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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Dysfunctional Family: My Mom Married My High School Friend

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Ok, so in the past I already wrote a more serious post about the trauma I experienced when my mom ended up marrying the first guy I ever brought home (read it here). He was a friend of mine, two years older, going to the same high school. They got married on his 18th birthday, so there I was, 15-16, going to school WITH my new “step-dad”.

Yesterday, while my husband and I were out driving, I talked about how isolated I feel in dealing with the after-effects of this whole ordeal. I can find plenty of people who have experienced other things I have gone through or live with (autism, bipolar, chronic pain/illness, loss of a sibling to suicide, loss of a parent at a young age, physical and emotional abuse, etc.), but I have never ONCE found someone who understands the public humiliation and the just outright fucked-up-ness of their parent MARRYING a friend that they go to high school with (and even considered dating at one time)!

Maybe I would have to visit the Jerry Springer show to find something similar. I feel like no one understands how this whole event derailed my life severely at the time. I went from being a straight A, college bound honor student, to skipping school more than I went, and not caring about much of anything. It was a horrible time in my life. To make matters worse, when my mom’s messed up marriage finally blew up, it was shortly after I got married (at the age of 20), and since she had no resources of her own, I felt like I had to take her in, which was not an easy decision for a newlywed to make, especially given the messed up history between my mom and me.

I’m not sharing all this to look for pity, but more in the hopes that maybe someone, somewhere, has gone through something similar and could make me feel less alone. I think this whole ordeal made me feel like a real freak at the time it happened, and never finding anyone who could relate only reinforced that feeling.

*By the way, if you are looking for online therapy options, BetterHelp is a great place to start!

Getting Out Isn’t Always the Answer

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Many, many times, when I have been severely depressed or anxious, I have heard the repeated suggestion that I just “get out and do something”. I think this is a common misunderstanding that people have about depression and anxiety, that the cure is always just going out and finding something to do.

Personally, I can say that if I am mildly or moderately depressed or anxious, getting out can indeed be a huge help. It is a good way to distract myself and can make my life feel less empty and more meaningful.

However, if I am severely depressed or anxious, “getting out” is absolutely NOT the answer, and I know this from experience. Whenever I have been severely depressed and I somehow managed to make myself leave the house, I have just been a teary, numb mess who ends up feeling worse for being unable to stop the tears in public. During these times, I am unable to join in with anything going on around me and will just sit there and cry and feel embarrassed, wishing desperately I had never left home.

As for times of severe anxiety, I often also deal with severe irritability and a tendency to snap at others, even when I don’t mean to do so. “Going out” when in this state can actually damage relationships because people wonder why you are taking it out on them, even if you absolutely don’t intend to do so. Not to mention the fact that severe anxiety often comes with intense panic attacks, which are something that is horrible to experience in public. Panic attacks suck no matter where you are when you have them, but given the choice I would always choose to be in the comfort of my own home dealing with one rather than out in an unpredictable public environment.