Ask an Aspergirl

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

Tag: feeling awkward

Intuitive responses and self-consciousness

in·tu·i·tive (adjective)

/inˈt(y)o͞oitiv/

  1. using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive.

Synonyms: instinctive, instinctual; innate, inborn, inherent, natural, congenital; unconscious, subconscious,right-brained, involuntary, visceral [1]

Sometimes I have trouble picking up on social nuances: I may overlook when someone wants to switch topics or needs to leave because I’m monologuing. I’ll run through mental flowcharts in my head when I’m figuring out whether a statement seems relevant (or for that matter socially appropriate — will they judge me if I say _____ ). Maybe I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing; maybe I have no idea what to say. I use scripted dialogue in unfamiliar social settings and then inevitably lapse into pop culture references — maybe I need footnotes.

My mom says as a kid when I was having trouble with a task, I said, “It’s hard for me,” rather than “I can’t do it.” Maybe that’s why I’ve developed workaround for dealing with social confusion. I make sense of social situations by looking for patterns, developing analogs, and creating rules. I impose structure on ambiguous scenarios; I ask for examples and further explanation when I can. Sometimes I’ll ask close friends or my therapist for a script when I’m at a loss for words.

I’ve deliberately learned to manage my anxiety levels. Maybe some kids naturally learn to calm themselves as stressful situations resolve, but growing up, I lived with uncertainties. My body knew I was anxious before my brain did. I could feel my anxieties in my shoulders, but couldn’t identity the accompanying emotional experience. I knew I worried a lot, but I wasn’t sure how to lessen the radio static.

There’s a self-consciousness that comes with knowing that some aspects of one’s being don’t come intuitively. I’ll wonder if I’m the only person who talks with herself in 2nd person to self-soothe: “This scary, but you’ll manage. You can do this because ____. You know that. I’m proud of you for doing ______.” I’ll realize I’ve created elaborate social rules in an attempt to understand how to behave in novel situations.

Maybe engaging in tasks that feel intuitive can be a form of self-care. My self-care consists of comforting rituals and routines (Aspergirl R&R, as Rudy Simone would say): My apartment sometimes serves as my hide cave. It’s quiet and dark; after a long day of managing anxieties and others’ expectations, I’ll crash in front of my computer to read blogs or watch Walking Dead. I take the bus to the local cafe a few days a week because the people there are kind and the pie is delicious. I’m learning to sleep when I’m tired and seek quiet when I desperately need it.

I’m asking myself, “What do I need at this moment?” Sometimes my responses include realizations that I need help, but have no idea how to ask for it. Help-seeking makes me feel vulnerable and burdensome. I feel strange talking myself through anxiety-provoking situations or taking frequent breaks when addressing stressful tasks. “But other people don’t have to do this!” I muse frustratedly.

Maybe they do — a friend reminded me, “You’re judging your insides based on other people’s outsides.” I’m listening to my needs and seeking feedback from trusted people. I wonder if  I’ll become kinder to myself in the process.

  1. Definition from Google (used “define: word” function) – https://www.google.com/#q=define:+intuitive

Point, Counterpoint, Actual Point

This entry is for Point, Counterpoint, Actual Point: A Collaborative Blog Series, an idea proposed by Nattily,  who writes on her blog, Notes on Crazy.

POINT: People want me around.

COUNTERPOINT: Everyone is always so nice to me — they must feel sorry for me since I tend to worry aloud about things around them. I don’t know when people want me to stop talking or change the subject to something they would rather discuss instead. That must get tiresome after a while.  My pop culture references annoy people. People glaze over after I begin a monologue; I’ve only recently noticed that, though I have wondered if people find me odd.  Maybe I’m annoying. I feel so uncomfortable around other people sometimes, as if they want me to leave, especially when I have nothing in common with anyone in the room. I don’t fit anywhere.

ACTUAL POINT: My close friends have told me, verbatim, “We like having you around.” I’m kind and insightful. I listen and talk through people’s worries with them because I know what it’s like to feel ridiculously anxious about things. People are nice to me because they like me — not because they pity me. I’ve met people who are mutually nerdy about television programs and films — we’ve had long, productive conversations. There are places where I feel deeply uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with me. Sometimes I miss social cues, but that doesn’t  mean I alienate people. My friends understand that I’m trying the best I can to participate in conversations. I’ve found communities where I fit.

oh thats so nice

CONCLUSION: People want me around, and that’s okay.

Being a trapezoid

Some of us are trapezoids.

But some of us are trapezoids…

Dear readers, I’m currently working on another piece for the blog about divergent thinking — oh grad school, making sure this time of year is ridiculously busy — but meanwhile I’ll share a poem I submitted to friend for an event in which she’s participating. My womyn’s writing circle has been a source of comfort this semester. As I typed out this poem from my little brown notebook (finished my first one about a month ago and was pretty excited about that!), I was reminded of how writing spaces have been a safe havens for me this semester. Change is scary, and I’ve had plenty of it,  between the new program and the growing realization that I’ll need to find another job for next fall — oh applications, I have become quite familiar with you. I’m beginning to think one never really stops applying for things, be it schools or employment, even volunteer programs.

So here’s my poem about being different and realizing finding one’s fit (if that’s even possible) is a process: Trapezoid, a prosy-poem by Aspergirl

So my trapezoidal readers, go and be awesome. You are anyway, regardless of whether you believe that about yourself.

Lizard brain and other metaphors

keyboard-lizard

Conversation I had in therapy this week:

Aspergirl:  [something about feeling as if my brain hasn’t evolved enough to help me cope with stressors — poor lizard brain — extended metaphor, but also self-depreciation cloaked in intellectualization]

Therapist lady: So I’m going to let that self-depreciating statement disguised as intellectualization [poor lizard brain] go…

Aspergirl: But thank you for calling me on that.

Therapist lady: That’s what I’m here for… [session continues]

And thus begins a conversation about the limits and reasons for my metaphor usage: whether I’m describing waves of anxiety or feeling as if my fully humanoid brain is lizard-like because I’m having trouble calming myself. I suppose in a way, I’m othering myself  when I pity my lizard brain, but at the same time, that phrase seems to help me be compassionate toward myself when I’m experiencing ridiculously heightened levels of anxiety.

I don’t blame myself for feeling that way; I just recognize that in that particular moment, I seemingly can’t use my higher reasoning skills to lessen my anxiety. Instead, I resort to talking to myself in soothing tones and reminding myself that it’s all going to be okay (“so stop freaking the f-ck out, poor lizard brain”). I wonder if my therapist was just surprised to hear me use the lizard analogy in such casual terms. That’s how I often deal with the ways that GAD creeps into my life and never really fades away.  I seem to live with a nice moderate level of anxiety on a good day, the kind I can lessen with meds and CBT tech.

I think about my Aspergirl traits in a similar manner. At some point, I lost track of how many times the campus librarians have had to remind me to lower my volume — I actually bequeathed them a card system one day, so we could have a mutually-understood system for conveying that message (green = good; yellow = getting a bit loud; orange = way too loud –> seriously lady, you’re in a library — there is no red because that color is scary).

I joke about how when they handed out the volume controls, I didn’t get one, but that doesn’t mean such situations aren’t terribly frustrating. Maybe that’s where making light of things can fail us, when we forget the emotions behind the joking, but I don’t think I have. I say I’m directionally challenged — lack an internal compass — so I’m grateful to the person who invented GPS (fear of being lost: where the GAD and actual possibility of getting lost easily meet).

I like metaphors. Maybe it’s the bibliophile in me. Probably the one that’s helped me the most over the past year or so is the wave metaphor for anxiety. I’ve written entire poems about how oftentimes I can see the next wave of anxiety coming and hope to have a friend sitting nearby me on the beach as it laps our feet. I was reminded of Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” when my therapist mentioned something about how I may be trying to signal my significant distress as my speech becomes increasingly rapid as my anxiety rises (1).

That resonated with me — she’s always very careful with the words she uses, to the point where I’ve heard the phrase, “Now I could be totally wrong about this, but I have an idea about that,” countless numbers of times, but I appreciate that. Words are incredibly powerful things, and we both recognize that — usually meeting in the middle as the session continues.

So dear readers, now I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s passage about the power we attribute to words, so I’ll quote it here:

“Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” ~ Albus Dumbledore (p. 298, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Naming things helps me feel a sense of control in an often chaotic universe. That’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed words. I was that kid in elementary school who was completely and utterly fascinated with gigantic words such as antidisestablishmentarianism (one of the longest words in the English language). How about you, dear readers, what metaphors do you find yourself commonly using for your mental states or relationships with others?

  1. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/177868#poem

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”

At a certain point in your life in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by…

Phoebe: Look. I think about Alice falling. And I look down, and I get scared.

Miss Dodger: Yes

Phoebe: I don’t want to do those things or say those things. I just have to… except here. Everywhere else, I feel ugly.

Miss Dodger: I want to tell you something which may not make any sense. But I should say it just so that one day, you might remember it and maybe it will make you feel better. At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by… you will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are… especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself… “But I am this person.” And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.

Phoebe: I’m so scared.

Miss Dodger: We all are.

I’ve found Miss Dodger’s monologue from Phoebe in Wonderland  to be unbelievably comforting when I’m having a hard day, and I feel so odd and out-of-place. I first saw this film in the middle of my undergrad years, and it resonated with me in a way I hadn’t expected. It’s a narrative I’ve come back to on numerous occasions, for reasons I’m still beginning to understand. I was reminded of this scene yesterday when I basically outed myself (as a person with clinically significant levels of anxiety) at a staff meeting.

A fellow staffer asked, “Did you have too much coffee this morning [because I was talking more quickly than I usually do, and my conversational pace is already relatively fast]?” And so rather than using any of my standard workaround / “that is none of your business” redirective statements, I simply replied, “No, my psych meds are just leveling out.” Our interaction felt pretty awkward from my end, and my friend seemed disheartened that she’d pushed me to disclose my mental health status, but at the same time, it was nice to just normalize my experience. As I begin to tell my own story, I continue to be surprised by how terribly ordinary mental health conditions can be. A friend of mine says, “None of us have it together. Some of us are just better at pretending [to be normal – as Liane Holliday Willey would say] than others.” I get that now — maybe in a way I didn’t before I started attempting to be more open with others, as I share my own vulnerabilities.

Not to say the process of measured self-disclosure (right place, right time, and right person) or self-acceptance, for that matter, is easy, but it’s more manageable than I expected. So I’m an Aspergirl with an anxiety spectrum condition… That’s definitely not fun and can feel overwhelming at times, but I’m getting better at finding social-emotional supports.

These people remind me, “I will open my eyes and see myself for who I am… especially for everything that made me so different from all the awful normals. And I will say to myself… ‘But I am this person.’ And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.”

Developing friendships via popular culture

Paul and Sophie

Scene from In Treatment (2008) featuring Paul and Sophie discussing her journal, Hermione.

I find myself using a shared love of media to find people who enjoy my presence and could one day become my friend. Knowing that I have all-encompassing passions for films and dramas, it helps to surround myself with like-minded people (e.g., poetry circles and literary groups). I remember watching Sophie’s sessions on In Treatment with a friend in undergrad and finally realizing that my friend understood me. We nodded at the same moments onscreen as Paul’s adolescent client, Sophie, dealt with the complexities of her family, and we made conversation regarding interactions between characters over the episodes. Because I sometimes have trouble explaining my thoughts and feelings to others, it helps to have character dramas to analyze with a friend as I attempt to share experiences from my own life. It feels safer somehow to strongly empathize with someone onscreen than to attempt to describe events from my own life — at least at first.

Maybe I look for people who enjoy the same books, films, and television shows that I do because I expect that I’ll monologue about these subjects at some point. There are times in conversations when I’ll become so excited about particular media and completely forget that the other person may have lost interest. I’ve noticed lately that I tend to miss those nonverbal cues indicative of others wishing I would move on to another topic. When I surround myself with fellow bibliophiles and fans of character dramas (e.g., In Treatment), I don’t have to worry so much when I lapse into monologuing because if the other person is equally interested, we remain in conversation-mode.  My closest friends may not have the same passion that I do for particular dramas, but they can share in my joy about these things regardless.

Even when I’m making casual conversation in coffee shops, I tend to lapse into film, book, or television-related comments within the first 15 minutes or so. Because my speech is often sprinkled with pop culture references, I feel less awkward around media savvy people (which thankfully is a lot of people in their 20s and 30s because of the internet). But other times, I feel like that weird girl who keeps referring to things no one really cares about or understands anyway. On a good day, I begin such conversations, and then eventually ask if the other person still wants to continue the discussion, so we talk for a bit longer. On the best days, I find someone who’s equally nerdy about films, television programs, or books, and we have an emotionally intimate talk centered on these topics.

For me, pop culture can often serve as an emotional mirror: It’s a way for me to process my own thoughts and feelings as I attempt to understand others at the same time. Hence, many of my comments around others begin, “Have you heard of ______ [insert pop culture reference here].” But maybe that’s okay.

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