Socialising

Terrible People

I had a poor night’s sleep on Thursday (waking up at 3am, not being able to get back to sleep until jussssst before my alarm went off) and was feeling particularly grumpy at work on Friday. I’ve never been able to understand how people can get little sleep and then be cheerful about it the next day – I am a complete grouch monster and cease to function. (thanks autism diagnosis, for explaining why I can’t function on little sleep like most people seem to be able to). I was also just about due for my period, so I was feeling run-down anyway. Despite my fragile state, I really wanted to socialise, so I joined some work colleagues after work on Friday for drinks (I don’t drink, but anyway).

It was quite enjoyable, and all of the people there were people who are Very High Above Me, so it was good to make connections and talk about my goals in the organisation etc. And then someone’s non-work friend showed up, and he sat next to me, and as soon as he started talking to me I thought to myself “You are literally the worst person I have ever met.” Not actually literally, and probably not the worst person, but he was pretty damn terrible. He was one of those faux-intellectuals who like to pontificate about obscure things the people around him don’t understand just so he can look at them pityingly because they don’t share his remarkable intelligence. I know I go off on obscure tangents, but I also try and explain what I am talking about so the people listening to me a) understand what I’m talking about and b) understand why I find it so interesting and c) don’t feel like idiots because they didn’t immediately know what I was talking about.

He was also one of those bland white guys who likes to ~stand up for oppressed minorities~ which then gives him the right to pepper his conversation with mildly offensive and derogatory terms. When called out on it, he then gives a ridiculously convoluted logical explanation why it’s ok, and his explanation always has the caveat that if the listener disagrees, merely by disagreeing they are confirming his point. When talking about music, I asked him why he referred to Creed as “gay rock”. He then patronisingly explained how there’s three different meanings of the word “gay”, and he meant it in the sense of “wimpy” and “pathetic”. I pointed out that that meaning is so often conflated with the meaning of homosexuality that when used in a derogatory sense, they’re really not extricable, to which he smugly replied that he would be the first to fight for a gay person’s rights and it’s the listener’s fault for misinterpreting what he says. Oh, and also, people should have the right to say whatever they want. I should also have the right to put my fist through his face.

He was sitting in an armchair beside me, and I ended up pressed as far against the arm furthest from him that I could. Despite my body language, he leant over the arm of my chair to keep talking at me, and would periodically grab my arm and shake it when he was making a point. I snatched my arm away at one point and said “Don’t touch me,” but he was too busy listening to himself speak to hear me. There was so, so much more that he said that was horrid and repulsive (“That woman is too Anglo for me. I like exotic women” etc) but there was one beautiful moment where he was going on about “crazy” women, and how he didn’t want to date a “crazy, neurotic” woman again. He was going on and on about it and then turned to me and said: “You don’t fly into unreasonable emotional tantrums where you don’t care how your actions affect anyone around you, do you?” Trick question, because who could said “Yes” to that? He just wanted me to confirm his “point”.

I looked him straight in the eye (ugh yes, I know) and I said: “I’m autistic. I frequently have meltdowns where I can’t control my emotions or actions.”

He stared at me, open-mouthed, for all of two seconds, the only time he was silent the whole night. He could not say shit about me being “crazy”, since he was so pro-minority rights, and everyone at the table sniggered at him. And then he was off ranting again, but for those few seconds I felt far better than I would have if I’d actually been able to punch that stupid supercilious look off his face.

Autism

Being a Bully

When I was first talking to my psychologist about possibly being autistic, I mentioned kids and school and she said sympathetically, “Yes, kids can be very cruel to those who are different.” No wait, back up. I was the bully.

My bullying came from several places. Most notably was seeing the behaviour in other children, and mirroring it myself – but not realising what the limits were. I would always take things too far, whether that be things I said or practical jokes. I remember tying my friend to a post at lunchtime, and then when the bell rang to go back to class leaving her there because I thought it was hilarious she was stuck. When the teacher asked where she was, I just shrugged and said I didn’t know (while desperately trying to keep down my laughter), while she was crying because she couldn’t get free.

Around the time of being diagnosed, my housemates and I were re-watching Community, and I found it entertaining and gratifying in light of this new knowledge about myself to see many of my behaviours mirrored in Abed. Just before the aforementioned conversation with my psychologist, we’d watched s02e17 “Aerodynamics of Gender”, and Abed’s experience of being a mean girl made me realise that I had had a similar experience.

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I just didn’t have the same social filter that other kids had. I mimicked their behaviours and I went too far, likely also because I didn’t have the recognition that what I was doing was hurtful to other people. I remember in primary school, there was a girl who everybody picked on, and I am ashamed to say that I was probably the worst culprit. I don’t think I was particularly sneaky about it, either, and yet I remember one occasion when our teacher sent her and me on a (retrospectively, made-up) errand to the school office. I was irritated at being made to go somewhere with her, and was mean to her there and back. While we were gone the teacher told the class off for bullying her. The teacher never said anything to me, but afterwards I had a conversation with my friends where they told me about what happened while we were gone, and I laughed about the fact that I was probably the biggest bully and yet didn’t get told off. (I am very, very sorry, girl from primary school). A similar thing happened in high school, although at that point I wasn’t the worst offender, just one of the many people who bullied this particular girl.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t bullied at all – I was, but they were isolated incidents and nothing unusually bad. I think it would be unusual for a kid to grow up without being bullied at all. I remember at kindergarten, not being one of the “cool” kids, and when the cool kids were playing Captain Planet they’d tell me I could only play if I was Wheeler (literally the worst character), which made me very upset. I’d usually play alone instead. Apparently at my first primary school, I was the only white girl in my class and got bullied and didn’t make any friends. My family was privileged enough to be able to send me to a more diverse school, and I don’t have many memories of this first school. There was a girl in my main primary school who used to tell me constantly I was going to hell because I didn’t believe in God, and her intolerance upset me. Early in high school a girl threw me across the desks because I was sitting in what she considered “her” seat, and called me a smart-ass white girl. The next year I sat next to her and her friend in French and they thought I was funny because I was a smart-ass white girl. That was pretty much the attitude towards me in general (that I recall) – people recognised that I was a bit odd, and while this gave me an abiding sense of “not fitting in”, I wasn’t bullied for it. Rather, it was tolerated as amusing.

Rather than deliberately bullying people, I also tended to say ‘truthful’ things that weren’t appropriate, and hurt other people’s feelings unintentionally. One girl in high school was talking about her younger brother, and how at seven he still didn’t read. I said in surprise (without any malice) that that was unusual, that I could read at four and had he been tested for a learning disorder? She burst into tears and said that not every kid was smart like me, and the other people present told me to leave, while I protested that I didn’t know why she was so upset because it was true. (Later on she did approach me and when I apologised, she said he was being tested and what I said was true, just not appropriate). Another time, I noticed that a girl had really tiny, pretty ears, and when I commented she got upset because they were a feature she was insecure about. I was told that you just didn’t comment on things like that, and I didn’t understand why because I thought I was complimenting her on a delicate, unusual feature.

I also engaged in bullying behaviours because I didn’t “get” the connection between the words being said and what their meanings were. Around the age of twelve, my father started dating a woman with kids my age. They had a thing of poking each other in the belly and shouting “porkie”! The older sister, who had illnesses that caused her to gain a lot of weight, would get upset when I did this over and over, and at the time I thought it was just the poking of the tummy that she was upset about. It wasn’t until years later that I made the connection with the word “porkie” and the stomach.

Lastly, I was also a bully for the rather typical reason, and one that Hilary Duff’s character in “Aerodynamics of Gender” states – “The rest of us feel ashamed about ourselves, so we act like bitches to make ourselves feel better.” I was confused about feeling weird and not fitting in, so I was mean to other people so they would feel as bad as I did and I wouldn’t feel so alone. I would get upset at my friends and be mean to them, because I didn’t understand why they were happy when I was sad. I would physically hurt other children because I didn’t understand limits, and maybe didn’t even make the connection between what I did and the pain it caused, yet for whatever reason no child ever reported me. I would even say that I was generally well-liked throughout my schooling years. I remember one girl who was bullied so much that she had to change schools (I am so sorry, high school girl) and I wonder why that wasn’t me, because I was just as weird, if not weirder than her.

I also recognise that I tended to, and still do, monologue about an opinion, particularly a controversial one, and people, for some reason, won’t call me out when I say something inappropriate or something they disagree with (even though I’m totally down for being called out or hearing someone else’s point of view). And then people just don’t talk to me again, and I don’t get why.

These things have been on my mind a lot recently, as I am reconsidering my words and behaviours as an adult. I get so frustrated at my mouth. It runs away from me and I say things that afterwards, I recognise as totally inappropriate, but at the time just doesn’t occur to me. I love my job, but I worry that I’m going to say something totally inappropriate and get fired. We have a culture of joking at work, but as I did when I was a child, I’ve been taking that too far. Last week I said some things about an absent colleague that were definitely bullying, and I said them loudly… to everyone. My manager took me aside and reminded me that that wasn’t kind, but I shouldn’t have to have been reminded. I get frustrated that I have to add things to my mental list of “stuff not to say”, and then monitor that constantly, and then get exhausted from doing so which makes it more likely that I’m going to slip up. I forget that things that are appropriate with this group of friends are not appropriate with that group of friends, things that are appropriate at home are not appropriate at work, etc.

I worry constantly that HR will receive a formal complaint about what I say, and that I will have to explain myself and it will just seem like I am making excuses. “I’m autistic, so I don’t really “get” what’s appropriate, and I try really hard but sometimes I can’t control what comes out of my mouth.” Hmmmm. I get frustrated because I am intelligent enough that I “pass” as normal, and therefore people expect me to know better. I am intelligent enough that I recognise that things I say are just not cool, but socially inept enough that I don’t realise it at the time. I don’t read other people’s reactions in the moment, it is only after reflection that I realise that they probably didn’t like what I said, and that I should never have said it in the first place. Book-smart intelligence does not equal social or emotional intelligence.

It seems like such a cop-out, like I’m trying to shift the responsibility onto something I can’t control. But I feel out-of-control at times, and I also feel a lot of regret, guilt, and shame at what I say. Not just because of how it affects other people’s perceptions of me, but because I genuinely do not want to hurt other people. I really, really don’t want to offend other people, or make them feel bad or bullied or like they can’t, for whatever reason, tell me that what I have said is hurtful or wrong. Sometimes I feel like I should just never talk at all, and then I wouldn’t have a problem. I really, really want to make this job work, and I am simply terrified that my silly mouth is going to fuck it up for me.

Intense Interests

How Stardew Valley Ruined My Life

And Oblivion, and Animal Crossing (two different versions), and Lord of the Rings: Online, and The Sims (1,2,3), and Skyrim, and…

I spent about 60 hours last week playing Stardew Valley. I have periods of obsession with video games, particularly ones with collective objectives. Kill all the dragon priests. Ship 15 of each crop. Pay off your mortgage with Tom Nook. They appeal to the obsessive, collector side of me without costing much in terms of money or time (although, I’ve spent stupid amounts of money on free-to-play, in-game purchase games in pursuit of meaningless coloured pixels to add to my collection. Still, probably pales in comparison to other collector hobbies I’ve obsessed over then completely lost interest in). The ease of them appeals to me. Not to say that computer games aren’t challenging, but I can sit in a chair for hours and be entertained, rather than have to exert any kind of creative or physical effort to stave off boredom.

While New Year’s resolutions are so passé now, there is something alluring about the concept of a new year, a fresh slate. I make goals constantly, and I make them again now – I have so many creative projects bouncing around my brain, maybe this year I will finally see some of them to fruition. Or maybe I will just spend 60 hours a week playing video games.

2017, I aimed to start blogging more regularly, here. Once a week was an achievable aim. But I spent all New Year’s day playing Stardew Valley, and every time I said to myself “I’m going to stop now and write a post” there was just one more fish to catch before I did. It’s that focused interest typical of autism, but rather than being productive in a way that I want to be, I’m doing something I really don’t like. It’s like I’m viewing myself from outside myself and I have no control over doing the thing I am doing, even though I want to. Maybe there is an element of ADHD there, and scattered focus – while I have been tentatively diagnosed, I am starting the process of official diagnosis next week. It’s terrible, I know, but I am desperately pinning my hopes on being diagnosed and being able to go on medication. I feel that if I just had a little more focus, maybe I could achieve the things I want to achieve. I feel like I should be able to manage that myself, without the aid of medication, but I have felt that should pull all my life, and it is seductive and dangerous and quite frankly, wrong. It leads to me feeling terrible about myself because I should be able to do all these things other people are capable of doing. I need to accept that I am not able, in many ways, and to capitalise on what I am able to do. And to accept help, whether that be in the form of medication or therapy, when I need it.

I’ve told myself that not achieving my creative goals over the past two years has been somewhat understandable. I have been working full-time and studying part-time, which is stressful and time-consuming… but I know that really, I spent an awful lot of time playing games or watching TV in a mindless time-filling/wasting exercise. I can’t use study as an excuse for not writing that story or sewing that dress, because I kept putting off study by playing silly games on my phone. Once I finished my study in December, I realised how much stress I had put myself under. So high-stress, to relax I couldn’t indulge in anything vaguely effortful, only mindless. Unnecessary stress.

I will start the study/work cycle again in March. While I have many goals, I know I have to focus on just a few to have a hope of achieving anything. While playing video games is not wrong or bad, (not at all!!!) it is for me because it is not what I really want to be doing. So one goal is: to learn how to reduce study anxiety, so I have the energy to unwind by doing some creative project or other I have been meaning to do for years. Another goal is: to blog more. I have blogged in the past, somewhat erratically, and apart from the pressure I put on myself to come up with interesting and witty things, I enjoyed it. For years, though, I have felt mute, unable to of things to post that are worthwhile or interesting. But to get past that muteness, I think, I just need to do, whatever it is. I need to get into the habit. I don’t think I will be an “autism” blogger, as I am not really interested in engaging regularly with autism issues to the critical depth that other people do so well. Perhaps this will be more an exploration of coming to terms with who I am, and re-learning my identity. Perhaps this will reference autism (and ADHD, if it comes to that), and perhaps it won’t. Hopefully it will feature creative projects I am working on, and finishing. Maybe I will just be shouting into the grand abyss, but anything, for me, is better than hours and hours of flashing coloured lights and intangible “achievements”.

Corsets

Compression Therapy

My mother is a costume-maker, and I was a voracious reader of advanced fiction at an early age, particularly fantasy fiction. These two things meant I was introduced to the concept of corsets at a very early age (I really loved books that were ‘lists of things’, and remember reading my mother’s historical underwear books over and over).

I was fascinated by the idea. It was structure, it was a way to change myself and the body I felt so awkward in. My body felt foreign, strange, not normal, and I fixated on anything that might change it so I could feel normal. The amateur theatre that my mother worked with when I was young put on a period show, and my mother made me a costume to wear to sell programmes. It wasn’t corseted, but the bodice was tightly-fitted, and it made me feel like someone else. When I was in my early teens, my mother had a 1950s corset I was occasionally allowed to wear – I desperately wanted to wear it all the time, which is funny because I loathed wearing a bra. But corsets are simply Not Done anymore.

Of course, over time, I became aware of the modern corset and tight-lacing movement. I always intended to purchase one, but that intention came with the caveat “when I lose a little more weight”. I remember reading about deep pressure therapy (or as I think of it, compression therapy) a few years ago, and how it helped children with autism. This was long before the idea of me being autistic came about, and yet even then I was intrigued by the idea, merely the thought of it calming me down. I considered whether corsets would be able to provide the same benefits.

But of course, I never got around to actually trying a corset until recently, when I thought “Why bother waiting? This is something I’ve always wanted to try, so I might as well do it.” I ordered a mesh wasp corset from Orchard Corset (after a lot of research) and had the usual “ugh I’ve bought the wrong size” (I can never seem to get it right, even if I try something on in the store)… but as soon as I laced myself into it, I felt a deep sense of calm. I’m wearing it now for the second time, and it is the curious and wonderful mix of relaxation and discomfort at this strange new sensation. I like it. I am looking forward to wearing a corset in my daily life, and donning one more layer of armour against the world that is so often bewildering and anxiety-provoking to me.

Diagnosis

Autism as Truth

When I was little, I used to count down sleeps until a significant event. Thirty sleeps until my birthday. Eleven sleeps until the end of holidays. Twenty-two sleeps until Christmas.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been counting down the sleeps until what is likely to be the most significant event in my adult life (likely, my whole life). Four sleeps until my autism assessment.

I have been seeing a clinical psychologist for some months, one who has a part speciality in personality disorders. I had had a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) for a year and a half when I started seeing her, and had made the decision then that I wanted to Get Better.

“Getting Better” was a concept I have struggled with for about as long as I have struggled with mental health issues (i.e., all my life). I thought the diagnosis of BPD would help with this, that now that I could identify what was “wrong” with me, I could fix it. When I first started reading about BPD on the internet, I could identify with so many of the experiences other people wrote about. Obsessive behaviours, abandonment and rejection issues, and invalidating childhood, issues with socialisation… I went to my then-psychologist with a list of things, and said, in a flood of scared tears, “I think I have this.”

For me, a BPD diagnosis wasn’t exactly a relief. I was grasping for any reason why I felt the way I did, and this was as close as I had come to identifying my experiences and feelings. I struggled a lot with it, and struggled with the concept that if I just DBT’d and mindfulness’d enough, all my problems would be solved and I would be a healthy, well-adjusted, normal person. But I just couldn’t seem to make it all work, I couldn’t make it make sense, which made me feel even more of a failure.

So I found myself with my current psychologist. A few sessions in, after crying about being overwhelmed by noise in a crowded place, and how I find it so hard to concentrate on anything, she mused, “I wonder if there is something neurological going on here. I wonder if you have ADD.” I went away and (obsessively) read about ADD and thought, “I identify with a lot of these things.” I made an appointment with a specialist. A few sessions later, I cried even more about how hard I found it to make friends, how I didn’t understand how people had the energy to go out all the time and interact with other people all the time, how pointless I think small talk is and how frustrated and bored I get at work, and she mused some more: “I don’t want to be diagnosing you with all sorts of things, but I wonder if you have autism. I just really, really don’t think you have a personality disorder, but I do think something else is going on and I think it’s something that doesn’t need to be “fixed”, because it’s just who you are.”

I went away and (obsessively) started reading about Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), particularly how it manifests in females. Much like when I encountered BPD, I related to other people’s experiences. Much like BPD, I cried a lot, but this time it was in happiness and not in fear. Unlike BPD, I had this overwhelming feeling of relief and lightness – I had found the explanation for Me and all of the “you should be like this” feelings fell away. Everything I read, I thought: “That’s ME. That’s so ME. That explains why I am the way I am.” I read a parenting forum where mothers talked about feeding their fussy autistic child, and I cried because I related so much to their children. Like BPD, I related to the descriptions of women as ‘chameleons’. Unlike BPD, I realised it wasn’t because I have an unstable sense of self, but more because I just don’t get people and was desperately trying to figure out how to fit in. I messaged my psychologist: “I think I need to get assessed.” She replied: “I think that’s a good idea.”

I made an appointment with a women who specialises in female autism (funnily enough, it’s the same day I have my ADD appointment, the importance of which pales in comparison to the autism appointment now). I started counting down the days and read more and more and just feel more and more that this is my identity, this is what I have been trying to figure out my whole life. At my last appointment with my psychologist, we talked as though I had already been diagnosed, and we had to keep correcting ourselves. I have to keep telling myself “You might not be autistic”, but really, I just can’t conceptualise that as being true. Autism is my truth, and although the realisation has come late, I am beyond thrilled that I have finally discovered it.