May 30, 2013


During my brief stint at art school, I took a college preparedness class. The one useful thing I took from it was the idea of a personal mandala.

Mandalas are big in Eastern/Indian cultures, and similar things pop up in the Americas as well. That's because it's a very simple concept: a circle, the classic symbol of unity, is divided into sections and filled from the inside out with symbolic imagery that makes up a spiritual whole.

The teacher suggested that we draw three concentric circles within a larger circle. The outer ring represents the present. The innermost ring represents the way that we wish things to be. The ring between them represents the path we take to get from the present to our ideals. The center represents our core, the things that guide and rejuvenate and make us ourselves.

The circle is also divided into quarters, representing four areas of well-being: Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, and Mental. The teacher suggested we fill in the mandala from the outside in, which is lovely symbolism of a road to self-discovery and all, but I feel it's a more practical exercise to leave the middle ring for last.

I'm glad I took up the habit of doing these now and again. It's probably more helpful than a journal for cataloging my mental state at various points, as it records my current self-image, adversities, and future outlook all at once. I fill them with words, rather than imagery, as my artistic leaning is unhelpfully abstract.

It's an interesting exercise comparing my previous mandalas to the current one. The comparison revealed some inconsistencies in the way I feel about touch. It's definitely touch I want, the chemical rush that comes from skin-to-skin contact. Holding hands, leaning into another's warmth, but otherwise going about my day as normal. It's one of those things that makes it hard to identify with the clinical descriptions of Asperger's.

I've gotten used to getting more affection than I strictly enjoy. With my ex, snuggling got unwarrantedly upped with sexual teasing. My step-dad is a hugger, and he desensitized me to that. Before, I predominately tackle-hugged people for my own amusement whilst avoiding other people's hugs because they always insisted on lifting me up like a rag doll. I've gotten so used to hugs that I briefly felt jilted when my aspie step-sister refused my offer of a goodbye hug. I'd finally started to grok that initiating goodbye hugs was the best way to make people happy and leave non-awkwardly, then she threw me off my game.

Thanks to my mandala habit, I think I'm starting to understand that coping well with a problem is not the same as not having it.

May 24, 2013

Letters from the past

The easiest way to express myself is to freewrite about the things that are on my mind. Something about forcing myself into a linear progression of thoughts makes things simpler to process. I sometimes do this very strictly, obliging myself to resist going back to rearrange the order and grammar of my sentences or even using the backspace key, and other times I just take advantage of the fact that retracting statements in a word processor becomes a conscious action rather than a minor shift of wind in my stormy mind.

It has to be typed, not written, or I will obsess over the forms of the letters and/or my thoughts will shift three times for every thought I manage to record. Ironic, isn't it, that the logorrhea I can put into typing winds up being more coherent than the slow, thought-out version? Physical writing is just too low-bandwidth. I can always go back and delete or rearrange sections of a typed freewrite for sense, but on paper I have limited room for editing and have to recreate the parts of my mindstate that never made it to paper in the first place.

I used to post some of these externalized internal monologues to my blog, prettied up a bit for coherency, in some secret hopes that the people who actually needed to hear these things would find them. I dreamed that someone would look through my scattered thoughts, understand me better than I understood myself, explain to me who I was and why. (Getting diagnosed with ADHD non-hyperactivity did that a little bit, but no one would really talk to me about what that meant other than "Take these pills and you'll be less distracted". Now that someone has actually fulfilled my dream and pronounced my identity as rooted in mild Aspergers, I'm more hysterically confused than ever. Go figure.) I used to do the same thing with physical journals, hoping that someone would take the time to decode my silly little ciphers.

Maybe I'm still doing that, just a little bit.

But as far as I know, they never did. Maybe they were respecting my privacy. Maybe they just didn't know about the blogs and forums I belonged to. Maybe the ciphers were a genuinely effective obfuscation measure. Maybe, and this is a new realization for me, they felt like they already knew me. Maybe they simply didn't feel the need to seek out extra information. If the majority of people do have extra mysterious powers in cognitive empathy and theory of mind that I don't, what they detected from it might have been enough, or 'seemed' enough, to form an opinion. I've observed that my parents, for one, do seem to form strong opinions of others much more readily than I do. Maybe it's not actually as aberrant a habit as I believed it to be. I, on the other hand, seek out concrete information. When I first began to really notice people and their effects on my life, I became a detective. I nose through people's files. I peruse their internet presence. I started keeping written profiles of people's interests, likes and dislikes. I spent most of my time with my first boyfriend repetitively asking questions to comprehend his perspective on life and his interest in me.

Anyways, posting things to the public reminds me to be at least a little bit coherent. And explaining things out loud in general helps me explain things to myself. So excuse me if I go on an asperger's track for a while as I'm figuring things out. I'll probably delete most of these posts at the end of my rumination period as I did before.

I'm rereading rather 'feely' freewrite I made at the end of September 2012. I'd tasked myself with writing periodic free-writes so the words would stop exploding in my head and causing... well, causing meltdowns.
The thing about me and my parents
When I am yelled at, I feel unwanted. When confronted with individual infractions like forgetting to take in the trash or empty the dishwasher, I am not always sure how to correct what I'm doing wrong. I perceive a larger pattern in these, rightly or wrongly, where I am not making specific mistakes but being berated for making mistakes at all. And I feel hurt and frustrated, like nothing I do matters because there will always be a fault to find in it.
I feel like there is something vital missing in our family interactions. Some element of warmth, togetherness. When I am teased, I feel as though there is always an adversarial if not outright hostile undercurrent to it. Does not teasing have to have a small seed of truth to be effective? I perceive resentment in offhand remarks about my absentmindedness and naivety, and it hurts.
There have been times when I have honestly not wanted to come home. I have approached the corner before our house and had to fight off an impulse to stop the car and sleep in the backseat or keep driving past to god knows where. I contemplate having to come inside with the turmoil written clearly on my face, mind ripe full of vivid scenarios of being judged for my weakness and belittled for sensitivity, and it only serves to upset me to a full-on-breakdown.
When my fear is realized, my moment of weakness noticed and brought to full scrutiny, I feel resentment. In the forced revelation of my shames, I can't help but feel a sharp and bitter contrast to how my minor troubles and personal triumphs are not so open. I can do whatever and it really makes no difference to anyone. It makes no difference whether I do something chore-like or not, because my parents will find something to berate me about one way or another. I already understand the material from class lectures and reading ahead, but no one really gives a shit about my homework difficulties until I'm failing my courses. They care about being inconvenienced, not about me. When I talk about atheism and lesswrong and crafts, I don't notice anyone sharing or supporting my enthusiasm. I feel as though I am shouting in an echo chamber, and it's unbearably lonely. The asymmetry feels like a monumental injustice, and I get so angry over it. Even admitting that makes me feel pathetic, like a 5-year-old whose whole world is crushed if their parents don't laud their painstakingly drawn scribbles in front of all their friends and coworkers.

May 15, 2013

Simple Thought

I'd like to start posting more of my thought sketches. Just sketches, not grand thought-out thesis papers. Just enough to record for myself that I'm actually thinking and progressing, and reach out to others who want to think things through alongside me.

It's occurred to me lately that a major reason I no longer feel happy when learning new things is because I've become insanely obsessed with becoming a *perfect* expert on every topic I brush up against. I must focus on the most important and useful subjects, I must use only the most authoritative sources, I must memorize every random factoid, I must internalize and act on all the implications, I must be able to explain it to others in my own words, and I must go further still to synthesize brand new insights. It's exhausting, especially to try to do with 20 mini-interests at one time, so of course I'm not having fun anymore. Focusing solely on Asperger's Syndrome the past week has been emotionally tumultuous, but also an amazing experience! I'd forgotten what it was like to learn because I can and not because I felt it was my duty to do so. I forgot what it was like to be so full to the brim of excitement about a subject that I literally can't put it aside.

The other major reason I wasn't having fun is because of depression, pure and simple. I wonder which came first, the "too depressed to do things for casual fun", or the "depressed because I believe the things I pride myself on doing well are actually shallow/meaningless"?

May 8, 2013

Asperger's rant, again.

Is this going to become a "Thing"?

I'm not sure what possessed me to post that last post instead of just archiving it somewhere. I may decide to revert it to a draft in any case.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that PDD-NOS/Aspergers/Autism is a spectrum, and that it would be prudent for me to ignore the pressure around me to figure out for once and forever what label applies to me.

I understand that. I really do. And while I won't deny that I am bothered by whether I'm really "aspie" enough to be an aspie, that's not my primary concern. At the end of the day, a label really won't change much. I'll still be me. I'll still do mostly the same things, though perhaps with better reassurance that they'll work out. Whatever my level, it's clear I have at least superficial similarities.  I show too many objective signs to claim I have NOTHING to do with it.

But it's *because* the spectrum is so varied that I have to keep poking and prodding. It's not enough to say, "Oh, I'm somewhere on the autism spectrum". It's too encompassing a term to convey useful information, I have to explain as a separate packet of information which traits of it I have and to what extent. And at this point, I still don't grok what I do and don't have.

There can be a disparity between actual and apparent ability to act "neurotypically" due to learned coping skills, and I've been glued to psych and sociology books for too long to comprehend what socializing would be like without that theoretical knowledge simmering in the back of my head. It's apparent that I don't know how to tell what is and isn't normal, because I'd always assumed *MY* experience was typical excepting a touch of extra smarts and absentmindedness. Being told "Oh yeah, you're totally a mild aspie" by at least three people with significant knowledge in the field calls this assumption into question.

A stupid question that keeps flitting through my head is "Is this an example of lacking empathy and theory of mind, or had I just not learned that rule yet?" Stupid, self-demonstrating question because apparently no one is supposed to have to tell me the rules. That's something that bugged me about my Mom and step-dad's house, that the rules were basically "Don't answer the door and don't burn the house down" and they expected me to fill in the blanks for everything else. There was no positive suggestion about what I should do, except an occasional chore or "homework", no exact curfew or procedure for leaving the house. I never felt like I had the right to touch things in the fridge because the rules were confusing in that area, so I mostly just ate what they gave me or picked up obviously individual kid snacks like pudding and juiceboxes. I was terrified of filling in the blanks wrong, but I think I did okay.

I don't have serious impairments, I think. I'm still not convinced I'm not just a neurotypical nerd. There are at least superficial similarities, though, and I want to determine the dimensions of those individual traits. Not so I can definitively adopt or refute the label, but because I HAVE to know. The very idea of Aspergers suggests I might have deficits I'm barely aware of the extent of simply because so few bother to tell me whether I'm doing it right or wrong. This uncertainty AGGRAVATES me.

May 6, 2013

Special: To Be or Not to Be

I just want to know who I am, whether I belong to a family or not. Your family.
- Anastasia

This has been one of the most surreal weeks of my life.

My psychiatrist went and diagnosed me with Asperger's. In some ways, it feels like everything has fallen into place. A hundred different discordant notes, odd quirks and phobias and little itches I can't quite scratch, are suddenly composed into a harmonic, beautiful symphony.

In other ways, I keep seeing cracks in the theory. This symphony can't actually be me. I feel like I fail at being neurotypical, but I fail at being autistic as well. I can't do quick calculations or draw masterpieces or conduct orchestras in my head. My long-term memory is shot to hell, my formative years disappeared like they never existed. I don't follow routines, I can't manage to make one that sticks. I can't share explanations I've read verbatim, in fact I really fumble remembering or saying them in any coherent fashion. I follow other people's interactions just fine. I'm often all too aware of the effect the biting comment at the tip of my tongue will have. I don't persevere, I'm lazy. I have absolutely hidden things from parents and friends based on atmosphere and probable reactions. In fact, I often got upset when others didn't seem to be paying attention to social rules, like my little bro pushing my parent's buttons even harder when I felt he should be easing off. I don't have sleep problems. I don't freak out over coarse fabrics or shirt tags*, though I do dislike anything constricting my neck like helmets or turtle necks. I used to do random, unexpected hanging out with my high school friends just fine.

There's just so many things wrong with the idea.

Oh, but how I want to be. I feel like, by some cruel twist of fate, that the person I was meant to be was Aspie. But the real me just falls short. I crave having a single-minded interest or two like my Super!Aspie sister. I've abandoned too many over the years. It feels like a punch to the gut every time I run into someone whose interests intersect with something I am/used to be interested in and realize the memories are foggy and my expertise is actually sickeningly shallow. I don't know why it feels so horribly *wrong* that I don't have a specialty, other than because I don't know how I'll get ahead in life without one. I don't why it's so aggravating that I've failed to compact all the baseline activities I need to do into an iron-clad daily routine. It took me so long to learn to do normal self-maintainence with any regularity, and some small part of me goes berserk every time I deviate from the plan but I can't seem to STOP doing impulsive, schedule-ruining things like reading marathons. It's horribly idiotic and unfair that no one makes detailed relationship agreements like Sheldon Cooper. Wouldn't it be helpful if there were a general friendship agreement that we could conscientiously modify? It would be so nice to have a socially acceptable friendship questionaire, so I don't have to scour every conversation for dropped hints of preferences, addresses, birthdays, or whatnot. I hear of explicitly stated "social scripts" and I feel a rabid and desperate need to FIND and DEVOUR those resources.

I feel like a burnt-out genius, once prodigally above grade-level reading and whizzing through math and science without breaking a sweat, now cowering at the very thought of school. Once a real person with interesting hobbies like collecting rocks or crafting little jewelry bits, now with so much information forgotten, and doing nothing at all with my life. I'm stuck in paralysis. I can't even zip through a fun non-fiction to absorb information passively anymore. How do I know I won't just lose it again? Where did it all go?

And oh, how poetic that these needs were crystalizing into perfect clarity all at once right before being handed the tentative diagnosis of asperger's. But an intense desire to have the traits doesn't quite seem the same as actually having them. It's bizarre, but I believe I'm actually feeling unworthy of the designation. Unworthy of an Autism Spectrum disorder, can you imagine?! That's something that fails to make sense whether you think it's a horrible aberration or a different cluster of neurodiversity to equally cherished and accepted as the 'normal' strain. You don't wish to have horrible aberrations, nor do you feel unworthy of something that is of equal value to what you currently have.

But I do. I'm definitely jealous. I am in awe of my sister's skill in sewing and drawing, and her extensive knowledge about fantastic animals. She can see how 2D patterns fit together in 3-dimensional space with an ease that baffles me. Her artwork features so much detail and I'm fascinated by the anatomy and symbolism of the creatures she creates. How could I compete with that? I couldn't. I can't. Intellectually, I know that comes with downsides. I know about the anxiety,  the sensational sensitivity, the hard times coping with innocuous changes, the notorious cruelty of teachers and children. But to me, that's always just been... her. And the idea of trading in any of who she is for small talk and instinctual conformity to idiosyncratic social conventions is absurd. Why would anyone *want* that, outside of society at large forcing her to fit that mold? As I quote from To The Moon, "She remained an outcast and refused to learn how to step against it. I don’t know if it was by choice or limit, whether by bravery or cowardice.. I think in the end, I just envy her."

I am so used to strictly enforcing the boundaries between me and my sister. Asperger's was supposed to already be ruled out. I'm not allowed to hypothesize it, I'm certainly not allowed to have it. Later, I would self-diagnose with any mental problem under the sun trying to understand who I was. But Asperger's? I gave it serious thought for about 2 minutes once, then said "No, that can't be me. I'm different, somehow, but I won't escape into fantasies just to feel special or connected anymore."

((Why would I think like that? Why would I resist having something in common with my sister, when I so clearly *wanted* it to be true? Why would I keep reaching into absurdity to find a different explanation, any explanation at all? Maybe I genuinely didn't think it fit at the time. I ran primarily into the male descriptions of it, and into criteria, which would be vague enough that I would default to assuming a high level of impairment in comparison to isolated characteristics. I was also looking at it from the filter of an ADD diagnosis, so I expected overlap anyways. But more sinisterly... The occasional sharp tension between my mom's and step-mom's life/parenting styles polluted the air with judgments, gossip and resentment aimed at the whole family. The idea that I might belong among them, thrive so strongly in their world of differences and acceptance of them... surely that would be a sign that I was bad and broken too....))

I picked up banging (rocking back in forth, in place or against a soft-backed chair) a few years after I learned my sister was disposed to doing it when stressed. I didn't do it often at all, and only very lightly, and I never told anyone or let them see if I could help it. Banging was my sister's thing, and just because I found it somewhat comforting too didn't mean I could pidgeon-hole all her experiences into mine. I staunchly refused to exaggerate my own quirks just to gain sympathy and consideration. And of course, there was ever the voice in the back of my head whispering warnings of stereotypes and bullying and 'she's not right, everyone says so, don't be like her...'

I'm so confused right now, it's not even funny.

*Edit 5/22: To my surprise, Mom confirmed that she used to have to cut the tags off my shirts and dance around fabric sensitivities when I was younger.