Tag: adult aspergers

What anxiety feels like (for me), and how I survive it.

What anxiety feels like (for me), and how I survive it.

This is one of those posts that can only ever be accurate to my experience. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience anxiety, just a combination of symptoms that affect particular people. I find my experiences of anxiety fit into some smaller sub-types that I’ve defined for myself, and by defining those types, I’m better able to treat myself when I need to.

Anxiety is often mis-understood as a psychological illness with purely psychological effects. This is very rarely the case. Anxiety starts in the brain, but the physical effects that result can be debilitating.

So here goes. My anxiety and panic sub-types, as defined by me.

PANIC DISORDER

For some, the terms ‘panic’ and ‘anxiety’ are interchangeable. I don’t feel they are, but those are just the words I use to label how I feel. I have been formally diagnosed with panic disorder, and to be honest, these days–it’s the easiest of all to manage.

Panic disorder, for me, is the sudden, crippling, struck-by-lightning, acid-down-your-back, stomach-through-your-toes, overwhelming sense of sheer terror that grips me out of the blue.

The weird thing about it, is usually I don’t realise I’m anxious prior to the attack occurring. I’ll be fine one moment, and then bang–it hits.

After the initial terror shock, my heart rate sky rockets. I breathe fast, I feel nauseous. I very rarely have the ability in these moments to think straight, my thoughts are in a blender on the fastest speed. Everything is fragmented.

The more it goes on, the more symptoms join the party. My head feels like lead, my legs are made of incredibly heavy jelly–but the middle of me doesn’t feel like it’s there at all. I might vomit. Colours become brighter, white becomes unbearably incandescent and black looks like a void I’m about to be sucked into. Eventually my vision clouds over.

My body is utterly out of control, and still spiralling. So it does that one thing computer techs around the world wearily ask:

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That’s right, an unexpected reboot!

Fainting is the body’s way of taking human thoughts out of the equation, and restarting with enough basic functions to get the terror under control. Before… you know. I have a heart attack or something.

Problem is, it’s also absolutely fucking terrifying.

So, how do I avoid getting to that drastic point?

It’s actually simpler (and still harder) than it sounds.

I don’t fight it anymore.

When that bolt of terror hits, my initial instinct was to forcibly regain control of my body. I would fight to get my heart rate down, I would fight to stay standing, and I would fight the urge to vomit. More to the point, I was creating additional stress by trying to stop these things from happening. I was afraid of what would happen if I let the panic attack continue, so I did my absolute damnedest not to let it continue.

Rookie. Error.

It’s far easier said than done, but once you accept that it’s happening–it starts going away. It doesn’t hold power over you. The minute you realise that this attack isn’t putting your body in danger, there’s no need to fight it. The sickening thunderstruck sense is usually only a spark that needs more fear to grow, and that fear comes from fearing the symptoms of your own anxiety.

Panic attacks in this sense don’t last long for me anymore. Thirty seconds to a minute, long enough for that initial bolt to wash away. These aren’t generally caused by any identifiable trigger, which is what makes them different to anxiety attacks.

When I first started practicing this technique, I started by identifying the sequence of symptoms in the usual order they would occur, and how I could minimise any damage caused by them. Note that I did once split my chin open and break two teeth in a fainting episode!

So getting on the floor is crucial. When that bolt hits, I quietly and calmly lower myself to the floor and lie in recovery position. Then I just–let it do what it will until it’s gone. Every time I do this, I reinforce the understanding that these attacks can’t hurt me, and the next one is easier again.

An anxiety attack? Well. That’s another thing altogether.

ACCCUTE ANXIETY

On the surface, ‘accute anxiety’ or an ‘anxiety attack’ looks much the same as a panic attack. It hits fast, hard, and if it spirals out of my control you can bet I’ll end up on the floor.

The primary difference in my definitions of panic and anxiety attacks, is what causes them. An anxiety attack usually occurs in response to something. An unkind word from someone else, making a dumb mistake, being surrounded by too many people, or just the insane amount of reflective surfaces in Target.

Just as a panic attack will feed on the fear of the attack itself, anxiety attacks also need fuel to keep going. Problem is, there’s plenty of that! And it’s fuel that is a lot harder to dismiss, especially if I’ve done something spectacularly dumb.

Feelings of being stupid, inadequate, incompetent, isolated, crazy, weird, and other horrible thoughts about myself are usually circling about in that blender-like brain feeding the fire.

Of course I’m hyperventilating, curled up in a corner, having a breakdown because I am a completely useless piece of shit. 

And other charming things to say to yourself in crisis.

These can often feed into meltdowns, which just makes for a splendid day.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to: fast breathing, elevated heart rate, tight chest, crying, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea (fuckin’ yaaay, right?), tremors, inability to speak, cold sweats, clouded vision, heavy limbs, and a critical reduction in my ability to function as a human.

But here’s something else fun about anxiety attacks:

I can be having one right in front of you, and you would never know.

The other major difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks, is I have greater ability to mask my symptoms in an anxiety attack. They aren’t less intense, and I am deeply suffering under all that make-believe, but sometimes it’s enough to look like you’re coping until you can get somewhere and break down. Which… I think is the life goal of most autistic people too.

Basically, if I’m having a visible panic attack, the shit has really hit the fan. I do not ever, EVER like people to see me this way. If it’s visible, it’s beyond my ability to control, and that is a pretty bloody bad day for me.

But–how to deal with it?

If I’m in an attack, it’s too late for prevention. We’re in damage control.

If I’m in public, my first step is to excuse myself to a quiet place where I can let go a little. Hiding an anxiety attack is exhausting. I need to get down to the ground, at least into a sitting position. I do find lying down to be the most effective calming position, though.

The darker and quieter a place, the better. Otherwise if I have my phone and earphones, some gentle music with my eyes shut. I can ‘disappear’ into music until my rhythms return to normal.

The horrible thoughts that fuel the attack will continue until I’ve soothed myself a little, and get the energy back to fight them. I almost always don’t want to talk about it during, or immediately after, the occurrence. It takes me hours, sometimes days, to process what happened and how I feel about it.

Often I’ll feel like a failure for not being strong enough to stand it.

The trick with these ones is to be able to stop the flow of negative thoughts. Stop feeding the fire, and it won’t burn–same as panic attacks. Just a lot harder to put into practice.

PROLONGED ANXIETY

This is above and beyond the most dangerous, insidious form of anxiety I know. This isn’t the intense anxiety you know is happening to you, it isn’t the whirling stream of terrible thoughts that make you sick.

It’s the days of feeling gross, on edge, grinding your teeth in your sleep, with an unsettled stomach and no explanation why. It’s similar to that feeling you get in the lead up to a big horrible event, only there’s no end in sight.

It grows so slowly it feels normal. Like depression, it takes over your life until you can’t remember what a proper resting heart rate feels like. You don’t know when the last time was that you ate food and didn’t feel sick. You’re not sure how long it’s been since you had a night where you were able to sleep, and not oversleep. It’s wearing you out and every day you feel more tired and you don’t know why.

You don’t feel like you can breathe properly, but what is properly? The longer it goes on, the deeper you sink into it, the more the symptoms grow. You’re on a hair trigger, will you scream, cry, or murder someone? Small things are irritating when they shouldn’t be. You’re restless, hungry for a taste that only exists in your imagination, and at the same time paralysed. You can’t… you just can’t, everything is too hard for some reason.

When did this start getting bad? Why? What has happened? It doesn’t seem like there should be any reason for it, and by the time you realise–you’re drowning. Lulled into a false normal bit by bit. When was the last time you didn’t have a headache? What is the deal with all this farting??

Your body isn’t as it should be, you’re not relaxed even when you’re asleep. Tension builds on tension, until eventually it explodes in an anxiety attack. And boy oh boy are they worse when they’ve been brewing like this!

So—what do?

Practice extreme self care! I don’t know if there’s any better excuse for having your favourite things on hand.

For me, that means scented candles (jasmine, frangipani, and gardenia!), a good quality blend of tea, some favourite shower gels (peppermint, and neroli jasmine… not at the same time, obviously!), comfortable snuggly clothing, and other items of general comfort.

At work I find having something to fidget with releases a lot of that tension in a less explosive way. Fortunately my new work sells electrical components like switches and buttons and wires, so I’m always able to find something to carry around and fiddle with. My favourite so far has been about three inches of double-insulated six-core copper wire. It was so bendy and fun!

Music, movies, games, all of those things that I can ‘escape’ into until my body calms down are also incredibly useful. As is the company of friends and family, both virtual and in meat space! Blogging has also become a source of self-care, and a critical part of processing and understanding how my brain functions. I learn a lot about myself writing these, as it forces me to think about things in a different way than I do when the thoughts are swirling uncontrolled.

The other really important thing? Celebrate. Genuinely celebrate your wins, however small. Whether that’s climbing a mountain, or brushing your hair. If it’s a success for you, celebrate it. We get far too caught up in our losses at times, but if you remember to celebrate the wins, they’ll help balance out the bad when you need them.

And take note of what your body is doing, and where you end up. You may not pick up the slide into prolonged anxiety this time, or even next time. But, if you begin now, you’ll start noticing the patterns and each time you’ll be better placed to rescue yourself sooner.

How do you cope with your anxiety? What do you experience?

I would love to know! The more strategies, the better!

On the outer edge of coping.

On the outer edge of coping.

It’s been one of those horror weeks. My birthday was Friday just gone, and I am still recovering.

But that was almost a week ago now, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t you be all good now? Yes–and cue that intense sense of shame that I, a grown woman, am still struggling to function so many days later. It isn’t the alcohol that does me in, I wish it was–that would be so simple to fix. Don’t drink, recover fast. My alcohol hangover lasted only into the Sunday afternoon.

The rest of it I’m still wrestling with.

I did an enormous amount of hours at work in the two weeks prior, more than I’ve done in a long time. Organising the party was more stressful than I’d like to admit, they always are. I don’t know if I’ll bother again. I’ve got nine years before I have to start thinking about whether to have a 40th or not, maybe I’ll feel different then. Maybe I’ll be different then.

It’s unlikely. I was always that kid concerned that no one would show up to her birthday party. I get very worried that I’m not enough, not important enough that anyone will want to. Then I make mistakes like inviting the sorts of people that I want to connect with, and get crushed when they decline. I really don’t know how else to communicate with people that I’d like to know them better, outside of work or other social groups. I don’t know how to indicate that I want to be friends, so this is my way. I invite them along and hope they’re also interested in knowing me better.

And I should know better than that by now, but I don’t and all the same mistakes were made. I had a very good night in the end, and the quality of those who turned up for me was fantastic. Still, it’s just as well that I got merry enough before the end of the night to notice the absence of a few people who I’d been very excited to party with.

Because that is my other problem, I never seem to know the difference between someone accepting to be polite, and those who genuinely intend to come. They all make the same sounds and I get equally as excited. Then the moment comes and I’m confused. Why do people do that? Why do they make plans they don’t intend to keep? How is it more polite to leave me hanging, than to decline?

I don’t know, but the whole affair is stressful. I know people have lives well outside of my little party, and the apologies I could understand. None of my attempts to widen my social circle were accepted, though, and every decline there felt like a slap in the face. All of these were people with whom I had discussed socialising with before. Nothing ever came of it. Nothing ever does. I go home after these discussions excited that maybe I’ll be invited out, but it never happens—I see the photos pop up on Facebook and wonder again: why do people talk like they want to make plans, and then leave me out?

The only reasons I can ever come up with is I am forgettable, unimportant or just a burden to have around. Not fun.

So that cycle plagued me, the deep sense of insecurity that almost everyone invited was not my friend by choice, but someone who I had tagged onto through my family. That I wasn’t able to generate my own party crowd, because the people I know here in town aren’t interested in socialising with me. It’s a heavy feeling, and thankfully one that was offset by being surrounded by truly wonderful people on the day.

It’s no wonder that with weeks of that, by the time the excitement died on Sunday I was destroyed. I’ve been clenching my teeth a lot, my whole face aches from it. I had panic attacks more intense than any I’ve had in a long time on Monday, lost my sense of time and became completely convinced that the overnight shift I’d signed up for was next week–and it wasn’t. This I didn’t realise until it was too late, and thus began the next spiral.

How was it that I could still be this confused, overwhelmed, and tired after just a birthday party? Not just the next day, but for two days after? I felt like an absolute failure as an adult, a failure in my menial retail jobs, and any hope I had of returning to full time professional work was now a knife that stabbed into my self esteem. Will I ever be able to do the sort of work I want to do?

I don’t hate retail, but if I’m going to spend my life working then recovering from work, the work should be something that at least satisfies me. I have to devote my energy to work, there’s no choice there–I need to pay rent. It just seems to be the same endless cycle of the same to go home, sleep, collect enough money to pay rent, and repeat. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but my one hope is that I will find a job that is worth that sort of energy. But–if I don’t even feel like I’m managing retail, then how?

I already got fired once this year for not coping with the demand of a professional job. I want so badly to believe I’m capable. That I don’t have to live in this cycle forever. That I can find something that makes me feel like a success, and not a barely-scraping-by pile of shit.

Reality is a bitch.

Right now, everything is too loud. I want to watch TV but the sound screams on the lowest volume. I went to the supermarket and came out shaking, even though I kept my sunglasses on while I was in the store.

My doctor would say I pushed myself too hard, did too much work too suddenly. But what option do I have?

I’m just trying to keep up here. I know it will get better, because everything was fine two weeks ago. Maybe I just got so excited about that feeling of coping that I really did just run myself straight into the ground. Even though I did far less than my sister does in an average week, here I am struggling to function. Feeling somewhere between nauseous and tears, wishing that I could just stop the world for five minutes and catch my breath.

Hating myself because I can’t seem to keep up, no matter how hard I try. I do alright for a while, and then this–I hit the wall. I crash.

I’m on the outer edge of coping. Not drowning, but nor am I swimming confidently. Getting through one minute to the next, building up strength to run headlong into the next wall. That’s how I do.

 

 

Uncomfortably rewarding: why I don’t hide the bad days online.

Uncomfortably rewarding: why I don’t hide the bad days online.

Over the past few months, I’ve come to alter the way that I blog and the way that I utilise my personal social media to show a more ‘balanced’ account of my experiences. We’re all guilty of posting only the best photos, of keeping our darkest moments to ourselves in an effort not to make those who follow us uncomfortable. I made the choice to break away from the ‘good-only’ approach to social media very consciously, but why?

When my experiences are good, I have the ultimate freedom to express them entirely. But when they’re bad? It’s a very public, and at times very uncomfortable, way to suffer.

Perhaps there are people who read this and think I’m utterly batshit for putting this material on the internet, where it can be found by people in my physical world (I link to each blog through my personal accounts, and there are other snippets of brutal honesty that go only to those accounts). What I post can be found by anyone who chooses to look: friends, family, potential employers, inter-dimensional beings from a future as yet undiscovered…

Am I mad for doing this? Probably. It’s a well certified fact that I am, in fact, delightfully weird. It’s not by chance though, it’s a decision I’ve made and followed through with after deciding the benefits significantly outweigh the potential for my writing to backfire on me.

First and foremost, I do it for me.

I would love to say that it’s based on some selfless desire to help others find their way through their own rough patches, but that would be a lie. The process of writing out and posting the good and bad in equal measure has become a method of self-care and healing.

Just writing out my experiences of the day takes the thoughts out of my head (where they are often whirling around in manic circles and refusing to find resolution) and into logical sentences. Once they’re out, I can begin letting them go.

Writing also forces me to think logically, to step back and analyse what happened and from that perspective I begin to see the alternate paths that weren’t immediately obvious at the time. Recognising those after the fact isn’t a bad thing–those choices are more evident the next time that situation rolls around, and I have avoided repeating situations because I know I have options. Writing also helps me cement information in my long term memory, so the lessons I learn are rarely forgotten.

It also provides an ongoing account of who I am at a given time, allowing me to look back and see the sort of progress that is invisible day-to-day.

The writing alone is only one part of the process. If it was, I could just as easily keep a diary and be done with it.

There’s a unique sense of responsibility that appears when I post something online. I have stated to the world that this is happening, and when the situation is an unpleasant one, it puts increased pressure on me to resolve the situation. Much like a writer might feel the need to resolve a plot point after a cliff hanger, even if no one reads a single word I write–the words are out there. The story must move on, must show progress, and it’s up to me to take actions that move toward a better point in the ‘plot’.

This is why you’ll often see a ‘balancing’ post after my less positive entries. I feel this weird drive to look deeper and find the better side of things, to share that reality alongside whatever self-indulgent misery I’ve put forth. While I do that as a responsibility to the ‘audience’, it balances my brain as well. If this was just a diary, there wouldn’t be that drive. In fact, without the public nature of social media, this would read more like a My Chemical Romance album.

It would be the opposite of the ‘only good’ social media view, it would be the ‘all bad’ private thoughts of depression. Neither is the whole person, and the latter is a mental trap too easy to fall into.

Social media also provides me with a platform through which I can explain myself in the best way I know how: through text.

I don’t give away a lot in my expressions. I especially don’t like to talk about how I’m feeling when how I feel isn’t good. The words don’t like to come together, I don’t like bringing the mood down, and if I’m in someone’s company I’d much rather be distracted and enjoying myself than talking about things I struggle with. I also have this horrible habit of breaking into tears whenever I feel ‘exposed’ in conversation. Text allows some distance and ability to craft explanations that are coherent.

This communicative impairment doesn’t discriminate. If I’m talking openly about these sorts of topics, it’s because I’ve either reached breaking point (with the accompanying emotional explosion), I’m drunk (I talk far too much when I’m drunk. Just ask my brother-in-law!), or I am pushing myself (or being pushed) well beyond my comfort zone. This is just a function of who I am, and finding ways to communicate around it has helped immensely. It’s unlikely I’ll ever be comfortable with direct conversation regarding myself.

But once I have written about something, and posted it publicly, the nature of the information changes. It goes from ‘innermost private thoughts’ (and I am an intensely private person) to ‘information in the public domain’. Everyone I meet theoretically could have read the material, and I should expect to discuss it. I am prepared to discuss it. I have considered it deeply, I have opinions and ideas and further solutions that occurred to me after the time of writing.

Posting publicly effectively releases the privacy of my own thoughts and puts them in reach of open discussion. The more I do it, the more I’ve begun to feel comfortable discussing content that I haven’t posted. That has been amazing.

Being brutally honest about how I feel and why has been an exercise in freedom.

The secondary benefit is in how others respond to my writing.

It may not be what I seek to get out of this process of honesty, but each comment or like  or mention I get from someone who identified with my writing is the best bonus I could ask for. I never set out to inspire people (and I find it ridiculously humbling when I’m told that I have provided inspiration. Who, me? I’m a wreck half the time!).

All I aim to do is provide an account of who and how I am, as I go from good to bad and back again. The idea is to demonstrate to myself that there is no situation so bad that I won’t come back out of it stronger, so if that is reaching others and helping them feel the same? I’m pretty pleased with that.

It is a terrifying thing to do sometimes, to expose the complex and often confused nature of my thoughts. On some level I do feel an obligation to do it. As someone who was given an ability to communicate in written word to not use that ability to describe my experience (especially the features of my Aspergers/Autism) seems like a gross waste of ability.

The rewards of this public honesty have been huge. Even on my worst days, I feel more my ‘authentic self’ than I have in too long. It’s my life and it won’t be sunshine and rainbows all day every day, there will be posts that come that are uncomfortable and miserable. That’s life, regardless of mental state.

What’s important is that a better post will always be coming, and I look forward to sharing those immensely. I never did this in the expectation that my posts would be actually read, either, but I appreciate everyone following along on this quirky journey. You make it extra worth the effort!

Debunking the dangerous ‘lack of empathy’ stereotype.

Debunking the dangerous ‘lack of empathy’ stereotype.

On most desktop computers, there are separate switches for the tower (the actual computer, the bit that ‘thinks’) and the monitor where output is displayed. If you turn on your computer, but not the monitor, the computer can do all the work it likes–but nothing will be displayed.

I often compare computers to the autistic brain; I find there are a lot of similarities. This is one. It’s a gross over-simplification but it goes a long way to explain how autistic people are so often accused of being void of empathy. So much so that the cold and unfeeling autistic person has become something of a stereotype.

Autistic people are very capable of empathy. Our ability to display that feeling is impaired. Our computers are functioning, but often times the monitor is switched ‘off’… or on another channel completely (and trust me to switch to a television comparison now just to confuse the issue).

For me, it’s a case of the monitor being off most times. I have to remember to change the position of my face to reflect the appropriate feeling for the moment. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s a logic-based process that says, ‘You’re feeling happy now, you should be smiling!’ and so I turn the corners of my mouth upward.

Manual smiling can get painful, by the way.

There are times where my feelings are so strong and I’m so caught up in them that the expressions form themselves–but that’s rare.

I’m also chronic for the pseudo-condition ‘resting bitch face’, which is the tendency to look worried/tired/angry. This is just the way my face falls when I’m not giving it direction, and it doesn’t mean I feel the way it looks. Usually I’m so deep in thought that I’ve relinquished all active control of my facial expression. I could be having a hilarious daydream, but to the outside world it looks like someone’s upset my apple cart and I’m about to tear strips off the next person who bothers me.

For others, it’s less a case of the monitor being off and more a case of it being on the wrong channel. They may exhibit expressions and behaviour that make little to no sense in context with the situation around them. This could be misinterpretation of the situation, not knowing how to react in a situation (and giving it a best guess), or it could be as simple as the mind reaching a different emotional reaction to that which is normally expected.

I watch a lot of true crime specials, and the way people read each other after a homicide is troubling to me. So much that I hope I’m never directly involved in such a situation because (aside from the obvious) I worry that my lack of reaction, or incorrect reactions, would be misinterpreted as possible guilt.

If you think that’s paranoid and crazy, check out the Amanda Knox special on Netflix.

She’s not alone in being suspected because of her reactions. Lindy Chamberlain is another high profile case that utilised her behaviour after the death of Azaria and throughout the trial process as a sign of guilt.

I don’t pretend to know what happened to Azaria Chamberlain, nor am I convinced of Lindy Chamberlain’s guilt or innocence. I’m certainly not claiming that Chamberlain and Knox are autistic, either, only that their lives have both been upturned in part because they did not react the way they were expected to.

And there lies a very dangerous expectation, for everyone, and especially for  those on the autism spectrum. The expectation that every person will react to a situation in a similar way, and that deviations from that expected behaviour are wrong.

Greater understanding that there are infinite ways to respond to a situation, and that each person will respond in their own individual way, will set free so many from fear of their own personality. Clinging to ‘sameness’ is a human desire that continues to fuel fear and hate, between races, religions, nations, anyone of difference.

We are so much more diverse than social expectations allow.

In regard to empathy, we all feel it. We all respond to it differently, we all show it differently. Some are able to disregard it. Others are slave to it.

The notion that autistic people are not capable of empathy is a myth. It’s far more common that the autistic person is less capable of displaying it.

In some cases, myself included, the feelings of others are present in the air. Like a solid, electrifying force that grows with the intensity of feeling. I know the feelings are there, I know there is an emotion being communicated, and I feel it so keenly that it burns.

But I don’t understand it. I don’t have the ability to take that force, break it down into its parts and know that what you are sending me is happiness, or anger, or fear. It’s another language, one  I can’t interpret, and the force of it leaves me paralysed and unable to act.

My own feelings, I have so many of. I feel deep sorrow, and boundless joy. I don’t always know what to call them, nor do I always know how to deal with them. They lie behind a face that moves as I tell it to, but they are still there.

I repeat. They are still there.

And what to do about it? I don’t know. I like to know when my behaviour isn’t what’s expected, and perhaps this comes from a place of wanting to fit in, to be seen as ‘normal’ among others. But isn’t that just as damaging?

After all, if I put on a successful mask, learn to behave as others do–if we all conform to this expectation–how will any of us learn to embrace and understand the true diversity of the human mind?

Some things, I will change. Some things I won’t. My reactions, expressions and the way I approach the world is my own. Even if that is to have no visible reaction, that’s simply how I am. I cannot be judged from the outside. Knowing me requires conversation, patience, and a mind open to the idea that not all body language speaks truth.

I have feelings as much as any other person, autistic or not. It just takes some digging to see them.

How I compensate for my lack of social understanding (and how that also is a trap).

How I compensate for my lack of social understanding (and how that also is a trap).

One of the key stereotypical aspects of autism/aspergers is the inability to read the finer points of social interactions. It’s true of most people I know with an ASD diagnosis, and like any autistic feature it presents differently in each individual.

There is, I’ve discovered, a secondary issue that comes with this lack of social awareness that develops as autistic children become autistic adults. It seems to be more common in those with an internal presentation, but who am I to say I know what goes on in anyone’s head?

The problem is this: we are aware that we have social deficits in reading situations, and overcompensate.

Deeper understanding of an interaction isn’t natural to me. It doesn’t arrive in a neat little package at the time, I don’t listen to someone’s words and thing ‘they mean something else’ or ‘this is definitely genuine’.

Instead, I take in the information and react to it on face value. If someone says they’ll do something, I nod and agree–yes, they will do it. If someone delivers a back-handed insult, disguised as a compliment, I’ll take the compliment first. Perhaps I’ll get a small inkling that there was something else going on… but I won’t know instinctively what the person was actually saying.

Not until later.

Deciphering the ‘true meaning’ of an interaction is more like wading through a literary text and picking out the themes and symbolism to work out the author’s message. It’s time consuming, inexact, and based on the premise that the other person put as much effort into coding the message as you did to decode it.

Everyone does a little of this after-process, especially after odd interactions. For me, it occurs after almost every conversation. It keeps me up at night, trying to work out what cues I may have missed and how I should have interpreted a situation differently. It’s an active process that requires quite a lot of brain-power to complete.

And it’s the basis for oh-so much anxiety.

Because here is the problem. I am aware that I have an impaired ability to decode situations on the fly. I also have thirty years experience in social interactions, and learnings from those that can be applied to analysing new situations.

My tendency isn’t just to miss the meaning of an interaction as it takes place, but to read too far into interactions when I analyse them later.

I find myself critiquing word choice, stance, tone, level of distraction–all things that I know academically can communicate extra bits of information. I look back to past interactions with that person and try to match up the similarities like a forensic investigator.

So I’ll get offended by throw-away lines that I decided were ultimately an insult because of how the person ordered their words; my default setting is to err on the side of caution and look more for threats I may not have seen.

Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I even see things that those gifted with intuitive understanding of interactions don’t see. My process is based in logic and prior learning, so if human beings were rational things it would always be spot-on.

This compensatory method of deciphering interactions after the fact is a dual-edged sword. On one hand, it allows me to mask my lack of understanding by providing me with the information I missed at the time. On the other, my awareness that I miss things drives me to look for more than is actually there.

External vs Internal: moving away from gendered profiles in autism.

External vs Internal: moving away from gendered profiles in autism.

There are problems inherent in the way that ‘female autism’ is being researched. Curiously, they appear to be the same problems that occurred in the initial research and diagnosis of aspergers. The same language and biased research issues that led to the missed diagnoses of so many autistic women looks set to repeat unless we become aware of the implications of gendering a condition.

Understanding that females can also be autistic is an understanding long overdue. The misconception that autism and aspergers were conditions that ‘belonged’ to males was caused by a focus on males as research participants, and lack of understanding in how autism presents in different individuals.

As researchers and diagnosticians continue to build a ‘female profile’ of autism, we should be cautious of the suggestion that this presentation only occurs in females. It doesn’t. Just as some autistic women have a textbook ‘male’ presentation, so too do autistic males display symptoms that are currently considered ‘female’.

Therein lies the danger. By qualifying a set of symptoms as either ‘male’ or ‘female’, we encourage diagnosticians to disregard a potential diagnoses because it does not fit the assigned sex of a person. Those who research their particular presentation before seeing a therapist may feel there is something extra ‘broken’ about their brain if the ‘gender’ of their symptoms does not match their own gender expression.

Instead, I propose an alternative way of classifying the two autistic profiles that escapes gendered language.

Through my research and personal experience, I believe in every person (autistic or otherwise) there is a particular factor that describes how that person will react to most situations. As autistic people frequently find themselves in situations that are at ‘odds’ with ‘normal’ culture, how that person views their place in relation to the world is highly important.

It comes down to this: external versus internal.

External autism is how I would describe the textbook ‘male’ presentation. When the individual discovers a difference between how they operate and how the world operates, that individual is likely to come to the conclusion that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. This leads to a more open and authentic presentation of their autistic symptoms. They display more obvious social disconnect, are more likely to act in appropriately, less likely to bow to social convention, and often have a level of self-assurance in all that they do.

Internal autism (or the basis of the ‘female profile’) is the opposite. An individual of this presentation, when faced with a disconnect, believes the world is right and they are wrong. They are more likely to ‘learn’ social rules as a means of becoming ‘right’, to be crippled with self-doubt, to mask behaviours in a way that complies with social conventions, and are often misdiagnosed or missed completely due to their ability to play the part.

Both sides of the autistic coin are weighted with their own pros and cons, and through this lens of internal and external we can see how typical autistic behaviours manifest differently.

An externally autistic person, upon being caught in a conversation they find utterly boring, may well just say “You’re boring me now” and end the conversation with little understanding (or desire) of how to politely exit a conversation. An internally autistic person caught in the same situation may instead ‘play along’, nodding as they feel appropriate.

The externally autistic person takes charge of the situation as they believe they are correct, while the internally autistic person lets majority rule.

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding this classification of autism. On the mark, or miles away? How else would you classify autistic types?

Definitions of success and self.

Definitions of success and self.

Everyone defines success differently. For me, I always felt that I had the best chance of finding success and fulfillment through a career. This worked with my drive to improve and dedicate myself wholly to the place at which I was employed. Even  as a supermarket supervisor, I felt the importance of my role in looking after the cashiers and ensuring customers had a wonderful in-store experience.

I never could just clock in, clock out, and collect the cash.

Other factors in life that I might have deemed as points of success, like having a family or obtaining a driver’s licence, always felt out of reach. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t like to have them, but my attempts to achieve those goals never went anywhere.

Driving is still the same intimidating rush of cars and lights and sounds, confusion in coordinating my body to push the right pedals at the right time, and intense worry that I will misjudge or react incorrectly at a crucial moment.

A family requires a stable foundation, usually the relationship between two people who have a strong enough connection to support dependent beings. My relationships to date have been short, almost laughable–and with minimal hurt after the break up. Sometimes because I’m already bored by the partner in question, and in all cases because I was never significantly romantically connected to them in the first place.

I struggle to connect with people in general. I can like them, admire them, have a strong desire to be around them, and even love them… but never have I connected with a person in such a way that I needed their partnership. Some partners I kept past the point of boredom purely to say that I had a partner. Others, I feared that I would lose as friends if the relationship broke down.

Maybe there’s some miracle person out there who is the exception to the rule, but to date I’ve not experienced anything that would give me confidence in having a family. Not to mention the questions that follow on, whether I would be a fit mother (I certainly couldn’t be a stay-at-home mother), and would I be able to connect with my children if I had them?

I fixed all this with the idea that I would fulfill myself with a career first, and if the rest happened–it would happen. I threw myself at the university wall repeatedly, always starting well and eventually crumbling as I became overwhelmed by the constant demand. I am still debating whether to go back this semester, or finally accept that the system is beyond my capabilities, especially as an online course.

The biggest step I took toward this career dream actually occurred last year, where I managed to find employment as a marketing coordinator. But the pressure of that job too wore me down over time, until I could no longer keep up with what was required and I was let go. Partly because the business couldn’t afford to invest in me anymore, and partly for my own good–my manager recognised the toll it was having on me.

Which leaves me now seeking work that will satisfy my financial needs. I’m leaning toward retail positions, this is what I know, but I also know that it won’t be long before I become dissatisfied and empty in the repetitive role. Retail has always been a means to an end, a stepping stone on the way to something else. A way to pay the bills until I found work that made me feel proud.

There’s nothing wrong with working retail. I’ve never believed there is, but I know it doesn’t make me happy in the long term. Success to me is finding that place in life where I can be happy. A job I can be proud of isn’t about the type of work, or the money paid, but knowing that I didn’t settle for roles that paid the bills. It’s knowing that I kept reaching until I found my place.

Since being let go, I’ve really questioned my capabilities. I’ve had to let go of the idea that I could work in overly tense and fast-paced environments. I’ve had to let go of the idea that I will ever be an in-demand marketing or PR executive. The pressure would likely break me. I wasn’t able to handle what was required in a small business; my shiny dreams come with dark realities.

So that leaves me here, at a loss. Wondering if I am truly only capable of carrying out these retail jobs, and what that means if it’s true. The possibility that everything I ever wanted to be is unrealistic and beyond me—hurts more than I can say.

My career was supposed to make up for my failings in other areas. I don’t know where to go from here.