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.”

 

 

Mini-Review: M in the Middle

M.

When I reviewed the book M is for Autism, I said I wanted to hear more about this girl who calls herself “M.”  I lost my copy of the book, and when I went on Amazon to buy a new one I discovered the students and their teacher had written a sequel.  I was hand-flapping excited (though I tried to tone that down when I told Mom I ordered them).

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Both books arrived yesterday, and I was so startled by M in the Middle‘s thicker size that for a moment I thought they sent the wrong book.  But no, it’s a longer novel.  I missed the colorful pages of M is for Autism, but they occasionally play with the fonts and type to help M communicate.

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This is what happens when you have autistic girls write a novel about an autistic girl.

 

I re-read M is for Autism last night to prepare for the sequel.  I was a little surprised by *just* how short it is; I think that I was so engrossed in the scenes and M’s mind when I first read it that it felt “bigger.”  I loved it just as much the second time.

I was impressed by the consistency of the character and her voice between the two books.  Our main character and narrator is now in year 8 in England (7th grade, here in the States).  She got her autism diagnosis a year ago, and her wonderful therapist has been helping her understand herself and develop strategies for dealing with her often-crippling anxiety.

I do want to caution those of you who struggle(d) with anxiety.  The authors do an incredible job of provoking empathy for their anxious narrator.  Pretty much any time M was taking deep breaths or using another calming strategy, I found myself taking deep breaths along with her.  I read the book in one day – partly because it was so good, and partly because I didn’t want to drag out my time living in her anxious mind.

We get a fuller picture of M’s life in this longer book.  She deals with INCREDIBLY frustrating adults who do pretty much the opposite of what this poor girl needs, fueling her anxiety and pushing her towards mutism.  She encounters a few people who get her, show her kindness, and help her find her voice again.  She has “friends” who turn into horrible bullies and she has friends.  She has an obsessive crush on an older boy, and wonders if she can have a “normal” future.  She tries so hard to fit in.  She tries so hard to have friends.  She tries so hard to do the right things at school.  She tries so hard to combat her anxiety.  She tries so hard to connect with her family while recognizing she can’t do the things they want her to do to show that connection.  She tries. So. Damn. Hard.

While 13-year-old me didn’t have all the same struggles and experiences, I related to a lot of what she goes through.

Again, the authors share some truly insightful thoughts through M’s words.  Here are a few I made note of as I read.

About her mother (p. 113):

She was delighted when we got the diagnosis. She was reading books and web pages and talked about us going to meetings and then she just seemed to stop.  Like she stopped believing I had autism or maybe when the reality of it began to unfold it all became too difficult.  . . .

But I’ve been carrying it around with me my whole life.  This is my reality, and does she realise how difficult that is?

About trying to “crack the friendship code” (p. 115):

And even though the truth is I love being on my own, I feel a desire to fit in and have friends.  Like it’s part of my purpose on earth.  I’m hardwired to fit in!  . . . I want to be accepted by my fellow human beings, but it really is so much easier on my own, and I retreat back to my little pink room, back to the security of my bed and blanket and the comfort of Skylar, season 5, episode 7.

When her mother suggests she write down how she feels, to let her feelings “out into the world” (p. 169-170):

Is it like letting Bella out into the back garden?  I haven’t got a back door.  I can’t just open a door to me and let my feelings out into the world.  Is that what everyone else is doing? Am I surrounded by other people’s feelings that they’ve let out??  Do I pick them up as I pass someone in town or do other people’s anger or jealousy latch on to me as I walk down a corridor?  And is that why I get so anxious?  I’ve picked up all the dumped emotions everyone else has let out into the world and I have an extra quota of feelings?

While writing this, I recalled watching the video about the Limpsfield Grange School girls (where this book was written).  I just realized that one of the plot points (involving the crush’s photos) was inspired by a real experience of a girl at that school.

I strongly recommend this pair of books – for autistic girls to feel less alone, and for people who aren’t autistic girls to stretch their empathy muscles.  It’s an emotional ride, but they both end with glimmers of realistic hope.

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.

Mini Review: M Is for Autism

Recently I read Kathryn Erskine’s book Mockingbird, which is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old Aspie girl named Caitlin.  I still haven’t figured out how I feel about that book.  I’m always excited (and a little anxious) when I see a book featuring an autistic character, especially a girl.  But like I said, I don’t know how I feel about that one.  There were certainly moments where I thought, “Yes!  That’s exactly how it is!” but . . . well, I’ll let you be the judge.  It’s worth a read, though I warn you it is emotionally exhausting (she recently lost her brother in a school shooting).

When I was reading a few reviews of Mockingbird, hoping they would help me process my own thoughts and feelings, I saw something about another book, M is for Autism.  This book was written by a group of autistic girls and their creative writing tutor, because there aren’t enough books for teenage girls with autism.  That fact right there made me love the book even before I opened it.  When I did open it, I was surprised to see that it is full of color – not just the illustrations, but the pages themselves.  I LOVE that.  In fact, there’s a lot I love about this book.

m is for autism
Things I love about this book:

  • It’s colorful!  Every page has color.
  • M is a believable autistic character.  She has autistic traits without fulfilling EVERY stereotype, and has specific, unique quirks and interests.
  • I was pleasantly surprised that the mother gets to narrate a few pages.  I appreciated getting to hear her perspective, and it is very realistic – a mother who truly loves and wants to help her daughter, but just gets so darn frustrated and doesn’t always understand her.
  • Her therapist is wonderful. I wish I had her.
  • “It’s not an illness.  It’s more a way of being. It’s your wonderful state of mind, the way you view the world. That’s not being ill.”
  • It emphasizes that autism isn’t really the problem, anxiety is.
  • It touches on topics like social confusion, teasing, stimming, coping strategies, sensory issues, diagnosis, labels, therapy, support, and the complexity of it all.
  • This quote:

“I think you’re struggling too much. Everyone has a bad day, week, month even year but this is too much M. This is constant stress and anxiety. Life shouldn’t be too much of a struggle M.”

She’s right. Less of a struggle would be good. Life is a struggle when you’re trying to be normal.

 

The book made me smile, but it also made me hurt for my own 13-year-old self.
My only complaint is that it’s short – you can read it in a single sitting.  That isn’t a criticism of the book; I think it is long enough to fulfill its purpose.  That’s just a personal desire to read more about M and her journey 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about the writing of the book, here’s an article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/health/what-is-it-like-to-be-a-girl-with-autism/

 

After writing this, I think I’ve figured out one of my thoughts about MockingbirdMockingbird feels like it was written by an NT for NTs – to help them better understand autistic kids, sure, but it’s for NTsM is for Autism is absolutely 100% for autistic girls.  It can help NTs better understand autistic kids, but that is for the sake of the autistic kids.

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 🙂

Ordinary Acts of Bravery

Today I was forced to confront scars I still have from my childhood experiences.

At work I have been stuck in a situation where I don’t agree with how a student is treated by the adults, yet I don’t feel like it is my place to address it.  It isn’t my classroom (my agency emphasizes to us that we are guests in these classrooms), it isn’t my client. . . but my heart aches for this kid.  A woman I work with was actually crying about it the other day.

One of my client's visuals from last year.

One of my client’s visuals from last year.

Why haven’t I said anything?

1. It’s not my place; it’s not my classroom; it’s not my client.
2.  I have “fear of man” issues.
3. I have no authority there.
4. I’ve tried modeling appropriate interventions and making subtle comments, which have been dismissed.
5. I give people the benefit of the doubt, and at first I wasn’t sure how this child was behaving in other settings, and if stricter interventions were maybe appropriate. (I’ve seen enough to say now that they are not.)
6. I don’t have the social skills to diplomatically start that kind of confrontation. . . I need to continue working with these people, and I am afraid of “rocking the boat” and creating a hostile environment.
7. I thought about printing out articles and leaving them in there, or filing a “bullying report” to the principal, but there are only a few adults who would know about it, so I couldn’t pull off a true anonymous action.

But then today, in considering talking to a teacher about it, I realized another deep reason.

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I became painfully bored in school in 4th grade, so my parents and I decided to try the local Christian school, where we were told I would be able to work at my own pace.  I wasn’t, actually.  But worse than that, I was no longer with peers who had known me for years.  I was the new kid in a small school where the kids had known each other since preschool and weren’t kind to outsiders.  This is where the bullying began.  It was never physical, just verbal and exclusion.  Because I wasn’t getting much more academically out of it, we decided I’d go back to my public school to get re-established with my class before we went to the junior high, where the four elementary schools combine.  Out on that blacktop play yard (that I had struggled to photograph years before) we had recess.  And I saw three girls, one of whom had been my best friend in kindergarten, being teased.  I had just come from a year of knowing what it felt like to be the outsider, to be teased.  So I tried to stand up for them.  And it backfired brilliantly.  I became the fourth target, and I stayed one.

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What does this have to do with today?

My 6th grade teacher was standing there.  Every day.  She was over by the door, watching the kickball game or chatting with another teacher.  She was there.  She should have seen.  She should have heard.  She did nothing.  And I thought, “What good would it do to tell a grown-up?  Won’t it just make it worse if they try to tell them to stop?”  So I kept quiet.  I rarely talked to my mom about what was going on, because she would have talked to the teacher, who I was afraid wouldn’t do enough and things would be worse instead of better.

Fast-forward.  I still have no faith that the powers-that-be will help.  I’m afraid it will just make it worse.  I’m afraid.

I’m afraid.

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A few weeks ago I read the Divergent Series.  That could be another blog post, since I found the topics of genetics and society pertinent to the issue of autism. . . but for now I’ll just warn any other sensitive souls away from reading them.  I did not like the ending.   Regardless, today I was reminded of a quote from the Dauntless faction’s manifesto:

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

After months of getting extremely emotional about this situation, and even asking for prayer from my Bible Study group, I decided to talk to a trusted teacher.  Not only do I greatly respect her, but I knew that she would agree that what was going on was not okay.  Today my schedule opened up to chat with her while her students were at gym class.  She validated my thoughts and feelings.  She said she would ask another educator for advice about the situation without naming names, and she would let me know what the next step should be.

I’m finally taking another stand against bullies.  But this time I have a teacher in my corner who is going to do something about it.