Ask an Aspergirl

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

Tag: she gets me

Cultivating safe spaces

Community hugIt’s been a little over a year since the blog began, or rather I began the blog. I’ve moved from jotting thoughts (and sometimes prayers) in well-hidden notebooks — thrown behind bookstacks or on high shelves — to sharing my poetry at open mikes. It has been quite the year.

When I considered the possibility I could be an Aspergirl — wondering what that meant, then gradually embracing that part of myself: I met fellow Aspergirl bloggers through reading and commenting in their online spaces. I’m feeling increasingly connected to other people whose stories are relatable.

When I began to read these bits of my narrative aloud — honoring my backstory and meeting like-minded women:  I became a regular at the neighborhood coffeehouse (barista friend says I’m  “earl grey latte girl”) and the local cafe with the good listening proprietor. I’m gradually unveiling my narrative in these spaces — “This is me and what I’m experiencing.”  I found a community of women writers through a flyer posted at that coffeehouse.

This has been a year of cultivating safe spaces and becoming (not finding) myself. I’m practicing self-disclosure and measured vulnerability: “right place, right time, right person” considerations in mind. This has been a year of coming back to myself as I’ve been learning to remain present, even as I’m waiting for waves of anxiety to pass — I’m learning to sit with them.

A little over a year ago, my chaplain friend suggested I start a blog. “Why don’t you call it, Ask an Aspergirl,” she said. I was a bit skeptical at first: “So I’m telling strangers on the internet about the worrisome and confusing things I’m experiencing? That seems weird.” And yet, I remembered telling my therapist, the previous semester, how I had few social supports, so she introduced me to chaplain friend and suggested I volunteer at the animal shelter. I’d been experimenting with social connections — maybe I could muddle through my thoughts via blogging — “It’s like curated journaling,” I thought.

I was sitting at the local cafe, waiting for a friend joining me for lunch, and remarked to the proprietor, “I have people now; when did this happen?” It was a wonderful feeling, but also unfamiliar. I know how to linger at a well-lit desk with a book and share thoughts with someone in line. It’s harder to maintain relationships. I forget people want me around until they say those exact words.

So dear readers, I’m reminded of a statement the cafe proprietor made as I think about my finding community this year: “You’d be surprised that most people you meet are lovely, if you give them a chance.” I’m glad we could have this conversation together.

Womyn’s writing workshop

Write“We live in this space between thought and word as we try, struggle it seems, to bridge this chasm. So after this happened I felt __________ and now I feel __________. I don’t know. No one’s ever asked, so I find myself grasping for words. This meaning-making is an incendiary beast — not easily tamed. It defies words or even bits of description. It looked like… it felt like… oh, I don’t know, but I wish I did — it would be oh so much easier.” – Selection from my poetry notebook written during the womyn’s writing workshop I attended recently

J, the facilitator at the womyn’s writing workshop, gave a list of freewrite prompts on a handout reminding us that there were “no rules, just write.” So I sat at a long table, surrounded by a few women I knew from the local circle and some others I’d never met before that afternoon, and scribbled furiously in green ink. I’ve attended workshops that J has held before, and she’s good about letting people finish their current thought before the group sharing time begins. We went around the table, introducing ourselves and mentioning the kind of writing we did (be it poetry, prose, blogs, short stories, or anything else we wished). Then we shared our respective work, some from the day’s freewrite, others recently published, and even read from cell phone displays.

I’ve attended womyn’s writing circles for a while now, but I’m still amazed at how moving it can be to hear a woman share her felt experiences and then watch the group respond. On such occasions, we murmur along in agreement (mm-hmm), snap (an exclamation of that’s true for me, too), and of course, clap towards the end of the piece. At the workshop, I read the poem I quoted from in the beginning of this entry and felt a sense of connection with these women as I tried to describe what it was like to feel completely muddled, yet try to verbalize that experience.

J helped to create a non-judgmental space in which first-time writers could feel comfortable reading their pieces in front of the group. As a fellow participant, I was encouraged by the comments other women in the group made about my poem.

I remember one of the women mentioned that we were “eight people who choose to write with people they didn’t know.” “Sounds crazy,” someone else in the group quipped; and yet I felt the process working. During that hour and a half, I felt heard, and better yet, understood as I reflected on our shared experiences. J reflected on women poets’ experiences with writing about their lives and remarked, “We say out loud what is going on.” That statement resonated with me.

“This sense-making is an illusory space — not easily finished it seems as the structure is — unfinished. Not linear, but part of this curvy process of putting pieces together and mixing them up and leaving them alone — unfinished.”

The banality of talking and why it saved me

From Alison Bechdel's graphic novel, Are you my mother

From Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Are you my mother

The banality of talking and why it saved me

Wonderful piece about therapy and why it helps: Here’s an excerpt —

“You fear the judgment, you fear the backlash, you fear that maybe somewhere in your internal muck, that you are lying, and that things really aren’t that bad and if you just sucked it up and do what your working class folks taught you to do, then things would be okay. Talking was reserved for the things that would make people comfortable and happy, not for the things that were not understandable.”

Also from the comments section:

Oh crap. Now I’m all weepy. I remember my 4th or 5th therapy appointment after some terrible things happened, I said to my therapist, “But I’m just telling you the  same thing over again! What’s the point?”

And she said, “You’re going to tell this story over and over again. It’s going to have a different beginning and a different end each time depending on where you think this begins and how it will end. Different sights, smells and sounds will make their way into this story. You’re going to tell this story until you can look at it from a distance and say, ‘That caused me great pain and it made me feel sad and afraid for a long time. It still makes me feel sad and afraid, but now I know how this story goes and I know how to control it. I’ve worked out the details and now it’s just something that happened.’ Other stories are going to come up, and you’re going to tell them over and over again, too, but each time, it’s going to become easier to get to that point were you look at them from a distance.”

And that, I think, is the point of therapy. You keep massaging the details of everything until you can step away from what has been going on and find a little way to be present not in what happened, but in what is happening now.

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If you are afraid to write it, that's a good sign. I suppose you know you're writing the truth when you're terrified. [Yrsa Daley-Ward]


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