Ask an Aspergirl

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

Tag: unseen curbs

Measuring a week — in poetry

It’s been a weird week and a half, so today’s a bit of retrospective day. I was thinking about “Seasons of Love,” from Rent, specifically the lyrics about measuring time:

“In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.”

So this is newish for the blog, but I’ve been writing what I like to call prosy poetry since the end of January. There’s a womyn’s writing circle that meets once a week, just to check in with on another and discuss our work, that I usually attend. Something about writing helps me to make sense of an otherwise chaotic space. Between grad school and my poor lizard brain (when the GAD gets bad enough, I try to remember that my brain may not be evolved enough to think rationally — just need to help calm it back down the best I can), life feels like such a mess sometimes. This thought quickly evolves from life is a mess –> I am a mess, which is not necessarily the case. As my therapist likes to remind me every time we meet, “You’re doing the best you can all things considered; I would be more surprised if you weren’t anxious about this.”

fucking train station

March 29 — After processing emotionally-fraught things with a friend after sharing the Sophie sessions of In Treatment with her, so maybe I was ready.

Easter Sunday — I wrote this in church as I reminded myself why I was staying in my college town for Easter weekend.

April 1 — began with the phrase, “The tech bubble burst, and my dad went with it…”

April 7 – Bridges — Dealing with interpersonal relationships is ridiculously frustrating. We’ll just go with that, dear readers. Make of this piece what you will.

Change is [f-cking] hard, pt II

Annie realizes that change is saddening.

Annie realizes that change is saddening (and probably maddening for that matter).

So dear readers, we’re taking a break from our discussion with words because I’ve encountered a series of opportunities to cope with change today [or just had a ridiculously hard day, apart from my seeing the women (or womyn, if you prefer — feminist spelling) in my writing circle]:

  • My psychiatrist moved her practice outside the community mental health clinic where I was receiving services, so I had to find a new pdoc (1) in my college town. Not an easy task when you’re still in graduate school, although thankfully I had the day off anyway, just didn’t want to be spending it gathering psych paperwork and doing an intake interview again. Intake interviews are easily the most annoying part of mental health care, other than long wait-times to see a pdoc, because it requires you to rehash your entire history with someone you barely know, let alone trust. Not fun. Thankfully, my therapist did call me last week to let me know this change in treatment providers was coming soon (“So I know how you react badly to change, so just to let you know…”] — probably best thing she could have done at that point. I just really hate change, on a visceral level.
  • My lovely old car, Olive, got towed while I was studying at a local cafe since the nearby restaurant was frustrated that students tend to borrow their parking lot when the cafe parking lot is full. So by now, you’ve probably already guessed that my lizard brain was freaking the f-ck out when it heard they were starting to tow nearby vehicles. I saw my car get attached to the tow truck, but it was already too late. She was gone. Goodbye Olive, until tomorrow at least, when my friend who knows how such things worsen my anxiety spectrum condition takes me to rescue Olive from the tow lot. Poor thing. Post-towing, I found myself texting friends for rides and then chattering with nearby people I barely knew. Usually, the first sign that my anxiety is worsening is that I start talking excessively and rapidly, so I was just glad that the womyn around me were so kind. They nodded and smiled, in the process allowing me to deal the best I could in that moment. One of them even gave me a ride home (thank you awesome lady)!

I was really glad that I attended writers’ circle tonight, even though it was just for a while since I had to return to my laptop to finish a psych report for work. One of the ladies mentioned how our group was like the island of misfit toys — we’re all a bit quirky, but no longer weird in the moments we share together, which I found vaguely comforting.

I’m learning to cope with change, but the process is f-cking hard. I’ve tried to make light of how much trouble I have dealing with such things, but it’s still pretty overwhelming at times, especially since change seems to come all at once. One thing in the universe falls, and I expect everything else to go down with it — probably some blend of fortune-telling and catastrophizing (2), I suppose, but that’s okay since that’s how I feel as I sit in front of my laptop with a cookie baked in my microwave and a leftover, rewarmed mug of tea.

Life is okay even when things are hard, and it seems to be spinning at a rate beyond my comprehension.  Sometimes change is merely additional therapy fodder for the week; at least that’s what I’ve been continually reminding myself lately: “You will be okay; this is a way for you to practice the CBT techniques you’ve learned and talk with therapist lady about how things progressed.”

As Prior Walter says during the closing scene of  Angels in America, “The earth only spins forward,” so I suppose all we can do is learn to cope in the meantime.

  1. Term oftentimes used on http://www.crazymeds.us/pmwiki/pmwiki.php when referring to the person who prescribes your psychiatric medication, whether they are a nurse practitioner, primary care physician, or a psychiatrist. It’s basically shorthand — Crazy Meds, whose tagline is “finding treatment options that suck less,” includes a great meds database and also a forum for people taking psych meds.
  2. http://psychcentral.com/lib/2009/15-common-cognitive-distortions/
  3. http://www.diclib.com/therapy%20fodder/show/en/amslang/T/553/180/0/4/10211  [Therapy fodder is in fact a thing.]

Blaming oneself in relationships and finding people who notice your strengths

change is like stepping off a curb...

It’s realizing you’ve stepped off a sidewalk curb, without even realizing it was there.

Let’s read through this scene together (by now, dear readers, you’ve noticed my love of emotional mirrors via popular culture) and then begin our discussion:

Scene from In Treatment – Sophie, week 8

Aspergirls seem to get so used to looking for environmental cues that they blame themselves when they miss them, especially when social scenarios end badly in the process. I  have a fellow Aspergirl friend who says that “change is like stepping off a curb without realizing it’s there.” Such changes, especially when we miss the cues leading up to them, are difficult to process emotionally. Many of us also have a history of trauma or social frustrations (e.g., bullying or fucked-up relationships) that make us feel powerless enough as it is, so we look for ways to enlarge our responsibility over a set of circumstances beyond our control, if only to feel a sense of power over them.

This reminds me of the passage, “While it’s true that some Aspergirls just don’t want friends and are happy being alone, the thing I have found in my research is not so much an innate lack of desire for friends, but an acceptance of the fact they will never have them” (Simone, 2010, p. 100). Simone also reminds us that “Doctors and diagnostic manuals are telling us that we are not cultivating appropriate peer relationships, but in light of all these things it makes sense” (p. 100). When I was younger, I remember feeling more comfortable around older people than my same-aged peers. They seemed more accepting of my all-encompassing interests and idiosyncratic language. I was the girl experimenting with big words, while wearing sweater vests.

I suppose the good news is that as we grow older, we can surround ourselves with people who tolerate, and even enjoy our quirky ways of being. I’m always on the lookout for people who love film or other kinds of media as much as I do. There’s a kind of love that comes in talking with someone who shares your passions (be it comic books, black-and-white films, or feminist zines, and everything in between).  Supportive people don’t make you feel like it’s completely your fault when you monologue for a while or say something completely out of context.

As I was reading Aspergirls, I also noted this: “Because of Asperger/fluid intelligence, I was able to make some unique connections that were beyond what I was being taught, and I was misunderstood” (p. 112). I definitely have had times when I’ve been on the receiving end of the side-glance of people mildly confused about how I pieced things together. My closest friends and colleagues take the time to understand how my Aspie brain processes information in seemingly strange ways. But I’ve also noticed that this sort of  meaning-making allows me to examine problems in novel ways. Those who notice my strengths have helped me to empower myself.

I remember one conversation in particular in which a friend asked me, “What would you think of a girl who’d been through all of that and was thriving in a Ph.D. program?” “She’d be pretty amazing,” I said. What stuck with me was her reminder, “You can tesser — you see things in ways that others can’t.” My friend knows I love A Wrinkle in Time, but her statement resonated with me in a way I hadn’t expected. Oftentimes, my friends help me to see past myself, when I have trouble doing so on my own.

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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