Horoscope/Warning

Today’s Horoscope:

Saturday, October 15, 2016 – Finding common ground between those who resist change and those who insist upon it requires someone with extraordinary vision — and today the job might be yours. The stormy skies are electric with tension as the Sun opposes reactionary Uranus in your 11th House of Community. Unfortunately, people seem to be easily offended by your radical honesty, suggesting that a little discretion works in your favor. Choose your words carefully for minimum damage and maximum impact.

 I think this calls for a couple of extra cat snuggles and some sort of hot beverage containing chocolate before I head in for my shift.

Overstepping Again

I got an email this morning from a school supervisor that let me know that it’s not my job to correct other students if they aren’t following protocol, even if it affects my own ability to do so. That’s fine. We’d previously been told we needed to learn how to work as a team and not count on supervisors to notice everything and police us, and to communicate directly, but it’s okay to change that.

Except that’s not how it’s being presented to me. It’s being presented like I should know the difference between what’s okay and not okay when it hasn’t been spelled out and agreed up on by all parties. So I’m overstepping again. But instead of giving me specific examples of how I did this so that I might be able to recognize where I have crossed lines in the past so that I recognize it again in the future before those lines get crossed, the supervisor gave me a couple of paragraphs of vague statements about how supervisors know what’s happening (they don’t always, we all know that, if they aren’t in the same room how could they?) and I need to stop taking on authority I don’t have.

I wish my reaction to this email had been, “Oh crap, I stopped paying enough attention to what I was doing/saying, and I slipped back into fix-it mode even though I’ve been told they don’t want that mode from me in these situations.” (Note that they totally want it in other situations when it is to their benefit, which is part of my ongoing confusion.)

Instead, my reaction was first: shame, second: anger, third: sadness, fourth: crying into the cat’s fur about how I don’t fit in, fifth: thinking maybe I should drop out of the program despite having invested more than 2 years and tens of thousands of dollars.

But now I’m back to anger/resentment. Okay, I know I have “rigid thinking” and I like to follow rules when they exist (at least in settings like this) and for everyone else to follow the same rules so we’re all on the same page. I know that some people think rules are for the birds and that they shouldn’t apply to them. I know that my cohort contains both types. So if you don’t want us to really follow rules, DON’T GIVE US FUCKING RULES. Isn’t it really that simple? If you don’t tell me a rule to follow, I won’t try to follow it. I won’t get frustrated when my peers ignore it. I won’t feel like there’s a situation that needs to be fixed and in the absence of supervisor/administrative fixing, try to fix it.

Also, if I’m doing something wrong, why can’t my supervisors tell me *at the time* so that we can stop the undesired behavior in the moment? Is it that they don’t want to be “mean” or that it’s impolite in their eyes? Because sending an email that says I’m overstepping without giving any examples is not particularly polite, and is in fact kind of mean. Call me out when it happens! People are so damned petrified of “callout culture” but all that says to me is that they are afraid of communicating honestly about what is happening when it happens. Why is their fear so socially acceptable??

I hate the world sometimes.

Food Texture: Meat Hater

I woke up suddenly from a dream about 10 minutes ago in a rage/panic. The dream I’d been having was very pleasant — an alternate timeline or reality where I had friends, was working in a bookstore, and was kind of falling for the owner (a woman with cool hair), though in that mixed-up jumble that happens in dreams, there was also an on-again-off-again boyfriend? Anyway, we were all part of a group of friends who really liked each other, spent a lot of time together, and it seemed like everyone had keys to the woman’s apartment, which about halfway through the dream also became my apartment. It was practically a Brooklyn-based, sexually-fluid version of Friends. Then came a group dinner at the apartment with lots of cooking and joviality.

In the dream, I was happy. I loved all the people there, I never dominated a conversation with monologues or interruptions or inadvertently made anyone think I hated them/thought they were stupid, I made small talk without having to stop and think about why we were talking about inane subjects, and in general was interacting with people I cared about in a totally stress-free way that is not really indicative of how I behave in those situations in reality (which usually involves anxiety). Then came the food. I was sitting to the right of the quasi-boyfriend, and out of the blue he put a tiny piece of a hot dog on my plate. I turned to him with furious eyes, slammed down my fork, looked at all the people around the long table that I cared about, stood up, and walked out. The semi-girlfriend chased after me to find out what was happening, and I broke down in tears in her arms. Then I woke up with the aforementioned rage/panic. Talk about a trigger.

Suddenly, instead of being a 44-year-old woman sleeping in a bunk at a conference center near the ocean at the Marin Headlands, I was a kid — age 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 — and my mother/grandmother/whoever was cutting up baby bites of meat and putting them on my plate telling me to eat them. This became a solid power struggle. At age 15 my mother was still saying things like, “Just eat 3 baby bites of your meat and you can be done.” I had been saying pretty much since I could talk that I didn’t want to eat it (along with some other foods like cottage cheese), and I had been labeled a picky eater, just an obstinate girl who wanted what she wanted and needed to be forced to eat what everyone else ate.

When I was 16 I went away for the summer for a job where most of the other employees were students at liberal arts colleges, and they exposed me to the concept of vegetarianism — suddenly there was a word for not wanting to eat meat, and when I came home I announced I was a vegetarian, and there would be no more baby bites on my plate, that I wasn’t being picky, I had a social conscience and that was that. (That was not actually that, but that was the statement I made.)

When I met those privileged college kids that summer and they asked me why I didn’t eat meet, they expected me to start spouting methane statistics or proclaim my allegiance to PETA. Instead my response was, “The texture. I just can’t stand having it in my mouth. It makes me want to gag.” Biting into fat or gristle would, in fact, make me gag, which my parents interpreted as me being a dramatic complainer, rather than a child who was fighting the need to vomit out of fear I’d be forced to eat the vomit (this was a real fear based on family history).

When my texture statement only caused looks of puzzlement, I added on how when I was little (around 3) one of my jobs had been to mash up stale Sunbeam bread in the bathtub with water by stomping on it, then feed it to the pigs on my grandparents’ farm, and that when it was revealed to me around the same time by my grandmother that pork chops were the dead pigs, I freaked out (also a true story, but I probably still could/would have eaten the stuff to make everyone happy if it wasn’t for the gagging). The liberal young adults nodded sagely at this reason, inducted me into their member, and started teaching me about methane levels, ratios of grain acreage per pound of beef, and other horrifying environmental statistics that I was encouraged to share with my meat-eating family and others. So now I had three reasons not to want to eat meat.

I also hate mushrooms. The flavor, cooked down in Hungarian mushroom soup, for example, isn’t a problem, it’s the texture. Like with the pigs, I had a backup/more socially relatable reason that I could provide if needed — around the same time my grandmother told me about the pigs, she also told me that mushrooms grew in shit (as she so eloquently described the manure piles on the farm). It’s odd how people would take a feces phobia (which I did not have) seriously, but not a texture aversion. When I was 20, I was visiting a friend in Portland who had a roommate that did research at the local college, and he came home one day declaring that they had just discovered that mushroom DNA was closer to the DNA of animals than of plants. Suddenly my mushroom aversion made sense to me, as did how people were obsessed with portobello mushrooms as replacements for hamburgers and steak.

I used to say (and still do, now that I think of it) that I’m a bad vegetarian because I don’t like mushrooms or tofu (same texture!), and everyone wants to feed vegetarians mushrooms or tofu. I usually follow up with, “If I don’t eat one thing because of the texture, why would I replace it with something that feels the same?” So eating when someone else is in charge of the menu typically is a terrible experience for me. No one cuts baby bites and puts them on the plate of a person in their forties, but the reproachful, pitying and/or angry looks can be just as bad.

When I started reading about asperger’s about six months ago, I caviled for a long time about whether it was an apt descriptor for me because of the “symptoms present since birth” thing… for a bunch of aspie traits I see an awful lot of overlap between aspie behavior and the behaviors of trauma survivors and/or people who experience typical aspie co-morbids independently (anxiety, etc). How did I know if I was really autistic and that it didn’t just look that way because of other stuff? At this point, I’ve done enough research to know that I fall firmly in the asperger’s camp, but every now and then something reminds me of that doubt. This dream I just woke up from was one of those things.

There was no trauma that made me triggered by meat. There was no active decision not to like it based on logic. For as long as I can remember, the texture has been insupportable. Reading about all the other aspies with food texture issues helped me feel better about this part of my life. Had my mother known that my behavior was based on something common among people with my kind of brain, maybe she wouldn’t have humiliated me so often during my first 16 years (to be fair, it was probably more like the first 14, given baby formula and transitions to regular food timing). If *I* had known, maybe I wouldn’t have constantly felt like I really was just a dramatic picky eater, a bad kid who didn’t respect her elders or the cost of the food being wasted when I refused to eat. Maybe I would have been able to just stand up, throw down my fork, and walk out.

 

Stimming (I Hate That Word)

One of the things that made me think there was no way asperger’s applied to me was that in all the diagnostic criteria lists there were mentions of flapping and stimming (repetitive behaviors for the sake of self-soothing). This didn’t resonate with me at all. As far as I remember I was never a flapper (for a while as a kid I was a backyard spinner, but come on, all kids love that), and I didn’t think I had a need to “self-soothe.” That phrase is uncomfortable somehow, implying that without the behaviors you’d turn into a violent animal or something. Maybe because “soothe the savage beast” always comes to mind? Anyway, the one thing I was confident of was that even if I had a lot of the traits around bluntness, timing, anxiety, introversion, klutziness, etc, I wasn’t a stimmer. Which I was glad about, because the word stimming is phonetically awful and somehow sounds creepy/masturbatory.

But then the books. Suddenly “normal” everyday behaviors were being classified as stimming. Twirling/chewing on hair, nail biting, pencil/pen cap biting in class, sucking on lips or cheeks, picking at scalp, listening to the same song over and over and over and over, deliberately using certain words/sounds repeatedly, tapping fingers or feet/bouncing leg, clicking teeth, touching walls or hedges while walking around, rocking back and forth, etc. Once I saw those kind of things being classified this way I started remembering others from when I was a kid that had been trained out of me and replaced with milder, less noticeable forms.

Like when I was a kid I was a relentless finger drummer. But it annoyed teachers, classmates, and parents to no end, and after being yelled at for it for years, I eventually stopped. I even adopted the annoyance, so when other people drum their fingers (or tap their feet, jiggle their leg, or otherwise fail to appear still) now it infuriates me. As I spent a few days paying close attention to my behaviors and mannerisms, though, I found it maybe wasn’t completely gone after all. I noticed myself doing this thing where I move my thumbnail rapidly over the pads of my fingers inside a semi-fist. It’s barely noticeable and makes virtually no sound, but the feeling and the rhythm are very similar to the finger drumming I did as a kid.

I’ve now spent 3 or 4 months struggling with the definition of stimming vs fidgeting, and I still don’t really get it. Why is there word that sounds creepy that seems to really mean “do stuff other people might get sick of seeing,” anyway? Descriptions around self-stimulation and self-regulation… I mean, isn’t that basically what all fidgeting is, regardless of your neurological profile? Anyway, here’s the stuff I’ve remembered and/or noticed since I started thinking about it.

Remembered:

  • Thumb sucker as a kid. Stopped due to parental pressure. Note: During my years as a massage therapist I did advanced training in cranio-sacral therapy, and we were taught that thumb sucking is a form of self-correction by kids to deal with compression of the vomer bone!
  • Twirled hair like mad, sucked and/or chewed on the ends. Quit around late junior high after years of negative feedback and pressure from family and teachers.
  • Gnawed on fingernails to the quick. Stopped when my mother started painting my nails because the polish tasted gross, and switched to chewing on pencils/pen caps. Kept doing that until 11th grade when a teacher humiliated me for the state of the pen cap and how disgusting it was to chew on such things.
  • Used to rock back and forth on back chair legs at meals and liked the feeling of balancing on two legs. Frequently got in trouble for this, eventually stopped around high school to try and curtail the yelling of my stepfather.
  • Frequent finger drummer, hand drummer, leg bouncer, etc. Stopped in high school due to aforementioned yelling.
  • Various times when I would get stuck on a specific phrase and say it over and over until everyone hated me.
  • Various times when I would re-read a book over and over again, or listen to the same song or album over and over, or re-watch the same movie or show over and over.
  • Picking at skin on my face and scalp.
  • Chewing gum. Stopped around 9th grade because of a teacher that demanded it.
  • Saying the alphabet backwards.
  • Scratching.
  • Separating all my toes so none of them touch each other.

Noticed:

  • The thing where I run my thumbnail along the inside pads of my fingers.
  • When walking down the street, I constantly touch walls, hedges, or whatever I’m going past.
  • If I’m standing somewhere, I am usually shifting weight back and forth between my feet, rocking side to side.
  • If I’m in a chair that can rock, I rock in it. I will pump my legs to get it going, like I’m on a swing.
  • In swivel office chairs, I invariably at some point will spin around in the chair until I get dizzy.
  • Scalp picking.
  • Hair twirling (but not sucking/chewing).
  • Running my fingernails inside of each other.
  • Sucking the spit from the inside front of my lips. Like, all the time. I must look ridiculous. Watched myself in mirror. Yes, it looks ridiculous. What have people been thinking about me when I’ve been doing this for years?
  • The re-reading/re-listening/re-watching thing, still do it.
  • The toe-spreading things, still do it. (Shoes do NOT fit my wide toe box.)
  • When listening to music, MUST move in some way — dance, tap feet, dance with only upper body, whatever. On airplanes this probably makes me a frightening seatmate.
  • Specific cat grabs/pets/snuggles when I’m stressed.
  • Clicking teeth in time to songs in my head.
  • Grinding teeth.
  • Sitting with my feet under me in chairs, and grabbing the toes of one foot.
  • Scratching.

So does this mean I’m a stimmer, or that I’m fidgety, or that it’s a useless label because lots of people who are not autistic also do these things? I don’t know, but when I retook a couple of the online tests after reading a few books and realizing that I had misunderstood some questions/statements, I was suddenly scoring in the “very likely neurodiverse” ranges. This are from 2 days after the first round, after having read Pretending to be Normal by Liane Holliday Willey, Atypical by Jesse Saperstein, and Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim.

AQ4 - 149-81.png

So whatever you call it, I guess I do it.

I still really hate how the word stimming sounds, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Tests

After coming home from that meeting with my school director, before the hours of research, I’d found and taken a couple of online assessments. I have always hated things like this. I’ve never been able to take personality tests like the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram because I get too worked up about the statements being too vague or the answers being too generalized. This happened with the first online assessment I did that day, the RDOS Aspie Quiz, too.

Some questions were very easy. For example:

Question 8. Do you instinctively know when it is your turn to speak when talking on the phone?

Easy. No. I’m constantly speaking at the same time as the person on the other end and I hate it, because I know they think I’m purposefully interrupting them, but in reality when this happens I’m mortified, and then there’s always a couple of start/stop missteps as we try to get back to single-talker communication. Because of this I hate the phone. I didn’t always have such a problem with this I don’t think, but then again, maybe teenage me had less to say or was more spellbound by the tales of her best friend’s crush on Duran Duran.

Others were answerable, but took a long time and I didn’t feel confident about the answer. For example:

Question 3. Do you find it difficult to take notes in lectures?

No. Well, sometimes. It depends, right? Is the teacher talking too fast? Are there also slides I’m trying to copy while the teacher talks too fast? Is it a lecture that will spur ideas for me that I also want to make note of? Do I like my pen or does it have crappy ink/a cold barrel/and uncomfortable grip? Am I comfortable in the classroom? Is it too bright or too dark? Am I cold and shivery from air conditioning despite wearing a sweater? What kind of shoes am I wearing? I wanted there to be an answer that said It Depends but the only choices were Yes, No, A little, or Don’t Know. None of those felt right to me.

Question 2. Do you have problems finding your way to new places?

How do I answer this? If I have a map, I do not have any trouble finding my way to new places. Unless the streets are missing their street signs, and then obviously I’ll miss a turn and then wind up needing to figure out where I am with my phone (after turning on the battery-depleting location services, bah) so I can turn around to get there. And then as long as there are numbers on the buildings, I’ll be fine. Except when the numbers on the back of the buildings where the parking lot is and you can’t see them from the street. Seriously, who designs this kind of terrible one-sided wayfinding? And obviously there’s a language caveat — if I don’t know the language of the signs because I’m someplace with another language I don’t know, that will cause problems with finding an address. But I’ll eventually get there because I’m smart and I can look things up (as long as my battery is still good) and I’ll keep trying. So does that mean I should answer No? I think so, but it wouldn’t be completely true, because sometimes I have trouble (as outlined above). Should I answer A Little? But for me it’s not about how hard it is — a little bit or a lot — just about whether or not there were reasons I might lose my way. So that doesn’t sound right. And I obviously can’t answer Yes because more often than not I get where I need to go with very little trouble and because I try to allow extra time when going someplace new so that if I get lost it won’t make me late. I wind up checking No, but it bothers me throughout the whole test.

Note: It had never once occurred to me that the fact that I arrange my life so that I mostly just go to the same places over and over might have something to do with stress over finding new places. Everyone who knows me has heard my stated policy that when choosing a place to live (and I’ve lived a lot of different places as an adult) my mantra is that everything I need should be within a 5-block radius: a grocery store, a coffee shop, access to mass transit, a library (or bookstore), and at least one restaurant where I like the food (somewhat limited by my pickiness and no-meat preferences). Now, after months of reading, I recognize this pattern for what it is, a need for routine and sameness as a form of safety to combat anxiety. Who knew?

And then there were the questions that just made me confused.

Question 117. Do you have difficulties judging distances, height, depth or speed?

That’s four different questions in one. Who designed this survey and didn’t they ever have to take a basic research methods class and learn about single variable questions? I think I’m probably decent at judging height. Well, height of people, anyway. Mostly because I can think of someone whose height I know and compare to how tall they would be compared to me. Height of a skyscraper? I guess I wouldn’t be good at judging height instinctively — I would count the floors using window banks and then multiply by 10 feet to guess at the height. Does that count? Distance….meh. I usually go by how long it takes to get there rather than how many miles. The difference between walking 4 blocks and 6 blocks is inconsequential and I wouldn’t notice the extra distance, I’d notice the difference in how long it took. Depth? Uh, when have I ever had to judge depth? I guess maybe in a swimming pool? But there’s water in it, distorting what you can see anyway. Speed? Like in a car? It depends — going 30mph in a 1971 Austin-Healy Sprite with the top down on a coastal road feels really fast, but going 60mph in a 2007 Toyota Prius on an midwest interstate feel almost like inertia. Why do none of these questions have Sometimes for an answer??

I wound up leaving about half the questions empty as Don’t Know, so I’m not sure how that would affect the scoring, but that first attempt at an online test gave me this result:

AQ4 - 119-97.png

So basically, who knows. The next one I did was a Broad Autism Phenotype assessment. I mean, if you’re somewhere in the middle between neurotypical and asperger’s, that’s probably the answer, right? Results on that one:

BAP aloof rigid pragmatic.png

Okay, so maybe closer to asperger’s after all? I took one more that day, the Ritvo Autism Asperger’s Diagnostic Scale-Revised (RAADS-R). I had the same issues on this one that I had with the aspie quiz. If anything, this test was harder for me than the RDOS, because it was written in a way that made me second-guess everything starting with the very first question.

Question 1. I am a sympathetic person.

Well, yeah, of course I am. Except my school director just told me I’m not. And my former HR director told me I’m not. But they’re wrong! But are they? What if I’ve been fooling myself? What if I *think* I’m so sympathetic and perceptive, but all the things I think I’m perceiving have been wrong? Am I sympathetic?? In a Star Trek world I always thought I would describe myself as Spock and Troi’s love child. But maybe I’m wrong about everything?? Gah! And this test didn’t  have a Don’t Know option. Its choices are True now and when I was young, True only now, True only when I was younger than 16, and Never true. And you can’t leave any blank answers. So I kind of guessed on a lot of them, and didn’t feel confident about it.

This was the result:

raads-r.png

Another neither here nor there result. That’s what propelled me to read hundreds of websites (sometimes a single page news article, sometimes a personal blog with years worth of entries) and forums. I read a bunch of women in their 30s/40s/50s getting diagnosed after decades of thinking they had other issues. I was still skeptical, despite repeatedly reading things that sounded familiar — I mean, the tests said I was in a gray area. That’s what led me to the bookstore to pick up a bunch of memoirs.

When I read account after account that sounded like my life, it was simultaneously comforting and alarming. Comforting because oh, I’m not so weird after all. Alarming because oh, is there something wrong with me after all?

Clearly I needed more information.

Beginning, Part III: Recognition

Knocked sideways by the meeting with my school’s director — I’d expected to talk about my future  for maybe 20 minutes and instead it was 2.5 hours of how I’m coming across as an unfeeling bitch — I sought comfort in knowledge. I started by going back to the Scientific American article and re-reading it. Pursing my lips, I started googling. Asperger’s, autism, asperger’s syndrome women, autistic women, women with asperger’s, asperger’s diagnosis, women autism diagnosis, etc.

Aside: I’ve never understood people who ask something, but then don’t even bother to go look up the answer and learn more (and then leapfrog into learning stuff about a dozen related things). How do they stand the uncomfortable sensation of knowing the information is out there, available, free, totally at their fingertips thanks to the wonders of the internet, but it hasn’t entered their head yet? I guess maybe they just don’t feel the itch in the same way?

I’m a pretty fast reader, so I plowed through dozens of sites over the next couple of hours. On the blogs by late-diagnosed women, I did more of the nodding with familiarity. On diagnostic-focused sites I frowned over how different the symptoms were between the DSM/ICD definitions and the blogs by all these women. I read and watched videos from Tony Attwood about the differences in presentation between sexes. I thought about how heart disease research had been performed mostly on men, and how all the “signs of a heart attack” that we learned in health class were common to men, not women, and how women are more likely to die from heart attack because the warning signs for women are not universally recognized. I spent some time looking into Tony Attwood’s credentials to decide if he was a reputable source. 🙂 I read a handful of women crying the praises of Tania Marshall, and I read a handful of dudes accusing her of being a charlatan, applying asperger’s diagnoses to quirky self-involved women without regard for diagnostic criteria.  I read forum after forum on Wrong Planet.

I got to a place of definitely believing that the presentation of asperger’s could vary based on gender, and that I seemed to have a lot in common with the women writing about it online. BUT. A disability? A disorder? The lists of  women’s “symptoms” seemed mostly like personality traits — and common ones, in my world — rather than disabilities.  I’d been sitting on the couch with the laptop for hours at this point, and I knew that for the next four days I’d be mostly stuck in school. In the hours online I’d seen many book suggestions and had been collecting them in a text doc. I checked the website for the bookstore up the street and saw they had a couple of the recommended titles in stock, so I decided to go and pick up a couple of books to see if anything resonated.

I bought Pretending to Be Normal by Liane Holliday Willey and Atypical by Jesse Saperstein. Even though I really hated the design of the cover, I started reading the Willey book before I even left the store. Before I’d walked even a few blocks, I’d taken pictures with my phone of 4-5 different paragraphs that hit close to home. I decided to stop walking and sit at a cafe and read (meaning I wouldn’t have to cook at home, handy as I hadn’t been to the store in a while). I ordered a drink and some fried brussel sprouts and texted a friend who lived around the corner inviting her to join me if she felt like it. I thought maybe talking through what had happened with the director would help me make more sense of it.

I kept reading, and kept taking pictures of sections that felt like I could have written them. As I went, my brain spun in funnels of related thought.

Funnel #1: Everything in this book (except for flapping — I’m not a flapper and never have been as far as I remember) is familiar. So what makes it autistic? It’s just the description of a life. How is this an Asperger’s memoir and not just a memoir? What actually defines autism? Is it the behaviors, or the brain functioning, because what if those are actually different things? There are a lot of other reasons that could account for these behaviors, right? (More on this later.)

Funnel #2: If this book is what it means to be a woman diagnosed with Asperger’s, then that’s probably what I am. So since it’s something you’re born with, not something you acquire over time, does that mean that I’ve always come across as this cold, unfeeling bitch, but I’m only starting to hear about it now? What’s changed in the last few years? Well, I passed 40 and got fat and stopped bothering with trying to look good. Hm. So is it that when I was a skinny, sexy, cute little thing, it didn’t matter that I was cold and unfeeling as long as I was a good sexual prospect?

Funnel #3: I’m not cold and unfeeling. If anything there are too many feelings all the time. What I am is someone who tends toward a flat affect — aka resting bitch face. I have to exert physical energy and mental effort to remember to do things like smile in normal social situations, as it’s only automatic for me in really really really happy/joyful situations. So I guess (I’ve heard) that I often look generically angry and bored, even if what I’m feeling is deep concern, or contentment, or sadness, or longing, or whatever. Maybe my real issue isn’t autism at all, it’s just that I need to work harder to make my face reflect my emotions. Chronic depression has played a significant role this, and if I could kick the depression, maybe my face could match my feelings on its own.

Funnel #4: The insistence on autism as being present from birth is bugging me. Genetics, sure, but epigenetics means that things kick in when they kick in, whenever that may be, based on environment/experience. I mean, isn’t that even the rationale behind the whole “my kid was normal and then suddenly things changed” trajectory? So why couldn’t the triggering/last-straw event that causes the gene expressions to kick on happen at age 10, age 20, age 30, etc?

Funnel #5: The “our brains are just wired this way, you can’t change how your brain is wired” mantra. I don’t think it’s exactly accurate. Many conditions (depression, anxiety, etc) have specific neural pathways (wiring), but can change over time. Neuroplasticity as a concept is all about rewiring the brain. Also, is it really the wiring (neural pathways), or is it the appliances (parts of the brain) the wires are powering? The brain studies I read seemed to be a) all over the place, especially between asperger’s and autism and between men and women, b) more focused on which parts of the brain fire than which pathways are used to get there (exception: one study was focused on diffuse pathways vs direct).

There were more funnels, but then my friend arrived, with another friend in tow. She was someone I liked but didn’t know well; my friend had been with her when she got my text. I spilled what had happened, and started listing things I’d read that made me wonder if I might be on the spectrum. My friend expressed indignation. That everything I was describing was the result of institutionalized sexism in the tech industry. That the personality issues wouldn’t be issues if I were a dude, and it was maddening. When I pointed out that she herself had some of the traits I was recognizing in myself, and maybe that was one of the reasons we got along so well even when others found us obnoxious, she laughed and took it as proof that the descriptions were so vague/based on regular personality variances as to be useless.

The friend and the friend of the friend both expressed outrage at both how the director had approached it that day, and how the HR person had handled my firing. So the support was nice. But it didn’t help me feel like I had more answers, just more questions and more funnels.

Beginning, Part 2: “You Have No Empathy”

A few days after my last day at work, the director of my school (a small program, 10-20 graduate students per annual cohort) ask me to meet with her to have our professional development chat — we were supposed to have it earlier in the year (everyone got one), but it had just kept being pushed back. I said sure, and was unconcerned about the meeting.

It was weird to meet her in the school when it wasn’t in session. The room was cold, and the dinginess of the carpet, paint, windows, and furnishings were glaring without the activity and energy of students filling the space. I often found our class days overwhelming because of so much social exposure at once (my program meets for 4-day intensives each moth, with a dozen people in the same unventilated room all day long), but the empty room made me feel weird, too. There was a sound coming from the thermostat that was aggravating, but I tried to ignore it, since I hear little sounds like that all the time. We sat on a dingy, sagging couch and I prepared to be asked about my plans for after graduation.

Instead, she said we needed to have A Talk. It lasted two hours, and I wound up crying through half of it. To try and sum up two hours of detailed emotional wreckage in a few sentences is a challenge for me — I rely on words to fill in gaps (incidentally, one of the things she called me out on) — but basically she was saying similar things to what I’d heard when I was being fired. I was too blunt and opinionated, I needed to be careful about what I chose to amplify, I hurt people’s feelings and made them dislike me, I talked too much and didn’t give other people the chance to step up and be a leader, the entire faculty/administration thought I was a jerk, it appeared that I had no empathy.

All of these things came as a total shock: just the month before the dean had done our midterm evaluations and he’d said I was doing great, that everyone liked me, and they were glad I was part of the program.

Shock aside (and I have plenty to say about how they handled this communication, but I’ll save it for another time), the main thing that was different from my work firing was that the director framed this uncomfortable conversation as something we could get through. She said that I had so many positive characteristics, some of which were even tied to the negative ones — she called my ability to amplify things a superpower that when used properly made me a great natural leader — and that the goal was to figure out what is happening with my communication and fix it if we could. She hoped that the impressions that had caused complaint were based on miscommunication, and not on me having cruel intentions.

Unlike at work, where the HR person was never willing to say who made a complaint about me, thus preventing me from ever talking to that person and trying to make things right, the director gave me three very specific examples of people I’d offended, and in two of those, she laid out the things I’d said or done in detail. This was helpful, because then I had the chance to tell her what I was really thinking and feeling in those situations, and it was clear that my intention and my reception were nowhere near each other. This was also completely and utterly awful, because two of the examples were with teachers I really admired and had never intended to offend. The director said I had so upset the one teacher that she’d almost decided to sever her tie to the school! Unfortunately this was the person without a detailed example, so I still have no idea what I did. Anyway, the director said that was why we were having this chat today, the day before the monthly intensive started — they were worried I might offend the visiting teacher and they couldn’t afford to lose him.

!!!

Throughout this whole thing, once the energy had shifted into that principal’s office vibe where I must be in trouble, I felt this huge ball of emotion building up in my chest behind my sternum, making it hard for me to breathe normally, and tears started welling up, and my nose started to run. I hate that so much. It’s a go-to automatic response for me when overwhelmed with emotion — any emotion — and I can’t even count the number of times this has happened in situations where I was angry or frustrated over the years and I got dismissed as an overemotional woman/girl. Argh! The director understood though, having a trauma history of her own, and just sat quietly and held space in the moments when I couldn’t quite get words out. Now that’s a skill.

Anyway, at one point while this was all happening, I mentioned how I’d recently read an article in Scientific American about Asperger’s in girls, and I was starting to wonder if it might maybe sorta kinda apply to me, that there were things that had sounded familiar. She, who’d raised a teenager with Asperger’s, said that immediately made something light up for her, and that it was worth exploring. It was weird, I was simultaneously comforted (maybe there’s an anatomical reason why people think you’re a bitch) and offended (I’m a successful 44 year old professional, how dare you imply there’s something deficient in me). I started talking through other possibilities.

Like maybe I don’t actually have Asperger’s, maybe I’ve just gotten so used to communicating with people who do (guys in the tech industry) that my natural mimicry absorbed their verbal and behavioral styles without my noticing. Kind of funny, given that a common aspie trait is mimicry of your peers, but I hadn’t read about that yet. I was really hung up on the empathy part, because I knew how strongly I felt basically everything. Someone being sick or in trouble could make me feel like my heart was being ripped out. And when I was younger I don’t think I had this problem, if anything people called me too sensitive. So clearly I couldn’t have Asperger’s because they have no empathy. But she said just said it seemed like I had no empathy. So maybe everything I’d ever thought about my feelings was wrong?

Eventually the meeting wrapped up. It had gone for two hours, I was exhausted and emotionally drained, and all I wanted to do was go home and curl up in bed under my soft green (but bluish green, I guess kind of teal) blanket and read a book I’d read a hundred time while my cats weighted me down by lying on top of my legs. So that’s what I did, for about an hour.

I wasn’t done being exhausted or overwhelmed by  a long stretch, but after that hour or so of crashing, my brain started swirling around the way it does, and when that happens, the thing I want most is information. So I pulled out my laptop, and got started.