve reached an after, but I’m trying. Coming to a place of steadying myself, as I hear the voices of those who prop me up — give me copies of their own well-worn encouragers. An okay to follow the uncertainty of not yet, a newly arranged furniture set, an office setting filled with my words, my worries — created ideas of what I wish was — where I travel to in my mind of days far too long.

But she says I’m doing better — I’m relieved and surprised — in the lighted windowbox where my truths are spoken, there is pain and memory. Of what has been for far too long. A grief of familial origins — of not feeling safe until these steadying years. To realize this has been a coordinated effort, I feel cared for, loved, mothered — feels strange to say that in this created space — outside the piece of theatre, one act at a time– where I am forced to sustain myself.

Under these lights, I am home. Cared for, caring — as I sink just a little deeper into the couch, tangle between my fingers, I plan for thriving, to explain the hurt I cannot name aloud until now — but so many sentences I have written.

Urged along by my fellow women autists, artists, writers, creators of this space that is hyperreal and just close enough. Lights travel through fiber optic cables, bounce off cell towers, and bring me home. We listen, creating space for us, for me.

She pencils me in for a week from today — I sink into the couch outside — not yet ready to leave this sacred space — to push myself into the blaring sun. A wooden box is clasped between my fingers. I slow myself, only to rock back and forth, ever so slightly in my seat as I type and plan and live here. Being for a while.

There is safety in not yet — a list made — a listening ear to tell me when you know — when you have — because I believe you . Managing is hard to describe, thriving even more, but witnesses were here. To see, to describe, to be in this place.

“Known and loved because of, not in spite of” — into echolalic time and space — into place unknown. There I am — as words I know well enough leap from my mouth, as I tell you who I’ve been, unknown audience, because this is me — stripped of context or motivation. But my passion remains.

In subtext of women like me, as I avoid these pronoun shifts, but my fingers dance and my voice races, knowing my tablet could be my voice, if my words escape me. To assist; to augment, but I will remain here in this place.

Fitting, belonging, exactly as I am — all of me being myself, cloaked in a cape of words.

Cat story

So whatever happened to you getting a cat?” she asked after hearing how isolated I’d become this summer. I suppose I gave up in the idea. Maybe I talked myself out of it after my car met its demise a few summers ago. The pet deposit was nearly a month’s rent. I was worried how I would get to the vet if the cat got sick. Adopting a cat felt completely unrealistic and unsustainable — another “not yet” in a series of post-graduate maybes.

But when I got home, I decided to call my landlord’s office, just to see how expensive the pet deposit would be. I left room for hope and perhaps another point of connection. “People are still important,” she reminded me, “but having a cat could help you feel more connected — less in your own head.” I was surprised to hear that the deposit would be waived because my therapist had written a letter of support for me to get a cat as an emotional support animal.

I texted a friend of mine (because I’m also trying to reconnect with friends in their own busyness). We met for tacos and toward the end of our meal, I apprehensively brought up the idea of adopting a cat.

I’ve learned to feel guilty for the pleasures I allow myself. Maybe that’s because I’ve mostly lived in survival mode — to take up less space and want fewer things. To grow up needing little because I learned the cost of things early in life. To hint rather than ask directly for things I wanted. I justify the small purchases I make — the decaf lattes are accompanied by social interaction; I get a cheap meal to leave the house when I’m lost in my thoughts.

Adopting a cat seemed impossible, given the current circumstances of my life. I worried I wouldn’t be able to care for the cat if it became ill. That my budget would be stretched too thinly. And yet I followed up on this notion. I left room for joy, thinking of sustainability in emotional, rather than just economic terms. I asked a friend for help in navigating the adoption process. I allowed myself to connect with someone who didn’t see my need (or me) as a burden.

I visited the shelter I volunteered at a few years ago, when I’d visited the possibility of adopting a cat. I brought a list of names from the online listings, but those cats didn’t seem like a match. Then I met TC, a two-year-old tabby who seemed rather affectionate. I asked my friend who came to guide me through the process what she thought. She agreed that he was mellow and would help me calm myself.

Last Friday, I took home TC after the adoption application had been approved earlier that week. Once I gave myself permission to look into getting a cat, the idea didn’t seem like such an impossibility. “Your mental health isn’t a luxury,” I reminded myself. “I’m capable of caring for a cat; being with a companion animal will get me out of own head.” I made lists, consulted with friends, and researched cat care.

I’m finding my own rhythm lately — texting friends to spend time together and being more intentional about conversations in community spaces. I’m taking care of myself even when it’s hard. Coming home to a fluffy orange companion helps with this process. I’m making room for joy.

imageImage description: Sleeping orange and white colored cat rests his head on the leg of person wearing grey shorts. Both sit on a blue patterned couch.

How to poem slowly

Write a few lines on a scrap of paper — stop writing from the exhaustion of the day. Feel bad about your lack of writing and the ensuing self-deprecation. Damn it self. Practice self-compassion again — feel badly — write about not writing — wonder why you’re not writing. Stop writing because all that comes from you is slowed and stuck and your hand is cramping.

Keep writing. However slowly.

Because your words matter. Remember why you write. Create a hashtag if needed. Listen to the words around you. Before the shit was hope and fluidity — where fear dwells is the blankest page. Then blaming yourself — myself — for the exhaustion of late.

Keep writing — for these words might resonate with others. They speak words of lived truth. What we are learning to say aloud. Of autistic truth and fear of finding the right words — of self-censorship — of tweeting these fears into the void of the internet, hoping for a response — waiting for the words to come and finding the dialogue we missed entirely.

Of how to poem slowly and live, sitting around a table of witnesses to our stories. Herstories we share aloud. The deepest fears longing for expression. She keeps writing as spent emotions become verse. Scrawlings on a page that are enough. And so is she.

Poem slowly, so that these longings may coexist together. That we may know we are real. Here and out there — in these spaces of ill-fit and utter comfort.

We make up words in the safety of here — as thoughts of shame and guilt, perseveration and self-doubt turn into hope. In conversations of building and living, coexisting in spaces of acceptance.

We write, so that we are not alone — that I am not alone — in these thought loops and self-effacing litanies. That we might believe the encouragements and self-affirmations of others — because they are true and they matter.

Poeming is a process — a self-created verb to guide us through blank spaces. In fear and doubt, there was a poem and in longing for elsewhere was an expression of being. I long because there is a place calling me.

Through poetry I might arrive there.

heart gone wild

a grandma disguised as a Baylor student that loves Jesus + coffee + most tiny mammals (especially my pup Beauregard)

distractedblog

Just another WordPress.com site

Christena Cleveland

social psychology + faith + reconciliation

Featuring Work From Today's Modern Voices

The MFA Years

First year and beyond

Borderlands

a Baylor Formation diversity project for cross cultural engagement

atMissSemee

Create + Culture + Connect - a space for people on the margins #Indigenous #POC #QPOC #LGBTIQ2SA #neurodivergent #disability #chronicillness #mentalillness

Hoist Me Out

a love letter from a stranded polar bear

Autistic Abby Writes

Slashing cliches and stereotypes with equal vehemence

cindyhuyser

poetry, editing, photography

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 146 other followers