Ask an Aspergirl

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

Tag: extended metaphors

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.


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.

Metaphors for self-compassion: The imaginary figures eating my cereal

I reach for elaborate metaphors to describe emotional experiences I’m trying to understand. Shame becomes a monster, crouched by my shoulders. Anxiety is the neighbor who somehow wandered into my house and insists on eating my cereal, while sitting comfortably on my couch, refusing to leave. Self-criticism becomes an enormous iron machine fueled by the thoughtless words of others and my own self doubt. Metaphors help me to fill the gap between the hurt of these experiences and my lack of words to describe just how badly I feel then.

I’m practicing not judging myself when I’m being self-critical and thus ashamed of myself — into infinite loops. My therapist calls this practice, self-compassion — to look at myself like I would a friend that’s struggling or a fictional character whose frustrations mirror my own. It’s easier to be less judgmental towards people who aren’t me. Self-compassion is noticing the strength of my own history — the resilience I’ve shown as I’ve managed the anxiety and learned to care for myself emotionally.

This is hard, and it hurts. Yes, it does. I suppose that’s how the growth process works. But it will come to hurt less as you practice accepting this current experience — even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. Because fighting against it and assuming you’ve done something wrong to encounter these frustrations hurts worse.

This is where I become increasingly self-critical. Because even mindfulness is a difficult practice. To see and acknowledge without judging myself. To be there in the hurt without blaming myself for causing it. I realize it’s easier sometimes for me to blame myself because at least then, I have some (perceived) measure of control. But that’s not true. I am not to blame for the worrisome nature of the period between written exams and oral exams — certainly not for the ambiguities of dissertation proposals and post-grad queries.

Often I feel like I should be doing more, assuming that would quell my anxieties. But I’m learning to recognize what I’ve done, the growth I’ve already experienced. This is so hard, but I keep practicing. Working through meta-shame (shaming oneself about feeling ashamed) is a lengthy process.

I’ve been having a hard time lately — with sleep and with seeing past the stresses of graduate school hurdles. This underlying fear that I am not enough, that I’ve failed to anticipate some trait in myself that will be my undoing is so difficult to shake. Sometimes I borrow the hopes of others: the reminders from my PhD mentor saying that I’m a good writer who can finish this program.

Perhaps hope is replaying that imaginary tape — the one stating, I will eventually be okay, until I come to believe it. To imagine a thriving space that hasn’t arrived, where a future version of myself is both making and finding her fit. It’s imagining how I’ll be enough and valuing the unique vantage point I have as an Autistic woman researching autistic experiences.

For now, self-criticism and shame are my neighbors. They sit on my metaphorical couch, while they make pointless comments about the television programing and complain my cereal is stale. I get off the couch to pour my own breakfast, learning to coexist with this unwelcome company. We glance at one another as my day continues.

Being patient with myself is a process.

Conversational rhythm

Just another day

I find myself counting between responses in 3/4 or 4/4 time: I can see the orchestra in my mind of eighth notes and quarter notes, as I try to find the conversational rhythm, those pauses between statements and breaks in between. I was in choir for years, so conducting myself isn’t a exactly a new skill; I just never expected to use it to help myself manage  unfamiliar social situations. Strangely enough though, my listening for people’s speech patterns and lengths of pauses helps me to be more mindful of my own conversational style. I even wrote a poem about this process while sitting at open mike night yesterday:

Conversational rhythm

In this listening along, there’s a moment where one sees the conductor motion toward you to play: I answer the question or respond as needed. I watch the music [pace of the conversation], so I know when to come in — noting my entrance, right after I meet my professor’s eyes. By making direct eye contact, which is something I tend to avoid in lecture style classes where it’s just easier to listen without adding extraneous visual stimuli, it’s as if I’m asking permission to join the discussion. So far, this strategy is working relatively well in class: I feel slightly more comfortable speaking my mind and tend to be less likely to interrupt fellow students’ sentence. Missing those nonverbal cues sometimes leads to interrupting if I’m not conscious of this tendency.

Conversational patterns and rhythms became part of my existence without my realizing it. Novel situations are the hardest for me.  It’s like playing with a new music ensemble for the first time — first rehearsals are difficult for everyone.

A wise friend to whom I was venting this week reminded me to “Continue to self monitor what the ‘music’ of the room is. What instrument am I? Think beyond yourself during this process — more than just me in this orchestra.” She embraced my metaphor for the confusion I felt in finding my place in novel social environments and helped me to process through the situation before saying that.

So I suppose for now, to quote Natalie from Next to Normal as she sings “Maybe”:

“I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay
Yeah, something next to normal
That’s the thing I’d like to try
Close enough to normal
To get by”

Change is hard.

Troy realizes media can be a source of intrapersonal understanding.

Troy realizes media can be a wonderful source of intrapersonal understanding, and that’s hard sometimes.

JEFF (as imagined by Abed):  “Change is always scary. But then I thought of you guys, and I wasn’t so scared. Abed, when you brought this group together, you changed our lives, but then we changed each other. And we’re going to keep changing in unexpected ways. And we’re still all going to keep being friends, even if we don’t all become professors at Greendale, or open a restaurant together, or move into the same apartment building after Pierce dies. Even if we go somewhere, we’re not going anywhere.”

ABED:  “That was a killer speech, Jeff.”

JEFF:  “I didn’t say anything. I literally just walked up.”

ABED:  “I know. I made the speech for you. It hit all the right notes. I was trying to hang on to this moment because I was so afraid of the future, but then I realized all of this was once the future. And it was completely different from what I’d known before. And it was happening so fast, but in the end, or in the now, I guess, it turned out great.  I just had to run the scenario to figure it out.”  [“History 101,” Community]

I was thinking about how I have a harder time adjusting to change than I’d like to admit sometimes. This semester has been a wave of changes, mostly good ones, as I adjust to novel environments and people and then notice my need for routine and ritual amongst it all. I saw Community‘s fourth season premiere this morning and noticed how all the characters struggled to make sense of a world moving faster than expected. “History 101” explored the anxieties that come with changing environments and interpersonal circumstances. There’s a sense of overwhelming terror once one realizes how little control we have over change. It comes regardless of whether we’re ready.

At first, Abed tried to deal with his evolving relationship with Troy (his best friend, who is now dating another member of the study group), by disconnecting himself from the present reality. He daydreamed of a happy sitcom-like place in which he would never have to graduate from Greendale, continuing to be surrounded by his friends, because graduation was too scary a reality to confront.

Meanwhile, Jeff participates in the Hunger Deans (homage to the Hunger Games, but with added sexual tension via Dean Pelton)  just so he can get a course override. Jeff plans to graduate early, so he wants to secure spots in a popular history class (well, an Ice Cream related one) for the study group. That way, they can take their last class together, and Jeff will feel that his world has some sense of continuity, by preserving this ritual. Troy and Britta try to understand their transition from friendship to romantic relationship without alienating Abed in the process. Annie is afraid of what the future brings for her as a hospital administrator, which could be a terribly unfulfilling job. Even Dean Pelton realizes he will miss Jeff after he graduates, so he rents the apartment nearby Jeff’s place.

I’ve noticed how I often process emotionally fraught circumstances through the lens of pop culture, especially television dramas and dramedies (like Community). Somehow seeing a character onscreen live out an experience and feel deeply helps me better understand myself. I remember hearing a friend say, “Change feels like stepping off a curb without realizing it’s there.” I get that: I often find myself wishing for a predictable work-life and consistent social relationships, but the universe often reminds me that this is rarely the case. Maybe that’s okay.

So dear readers, how do you deal with change?

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