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.
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.
Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of resentment and anger towards my mother. To explain why, let me share a specific incident that kind of illustrates why I am upset.
When I was 14/15, my mother worked with a guy named Danny who met me and developed a huge crush on me. He was in his late teens or early twenties, but was definitely an adult already. I DID NOT share his romantic interest and made that plain. I had absolutely no interest in dating him or getting to know him better. He bought me an expensive bracelet as a gift, which I immediately returned to him to make it clear I wasn’t interested.
Even with my mother knowing how I felt and that I was stressed out by the attention, she actually egged him on in spite of how I felt or what I wanted. She even gave him our home address and told him when I would be home. So, he ended up coming to my house while I was there alone and banged on the door and called my name for what felt like forever. He yelled about how he knew I was home because my mom had told him so. I never answered the door or responded to his calls. In fact, I hid in the closet because I was scared at the aggressiveness he was displaying.
I felt like I was being stalked, and worst of all, my own mother was encouraging it. This is just one small incident that portrays an issue with boundaries and respecting my privacy that was even more disturbing in other ways which perhaps I will share someday if and when I am ready to do so. I know it might sound odd, but I almost have a feeling like my mother WANTED to whore me out for some reason. I can’t even describe what that did to me psychologically.
As a child, I wrote my diary in code, knowing my mother would likely find it and read it. I swapped names, and made substitutions, just to throw her off the scent of what I was really thinking and feeling.
One of my first adolescent crushes, I referred to as Pat Sajak (the Wheel of Fortune guy), pulling the random celebrity name from my jumbled mind. To this day, I can’t help but smile as I wonder if she really thought I had romantic notions towards the middle-aged game show host?
So I’ve decided to try to post a writing prompt every Saturday. Hopefully I won’t fall off the wagon too many times trying to do so!
Today’s Prompt: What memories from your own childhood would you most like to relive?
My response: I know it sounds corny, but the memories I would most like to relive are just ordinary days filled with happy ordinary moments. Eating cinnamon toast made by my mom while I sit and watch My Little Pony and play with my own pony toy collection (how I wish I had kept those toys!). Playing on the trampoline in our screened in front porch. Watching Nickelodeon back when it was the bomb. Coming home on the last day of school with my backpack full of goodies from the teacher and an entire summer spread out in front of me like a magical adventure. Camping out in my Smurf sleeping bag with my sister, telling scary stories and then being unable to sleep. Family picnics and midnight fishing trips with my dad. Those are the things I miss the most and would love the chance to revisit.
*Disclaimer – I want to make sure I state that this blog post was inspired by my own experiences. Not every person with Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism may feel the same way or experience the same issues, although from what I have read, these issues are not uncommon among females with autism.*
I have had a long, complex relationship with my own femininity. Growing up, I never noticed a huge difference between myself and other girls until I hit middle school. In elementary school I was just a “normal” little girl who was into books, Barbies and ponies. I did have some sensory and social issues, but they weren’t huge red flags back then and were easy to ignore. When I got to sixth grade it seemed like the whole world suddenly changed. Girls became obsessed with makeup, hair and clothing. They also read fashion and relationship magazines so they could learn to draw attention from the guys they liked. I was still into books, Nickelodeon, Disney movies and playing outside. I really couldn’t care less about my looks or guys. I didn’t care all that much about making friends either.
It was at this age I first experienced real bullying. I was made fun of because I didn’t start shaving as soon as the other girls did. I was picked on because I didn’t dress in style, wear makeup or have a “cool” hairstyle. I was picked on because I still liked many of the same things I liked as a little kid. I was called a lesbian or ‘butch” because I was a tomboy who was socially clueless in many ways and had no interest in guys yet. Middle school was hell for me in many ways. I was lucky to have a few friends who were outsiders in their own way, but I often felt very much alone. I was constantly told that I was unfeminine, so I started to believe it and wonder what was wrong with me.
Things got a bit better when I reached about 16 or 17. By then I had learned to “fake it” to fit in better. I still didn’t wear makeup or jewelry but I did try to look enough like everyone else to fly under the radar. I started wearing jeans and cute little t-shirts like everyone else (even though I really don’t like the feel of jeans). I adopted a hairstyle that was simple but not “weird”. However, flying under the radar didn’t always work and I started having different issues. As I matured, some guys started to find me attractive and hit on me. This made me want to run & hide. I was uncomfortable being an object of physical appreciation. I didn’t want to be called names like before, but I didn’t want to be seen as a sexual object either.
During this time I actually started to find it easier to relate to guys than girls…as long as the guys didn’t see me as more than a platonic friend. I did start to develop real feelings for certain guys around 17 but was still terribly shy and uncomfortable with the whole ‘dating’ thing. I never really dated until a couple years later when I met my husband, who I got to know online before we ever met in person. Even when we met in person we were friends for a while before we started anything romantic.
As an adult I have developed a better relationship with my femininity, but I still face judgment sometimes. When I got engaged I received real disdain from some women because I didn’t wear my engagement ring all the time (sensory issues). I often feel bored or left out when women talk endlessly about shopping, parties, clothes, weight, guys or gossip. I still don’t care that much about looks. My hairstyle is wash and dry, my clothes are simple and comfy and I haven’t worn makeup since my wedding day. Occasionally I still get a comment about how much I am “like a man” or something along those lines.
Because of these experiences, I somewhat look forward to growing older even though most women seem to dread it. I have hope that as we all age, looks and other superficial things will start to matter less and less to my peers. I don’t want to be invisible anymore like I once did, but I still don’t want to be judged by appearances. When others think of me I hope they think of intelligence and kindness. I hope they think of someone who is creative and passionate. To me, those qualities are what make someone a “real” woman anyway.
I was definitely a 90’s child. Being born in 1982, I don’t remember a whole lot about the 80’s. Some bits and pieces of those earliest years break through my memory bank, but the 90’s definitely became the defining decade of my childhood in many ways. Now I find myself more and more drawn to songs, movies and other things that bring back those childhood days. When I find myself in that nostalgic state, I find it hard to believe how old I am now and that it has been about two decades since those memories were made. Remembering can make me feel happy and sadly bittersweet all at the same time. Here are a few things I miss about those days…
1. The music. Ok, some of the music in the 90’s was cheesy and stupid. No doubt there. But at the time, it seemed so cool and new. Listening to the soundtrack of my childhood can still make me feel like “one of the cool kids” in a strange sort of way. The music also reminds me of hours spent watching MTV when my older sister had the remote control – back when MTV actually played music. It makes me remember how cool and rebellious I thought Nirvana was and how amazing Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson’s music videos seemed. I also remember how angry my mom got when she caught me listening to and singing along with my sister’s Salt-N-Pepa cd (she especially hated their song “None of Your Business”).
2. The magic of childhood friendship. Is it even possible to have adult friendships that are as meaningful as your childhood ones? I think I have found that magic with my husband, but it is hard to find that connection with my other adult peers. Don’t get me wrong, I was never popular, but I did have some great friends throughout the 90’s. I’ll never forget the hours I spent with a few special people I grew up with. I’ll always remember that feeling of belonging somewhere – even if it wasn’t with the “in crowd”. I’ll never forget the hours of gymnastics, skating and playing ball or sneaking around construction sites in the middle of the night and even getting picked up by the police (who luckily we knew well enough to get away with just about anything).
3. Believing I could do anything. I miss the naivete I had back then. How I thought the world was a big playground and that all options were open to me. I do have a good life now and have achieved many things I wanted, but I never realized back then how hard and cold the real world would be. I wish life were truly as easy as I thought it was back then.
4. The simplicity of 90’s technology. I know we have made huge leaps and bounds technologically as a society in the past two decades, but sometimes today’s technology just seems overwhelming. Now, things become outdated as soon as they hit the market. While today’s phones, video games and computers are sleek, portable and able to do more, they can also become a big pain in the butt. Figuring out how to use all the features on these things can become annoying and time-consuming. When electronics malfunction we almost don’t know what to do anymore, it can shut society down and cause panic. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind not seeing everyone on a cell phone all the time either.
5. Progress. In the 90’s, it felt like we were making real progress in fighting prejudice, hate, sexism and ignorance. We tried to become more environmentally aware and actually valued science. I’m not sure what happened, but it feels to me like we have somehow regressed horribly. Some groups want us to regress even more and are actually gaining faithful followers instead of being told how freaking crazy they are. What has happened to us? Have we let the fear of terrorists and an economic recession cause us to lose our minds and turn on the very values we all cherished so much? I try to think of what else might have changed our collective goals and just can’t figure it out. I know I might have been naïve back then, but surely I didn’t imagine it all.