Friday, October 11, 2013

Moving Past Anger

     It’s October, meaning it’s time to be aware of SO MANY THINGS. Breast cancer, domestic violence, pregnancy loss and infant loss, LGBT history… and the list keeps going! But this month, there’s one issue that affects me personally, and that’s bullying. Yes, you hear about it all the time. Kids and adults alike can be victims, though kids are much more prone to it. I pretty much had a target painted on me with a sign that said, “This kid is vulnerable,” which left me somewhere at the bottom of the food chain in my grade level. Most of what I experienced was verbal or emotional bullying, but a few physical incidents do stand out in my mind.

     I’m in a place, half a decade later, where I want to say I’m over it. I want to say, “I’m done being angry, because it uses up too many of my resources.” I want to stop obsessing needlessly over how one of the kids who physically bullied me later went on to become salutatorian. How she won several awards for her journalism. How she climbed to the top of the social and academic ladder, and yet I was left with a crippling set of disabilities that made me drop out of school. There are moments where I think I’m already there. “I’m better than this,” I tell myself. But then my husband catches me in mid-speech, getting more and more flustered and emotional as I relive the story of my teen years. That happened yesterday, actually. I was defensive. I told him I was over it, when my words, and my tone of voice, clearly expressed that I was still just as much stuck in those events as I was when it finally dawned on me that I was a human being with at least some level of worth and dignity, and that I had been wronged.

     My self-esteem was so low as a teen that I felt I deserved every mean thing the kids did or said to me. It actually took me a couple of years to get angry. But when I did, I suddenly couldn’t talk about school without talking about all the anger it made me feel. My sense of justice feels violated just by the virtue of those kids going on and living fulfilling lives. I keep thinking to myself that the salutatorian of my class instead should have been expelled from the school when she threw rocks at me with a couple other kids (who also should have been expelled). That particular point came up in my conversation with my husband yesterday. He doesn’t think they should have been expelled. I got angry and defensive when he said that… even though some part of me knows that their expulsion wouldn’t have made my life any better, and it would have only made theirs worse. Though truthfully, there’s still that voice in my head that says, “The whole point of expelling them is to make their lives worse, just like they did to me!”

     But would expelling them have made my life better? I probably wouldn’t even notice the effect it would have on my life. If the salutatorian had been expelled, then I wouldn’t really know that there was some outcome where she could have been salutatorian. I probably would have still left the school, considering how bad my Tourette’s, Bipolar, and anxiety symptoms were. I’d still be as angry and unhappy with my school career as I am today. I owe it to myself, not to my bullies, to move past my anger. Because I’m fighting in this endless loop of frustration that starts with a discussion of school, or bullying, or whatever, and suddenly works its way into me crying and yelling at anyone who dares try to tell me that I might be a little too entrenched in what happened. I’m tired of being the victim—the vengeful victim. I’m tired of telling myself that my life would be better if I had ruined theirs, because it wouldn’t. The damage would still be there, and so would the guilt of ruining another person’s school career.

    But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have gotten angry in the first place. Because guess what—this is what humans do when they grieve the loss of something they had, or perceived they had. The 5 Stages of Grief—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance—sometimes happen out of order, too. Sometimes you go through some of the stages, and regress back to previous stages. But you need to go through all the stages at least once, to get to the final stage. So don’t deny yourself the opportunity to go through them, just out of fear of being the angry, vengeful victim like me. No—you owe yourself those stages. You owe yourself your grief. You owe it to yourself so you can eventually get past it, and be at peace with your tragedy. Whatever your tragedy is—whether it’s bullying, chronic illness, losing someone you love, or something else altogether—you can get through it. You can be in denial. You can get angry. You can bargain. You can mourn. You can get defensive. But try to ask what your particular stage of grief is accomplishing for you. If you realize that you’re stuck in a stage of grief, ask yourself what positive things you can do to make the world better for you, and hopefully others. Maybe your experiences are just what another person needs to cope with their own grief. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sympathizing v.s. Excusing

Earlier this week, this happened. Yeah. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in a bit more, in case you haven’t already heard the story.

It’s terrible. Issy Stapleton is a 14-year-old Autistic girl, and her mother, Kelli Stapleton, is facing charges for trying to kill both Issy and herself with carbon-monoxide poisoning. I can’t say I knew Issy or her family personally, but I have friends on Facebook who did. I can say this—Issy did not deserve what happened. Kelli Stapleton’s job as her mother was at the very bare minimum to keep her daughter alive. Issy may have been aggressive, she may have been having those difficult to bear teenaged years, but there is never an excuse for murder, save in self-defense.

Now, have I made it clear that I deplore what Kelli Stapleton did? That I am grieving on behalf of an Autistic girl who has been permanently brain-damaged by an act of cruelty? Good. Because now I’m going to fuck with your expectations. I sympathize with Kelli Stapleton.

“But Mrs. Molotov, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t feel bad for the murderer while claming you’re mourning for the victimized 14-year-old.” I think Kelli Stapleton deserves to be fully punished by the law for what she did—attempted murder is attempted murder. There is no “unless you’re a(n)…”  No. Sorry Kelli, you fucked up, you have to live with what you did. I did too, once.

Here’s the thing. I have tried to take my own life 4 times. Actually, that’s not true. Those were the attempts that required hospitalization. And that won’t begin to cover the times I sat and thought about hurting myself, sometimes even going so far as to have a plan. I never tried to take anyone else down with me. But I can speak to that level of hopelessness. I may not agree with Kelli that what she was feeling hopeless about was worth feeling hopeless about at all, but that isn’t the point. The point is, something made her feel that low. She was sweeping a giant, shameful emotion under the rug, and didn’t feel she had anything that could make it go away. Where I get fuzzy is how this ends up hurting Issy.

Maybe she thought Issy was the problem. And she didn’t want to live with the shame of people knowing that. And I can’t agree with that mindset. But I can sympathize with a person’s pain while simultaneously not excusing their actions. That’s exactly what people did to me when I tried to kill myself. People wanted to help me. People were angry that I could do something so foolish and selfish. But they still loved me. They still reached out, and said, “I’m here for you,” without just saying, “Suicide is TOTALLY okay!”

No one (I hope) should say that it’s okay to excuse Kelli’s actions. Kelli made a giant-ass mistake, and you had better believe she’s going to be doing time for it. It’s just, maybe instead of spending our time yelling at each other over whether her actions were right, we should be focusing more on the mindset that she had leading up to the murder-suicide. If we can learn to recognize the signs in other families before they get to that point, maybe we can at the very least reassure that person that their feelings are valid, but the actions they’re considering are not.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Thinner Before People Started Accusing Their Disabled Children of Making Them Fat

In this post, I will be courteous enough to avoid dropping names. With that said, I am truly insulted by a thread I saw started in one of the Autism blogging groups I’m in. A woman was asking people if it would be considered “too vain and self-absorbed” if she wrote a post called “Thinner Before Autism.” Well, she got a LOT of feedback, and 100% of it was mother after mother chiming in to tell her that they knew EXACTLY what she meant. Well, here are my thoughts for you ladies.

Did your child’s Autism make you order pizza? Did Autism hold a gun to your head and say, “I will kill you if you don’t start eating pizza,” or did you decide that you felt shitty and just wanted some comfort food to make you feel better?

Did your child’s Autism make you buy donuts? Or were you rushed that morning (and every morning after) and decided, “Well, donuts taste good AND are a quick way to get food into my belly”?

Did your child’s Autism make you go to the grocery store and buy chocolate and Cheetos, to then go home and snack in private?

Did your child’s Autism make you order the large soda and fries, instead of just water and the main course?

Did your child’s Autism make you need to take meds that make you gain weight? Or did you have a condition that needed treatment, and there was a potential side-effect from the meds you were prescribed of weight gain?

Guess what guys, I’m Autistic. I’m also fat. I know what caused my weight gain, and what caused it was my own irresponsibility compiled with the meds I take. My Autism didn’t make me fat. And I’m 99% certain your child’s Autism didn’t make you fat. What I think is far more likely is you are making bad choices, or taking medication that have side-effects of weight gain.

I am truly angered that you would put that blame on your child and their disability. Would you like it if I said, “My neurotypical parents made me fat?” Wouldn’t you be outraged if someone blamed YOU for making THEM fat? Because one day, your child in all likelihood will grow up and discover the internet, and if I were you, the last thing I would want your kid to find when they go hunting around the web is you talking about how they made you fat, ugly, and miserable. They didn’t make you those things. You did that, all by yourself, one cookie at a time. But what they will come away thinking is that they are a burden to society, and that all they are good at is making people miserable and fat.

So to the mom considering making the blog post titled, “Thinner Before Autism,” try changing that title to “Thinner Before I Made Really Bad Decisions at McDonalds,” or whatever it was you got fat eating or doing. Your child has nothing to do with your waistline unless you are pregnant with them at this exact moment. Don't blame them for your mistakes.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Tourette's Effect

My husband and I were eating dinner together tonight. At a nearby table, there was about 5 kids and one woman. I thought nothing of it at first, and after several minutes of looking at the menu, we ordered our food. First they brought us our soup, which I ate very quickly because I had not eaten anything that day. After a while, they brought us our entrees, which were very tasty—but a few minutes later, I looked up from the table and a young teenager in the group near us had her phone out, pointed at me. I thought for a moment she was showing her friends (or family as the case may be) a funny picture on her phone, but not more than a couple moments after I looked her way she hid the phone under the table, ducked, and started giggling. I looked away briefly and then back at her—the phone was now pointed at me again, with more giggling coming from the girl and her friends. Now I couldn’t help but continue regularly glancing at this girl. I heard the woman in the group say something about, “maybe she’s looking at you,” followed by what must have been a lecture, and the next time I looked up the phone was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe that girl thought I was funny. Maybe it was because I’m obese. Maybe it was because I haven’t washed my hair in a couple of days. Maybe it was because I was eating my food in a way that was odd to her. Maybe it was because I was white, and she was black. Maybe it was because I was the nearest thing she could film, because no one in her group wanted to be filmed. Or maybe it was because I have Tourette’s syndrome, and she saw me tic and thought that was hilarious. I really don’t know, and maybe this girl is going to go home and post a video of me online that I may never see. Whatever the reason, and whatever happens to that video, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of déjà vu. I may not talk about it a lot on this blog, but I think it’s about time I do—the Tourette’s Effect.

I am very open about my Tourette’s, because there’s really no hiding it. I will tic sometime, and when people don’t know I have Tourette’s (or for that matter, what Tourette’s is), the disorder has the tendency to confuse them at its best, and scare them enough to offer to call an ambulance at its worst. When I do tell people I have Tourette’s, and they actually happen to know a little bit about it, there’s a common thread I notice—about 50% of these people tell me they wish they had Tourette’s so they could get away with shouting obscenities. This is the Tourette's Effect. I try not to take offense—I was asymptomatic of Tourette’s until I was almost 13, and if you had told a younger me there’s a disorder where people shout swear words, I would have probably asked you, “Where do I sign up?” But there is one thing none of those people realize, and neither did I— people with Tourette’s can be royally fucked by their disability. And more specifically, they can be royally fucked by shouting obscenities, whether voluntary or not.

Are you really great with people and think you’re a great candidate for a job in customer service? Do you like hanging around little kids? Do you have the ability to sit through a job interview and project yourself in a professional way? What if I told you having Coprolalia means you might be unable to do these things? You may think that Tourette’s being a disability means employers are legally required not to discriminate against those who have it. You’d be very wrong when it comes to Coprolalia. If employers have any reason, disability or otherwise, to think you’re not the candidate for the job, they will not hire you. In an employer’s eyes, if you shout obscenities, you are unqualified to work with people. It doesn’t matter how friendly you are or how willing you are to help your customers, what matters is that obscenities are unprofessional, and people with Coprolalia shout them uncontrollably. There’s a great deal of risk that you will offend a customer with your potty mouth.

Maybe you have children in your family that aren’t yours. Maybe your friends have children. I won’t say this is true of everyone, but if you have Coprolalia, parents will take issue with you. They don’t want their kids learning those words. When I was a teen and my Coprolalia made its first appearance, my dad made it very clear to me that I could not be around my little cousins with my Coprolalia. My choices were either to excuse myself to go outside and when I was hanging out with them, or never see my cousins again. I love my cousins, so there was no chance of me leaving them—but to think something I couldn’t help was going to make or break my relationship with them was terrifying. I since have learned that their mom doesn’t care if I tic around them, swearing or otherwise. I’m still willing to bet there are parents out there who would rather I stay away from them and their family so they can avoid me accidentally swearing in front of them.

In case you somehow still find yourself craving having Tourette’s, let me give you a glimpse into what it’s like for me to go about my daily business when my Tourette’s is really bad. The girl at the restaurant I mentioned earlier may or may not have seen me tic, because today is a “good” day for my Tourette’s so far. I did tic while there, but I managed to keep the vocal tics at a low volume and tried to not make the physical tics too obvious. She may have seen it, but as far as I could tell no one else did. What’s a bad day like?

Every eye in the room is on you. You’re screaming, flailing your arms, shrugging your shoulders, twisting your body in every which direction uncontrollably. You bang on the table, you stomp your feet, you swear, you shout some gibberish. As quickly as you can, you try to make your way to the door, just to get the eyes off of you. The stares. The people smiling at each other, whispering to their friends to look your way. You’re still ticcing, and wishing you could do what you came here to do. You make it outside, and try to collect yourself. People pass you as your continue to scream a few words on repeat, and they look at you and pick up their pace.

You spend 5 minutes outside, and then even though you’re still ticcing, you make your way back inside because there’s no sign of it stopping any time soon. You try to ignore the looks, but you can tell they’re there. After searching around for several minutes, you find what you were looking for and tic all the way to the counter. The cashier tries to act casual about the fact you’ve been causing a scene. They ring you up, give you the old “Have a nice day,” and you leave the store in a hurry. You go home for the day, and unleash the full force of your Tourette’s. Your back hurts. You bruised yourself when you started punching your leg. You scream and flail, and hope no one calls the cops on you because you’re so loud. You start to cry, wondering what you did to deserve this.

You don’t want Tourette’s, I can assure you of this. There is however, always a silver lining—because I have Tourette’s, I have the ability to experience something others can’t. Because I have Tourette’s, I can sympathize with others who deal with it. I can instantly spot when someone has it. I can know what to say to them, and that is “I have it too.” When I’m ready to be a mom, I can raise my kids to be open-minded. Should they also have Tourette’s, or any other disabilities and differences, I can teach them how important it is to love themselves, differentness and all. Last but not least, it has taught me to take the good and the bad as they come. Neither is permanent, so enjoy the good while it lasts, and when you’re down, take comfort knowing it will be good again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


TRIGGER WARNING—centered around my own prejudices against other females. Themes include malpractice, borderline molestation, assuming incompetence, ableism, suicide, bullying, manipulation of the naïve, and self-harm. Also contains some adult language. Read with caution.

I feel uncomfortable around other females. I have often asked myself if it’s possible to be sexist against your own sex, and I am still not sure where I stand on that. But if it is possible, I assure you I am not so sexist that I want to make another woman’s life hell just because she’s a woman. However, I am totally sexist enough that when someone asks me “Would you prefer to see a male or a female doctor?” I’m far more inclined to ask for a male.

You need history to understand where a prejudice like that could come from, so let me establish it. When I was about 9, I was taken to a pediatrician who was a woman. Let’s call her Dr. Justdoit. I was there for a check up, and during the check up, my parents wanted to bring up a concern they had about a possible food allergy issue. I had no prior food allergy diagnoses, but I had a severe reaction to something while I was on vacation—we suspected the walnuts in a cookie I ate, about 5 minute prior to the reaction. We mentioned in passing that the hotel we were staying at was under construction—in a different wing of the hotel than where we were staying. Dr. Justdoit fell just short of laughing off our theory. She told us I was probably just reacting to the paint fumes in the hotel. My parents were not convinced. “Are you sure she isn’t allergic to walnuts?” asked my mom. Dr. Justdoit replied, “Well, I guess you could try feeding her walnuts again and see if she reacts.”

Funny how when we still didn’t believe her, we went to an allergist who ran some blood tests. As it turned out, I am DEATHLY allergic to tree nuts, and moderately allergic to sesame seeds. Today, I have additionally developed a shellfish allergy. Dr. Justdoit could have killed me with her advice.

Around that same age, I was hanging around with a female classmate from school, who was also a neighbor of mine. I have a hard time calling what she did molestation, but it wasn’t far from it.  I won’t go into a lot of detail about what happened, but what you need to know is she peer pressured me into disrobing for her, and she laughed at my naked body. After that, I went home, and on my way home I ran into another neighbor of ours. She was a grade beneath me. I told her what had happened, and her advice to me was to not tell my parents because they would be angry at me. I kept it to myself for several months, until someone came to my school and dedicated an entire class to talking about sexual abuse. Near the end of the class, they asked if anyone had ever been inappropriate in that way with us.  I was the only kid to raise my hand. It was humiliating. I didn’t know if they would believe me or care about what I said. I got the feeling they didn’t, when they took me out into the hallway to talk about it. I don’t think they knew what to do, because it involved one of my classmates.

I eventually worked up the courage to tell my mom, and simply put, she was furious. Not at me though—at my classmate, for taking advantage of me. She talked about calling CPS on her family, but I don’t think she ever did. I love my mom regardless, and she is one woman who I can say without a doubt that I love.

When I was in 6th grade, I had a female teacher, whom we’ll call “Mrs. Perky.” She was a hippie. She did not control her class—her class controlled her. Except for me, because I was really well-behaved, and not to mention naïve. She wore rugs to school (yes, as in, what you would decorate your floor with), and made us out to be the bad guys. All of us—even me, one of the few kid in the class who behaved.

There was one day where she told us that we’d be the ones flipping her burgers when we grow up. Way to really motivate us, by telling us we can aspire to flip burgers the rest of our lives—after going through a rigorous IB Diploma curriculum.

At some point, a parent suggested that there be two math classes—one for the “smart kids” and one for the “dumb kids.” Mrs. Perky placed me in the “dumb kids” math class, with her. One day, I brought in my homework on a piece of paper that I tore out of a notepad, and had solved the problems on the page, landscape (think in terms of the printer setting). I turned it into her, and she went to the front of the classroom, held up my homework and said, “You see, this is exactly what I don’t want you to do.” It was the first time I had any realization of just how stupid she thought I was. I asked to go to the bathroom, was permitted, and went into a stall and cried. She damaged my self-esteem, horribly.

That also doesn’t account for how she blew me off when I told her about one of my female classmates who, for no reason obvious to me, decided to punch the crap out of me. I was really scared by what my classmate had done to me, and Mrs. Perky made me feel like my feelings were invalid.

Then there was my 7th grade math teacher, “Mrs. Brownnoseme.” She hated me. I hated her more. She took bribes from students for grades—some girls in my class would babysit her kid, and when they did, you can be assured this improved their grades. As for the rest of us—unless you were naturally talented with math, you were fucked. There was one day that is to this day, very triggery for me to talk about. So cover your eyes, if you don’t like ableism.

She knew I had a Nonverbal Learning Disability diagnosis. She assumed she knew what my disorder was, when she clearly didn’t. So one day, when the class had angered her, she made us copy problems from a textbook. My anxiety was already high that day, and I could not focus because everyone in the room was talking loudly. My OCD kicked in—I would write down a word, erase the word, write the first two words, erase them, writing and erasing until I tore my paper. I got a new sheet. She came over to my desk, and in a very upset tone, asked me, “Katie, are you even trying?” “Yes,” I replied, hurt. She started going on about how I hadn’t even written one word—like I hadn’t tried writing one word.

She walked off, and now I could not concentrate at all. The cycle of writing and erasing and rewriting would not end. I had about one sentence down by the end of class. No problems solved. She approached me, and told me she was very disappointed in me for not applying myself. She told me she had carpool duty, and was going to tell my dad that day that I wasn’t trying at all, and that I was required to stay after class and miss my break because I didn’t try. Didn’t try, didn’t try, didn’t try. That was all I heard. My efforts didn’t matter to her. My life was valueless to me. What good was I if I couldn’t write a fucking word?

I avoided going out to the carpool line for a while after school. When I did, I saw my dad, waiting. I had a strained relationship with my dad at the time, so I expected hell from him. I got into the car, and my dad asked me how my day was, as we drove off. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I told him. I had a doctor appointment that day with my psychiatrist, so we began driving to the appointment. I was overwhelmed by my day—I began to cry somewhere along our trip. Dad noticed—he asked again, “How was your day?” I lashed out at him with my words. I told him I knew Mrs. Brownnoseme had told him about how I didn’t try, and that I “knew” that he wasn’t going to hear my side of the argument. He was frustrated—all he honestly wanted was to hear my side of the story. I became so upset at one point that I threatened to throw myself out of the car. Dad later wrote an e-mail to Mrs. Brownnoseme, more or less telling her she wasn’t fit to be a teacher.

Two of the girls that brown-nosed Mrs. Brownnoseme by babysitting for her, and also one of my male classmates, one day decided it would be funny, while left unattended in the school library with me and one of my best friends at the time, to take rocks off of a student’s project and throw them at us. Once one of my favorite teachers found out, they were suspended for a few days and required to write a forced apology to us. I never got a letter from the guy. It was just as well though—I got just as much satisfaction out of it as I did the letters that the two girls wrote with fake sincerity.

I wanted them expelled—and if they had been, one of those girls wouldn’t have had the honor of being the Salutatorian of our graduating class. If they had been expelled, I won’t say I would have ended up staying at the school, but I would have felt like the school took my concerns more seriously.

There was one girl who I considered to be one of my best friends—she was more like a “frienemy,” looking back on it. She lied to me constantly. And I believed her, constantly, because I was too naïve to tell she was bullshitting. I believed her when she said she was going to have sex with a guy—I gave her some of my condoms that a relative of mine gave me, and she of course told everyone. I doubt she even slept with a guy—she just wanted to watch me go out of my way to help her, so she could use it as a means to humiliate me. I didn’t believe she would do that.

She would talk to me on the phone, and we’d talk about how depressed we were. I admit it—it was creepy as fuck. You wouldn’t think there was that much stuff for two teenaged girls to obsess morbidly over, but we would be at it for hours. I went through an emo phase where I started cutting myself. She talked about cutting a lot, so I thought I would try it and see if it made me feel better.

There was one of our conversations we had that led to me being hospitalized for threats of suicide. I had a clear plan and everything—a teacher at my school found out, and told the principal. They did not allow me to return for 24 hours, and not without the consent of my doctor.  This girl was Satan incarnated I and I believe she thought so too.

About a year ago, I went to see a psychologist who was a woman, cautiously. I was willing to give her a chance, in spite of usually preferring to have a male psychologist.  She was located in a hospital, and when I came to her office, I was having suicidal thoughts, and was honest about this. Never at any point did I actually say I was going to kill myself—just that I was battling with those thoughts. Her reaction? She hospitalized me. She gave me forms to sign, and sent me to the ER, where my husband and I waited in a room with a bed and a chair to talk to a doctor. We had planned to go hiking after my appointment, and take advantage of the nice weather. What we did instead was spend 6 hours waiting, followed by trying to explain why I wasn’t an imminent threat to myself, waiting some more, and finally being discharged.

So am I prejudiced? I have this thought experiment for you—imagine a monkey gets slapped by a person in a cowboy hat. Another person walks in the room, also wearing a cowboy hat, and punches the monkey. A third person wearing a cowboy hat walks in and kicks the monkey. Person after person wearing a cowboy hat walks in and abuses this monkey until it’s black and blue. After many people have walked up to this monkey and hurt him, a person wearing a cowboy hat approaches the monkey and tries to offer him a peanut.  The monkey jumps on that person’s face and mauls them. That monkey now has bad associations with people in cowboy hats—it doesn’t matter if there is a world out there full of people wearing cowboy hats who would love to offer their love and respect to the monkey, because now that monkey will forever see the cowboy hat and associate it with pain.

I don’t hate other women. I fear them. A lot of what I talked about was the stuff women did to my face that hurt me. Much more happened behind my back, and was then passed around until it reached me. I have borderline PTSD from all of it. I hang out with and respect many women, but I may never be able to get as close to a woman as I can with a man (the women in my family are an exception, because they’re awesome).

I hope I haven’t hurt anyone with this post. Should you be a woman, I hope you don’t feel like I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t mind. I just might be more reserved around you than I would with a man. Don’t take it personally. I’m just checking to make sure your “cowboy hat” doesn’t mean what it has for me in the past.



Please scroll to see image if you do not believe you would find that offensive

And there you have it folks. This is what happens when I make one stupid joke. I hope you are snickering along with me once I post this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Born Autistic, Raised Neurotypical

TRIGGER WARNING—ableism. Lots of it.

Imagine you are born to a family of humans (shouldn’t be too hard, right?). They raise you, love you, and teach you all there is to know about being human. There are also Aliens that live on your planet that look just like any human, and everyone knows they’re there. However, there are certain commonly held beliefs humans have about these Aliens.

You grow up hearing things like these—the Aliens aren’t very smart, except when it comes to math—then they’re as smart as a super computer. Some of the Aliens can’t talk, but the ones that do talk with an impediment. Both the speaking and non-speaking Aliens do a lot of screaming (or so you’ve heard). They rock back and forth, watching kids shows on the television well into adulthood. Looking at yourself, you have no reason to think these Aliens are related to you in any way.

But you know you don’t quite fit in with humans, either. You’re struggling to get by in the world. You feel intense anxiety, you rock from side to side, and you keep feeling like you’re missing out on some important details of conversations even though you are capable of repeating what a person just said verbatim. You’re doing well academically, except in math. You have friends, and everyone knows Aliens like to isolate themselves from others.

So it doesn’t make sense. You don’t make sense to yourself. You’re not a Centaur—Centaurs have hooves and are very hyperactive—they run around the room when they aren’t supposed to, repeatedly tap their hooves on the floor, and generally get themselves into trouble (you should know, one of your best friends is a Centaur).

Eventually, you collapse under the weight of your own struggles, and seek help from a therapist. The therapist listens to your troubles, and after a few sessions with them, they suggest you go to a lab and have a DNA test performed. “A DNA test? Why?” you ask. The therapist replies, “Because I have good reason to believe you are at least part Alien.”

You don’t believe it at first. You’re not an Alien. No one told you were an Alien. You’re not intellectually stunted like an alien. You’re not good at math like an Alien. You’re not anti-social like an alien. You don’t even have a speech impediment! As sure of these facts as you are, you go to the lab, and have them perform the test. A week later, your results are in, and you are half Alien, half human.

You never thought that could happen. But here you are, lumped in with the bumbling buffoons known as Aliens. You go home and read more about what it’s like to be an Alien, and what you can do to change that. In the midst of your quest for knowledge, you find a support group of Aliens and parents of Aliens who are having many of the same troubles you are. You are amazed that so many of the Aliens you are talking with are actually smarter than most of the humans you know. You meet other half-Aliens, and pretty soon everything you knew about the Alien population is changed.

For those of you who had trouble reading through the lines, this was similar to what it was like for me to find out I was on the Autistic spectrum.  I went through most of my childhood being told I was smart for my age, but other than that I was just a “normal” kid who was suffering invisibly.

I often think of an episode of South Park titled “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson.” Randy, the father of Stan (one of the main characters), gives an uncomfortable answer on the Wheel of Fortune when presented with the letters “N_GGERS” and the category “People Who Annoy You.” The correct answer was NAGGERS, but I’m sure you all can figure out what he chose instead. Everyone in the black community is outraged, and in the midst of all this, Stan tries to make things right with one of his black friends at school, named Token.

Repeatedly, Stan tells Token that he gets what he must be going through, and why he gets it, along with why Token needs to forgive his father for being foolish. Token refuses to accept the apology, because Stan fails to understand what the problem is. Stan keeps thinking about the problem, and is flustered until the end of the episode when he has an epiphany.

He approaches his friend and says, “Token, I get it now. I don't get it. I've been trying to say that I understand how you feel, but, I'll never understand. I'll never really get how it feels for a black person to have somebody use the N word. I don't get it.” Then, Token smiles and replies, “Now you get it.”

I thought I knew what Autism and other disabilities were like, but I didn’t really until somebody told me that I was disabled myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be compassionate to those who were disabled before I knew—I just didn’t get it.

What I have found is that in order to be able to fully appreciate another person’s problems, you need to have first-hand experience with those problems. I will never know what it’s like to be black, or what it’s like to be a man, or what it’s like to be a neurotypical or anything I’m not—and while that doesn’t mean I can’t feel compassion for people who battle with problems related to their own specific situations, it does mean I am limited in knowing how they feel, and what I can do to be supportive.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a neurotypical. I know the values that I grew up with being raised by neurotypicals (and people who were presumed neurotypical), and the way our society views people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. The values I grew up with were taught to me by neurotypicals, but the experience I have is with being Autistic in a neurotypical’s clothing. I am a half-breed in that regard.

I want to be an ally to both neurotypicals and Autistics. I may not know what it’s like to be a neurotypical, but I figure the best thing I can do is be on their side since they make up the majority of our population. I draw the line at being on the side of an abusive person—whom that abuse is being directed towards is not relevant. Other than that, I tend to see most things as being said with pure intent.

I may not agree with pro-cure agendas, but I try to keep in mind that the people who are in favor of this only want to make life easier on their child (and themselves). I don’t have to agree with it, but if I am to engage neurotypicals with my own viewpoint, the way to do it is not by telling them that they’re bad parents for wanting a cure for their Autistic child (which by the way, they aren’t). The way I would do it is by giving them alternatives to a cure, and a healthy dose of reassurance that their child is a beautiful and unique person, and that we need more people like that, not less. I might tell them about AAC, and the kinds of opportunities that could open up for their nonverbal child. I would want to do anything but antagonize the people I’m trying to persuade to see things my way.

I want to be the best advocate I can be, and that I believe I can do that by being a good friend to both neurotypicals and Autistics. Good friends listen to each other, give advice, and have each other’s back. They often call each other out on their misconceptions, but do so in a loving way. I want to be your friend.  If you have anything you’d like to talk to me about—questions, comments, or something of that sort—please send it along!

That’s all for this time! If you have any topics you’d like to hear me discuss on this blog, please comment (on here or on the Molotov Med Cocktail Facebook page), send me a Facebook message, or e-mail me. I greatly look forward to it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Time Apart From Art

Hi, Art? Do you have a moment? Please, have a seat, there’s something we need to talk about.

I won’t say I remember when we met—that was far too long ago, even for my memory trap of a mind.  But I do remember you always being there. You’ve always been one of my best friends, and over the years our friendship has grown into a deep love. I have devoted a lot of my time to you over the years. I love you, and there is no other lover quite like you. You can express what my words alone can’t. You have been a source of inspiration to me, and numerous others over the years.  But I think we need some time apart.

Please don’t misunderstand. I want to be with you. But I don’t think I am doing you or myself any favors by treating you the way I have been. I become a different person around you. When you’re with me, I feel angry, confused, and incapable of being true to you or myself. And that isn’t your fault. It’s mine. I become abusive. I rip you to shreds or crumple you when you aren’t going my way. I do just the same to myself—and I’m telling you now it isn’t healthy.

We need a fresh start, don’t you think? I really want to like you, and love you. But I can’t do that while upholding my current standards when we’re together. I think we just need to be away from each other for a while. You know what they say—distance makes the heart grow fonder. And when I’m ready, I will come back. I will be a good friend and lover to you, and hopefully just as good to myself.

Until we meet again,


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Crying Shame

I’ve always been more comfortable crying in private, but at the same time I have not always had that choice. There was a time in my life where the crying just happened—everywhere. I was powerless to it, and it was often so severe you would have thought a dear relative of mine had died. More often than not, there wasn’t any reason I was crying (unless you count the anxiety, depression, and med changes). I still cry a lot more than the average person probably does—I cry every night. Here’s the thing though-- being able to cry privately is one of the greatest gifts I have.

Let me put it this way—when I started having Tourette’s symptoms, I felt I had lost a great deal of my sense of privacy. This is not easy for me to say, but I’m saying it anyway—many simple stressors drive my Tourette’s. When I tic, there is actually often a reason for it—I’m tired, I’m nervous, I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m annoyed by that person who keeps clicking their pen over and over again—you name it, I react to it. So when I tic, I often feel like I’m giving my hand away. While most people can hide the fact that something is bothering them at least to some degree, I have very little control over it.

So now imagine a person who not only tics, but cries uncontrollably too.  There is at that point no denying that something is bothering them. So with that said, I can’t tell you how nice it is that both the crying spells and the Tourette’s symptoms are so much more easily controlled than they used to be. They exist, but many days I can closet them.

This isn’t to say I will always closet my tears—I have learned that there are times that that can do more harm than good. But it says something that I have come this far in my journey; that I am capable of recognizing when I need a shoulder to cry on, while being able to cry alone when I need the isolation.

Progress, my friends. Progress.

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