Social Moth

Performance reviews stress me out.  As a perfectionist, I’m constantly seeing ways I could be doing a better job, even though I often recognize that I am trying really hard.  Our organization uses an annual review system that includes setting goals with my supervisor, putting in notes before the mid-year check-in and the end-of-year review period, and meeting with the supervisor to discuss it all.  He also puts in notes related to my performance in different areas and my success at meeting the goals we set.  At the end of the year (in our case, June), he rates us on whether we met, exceeded, or did not meet expectations.

My boss is great.  We get along really well, he challenges/encourages me to continue growing, and he often tells me I’m doing a good job.  Nevertheless, anticipating any kind of criticism (even the gentle, constructive kind) is nerve-wracking.

When it was time for my review meeting, my boss said that he wasn’t going to do the whole formal routine in our meeting, because he feels like we talk about how I’m doing all the time.  He said I’m doing awesome, and that he’s giving me the “exceeds expectations” rating.  (This Hermione is fine with that, because there is no “outstanding” above it.)

He said that some of my peers are jealous of me, which was quite surprising to hear.  They think I get to do a lot of the “fun” stuff.  He said he asks me to do a lot of those more interesting things because he knows he can rely on me to do it well, and that I’ve earned it by doing other tasks well.  He also acknowledged that a lot of what I do isn’t fun or easy, but people don’t realize that it isn’t fun and easy, because I don’t let on.  He said that other people (like his boss) will say, “Oh, send her to that; she’s your social butterfly!”  Then he said something that I appreciated so much.

What they don’t realize is you’re actually a social moth.  You fly by quickly and they *think* you’re a butterfly, but really you’d rather be flying around at night when nobody is around.  (That’s pretty good, huh? I just made that up!)

The Clearwing Moth is commonly mistaken for a hummingbird. Unlike the Social Moth, which is commonly mistaken for a social butterfly.

I loved that.  Not only do I love that “social moth” fits me quite well, but I love that my manager understands that about me now.  He sees it, he acknowledges that things involving people are hard for me, and he continues putting me in situations where I will be stretched but also have support.  For example, when I had to present to our department’s leadership team about some “tech tips” he and I have been writing together, he sent me a chat after the presentation.  “Good job by the way, you kicked butt. 🙂 I know you don’t like speaking in groups, but the PowerPoint was great, your talking was great, just fantastic all the way around. I am very proud.”

His comments about what others have said also reminded me of how good I am now at “passing” when I’m at work.  What’s amusing to me is that he used to call me a “social butterfly,” too.  I clearly remember one conversation, when we were talking about high school and the performing arts.  I said my sister was the one up on stage starring in the musicals, loving the spotlight, not me.  He was surprised by that!  He said something about me being so outgoing.  I chuckled and said quietly, “That is the act.”

 

 

My Message to the 4th Graders

This is a post I’ve been wanting to type up for over a year now.  In 2015, I was working with an autistic boy for the third year in a row.  I was a TSS (therapeutic support staff), which meant I spent a lot of time with him both at his school and his house, working on behavioral interventions and doing lots of documentation. (For a little more detail about my job as a TSS, see the post “Crisis of Faith.”)  He had a LOT of hours.  Over those three years I not only got to know him and his family and nurses well, but I came to know and love a lot of his classmates.

His classmates were, for the most part, awesome.  This was a kid who would have super-scary aggressive meltdowns, but after it was over his classmates would still invite him to play at recess or help him follow instructions in the classroom.

Friends on a field trip

Friends on a field trip

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In the middle of those years, I had another client, up at the middle school.  In his classroom, there was a boy I’ll call “Hunter.” On my very first day, I suspected that Hunter was on the spectrum, too.  (My gay sister has excellent gaydar. . . do we have an accepted made-up word yet for autism-radar?)  Hunter was the kind of kid who had a lot of trouble socially, and unlike my little client at the elementary school, it wasn’t obvious to his peers that he was struggling.  They just sensed Hunter was different, and got annoyed when he’d be bossy or a “know it all,” and socially ostracized him.  It was difficult for me to watch, especially since I was still in that first year of my self-diagnosis, and I was reflecting so much on my own childhood.

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Back to that first client’s class.  I had seen first sparks of middle-school-girl drama forming as these fourth graders headed towards adolescence.  I had seen how the older students were treating one another.  I had watched these little kids be so considerate of my client and the other “different” kids in their classroom, and felt the hope it gave me for the future.  I didn’t want them to lose that.

So, I did something that is entirely out of character for me, and volunteered myself for public speaking.  I must have been inspired by the guidance counselor’s weekly lessons that were supposed to teach the kids emotional intelligence skills (identifying and handling their emotions, showing empathy, stopping bullying, etc.).  She was occasionally busy and couldn’t come do the lesson, which meant the classroom teacher lost that hour of prep time she had been depending on.  One of those days, I suggested I could teach the kids about autism.  Mrs. C loved that idea, so I let the ideas run repeatedly through my head and wrote my main points out on note cards.  I kept those cards in my bag, and the next time the guidance counselor cancelled, I was ready.  Or, as ready as I ever am to talk in front of people.

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It’s been a long time since that day, so I won’t be able to remember it word-for-word, or remember the excellent comments that Mrs. C and the students shared during our discussion.  I wish I had taken notes on those, because the kids really interacted with me.  But here is what I’ve reconstructed from those note cards.

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At my house, we have a Wii, and we have a PlayStation 3.  If I put my MarioKart disc in the PlayStation, will it work?

“No!”

So, my PlayStation is broken?  Or the disc is broken?

“No.”

[I explained that the two game systems have different operating systems.  I tried also making the Windows/Mac comparison that I originally saw explaining this idea, but they weren’t as familiar with computer systems.]

A lot of you have seen me wear earplugs in the cafeteria.  Why do I do that?

“Because it’s too loud.”

But wait. . . if it’s “too loud,” why isn’t everyone wearing earplugs?

[discussion]

So, do you mean we each have our own “too loud”?  We can experience the same thing in different ways?

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In my psychology classes, we were warned that sometimes you learn about something and start diagnosing all of the people around you with that thing – don’t do that!

[I projected the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for ASD on the board, and tried to give a quick 4th-grade-level explanation of each section, with examples]

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Where does autism come from?

I know that you guys have been learning about “traits” in your science class.

We know that autism can be inherited.  It runs in my family.

Our environment is also going to play a part in how people with autism develop, how bad some behaviors are, how they learn to cope.

Just like every kid.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  Some of you are awesome at basketball, but not soccer.  Some of you are bad at memorizing multiplication facts, but awesome at geometry.  Some of you are awesome at understanding what others are feeling, and being kind when they need it.

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“Different operating system” does not equal “broken.”

That’s what I want you guys to understand about autism.

It doesn’t mean he’s sick.  It doesn’t mean she’s stupid.  It doesn’t mean he’s broken.

He or she has a different operating system than most people.  The way they experience the world can be different, and so they may react differently.

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You guys have been learning about empathy, and how it’s so important.

When you have a different operating system, it makes it harder to understand how another person is thinking and feeling.  Because if you were in their situation, you would not be thinking and feeling that way.

What are some of your favorite smells?

If you see me at a seafood restaurant, I’m going to look disgusted and unhappy.  You might not be able to figure out why – because to you, the place smells awesome and you can’t wait to eat.  But I hate the smell of seafood.

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In my kitchen at home, my mom has always had a little sign by our kitchen sink.  I see it every day.  It says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.”

I’ve been so impressed with you guys and the other kids in this grade who I’ve gotten to observe and know these three years.  You do so much to be kind and include other kids.  That is really special.  Not all kids are like that.  And I don’t want you to lose that.

Stay kind.

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When I was growing up, I had a really hard time reading other people, and they had a hard time understanding what I was thinking.  I’d feel happy but wouldn’t look it.  I didn’t make a lot of eye contact.  I was obsessed with dinosaurs, Ghostbusters, and Ninja Turtles.  I couldn’t color until all 96 crayons were in meticulous rainbow order.  Before I could read, my mom had to read my favorite TV show’s episode title when it came on the screen, or my day would be ruined.  She was really happy when I learned how to read!  I wore my socks inside-out because the seam bothered me, and I hated most clothing.  Some of these things got in the way of relationships, and made school hard.

Sound familiar?

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I’m 30.

I still wear some of my socks inside out.  I’m a lot better at understanding what other people are feeling.  I still like things to be organized.  I still have a hard time making new friends.

One reason I wanted to talk to you guys about this is that one day you will be 30.  You’ll meet people who have different operating systems.  Be kind.  Give them a chance.  They might make your life more interesting.

Cards I gave the class on my last day as a TSS.

Cards I gave the class on my last day as a TSS.

Lessons from Speech Class

This month I finished my last class for my associate degree in Information Sciences and Technology. It was a speech class.

More accurately, it was a class focused on the “Principles of communication, implemented through analysis and evaluation of messages, with some attention to formal speaking and group discussion.” Unlike the on-campus offering where you take turns giving short speeches in front of the class, this course focused more on analyzing messages. I chose CAS 100C instead of 100B, to avoid having to do group work.  (I’m so over group work. See image below)

group project

This class was a LOT of writing, which translated into a LOT of time spent on it each week.  I’ve been called a “good writer,” but it takes time for me to write.  Especially when it involves the need to read (and sometimes find) scholarly articles that are to be cited in that week’s essay.  In addition to the weekly essays, we had to write and record two 6-8 minute speeches as our midterm and final.

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I was really fighting my perfectionism this semester.  No matter how many times I reminded myself that my grade didn’t matter, no matter how many managers at work (2) told me to chill out and “just pass,” no matter how many times my boss guaranteed the grade would have no impact on my job. . . . I just couldn’t not care.  I tried SO HARD to turn in work that wasn’t up to my personal standards, yet I still ended the class with an A.  The professor even asked if she could share some of my work with the rest of the class as good examples.

Before this class, I had started learning more about the Enneagram, and I was suspecting that I’m a type 1, the “Perfectionist.”  My excruciating struggle with my performance in this class made this pretty obvious.  I’m thinking about doing more investigation regarding Aspergers and the Enneagram.

One day early in the semester, my boss and I got out of the office for lunch.  He could tell I was struggling (perhaps the fact that I was on the brink of tears clued him in).  Bemused, he reminded me that I just have to pass.  I told him the story of the inspirational “Do your best at not doing your best” image on my phone.

do your best

He said, “I have one better than that.  Do your best at the things that matter.”

He then elaborated, talking about the need to evaluate my priorities, and to make sure I’m spending time and effort on the important things, like relationships.  Basically, if I’m getting a lower grade because I’m playing video games, that’s bad.  If I’m getting a lower grade because I’m focusing on doing well at work, and volunteering at church, and investing in relationships, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Even though I had a tough time following my manager’s advice, I’m extremely grateful that he gave it.

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A big revelation came after I received my final feedback for the class.

I had been super anxious about recording the two big speeches.  Like most people, I don’t enjoy public speaking.  But since I was recording this instead of presenting it to live people, that wasn’t the big reason for anxiety.  We were supposed to use an “extemporaneous” delivery for these speeches, having only words and short phrases on our note cards.  That really stressed me out.  Like most people on the spectrum, I can struggle with verbal communication.  I do much better when I have the time to carefully think out how I want to word something.  And when I have that time, I think I do it well.  I like making sure I get the words right to communicate effectively.  That is really hard to do “on the fly,” when I have a time limit in which to speak all of my main points, research, arguments, transitions, etc.

Our professor gave us a good strategy for how to deliver an extemporaneous speech.  We were to write out the full-sentence outline of the speech, then turn that into an outline of key words and phrases.  We could memorize the introduction, since it’s beneficial to have those introductory words “just right,” and it would give us more confidence for the rest of the speech.  But the rest was supposed to be based off of the short outline on our note cards.  She recommended we rehearse from the short outline, starting over again from the beginning any time we faltered and forgot details.  I tried this for the first speech, but as I rehearsed I found that I was really struggling with getting the words right, so I ended up writing way more on my note cards than I was “supposed” to.

For the second speech, I was reminding myself again that I just had to pass the class, which essentially meant I just had to turn in a speech.  Any speech.  Even a terrible speech.  I would still pass.  I had found enough sources to meet the assignment requirements, done a lot of thinking and synthesizing, sorted the ideas into main points, and had written up my full-sentence outline.  I simply didn’t have time to do the full-blown rehearsal to learn the speech, and I didn’t care if I got points docked for the delivery.  So I printed the entire outline on sheets of paper and cut them in half to be more note-card-sized.  That way, I could glance down and see EXACTLY how I wanted to say it.  (As I made edits to the content, I left the original outline file intact, so I could turn in something that was slightly different than what I said in the video, in case the professor compared them.  I’m sneaky like that.)

I recorded my speech two or three times and called it a night.  A few days later, I got the grade, along with this feedback:

“Really good extemporaneous and conversational delivery.”

Wait, what?  I had the whole thing written out!  I thought you said it would be obvious if we were reading from the page? I rehearsed, but in the end I was essentially reading it word-for-word from my printed outline.  How did I manage to fool you?

Then I realized: Oh.  Right.  I’m autistic.

Writing out words before I say them is a coping skill I developed long ago.  I need to call the mechanic to get a few issues looked at?  I’d better write it out.  I’m going to have a difficult conversation with a boyfriend?  I’d better write out some key points, because once the emotions hit I’m going to struggle to remember what I wanted to say and how to say it.

  • For my non-autistic classmates, reading their speech would be obvious.  They wouldn’t sound conversational.
  • For me, trying to speak off-the-cuff from an outline would leave me stumbling over words, pausing awkwardly mid-sentence, and anxious.  I wouldn’t sound conversational.

I was highly amused when I realized that for me to “pass” as an NT giving an extemporaneous speech, I had to use my coping skill of writing everything out.  I then had to fake being spontaneous and conversational in my delivery as I read, which of course is something I have unconsciously been practicing for years!

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To me, this was a good lesson in respecting who I am.  I have to remember that my brain, my struggles, and my skills are not typical.  The path I take to get to a goal will not always look like the path my peers take.  I also learned how fortunate I am to have people in my life, like the managers at work, who care enough about me to give me good advice and moral support when I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown.  Finally, I learned that I’m absolutely done with school for the foreseeable future!

 

Now that the homework is over, I have time for activities I truly enjoy, such as photography.

Now that the homework is over, I have time for activities I truly enjoy, such as photography.

Acceptance, Not Awareness

This past Friday I had my mid-year review at work, the first such meeting since I was hired full-time a few months ago. It was a much more in-depth evaluation than the little “here’s a paper with all 10’s circled on it, let me know if you have questions, sign here” I had at my last job.  My manager was very positive and complimentary, gently providing “growth areas”  rather than “weaknesses” or criticism.  My peers also provided a few positive comments for him to share with me.  In a summary section, he wrote something like, “She is different, and that’s a good thing.”  He does not yet know that I am autistic, but since I work in IT now, I’ve been able to be a little more authentically me than at past positions.

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This weekend I was continuing my way through the book Neurotribes, which is excellent.  The problem is, it jumps between stories so cool that I excitedly read them aloud to unwilling victims, to parts so heartbreaking that I have to put it down for a while.  I was reading the section on Lovaas and the early days of ABA, and researchers’ use of punishment.  It was so upsetting that I was stimming (a lateral hand-flapping movement) and engaging in self-injurious behavior (biting my hand) – two of the very behaviors that were physically punished in these early studies.

I talked to a person about this right after setting the book aside (I will use “they” as a gender-neutral singular here). I was so worked up after talking to them that I was still doing a lot of the rapid hand-shaking while I was preparing some coffee.  They then said, “You’d better get that out of your system by Monday if you want them to still think you’re ‘different in a good way.'”

That bothered me.  But I didn’t have the words to express to them why it hurt so much.  First, it was just the latest in a long line of comments like that throughout my life – those, “I hope you don’t do that in public,” or, “Are you going to shower before you go out?” or, “You don’t say that at school/work, do you?” kind of comments.  The ones that insinuate I haven’t yet learned how to behave “properly” around normal people, out in public.

Second, and this is very much related to that category of comment, I only engaged in that behavior because I felt safe to do so.  In my own home, with people I trust, I’m going to feel freer to behave in ways that are not seen as “acceptable” in other settings.  I’m going to complain about tasks I’ve been assigned at work, but I’m NOT going to have a bad attitude about them around my manager and coworkers.  I’m going to skip a shower when I’m staying in, but I’m NOT going to go to class with greasy hair.  I’m going to release extreme emotion nonverbally through self-stimulatory behaviors, but I’m NOT going to be as obviously autistic in the behaviors I select when I’m around people I don’t trust with that.

Third, they used something that was an extremely positive, affirming, and accepting comment about me to shame me for my autistic behavior.

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I was recently talking to another Aspie-girl about how hard it can be, living with neurotypicals.   We talked about how sometimes we trust someone with an explanation for our behaviors, or explain how we feel about something, and they end up using it against us later – even if it’s just what they see as a friendly teasing comment, it still hurts, and makes us less likely to trust again.

So, if you love someone on the spectrum, please recognize that often those “socially-unacceptable behaviors” you see are indications that the person feels safe with you.  Especially if you only see the behaviors in a “safe” setting, like the person’s home.  And please, if we trust you with an explanation of how we think and feel, don’t use it against us.

And for you autistic people reading. . . what advice should I give?  Be more careful whom you trust?  Don’t let your guard down and be so “autistic” around people?  No.  On my drive home today, Jars of Clay’s song “Inland” came on my shuffle.  The song I named this blog after. I was thinking about how even though another song on the album is my favorite, I was glad I got an “Inland” lyric inscribed on the ring I wear every day.  The words “you keep walking inland” are a constant reminder to me that I must press on, I must engage in community and relationships, I must keep trying.  I must keep walking inland – “where no man is an island.”  And so must you.  Don’t give up explaining, expressing yourself, and teaching.  Learn to live among people who are not like you, learn to communicate with them, and treat everyone with the respect and kindness you want yourself.   Don’t hide.  Don’t retreat.

 

It’s the only way we will gain more acceptance. 

Inland Ring

 

Blue Memories

yellow tree

It is a lovely fall day (though rather windy), so I went out for a long walk.  I’ve been watching a lot of TV while editing photos, so I switched the podcast for some instrumental music to better listen to my own thoughts for a bit.  I saw the plentiful leaves on the ground, and smiled as I remembered playing in piles of leaves in the backyard when I was little.  But then the musty smell hit my nose, the smell of decaying bits of life that will be no more.  And I was overcome with sadness.

 Joy looks at a now-blue memory with Sadness

One of the most poignant devices in the Pixar movie Inside Out is how Sadness touches happy memories, permanently turning them blue.  I feel like that’s been going on a lot lately in my own brain.  I’ll scramble for those bright yellow orbs, trying to cheer myself up with happy recollections, only to feel the sting of recognizing that those times are not coming back.

I’ve been feeling painfully nostalgic a lot lately.  A young friend and I have been watching Girl Meets World (and Boy Meets World).  That stirs up a lot of stuff.  While I certainly don’t miss the angst of crushes, I do miss having a group of friends to hang out with all the time, and the hope I had that someday a crush could like me back.  Then last night I was chatting with another young friend, who recently got an N64.  I happily reminisced about playing N64 games for hours on end with my guy friends. . . and I miss that.

I don’t look at those years with rose-colored glasses.  My high school friends and I promised each other we would never forget how awful it was.  I do not miss the emotional rollercoaster, the bullying and teasing, the frequent depression, the pain of unrequited interest and emotional attachment.  I do not miss being told I should just go home and kill myself (spoken by a best friend) or watching my friends stray down sinful paths, and the subsequent loneliness.  I miss hanging out with friends every day, the Sundays at my pastor’s house that got me through the rest of my week, obsessing with my best friend over our favorite things, sharing inside jokes and favorite quotes, late nights talking, sharing packs of SourPatch Kids Watermelon candy at the movie theater, sledding down the hill and staring at the stars.  I miss the times I was filled with hope.  I miss the more certain faith I had those years that one friend in particular was in my life.

We met October 3rd, 2001. (That’s another reason fall is a hard time for memories.) He rescued me from unpleasant conversations on a school field trip, and on the bus ride home he looked at the changing leaves and explained to me why fall is his favorite season.  There is so much I miss about those years, even though they were also filled with pain.  I wouldn’t want to go back. . . but it’s hard not having those good things anymore.

A Good Change

Hi blogging friends, I’m still here!  I’ve been quite busy, and though I’ve had many ideas for posts, I simply haven’t had the time/energy to sit and write.

To get things rolling again, I’d like to talk a little about some of the reasons I’ve been so busy.  I’ve mentioned before that I have been taking online classes.  This summer, I got a full-time internship while taking 2 classes.  Combine the stress of getting up early and working full days at a brand-new environment (with new norms and new responsibilities and new people) with taking two writing-intensive classes as a perfectionist (I take forever on writing assignments) and I was STRESSED.  I was really on the verge of a breakdown multiple times.  Mom told me she was ready to kill me once, and Dad had to talk her down.  I had no down-time for relaxing with a favorite show or working on a sewing project or visiting my best friend.  That isn’t healthy for me.

Lots of computers

IT intern life.

But. . . this internship is the one that a guy at church told me about a year before, and I had really hoped to get.  Not only was it an excellent learning experience, but it is leading to full-time employment.  I’m amazed at how much better this workplace and work are for me.  My confidence and self-esteem are slowly being built back up.  I’ve joked before that in making this career change, “I’ll still be working with autistic people – they’ll just be my coworkers instead of clients.”  It turns out, my years of hard work at practicing social skills and having to teach them to kids have paid off.  In this field, I actually stand out as having good social skills, instead of other fields where I’ve been surrounded by NTs and been the “weird” one in a bad way.  It’s all relative.

office box fort

A grown man (with grey hair) built a fort. A box fort. At his cubicle.

Not only am I surrounded by people who get my geeky references, quote the same kinds of shows/movies, and appreciate a good special interest. . . but I can bring sensory objects to work for myself, and instead of getting weird looks I get jealous ones!

office toys

Personalizing my cubicle – complete with a visual stim toy!

I brought in a little tin of Thinking Putty.  My best friend gave it to me years ago, but I didn’t use it much.  Then, I discovered that I needed a quiet fidget at work, and I fell in love with the putty.  So did my coworker, who kept asking me about it.  Finally, I just ordered a multi-pack of mini-tins from Amazon.  Three of the other interns and that one coworker signed up to buy it from me before it even came, and I sold/gave tins to three more coworkers shortly after that.

Thinking putty

Assorted putty

 

They joked about me being a “putty dealer”  . . . so when demand increased for more and firmer putty, I decided to order a pound to save everyone money.  I even bought little tins from Amazon for them to keep it in!  I’ve already sold a few ounces.  There are 9 or 10 of us playing with putty in the office now.

11667513_844219959962_4612074650803553307_n

“Breaking Putty”

 

But enough about the putty (which really is awesome.  Check out Crazy Aaron’s website).  I have a number of ideas for posts, which I will hopefully get to soon.  During last school year, I had the chance to talk to my client’s 4th grade class about autism, being different, and kindness.  I’d love to try to type up a recap of the conversation, because it was a really good one.  It gave me hope for the future.  I also have a rough draft of a post about favorite fictional Aspies.

Rallying

A few weeks ago, I had a really long weekend.  Work that week had been stressful.  I traveled to see friends after work on Friday, but it was an emotionally draining visit.  The next day, I spent at least 8 hours at a small gathering. . . again, it was lovely to spend time with these friends, but socializing with more than one or two people is going to wear me out.  I drove home that evening, and since I had coffee to stay alert on the road, I wasn’t able to get to sleep for a while.  I was emotionally exhausted and ended up crying in bed, and the next morning I woke up with a headache (from the too-short sleep and the crying).  I couldn’t sleep in, because my family was going to a gathering, where I would again be socializing and listening to people talk about things I don’t have (wedding plans, babies).  As I stumbled around like a grumpy zombie trying to get ready to go, I was told I needed “to rally” because it was important.

 

I’m not still curled up in bed under my weighted blanket.

This is me rallying.

I put on clothes that aren’t a t-shirt and pajama pants.

This is me rallying.

I’m responding with nods, grunts, and short exasperated sentences instead of snapping at the upbeat attempts to get me to join in the chatting.

This is me rallying.

I’m allowing my picture to be taken and trying to smile.

This is me rallying.

I’m getting in the car again, even though I just traveled from the other side of the state a few hours ago.

This is me rallying.

I’m strategically isolating in the car to simultaneously recover and prepare for more socializing – hooded sweatshirt to block the sun, squishy pillow to try to sleep, noise-blocking headphones; then, when sleep fails me, escaping into an episode of a TV show streamed onto my phone.

This is me rallying.

I’m getting out of the car instead of staying in here and sobbing or sleeping.

This is me rallying.

When told, “I need you to rally,” one more time, I respond,

“This IS me rallying.”

and I walk into the house, projecting the friendly persona expected of me.

 

 

Random Relationship Advice from a Clear Non-Expert

I recently read an article about the benefits of writing, and I decided I would spend some of my time off this Sunday writing down some thoughts.  Valentine’s Day is coming up, so the topic of relationships is looming large.  There are no romantic prospects on my horizon, but at least I’ve got my box and cards ready for the party at work.  (I’m gonna be the coolest 30-year-old in the 4th grade).

Ninja Turtle sewer box to hold my valentines

I was a Christian teenager in the 90’s, so my shelf is lined with the usual suspects – Passion and Purity, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, When God Writes Your Love Story, etc.  I’ve also been listening to the Boundless Show podcast a lot, which is geared towards Christian single young adults, so relationships are the most common topic of discussion.  In addition, I’ve read a few books specifically about Aspergers and relationships, like Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships, The Journal of Best Practices, and 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know.  But most of what I’m sharing here I’ve learned the hard way.

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“No man is an island” – and a couple shouldn’t be, either.

Like a lot of Aspie girls, my dating life began atypically late.  When I had my first boyfriend in college, my best friend called me out on some stuff – but I wasn’t totally honest with her about the relationship.  It turns out that was really stupid, and I vowed to not make that mistake again.  I now have a team of trusted advisers that I consult in matters like this – my best friend (and her husband), my pastor and his wife, and my parents.  This caused some friction with one guy, because he didn’t like the fact that I was talking about our relationship with them, but I’m still very grateful that I did.  I don’t mean you should complain to everyone about your significant other – if you need some help discerning between seeking counsel and gossiping, check out my pastor’s book.  But it’s important to have people in your life who know you well and can look at a relationship more objectively than you can when you’re in the middle of it.  Choose them wisely.  You don’t have to do everything they advise, but you’ll be better off having them as part of the process.

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Communicate about what physical touch is okay.

When a guy nervously worked himself up to asking me if he could hold my hand, I thought it was silly/unnecessary. Yet I really appreciated that he respected me enough to ask about stuff like that (maybe he was just terrified, but still).  My first kiss had been stolen from me, and that taught me a lot about the need to discuss boundaries, because after that all the guy wanted to do when we were together was make out.  Which doesn’t *actually* help grow a strong, healthy relationship.  This topic is especially pertinent for people on the spectrum, for a few reasons.  One, we (generally speaking) have trouble reading the non-verbal communication that is a huge part of romantic interactions.  This makes it more difficult to know what the other person is thinking and wanting, unless they spell it out verbally.  Two, every individual is different when it comes to what kinds of touch we like and when, and sensitivity to touch can be a major issue for autistics.  Some individuals absolutely can’t stand light touch (the kind that is common in flirtatious interactions) to the point that it can make them feel panicked or physically ill.  Personally, I get kinda weirded out by light touch, especially if I don’t see it coming.  I also dislike hugging people I don’t strongly like (I’ve written before about how I used to run away or fight with relatives who tried to hug me when I was little).  Yet when I’m with someone I’m close to, I love physical contact – it’s actually one of my love languages.  It needs to be on my terms.

So respect others’ rights to their own bodies.  Find out about their sensitivities and what they’re comfortable with.  You don’t have to make it super awkward, but be polite and keep those lines of communication open.

Snuggle bunnies

These two bunnies love to snuggle together.

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Emotional boundaries are just as important as physical ones.

What was that I said about learning things the hard way?  Ugh.  I really don’t have any specific, solid advice for this one.  It’s honestly hard to know how to build intimacy in an appropriate way, aside from saying take your time and don’t talk about certain emotional topics too soon.  It was a chapter in the book I Gave Dating a Chance that first introduced me to the topic of emotional intimacy, and I realized my good friend and I had crossed that line.  I won’t go into detail here, but I still haven’t fully recovered from the aftermath of that.  It resulted in one of the hardest times in my life (when I read the second Twilight book, I completely sobbed when Edward left Bella and there were those blank pages for each month, because I had lived that).

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Be honest.

This one should go without saying, but I’m talking about more than not lying.  It’s hard, because no two people are 100% compatible- there are going to be things we have to overlook or let go.  But we need to figure out which things really do bother us, and be honest about them.   At some point, if you try to ignore things, it won’t be pretty.  They’re going to add up and poison the relationship, or you’ll get in a fight about something unrelated and suddenly those myriad little annoyances will come spilling out.   I had a situation where I had said things were okay, but then I realized I was truly bothered by the low level of communication from a guy.  When I brought it up, it got him really upset, because I had previously said things were okay.  (Of course, it didn’t help that I sent a rather tactless e-mail instead of having a conversation about it, but that’s a topic for another day.)  This is why I bookmarked page 103 in Rudy Simone’s 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know –

There’s also “alexithymia,” the inability to identify what one is feeling and therefore, not being able to express it or describe it in words.  If you tell her something that upsets her, she might not know it at first, or know why, so she might say, “Okay,” when in actuality, she doesn’t really feel okay . . .   We have a reputation for “saying what we mean and meaning what we say,” but if we don’t now what we are feeling at the time, we can’t.

Simone then brings up the topic of the spectrum “sixth sense,” and how we can tell something’s wrong even when someone isn’t telling us.  This is another reason I am bringing up the topic of honesty.  I’ve been in situations where I know something is up, even though I might not have hard “proof,” and I’m an emotional wreck wondering if I’m imagining things until finally I get the person to explain and confirm my suspicions.  Drag that kind of thing out long enough and you’re going to cause more hurt than if you had said something sooner. So be honest.

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I guess that’s it for today. A final random thought – when I look back at my relationships, I see that each one emphasized one area of connection above the others – spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual.  It’s the spiritual connection I miss the most.

 

Thankfulness

I took a walk today, and I put on a Boundless Show podcast (Episode 354). Lisa was interviewing Louie Giglio about his advent book, and she asked him a question about single adults trying to hold onto hope instead of dwelling on what they’re not having.

We always have that choice of saying, well this is what’s not happening. I’m gonna focus on what isn’t happening. And the end of that journey always leads us to a really dark place.

Yeah.

It was good timing.  You’d think that since two days ago was Thanksgiving I would have figured it out, but lately I’ve really been down.  Mostly because it’s so easy to fall into thinking about the things I don’t have.  I don’t mean the stupid things like a functional iPod (though I miss that), but the big things.  Marriage. Or even a date.  Kids. A group of friends to hang out with all the time, like when I was younger.  A home of my own.  A great job.

It’s hard, because too often I look at the lack and blame it on not being good enough, or being weird.  Or I catch myself thinking it’s not fair.

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A very wise person once told me,

God answers our prayers in three ways:

“Yes.”

“Not yet.”

“I have something better for you.”

I’ve tried to hold onto that, the idea that he isn’t simply saying “no” to things, but he has a plan for my good and his glory.  It’s hard to trust sometimes.

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Anyway, I realized on my walk I should spend some time reflecting on what I *do* have.  As soon as I heard that part of the podcast I knew I should sit down and blog.  This list could clearly go on for a very long time, so I’ll just hit a few highlights.  It’s a good reminder to resume the habit of writing down daily blessings, a la One Thousand Gifts.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to go back to college.  I’m thankful that my inheritance from my grandfather meant that I was able to jump into getting an associate’s degree without the added stress of going into debt.  My classes have been going really well.  I strongly dislike the networking topic, but I enjoyed the C++ programming class so much that I finished my final assignment 3 weeks early.  It’s encouraging to see that I really do have an aptitude for this field and enjoy the material, as I had hoped.  I’m hopeful that it will lead to a good job where I can thrive.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to continue working part-time with my autistic client, and I am especially thankful that he got moved back to the best teacher I’ve ever worked with.  Not only is she great to work with, but we’ve started spending time together outside of work as well – it’s so much fun to get to have a conversation with her without the kids interrupting every 10 seconds! I’m also thankful for the opportunity this job gives me to show other kids some love.  There are some really sweet girls in my client’s class, and sometimes we have good conversations at lunch.  They, in return, are a huge encouragement and blessing.  Look at this:

I’m thankful for the awesome time we had in Nashville in September, at the Jars 20 Celebration Weekend.  We got to casually chat with the band, meet other fans (including some people I interacted with online many years ago), have a special concert in the Blood:Water Mission office, tour their studio, and go to the Concert to End All Concerts at the Franklin Theatre.  The guys were kind and gracious as always, and they even put up my photo gift where I could see it when they did the next online concert.  Only The Office Convention weekend comes close in awesomeness.

Jars 20

I’m thankful for my family, who accept and support me in so many ways.

I’m thankful for my best friend, and my godson, and the technology like FaceTime that lets us keep in touch so it’s easier for him to remember me when I finally get out there to visit.

I’m thankful for my sweet, fluffy cat Gandalf.  He makes me smile.

I’m thankful for the many bloggers who have helped me discover my place on the spectrum, understand more about myself and others, and make me feel less alone.

Perfectionism and Performance Anxiety

I’m frustratingly busy, so I’ll try to keep this one short. But being so busy also has me feeling very anxious. And with the thoughts swirling, I thought it might help to write some of them out.

Just the other day I was talking with someone at work about the concept of “performance anxiety,” that unpleasant feeling we get when someone is watching us do something (or the anxiety leading up to that event).  I recalled what I was taught in school, about how basketball players will practice free-throws until the movement is automatic, like a machine.  That way, when they are standing in front of the crowd and under pressure, their performance is less likely to suffer from the situation.

Today I was thinking about how the social deficits of being autistic can cause an almost-constant performance anxiety whenever I’m around people.  I know that a lot of this, for me, comes from an unhealthy “fear of man” – that is, caring too much about what people think of me, and getting identity/value from that.  But at the same time, I need to know if what I’m doing or saying is having negative consequences.  I have a lifetime of memories of messing up.  I’ve unintentionally hurt feelings, caused people to think I was arrogant (instead of insecure and shy), made assumptions that led to damaged friendships.  This evening, I remembered reading a blog post about social anxiety and autism; I just looked it up, and once again she says so much good stuff I’ll recommend you go read it instead of trying to write my own version here.  For example:

When a person with impaired social communication abilities has anxiety about social situations, they are like a poor swimmer who is anxious about boarding a boat. The perceived risk is real and rational.

-Cynthia Kim, Musings of an Aspie:My Anxiety is Not Disordered

Taking college classes again, I’ve been frustrated by my desire for perfectionism.  I keep reminding myself that missing questions or losing points is an opportunity to learn, but I still want that 100%.  I’ve always been told how smart I am, and that was a big part of my identity – so the desire for good grades goes deeper than just wanting a good number on my resume so I can get a better job.  It means I spend too much time on assignments, worrying the whole time about if I’m doing it right and doing enough.  Like I said, it’s very frustrating.  (Oh, and this “perfectionism” topic could easily be a separate blog post.  Of course, there’s one worth reading over at Musings of an Aspie).


Another area where the perfectionism and performance anxiety are driving me nuts is my photography business.  I’m about ready to call it quits.  I get so anxious before the shoot – will I be able to get the shots they want?  And then there’s the viewing – will they like the shots?  And there’s the sales component, where I have to deal with the uncomfortable topic of money and asking them for it, and I have to talk myself up.  Oh, and the editing.  I spend too much time trying to “perfect” images before I even know which ones they will want (of course, it’s hard for them to know what they want if they can’t see how beautiful it will be in the end).  And even in applying edits I’m constantly doubting myself and anxious.  Ugh.  I do really love being able to give people beautiful portraits, especially of their kids.  I’m looking forward to getting a new career that pays all the bills so I can go back to giving away photography.

Speaking of giving away photography – I’m going to combat the negative feelings by ending with this photo.  At the totally amazing Jars 20 Celebration Weekend in Nashville, I gave the guys a gift.  I took a picture of some of Dad’s vinyl records, with my Jars of Clay albums mixed in.   They liked it 🙂