Thoughts on Growing Up With Autism

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This post will contain a collection of short journal entries I wrote recently about what it was like emotionally to grow up with autism. These thoughts specifically dealt with bullying and (for me) the most confusing time of adolescence, which was middle school and the beginning of high school. By the last couple years of high school I had figured some things out and learned how to “pretend” to fit in a bit better, even though deep down I still felt like an oddball.

Here goes:

I hated always being the butt of the joke – even among friends. I was naive. I was gullible. I was trusting. Too many times I was set up for humiliation or embarrassment.

In an effort to avoid this embarrassment, I quit trusting anyone. I quit taking anyone at their word. I became suspicious. I struggled to identify sarcasm, so I started assuming ALL was sarcasm unless I knew someone well enough to tell the difference. 

Due to this struggle with recognizing sarcasm, how many “mean” comments did I take to heart that were meant in jest? How many cruel words that cut me to the core, were never even meant to be cruel? When boys would say they liked me and I would take it as them mocking me and choose to ignore them or laugh at their “joke”, did I instead end up hurting their feelings in an effort to save my own? 

Bullied for my weight during middle school, accused of having a lack of “feeling” or frustrating others who thought I didn’t care about anything because I suffered from selective mutism under stress, constantly feeling reminded that I wasn’t “feminine” enough – this was much of my teenage experience.  

The common thread throughout was that I unknowingly made myself a target for abuse. The way I dressed. The way I talked. The way I acted. I was so desperate for acceptance and approval, but I reached for them in ways that were socially unacceptable to those around me and ended up only painting the bulls-eye larger on myself.  

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Kavanaugh & Ford: Thoughts on Attempted Assault, Trauma, and PTSD

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The last few days, I have come across a lot of stupid, ignorant comments about attempted rape and its potential aftermath on social media. In case you have been living under a rock, people have gotten very passionate about the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court candidate and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who both recently testified in front of the senate about sexual assault charges.

I have seen many memes and comments about both the accuser and the accused, and while some of them are respectful in expressing their personal opinion, many have taken to maligning the accuser, calling her a liar, a political schemer, and even saying the assault wasn’t a big deal and couldn’t have been that traumatizing. I want to take a minute to say that just because an assault is not completed, does not mean it isn’t extremely traumatizing! I will use a couple personal experiences to illustrate why I feel this way:

When I was in middle school, almost every day I was chased by big, mean bullies who threatened to “kick my ass” or even “kill me”…they never did actually beat me up, but they TERRIFIED me. I was truly afraid for my personal safety. They made me dread going to school and I became hypervigilant about trying to avoid them. In fact, I remember having to time my afternoon trek to the school bus just right so that hopefully I wouldn’t cross their path, while also making it to the bus on time.

When I was 17, I was robbed at gun point while working at Burger King. It was the end of the night shift and the manager and I were leaving out the front door, when two males in black outfits and masks jumped out of the shadows, one of them pointing his gun straight at me. No, I wasn’t actually shot during the ordeal, but I had terrifying dreams and flashbacks long after. I could never work night shift there again. To this day, I am still afraid of home invasions and double or triple check the locks at night.

If I had been a victim of attempted rape, I’m sure that would have been another terrifying memory to live with. I wish people understood PTSD and how even attempted assaults can cause immense levels of trauma, depending upon the person and how they process events and react to them. Some of the events that I find most traumatizing, others might not understand, while other events I went through that didn’t phase me much (like my mother’s many divorces) would have rocked the world of other kids. I wish we didn’t feel the need to judge others for what hurts or scars them.

Hypersensitivity to Criticism

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Recently my therapist and I have been talking about and working on my hypersensitivity to criticism. I have always had some hypersensitivity to any kind of criticism or rebuke. As a kid, I was the one you could make cry by looking at me wrong or even gently scolding me. I still tear up over things like that, even though I wish I didn’t.

This inability to deal constructively with any kind of feeling of failure has haunted me throughout my adult life, especially in the work world. I think this fear of not living up to expectations is partly why I struggle with immense anxiety around any kind of authority figure (bosses, teachers, doctors, police, etc.) Many times this anxiety is so strong that I am almost struck dumb (probably a type of selective mutism), such as when I have had to go for job reviews or any other kind of personal evaluation.

I have noticed though that my hypersensitivity to criticism focuses mainly on 5 areas. If I am criticized on something outside of these 5 topics, I am likely to be able to shake it off better or not let it bother me in the first place. Here are the subjects I am referring to:

  1. My art or writing. I am extremely sensitive to any criticism about my art and writing. However, I think this one is fairly normal for creative types. We all put a bit of our heart and soul into the things we create, in a sense they are our “babies” and we gave birth to them. This does create problems for me when it comes to having the confidence to share my art and writing publicly, especially in person.
  2. My looks and weight. I have always felt that I was rather plain or average-looking, so I have a bit of an achilles heel here. I was bullied quite a bit in middle school when I gained some weight after my dad died, and although I lost the weight a couple years later, those mean words about being “fat” have stuck with me. I have always relied on my intelligence, not my looks, to get me anywhere. I am proud of that fact, but sometimes I wish I felt more confident about the way I look.
  3. Any accusation of laziness or incompetence. I think the laziness thing bothers me because my mom would accuse me of that all the time. “Lazy”, “good for nothing”, “useless”…words like that stick with you. As for the incompetence, it doesn’t even have to be someone else that says something. If I feel even slightly incompetent (at anything) within myself it is enough to send me into a meltdown, probably a result of my perfectionism.
  4. Any perceived insult to my intelligence. As I said before, I have always relied on my intelligence to get through life, so if that is questioned or doubted, I feel worthless.
  5. Any insinuation implying that I am childish/immature or a crybaby. I have a lot of “childlike” qualities, as do many with Aspergers syndrome, and those can be endearing, but when people turn it into a bad thing and accuse me of childishness or immaturity, I feel misunderstood and hurt. I am extremely sensitive in some ways, but I hate the term “crybaby”.

So, what do you guys think? Do you share any of these insecurities? Are you also hypersensitive to criticism in these areas or others?

The Real Problem with the World

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The problem isn’t me. Not really. The problem is the world. The gossips. The bullies. The abusers. The narcissists. The shallow. The cruel. The snobs. The judgmental. The callous. The ignorant. The rude. The contentious. The angry. The passive aggressive. The sadistic. The jealous. The violent.

Is it any wonder I fear humanity? Is it any wonder I fear humiliation, rejection, and being misunderstood?

My experiences have taught me that life is harsh, and that is what I’ve come to expect. Not long ago, my psychiatrist warned me about the danger of “expecting everyone to treat me the way my abusers did”, but how easy is that to accomplish when so many others HAVE turned out to treat me that way? I often feel like a wounded gazelle surrounded by lions. I look for empathy, but instead I find savagery.

Weekend Life Update: Depression, Meditation, Politics

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I am currently experiencing a real downturn mood-wise, but I’m going to try to write a life update post anyhow. I tried to write a blog post yesterday, but was simply to depressed to complete it. Today I’m just going to sum up a few things that went on this last week, so hopefully, I will get something done today.

  • This past Wednesday, my husband and I tried out a new meditation group (new to us anyhow). I haven’t meditated in months at least, and it felt good to “get back in the saddle” so to say. Even though I don’t find that meditation is all that great at relieving my anxiety and depression symptoms overall, it does at least give me some perspective and allow me to step back a bit when I am feeling my worst and realize that it will pass if I just wait it out. That awareness is definitely beneficial to keeping myself on this earth when part of me wants to check out.
  • My blog post about not being a social media doormat really became popular! I guess many others struggle with all the bullies and haters that tend to hang out on popular social media platforms. Glad to see I’m not alone in this experience.
  • Today I am taking my bike and aerobics trampoline to sell them to a used sports equipment store. I have had to face the fact that I am not physically healthy enough to use them anymore and they are just taking up space. Hopefully someone else will get some use out of them. It is a bit depressing though to just give up.
  • I am so disgusted by American politics right now. I am disgusted with Trump. I am disgusted with his blindly loyal followers. I am disgusted by those on the left that display blatant hypocrisy and pretend to be “the opposition”, but are just as sold out to big money and corporation interests. I am disgusted by all the pointless warfare my country perpetuates. I am disgusted by the news media that twists everything and often outright lies.  I am disgusted by the lack of empathy many people have towards anyone who is different from them. I am disgusted by the fearmongering and scapegoating. I am disgusted that in the richest country on earth, Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water, and much of Puerto Rico still doesn’t have power. I am disgusted that 40 million Americans don’t have health care and that 40% of the country can’t afford basic necessities like food and shelter. I am disgusted that conditions have deteriorated to the point that suicide rates have risen 30% since 1999. I am simply disgusted and feel powerless to help.

I Refuse to Be a Social Media Doormat!

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Yesterday I had to make a choice to unfriend someone on Facebook, a choice that I hate to have to make, but am finding more necessary as time goes on. The person I ended up unfriending was an editor and small publisher I had worked with in the past, so there was a little bit of sadness at the loss of a professional relationship as well as a personal one, but to tell the truth, this person had always come across as rude, selfish, and impatient…so have I really lost all that much?

As I am getting older, I am just getting to the point that I am tired of being the kindly doormat that lets others walk all over me because I have a desperate desire to please everyone. I don’t at all mind people who have different opinions and beliefs than I do, in fact, I hope we can learn from one another, but when someone repeatedly shows a clear cruel streak and lack of empathy or compassion for others who are suffering greatly, it pisses me off. I also find it extremely hypocritical when someone throws a fit every time someone criticizes their viewpoint, but they refuse to even listen to any other point of view but their own, even going out of their way to silence any reasonable objection.

Sometimes I think that maybe all the therapy is helping me, because at one time I would have stressed greatly over unfriending someone because I would feel bad about it. But this time, I honestly only feel relief that I won’t have to be a witness to the negativity and mean-spirited vitriol anymore.

Anger, Mania, and Standing Up for Myself

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Last night I had a definite episode of mania. Wanting to stay up all night again, feeling like doing a million things at once, wanting to jump out of my skin, tempted to spend way more money than I should, barely able to sleep. If you read my rant yesterday, then you know that I was already dealing with a lot of anger, so I can’t help but wonder if anger can bring on a manic episode? I honestly don’t know whether that is possible or not, I should probably ask my psychiatrist, but it does seem interesting that after being upset and angry I became so manic.

Something else happened last night that made me even angrier than I had been when I wrote the rant post yesterday. Someone else in that Facebook group commented on the post I had written that only 1 or 2 of my mental or physical conditions could be disabling. They said that the Asperger’s and Bipolar might be disabling, but the PTSD, Social Anxiety Disorder, Fibromyalgia, CFS, Plantar Fasciitis, IBS, chronic infections, Degenerative Disc Disease, and bulging discs are NOT disabling. That really set me off.

At first I just told the girl that she should research the conditions and learn more about them if she thought that. However, she went on to say that I was the one who was ignorant and that I would probably “argue with a brick wall”. That really made me mad. I even asked her why she was being such a bitch because I hadn’t done anything to her. For me, saying something like that is EXTREMELY CONFRONTATIVE, but I also felt so proud of myself for standing up for myself for once in my life. Standing up for myself has always been a real challenge for me, so much so, that many people have told me over the course of my life that I needed to stop being a doormat and quit letting people walk all over me.

In person, I would still likely have a really hard time standing up for myself, mostly because when things become confrontative or stressful, I tend to struggle with selective mutism, which is a common thing for people with autism to deal with. Throughout my life, whenever I was bullied or abused, I almost always found myself temporarily struck dumb, unable to formulate a response or rebuttal. It generally only happens when I feel threatened in some way, but it is very frustrating. I figure standing up for myself online is at least a start though!

Arguing on the Internet, Should I Disengage?

I really should know better by now. I really should learn to just disengage with ignorant or narrow-minded people who refuse to even consider any viewpoint but their own. I should learn that it takes away from my happiness and peaceful life by wandering into pointless debates with people who I know I’m never going to get to even consider an idea that has any nuance or depth to it.

My therapist today encouraged me to disengage from these people, to stop letting them level personal attacks at me over simple differences of opinion. If I want to stop being bullied or pushed around, I have to stop allowing it. Of course, none of this applies to you guys (my blog followers), but more has to do with people on other social media who I happen to be acquaintances with in my real life. Even if they are distant familial relations, I have no obligation to let them project their crazy, illogical, rigid way of thinking onto me.

If you are going to tell me that I am evil, immoral, or dishonest just because I don’t believe what you believe, I really don’t need you in my life.