For so long in my life, I was angry. Then I was sad. Then I didn’t give a fuck. Now I think I’m okay. I’m happy, mostly. It’s weird.
I’ve been contemplating a lot of things. I want to write here more, though. I think it would be good for me to use this blog to work through some things, not necessarily about autism, but about my whole life. But I won’t do it if it feels like a chore. Maybe I’ll set a goal of 4-5 posts a week? I’ll see how I feel about this tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’ve read Aspergirls by Rudy Simone, I Think I Might Be Autistic by Christina Kim, Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison, and watched the movie Temple Grandin, and I’ve come to some conclusions. First, I’m almost certainly on the spectrum, but at the high-functioning end. But, being a middle-aged woman, the way it shows in me is so different from what people expect, no one would believe me. I’d probably have a hell of a time getting a diagnosis, too. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot of social skills in the last fifty-odd years, even if some things are quite difficult for me. So, I don’t plan to pursue a diagnosis. I also don’t plan to tell anyone that I think I’m on the spectrum. I might, if I feel it’s absolutely necessary, clue my husband in. But what I would do in that case is to print off a list of traits of adult women with autism, leave the word “autism ” off, highlight the ones I think apply to me and hand it to him. If he agrees with me, then I would tell him what the list meant. But it would be an awkward conversation and I don’t see any reason to have it at this point.
I do have some sensory processing issues, and I would like to point them out to people, although mine aren’t as encompassing as some I’ve heard of. Mostly, terrible smells will make me throw up sometimes, and I have trouble with dialog. If there are two sources, I can’t tune one out to hear the other; everything just sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. If I’m talking to someone on the phone and someone in the room starts talking to me, it locks me up. Also, talk radio or TV news or talk shows completely stress me out because I can’t hear anything people say to me while they’re on. I discovered a few weeks ago that I can actually read lips to a certain extent, probably because of this. (Also probably because I convinced my husband to watch sports with the sound off while music plays – music has the opposite effect as dialog for me. Story time! In the middle of this paragraph, the radio station I was listening to quit playing music and started an interview and I had to change it to a music only station before I could continue. Tangerine Dream on Pandora FTW!) I have no idea how to bring this up when it’s a problem, though, and I don’t know what to do about people who think TV is soothing or whatever. I’ll have to think this one out.
I’ll leave you now with some Charlie Brown’s teacher. Why can he understand her?
I’ve never burned bridges, exactly, but I am the first one to run from a crappy situation that I don’t think I can fix. If a bridge gets burned, it’s the person I’m leaving who sets it on fire. Still, I used to hate that about myself. I thought it was a weakness.
A few years ago, it dawned on me that leaving was often my only good defense when I needed one. And, nearly every time I’ve walked (or run) away from a bad situation, it was the right thing to do. Even when there might have been a better solution, my leaving was still understandable. Stress makes you really nearsighted sometimes.
Apparently, the tendency to run away or burn bridges is an aspie trait. I can see how it would be.
A friend put this meme on her Facebook wall the other day. I wanted to share it on mine, but it would have been “passive-aggressive” of me, so I’ll share it here.
When I was 23 and my sister was 20, our dad committed suicide. It was awful. I don’t think any of us saw it coming at all. Sis had moved out by then, but she was just a few miles away from our parents’ (dad and stepmom). I was living 600+ miles away, having settled in the town where I had graduated college and living with my boyfriend, who was still in school.
Sis and I would talk on the phone at night a lot in the days following. Sometimes I’d call her and sometimes she’d call me. We didn’t talk anything important most of the time. I remember long periods of silence, interspersed with “she said, and then I said…” type conversations. One night, when I had been drinking a good bit of beer (I drank a lot in those days, still do.), I caught myself slurring my words. I looked at the clock and it was after 10:00. I had to be at work in the morning (she didn’t start work until the afternoon) and I remember thinking “If I don’t get off the phone, pour out this beer, and go to bed right now, I’m going to be really unhappy with myself in the morning.” So when there was a break in the conversation I told Sis that. I said, “Hey, it’s getting late, I need to get to bed. I’ll talk to you later!”
A few days later, my mom called me up and chewed me out. She said, “Sis says sometimes you don’t want to talk and that hurts her feelings. You need to stop doing that.” I was floored. How had she known that I cut Sis’s and my conversation short unless Sis complained to her? How could Sis be upset about me needing to go to bed? It had to be a misunderstanding between Sis and my mom. There was no way Sis thought I was wrong for getting off the phone. I explained to Mom what had happened, but her only response was “you need to be more careful of Sis’s feelings. You need to be more careful about that.”
This bugged me for years. At some point a decade ago I crafted an explanation that made sense to me. Our mom liked to tell stories about us and would pump us for amusing (to her) anecdotes. Our family also has a bad habit of communicating through other people instead of directly; all our conversations were like a game of Telephone. So, I thought maybe Mom was pumping Sis for a story about me, Sis didn’t have one, and so she said, offhand, “Oh you know Erin – sometimes she doesn’t want to talk.” Then Mom took it the wrong way.
A couple of years ago I stayed with my sister when she had surgery – drove her to the hospital, stayed with her there, took her home, cooked, fed her pets, hung out. She was horrible to me pretty much the whole time (That’s another story for another day tho.) I had planned to drive home Thursday morning, but I was worried about making the whole 500+ mile trip home before I hit rush hour at home. I hadn’t been sleeping well at her house at all, so I impulsively decided to leave Wednesday night, drive half way, get a motel, and finish the drive in the morning. She was out on her porch smoking, came in, and noticed I had packed half my stuff. She started screaming at me. She screamed a bunch of stuff that had no basis in reality, like “you’re pushing the family away.” Then she started telling me I was a terrible person because I didn’t “like to talk.” And it “hurt her feelings.” She was using the same language my mom used with me 30 years before. So yeah, there was no misunderstanding back in the day. I HAD TO RUIN MY DAY THE NEXT DAY BECAUSE SHE WASN’T READY TO GET OFF THE PHONE. No. I don’t. No.
I’ve been flailing my arms about for the last few months trying to figure out What The Fuck?
I’ve always needed to get stuff done. I get depressed if I don’t. I need to solve problems and make things. Over the course of my life I’ve solved a lot of problems and made a lot of things! I solved the problem of my mom being verbally abusive when I was a teenager*, I made an engineering degree with my name on it, I made a kid (okay, I had some help with that one), my husband and I made a business, I painted, laid tile, made furniture, taught myself to solder so that I could make some stereo speakers. You get the idea.
Since my grandmother died this summer I haven’t finished anything really, at least not to my usual standards. I did manage to care of some feral kittens that happened in my yard and plan and take an amazing trip for my husband’s and my wedding anniversary, but everything else has been about as interesting as split pea soup spilled on the floor.
I thought it was just grief. It is grief. I thought it was the winter blues. It is the winter blues. I thought it was a minor midlife crisis. It is, maybe? But it’s bigger than that.
I’ve been feeling really good lately, at least when I get out and do stuff. As I do, I’m evaluating everything I do under the question “Is this autism?” Usually the answer is “yes.” Or at least it is Autism + Erin. IT IS SO WEIRD.
I took a couple of assessment tests and they say “yes” or “probably yes, maybe?” So now I need to learn how to take better care of myself, because I’ve been really inconsistent with that most of my life.
*I didn’t hurt her even though I wanted to. Worst I ever did was to throw a hot dog at her**. Also, I may have screamed “Fuck off!” at her a few times and slammed a door or two, an expected response from a teenager to verbal abuse, I think.
I solved the problem by moving in with my dad. That worked temporarily. Not being alone with her for more than a few minutes ever again, though, was what did the trick.
**MUSTARD ON THE WALL.
I’m Erin Ryan Leigh. I discovered something about myself the other day and have created this blog as a spot to work through it and record things. I’m using a pseudonym, and I’ve chosen a typically female first name followed by a typically male one on purpose, primarily because it suits my personality. (I originally wanted to call myself Erin Paul, but…nah.) My apologies to any real people named Erin Ryan Leigh. I’m not them, okay?
Last Tuesday, I was reading a thread on Captain Awkward. I adore The Captain and I’ve learned so much from her about personal relationships and how to be a better person. Even when I already knew the stuff, she’s often been the one to give me the vocabulary so that I can talk about issues with other people. After I read the post, I read about half the comments. Someone mentioned that she had diagnosed herself has having an autism spectrum disorder and mentioned fitting the criteria for “adult women.” I thought “Hmm, that’s interesting. Do adult women have different traits than what we usually think of autistics as having? Even when we think of high-functioning people?” So I quickly googled “traits of autism in adult women,” found Rudy Simone’s list, and
Burst into tears. Because I fit almost all of them. It explains so much about my life. I’m 51 years old, and despite being obviously smart, completing a difficult undergraduate degree, and working hard at so much in my life, I’ve always considered myself a failure. According to many people’s criteria, I am. So it was a relief to be able to put a name to my difficulties, and maybe find a solution. But I also cried for the time I’ve lost. And I cried for past-me, who often knew what she needed, asked for it in a very reasonable way, and had people bully me instead. Finally, I cried because I don’t want to think that every individual trait I’ve been proud of is just part of some pathological condition.
I bought one of Rudy Simone’s books and also one by Christina Kim. I don’t fit every trait they’ve listed, and I don’t agree with every way that Simone, in particular, presents Autism Spectrum Disorder. But I’m still sure it describes me. Now I need to investigate more and figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. I’m pretty excited, actually.