Ask an Aspergirl

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

Category: So this is where we begin…

A year ago tomorrow

My practicum supervisor asked me, “Do you ever wonder if you’re on the [autism] spectrum?” and mentioned she saw me struggling to keep up with the demands of my field placement. I remember feeling blindsided by that line of inquiry and later calling a friend who works with autistic adults as I tried to make sense of things. She listened well and then responded in a way that I found just reassuring enough to get me through the weeks of uncertainty that followed:

This is an opportunity for self-exploration, maybe even a  freeing experience.  This can be one more way of making the world work for you, a process of finding where you can best use your gifts, but don’t look too far ahead. Maybe try illustrating your thoughts. Let me tell you a secret, “No one knows what’s going on, and some act better than others.” Ask yourself, what does [Aspergirl] need to get through ___________?

My friend reminded me that things would be okay, and they were eventually, but it was an emotionally exhausting few months. I was incredibly grateful that I’d started seeing my therapist earlier that month, so I had someone  with whom I could talk and cry things through. For every time I expressed how broken and odd I felt, therapist lady continued to remind me that I was doing okay, all things considered:  “I would be more surprised if you weren’t feeling like this considering all you’re going through.” It was good to have a safe person then, in the midst of how messy life seemed.

I made a list of all the people I’d cried in front of that week — my field supervisor, practicum supervisor, research mentor, and my therapist — and noticed that I was gradually learning to be emotionally vulnerable with people I trusted. When I reach my anxiety threshold, I tend to begin talking with whomever is around, so I tried to surround myself with safe people. I started seeing my chaplain friend around that time as well, which helped since she was someone who listened intently with no expectations for what role I should play in the conversation. I still find that terribly comforting when I’m having a long week.

I remember walking with my practicum supervisor, just outside of the classroom where we met, after she approached me about applying to the Ph.D. program. No one else in my program knew that I was planning on leaving at that point, so she discretely discussed the next steps in that process with me. I sent the emails, wrote the application essays, updated my CV, and met the program chair. Switching programs seemed possible, but scary (change is hard, dear readers).

I’ll fast forward to a year ago tomorrow. It was a Friday, the day I got the email: “I wanted you to know that your transfer has been accepted into the Ph.D. program.” I was sitting on my floor couch and was so excited that I ended up texting the various people who’d supported me during that ridiculously long fall. I still have their responses saved on my phone. I reread them when I’m feeling completely and utterly anxious about grad school.

Ten Going to Hug YouThank you friends who sat with me — via email, texts, phone calls, and even in-person — as I tried to figure out what I was doing with my life and for reminding me that things would be okay regardless — because they were, eventually.

Grey thinking and my [post?-]evangelical self

Image from an article in Relevant Magazine about Donald Miller's book adapted to film, Blue Like Jazz

Image from an article in Relevant Magazine (relevantmagazine.com) about Donald Miller’s collection of essays adapted into film, Blue Like Jazz

When asked about my religious beliefs, I describe myself as “a person of some faith.” Sometimes I feel like I should have subtitles or footnotes or something during the  rest of the conversation. These days I attend church mostly for the community, while at the same time imagining what it would be like to still have the certainty that accompanied my culturally Christian youth. I’ve mentioned to friends before that when you grow up theologically (and in this case, also politically) conservative, you tend to stay in that tradition or become considerably more liberal as you develop your religious identity.

I suppose this becomes a narrative of my [post?-]evangelical / person of some faith journey. I was reminded of about this continuing process as I happened upon the Recovering Evangelical (http://recoveringevangelical.com) blog and reflected on my own story. This process has been a series of monologues (sometimes even imagined conversations) written on sheets of notebook paper and bound journals with authors such as  Rachel Held Evans (1), Andrew Marin (2), Sarah Sentilles (3), Greg Epstein  (4), Mel White (5), Donald Miller, Lauren Winner, Brian McLaren, and Bishop Spong.

My reading has been intermingled with dialogues over cups of tea with people of faith — those who listen and emphasize that the spaces they inhabit are comfortable for people who doubt and wonder.  They remind me that my thinking about my religious life doesn’t have to be so black-and-white. Being in the grey, engaging in grey thinking, in a place that can be uncomfortably uncertain, is okay. I find it preferable to assuming I know everything about God, if ze [gender neutral pronoun] exists at all.

So dear readers, I’m reminded of a quote, from the writer of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, with which I’ll end this discussion for now: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ~ Anne Lamott

  1. Review of Rachel Held Evan’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood: http://persephonemagazine.com/2012/11/02/book-review-a-year-of-biblical-womanhood-by-rachel-held-evan/
  2. The Marin Foundation, founded by Andrew Marin to promote dialogue between the LGBT community and evangelical Christians : http://www.themarinfoundation.org/
  3. Blog post about Sarah Sentille’s book, Breaking Up With God: http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/rd10q/4650/breaking_up_with_god%3A_i_didn%27t_lose_my_faith%2C_i_left_it/
  4. Interview with Greg Epstein, Harvard Humanist Chaplain and author of The New Humanism: http://reedsecular.org/2009/11/16/good-without-god-interview-with-greg-epstein/
  5. Soulforce, an organization for LGBT[QIA] – QUILTBAG – Christians and their allies, co-founded by Mel White: http://soulforce.com/

Maybe this is a good place to start…

As an Aspergirl who finally pieced the interpersonal details of her life together in some sort of coherent fashion, this statement resonates with me.

After a semester of being in a field placement that was not a good fit, I definitely understand this feeling. It was hard to adapt to a work environment in which tasks and schedules were different every day. I often felt as if there was something wrong with me because such things seemed so much easier for my coworkers. They could find the right words to say or quickly respond to demands that seemed to be ever-changing. I, a self-admitted terrible multitasker, often felt confused and exhausted at work.

I remember reading, “Writing has saved my sanity if not my life and the lives of countless Aspergirls I’ve spoken to. It will validate your thoughts – you will read them later with a clear head and you will see that much of what you think is reasonable and true. Some of it will be quite negative – in these cases you need to re-frame what you are looking at and what you are thinking about” (Simone, 2010, pp. 75-76). I’ve found that whenever I’m upset, journaling helps me to feel less muddled inside. I can channel the sea of thoughts from my poor worried brain to my computer screen via typing and it helps somehow. I’ve noticed that by simply going back and reading what I typed later that day, I validate those emotions and thoughts. I can say to myself, “What you were feeling was very real and normal under those challenging circumstances,” which allows me to normalize such experiences.

So dear readers, that’s all for now. Maybe I’ll write a film review next time or talk about transition resources concerning college and careers for fellow Aspies. We’ll see.

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