A Problem with Articulation

I feel bad; I made a [semi]commitment to write in this thing once a week, and I failed.

I haven’t really had much to say.

Or, I have so many things to say that I am unable to access a single overarching thought that could become the theme for a blog post to even begin saying what I have to say.

Do you ever feel like that? Like you sometimes just cannot articulate thoughts?

Occasionally someone will ask my opinion on something about which I actually have very strong feelings only to be met by a blank, panic-stricken stare—eyes wide, mouth agape—comprehensible reason painted over by a dense forest of word fragments and images that blend and dance across my my cerebral cortex, refusing to align into something I can clearly extrapolate and reconstruct into coherent sentences, but that make perfect sense to my brain.

How this same attempt to explain my thought process comes out in prompted informal speech:

“I don’t know.”

Often it seems I don’t know much of anything.

It’s frustrating, to say the least.

I remember being obsessed with this guy, Mike, in high school. He would pick me up and we would go to the movies or whatever, and there was a lot of awkward riding in his car in a silent panic over my inability to think of anything coherent to say. I was a very anxious girl—not because I was afraid to say things that were on my mind but because often the things on my mind were not comprehensible sentences and I therefore could not say them without sounding like a crazy person.

Here is a breakdown of how things typically look inside my brain when I’m having a “blank mind” episode:

This silence is awkward; I need to say something. Need to say something. Need to say … something … Something. SAY some. thing. 

Peanut butter. news. Did you see the news? Fox news. MSNBC. Politics. Shouldn’t talk about politics. Or news; that’s depressing. fox hole. sink hole, rabbit hole. Say something. Oh my God, what the hell is wrong with me—why can’t I think?

Muscles are getting increasingly tense by this point and I become suddenly aware that my neck really hurts. I inhale deeply and try to relax, but it doesn’t work.

Blalalalalala. Lalalala. blah blah. Bleh. This is excruciating.

I’m perspiring. I have sensory issues with armpit sweat and get cold easily, so I am feeling almost unbearably uncomfortable; my underarms are cold and clammy and it’s causing me to shiver.

It is 80 degrees outside, and I am fucking shivering. I am shivering. Shivering like a weirdo and I cannot stop. He’s going to think I’m weird if he notices.

I clench my teeth in an effort to stop shivering.

Elevator. You’re really cute. Escalator. Yesterday in math class … No. Ham and cheese sandwich. The stars are bright tonight? Is that a normal thing to say?

Ugh! I am stupid.

Purple. Cheese plate. Hey, I like you? No; he already knows that. (Cue nervous rubbing together of the fingers and lip biting). I take another deep breath.

Cue cute-girl physical defense mechanism for momentary lack of brain: Turn to him and grin. He smiles back; good. Pretty straight smile paid for by braces: 1; Sarah: 0. This will only get me so far, though; this guy values “ability to make interesting conversation” over “ability to smile awkwardly while having a young, attractive face.”

“So … Um, what’s up?”

Needless to say, we never got married.

Alexithymia

On the weekends, my fiancee stays up really late and sleeps in really late, and my body will no longer allow me to sleep past 8:30, which means I get the entire morning (and part of the early afternoon) to myself. Sometimes, I’ll watch TV or a movie. Yesterday, I was watching Rachael Ray’s Kid’s Cook-off on Food Network—one of those chef contest shows, like Chopped, except with kids—and for some reason, I kept tearing up. Tearing up while a kid described what she cooked, tearing up while they were doing the judging, tearing up when they all hugged at the end . . . Sure, I bet this was an emotional moment for some of the kids and their onlooking parents, but for a benign TV viewer, this is no crying matter.

I was impressed by these kids. Impressed by how well-spoken they were,impressed that an 8-year-old knew what mango chutney is and how to make it in a way that would rival many adult chefs, impressed by another 8-year-old’s venison bacon burgers . . . Was this why I was crying? Was I living vicariously through the lives of well-spoken child chefs? Was I jealous?

These kids were also very well-dressed with cute hair styles. I’m sure their parents helped with this, but it had me looking back at myself at a similar age—wearing some baggy t-shirt with a pair of horrid circa 1980s no-shape leggings with the irritating elastic loop thingies on the feet; long hair a tangled, unbrushed mess, bangs hanging in my eyes—and wondered if kids these days really are just that much more sophisticated than they were in the early 90s or if I was just a mess of a kid. Looking back on class pictures, I’m going to go with the latter.

Was that why I was crying? Or was it something different altogether? Was I crying because I don’t have a 7-year-old of my own to teach how to cook? I am 30, after all, and still childless.

Was it something that had nothing to do with the show at all? Some lingering emotion that needed to get out while my fiancee slept?

I have no freaking idea why I was crying. And it kept happening; I teared up several times and full-on sobbed at least twice, with no idea why. I’m not depressed. My relationship is going very well. I love my job. I haven’t been sleep-deprived.

This is not new to me. I often find myself bursting into tears while watching totally benign movies and TV. A couple weeks ago, it happened while I was watching The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my fiancee, lying with my head on his lap. At the end of the movie, I did not sit up yet, because he said something like, “That’s not at all what I remember from the books. Haha, a little ridiculous!” Clearly, he was not as moved by the lonely war-torn children’s escape into a mythical realm of snow and fantastical creatures where time stood still and they got to live for years as heros in cute Medieval-era clothes before returning back to reality and their current time period through the wardrobe that brought them there as children, and I needed to get it together before sitting up so he wouldn’t wonder what the hell was wrong with me.

The same thing happens when I watch Alice in WonderlandBig Fish (only NOT during the actual “sad” parts, like when he’s dying), and Once Upon a Time.

I’m noticing a trend toward being moved to tears by the fantasy genre. Is it wonder? Is it because I wish I could live in these fictional worlds myself? I imagine life would be way more interesting, with no reality TV and celebrity worship and terrible pop music and even worse fashion trends, and I also love Medieval dresses and castles and Pegasi. Or is it my failure at trying to write fantasy fiction myself? I have always been a wordsmith and lover of fiction, but I seem to be lacking in the imagination department, and therefore am unlikely to ever be the next J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin.

I have no idea. Absolutely no clue why I was crying, especially since there is a big difference between the fantasy genre making me cry and child chefs making me cry. I don’t feel sad, and that makes it all the more puzzling.

Calmed Down

Ok, I’ve calmed down a bit. I found a person in the area who says she is skilled in identifying ASD in adult women, so we emailed back and forth for a few days and I will call and make an appointment next week. I’m a little scared; I’m hoping this will gain me access to some occupational therapy or something, but I will have to look more into that (provided, of course, that I receive a diagnosis).

The one thing that kept me on the fence regarding seeking diagnosis is that I don’t seem to have the “inability to recognize faces” trait, or at least not to the effect that I can’t recognize obvious expressions. I can tell when people are looking at me weird when I say what is apparently some pretty weird shit; it’s even more obvious when they look at each other after I say something and start laughing. Some days I feel just fine; then, I get into a conversation with my coworkers, and it happens: I get excited and start talking too fast and I start jumbling words/word order. I might say an entire sentence backward, or switch pronouns or prepositions. Then, embarrassed, I stutter, end my thought, and get very quiet. What perhaps made the the most upset last week was the sudden realization that I just can’t do traditional office settings for too long. It’s like being in high school again: too many people, people everywhere I go, communal restrooms with wide gaps between the doors where I can’t even pee without feeling on-edge, and cube neighbors who can see me. I will eventually burn out and lose my ability to cope, just like I did at the dental office; it’s just a matter of when.

What continues to upset me as I get older is the constant string of compromises I’ve been having to make with myself since reaching adulthood. First, I was disqualified from receiving a full scholarship following a temporary inability to cope with the school environment that caused me to miss classes and have to take two incompletes. This is after having a steady 4.0 for three years. A horrible SAT score (that got worse the second time I tried; I kept running out of time) meant I didn’t get accepted to the colleges I wanted to go to and had to begin at a community college. Then I did not graduate college until I was 25 because I kept taking classes that had nothing to do with my degree track because they sounded interesting, wasting thousands of borrowed dollars. Looking back, I think I subconsciously wanted college to never end.

College was a safe place. Academics are what I’ve always been good at—they are my identity—and I was terrified of losing my only identity. If I had unlimited spending potential, I would probably be perfectly happy living my entire life as a perpetual student. I was happy to graduate until I realized I was done and would have to be a grown-up now, and I’m not good at being a grown-up. I don’t interview well (but hooray that I did something right to get this editing job). Now that I have this job that I currently love, I am terrified everyday that I’ll do something socially reprehensible and lose it. More than a few times, I saw my boss looking at me weird. Like, an uncomfortable kind of weird.

So I got this job as an editor, decided editing is what I love and what gets me “in the zone,” and appropriately modified my goals again: to become senior editor. Then I realized I could never do the job my boss does; in and out of meetings, managing a team, being buddy-buddy with the department chair . . . using exceptional social skills . . . It’s just not going to happen for me. I correct grammar and improve syntax and have no idea how to play office politics; therefore, I won’t be climbing any ladders. So now I need to figure out how to be successful on my own, probably from home.

Final thought: Waaa. I’m unsure whether what I’m feeling is self-pity or just plain, neutral self-realization; what I do to make the best of it is what I suppose will answer that question. I’ve never been one to tend toward pessimism, so I will keep working to find out how to be successful at my niche. And despite all these challenges, I am still happy to be me.

Torn Emotions

I have Aspergers.

I’ve been obsessed with this topic ever since halfway through my master’s degree program, when I was first introduced to the notion that autism isn’t only for people who can’t talk and spend their days punching holes in walls. I’m not trying to be mean here; I have a cousin who has autism and that was what she was doing when I first met her (punching walls/biting her own arm).

It’s funny (funny ironic, not funny haha). I have done those things, and still do. I am told of how hilarious my brother and aunt thought it was when they would push me to the edge with taunting and I would stiffen up like a board and throw myself head-first onto the floor of our living room—over and over—seemingly without feeling any pain. They would get a good laugh and I would retreat to my room after to stare at the wall in silence for I don’t know how long. I was no stranger to biting myself when significantly frustrated/angry. Always in the same place, on the meaty part of my hand. Something about the pressure seemed (seems) to calm me down a little bit.

I remember once, when I was 14, my mom coming into my room where I was sitting on my bed, talking to my friend, and slapping me across the face. I have no idea what I did, but apparently, it was disrespectful.

Since I made this discovery over a year ago, I was happy—maybe not happy per se, but relieved that there was an explanation for why I always felt so different and so confused.

I was also partly in denial. I can’t have this thing, because if I did, someone would’ve noticed. Someone would’ve noticed and I would’ve been referred to someone.

Except I was. My family grew tired of my frequent emotional outbursts and my middle school depression and I saw two professionals—a nice, soft-spoken counselor who diagnosed me as being a “teenage girl” and psychiatrist who misdiagnosed me with bipolar disorder (which my dad has). I have never, ever had a manic episode.

The point of this post was not to start talking about all the reasons why I know I have Aspergers. I was in denial before slightly, but the other night, while trying, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep, it all came pouring down on me. Every telltale childhood sign, every bout of genuine confusion, and the clarity with which I observed that somehow adults are able to live their daily lives and do productive things even when in the midst of experiencing extremely emotional life events without completely losing their shit and melting down in public, when I cannot. I was happy before because I had an explanation. The one-sidedness of my conversations, my hyperlexia, my inability to do even the simplest hair and makeup styles, my obsession with medieval fantasy and vampires (the cool ones, NOT the ones that fucking sparkle), my pedantic correction of peoples’ errors in grammar and mispronunciation of words or incorrect rendering of song lyrics and movie/TV show quotes, my ability to watch The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland over and over and over on a loop—and then the painful memories. The feeling of confusion and dread when faced with situations where I am expected to just find people and make normal conversation. Showing up at school early; I would hide in a bathroom stall or behind a building, or in the woods behind the school. My struggles with understanding math verbally and having to take summer school in 9th grade even though I secretly enjoyed math, but didn’t understand the way it was being taught at the time (I excelled at geometry, and later, statistics). How upset I was when I failed the AP English exam—twice—despite having the highest (or at least among the highest) grade in my actual AP classes. (I ran out of time during the reading comprehension sections). Thousands of other just plain painful memories came flooding back to me—my rape when I was 25 and the fact that I smile inapproprately when telling someone about yet become overcome with emotion while watching The fucking Chronicles of Narnia with my fiancé—and I lie awake wondering how in the hell was something not noticed? I had more than one parent-teacher conference about my being withdrawn and too quiet and not fitting in. Anyway, I didn’t sleep well the other night. It was all flooding to me. One massive wave of a lifetime of confusion and incompetency. WHEN will I feel like a grown-up? I feel like a perpetual 22-year-old stuck in the body of a rapidly-aging 30-year-old with zero conception of office politics who is just terrified that I will commit a social faux pas that will eventually cost me this new job I love so much (I’m an editor), mostly of course syllabi.

I broke down and cried. Quietly, of course, because I didn’t want to attract the attention of my new fiancé. Why? Why can’t I just be normal?

Actually, no. I like who I am. But I wish this had been recognized sooner. I wish I’d had access to the supports young women have today who are recognized in time. Or do I? I don’t know. I don’t know how much different my adolescence would’ve been had I known, and I certainly would not have wanted to be placed in special ed. I was smart. AP smart and math stupid, but geometry and statistics smart. I actually like algebra, when it makes sense. Hyperlexic. Appalled to discover, when I started kindergarten, that most of my classmates barely knew the alphabet or how to write their names legibly while I was reading books. Writing chapters of fiction in a composition book when I was as young as 8. Tutoring my brother, seven years older than I, in English. The fact that using the word “me” just then in place of the overly pedantic although grammatically correct “I” would’ve been physically painful. “She’s just shy,” or “She’s a sneaky girl,” or “she’s obviously lying,” because eye contact was hard for me.

I broke down. Why did no one notice? It was so obvious! It should’ve been, anyway.

Directionally Challenged with Social Anxiety

Last week, the bathroom (the one I use) at our office flooded and had to be closed down for most of the week. I found out as I made my way over there and saw that the way was blocked and large fans were set up, pointed at the carpet. My heart sank. I had to pee. There is another bathroom, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to get to it; I’d only used it twice—the day I interviewed for the job and another day when a coworker and I walked there together because ours was being cleaned. That was awkward enough—I was never the type of chick to request an entourage to accompany me to the bathroom.

I hung my head in defeat and sauntered back to my desk, where I held my pee until it became unbearable. I would have to make the trek to the other bathroom, which filled me with dread because, 1.) What if I get lost? and 2.) I know it’s going to be crowded due to the lack of an additional functional bathroom.

Let me say this first: There are fewer things in life more terrifying than a crowded communal bathroom.

Except for, you know, rape, murder, a tornado, a terrorist attack, and tens of thousands of other more terrifying life occurrences, but for now, crowded communal bathrooms. Just kill me now.

I started heading over there. My sense of direction is abysmal, so at every turn of the hallway, I stopped, looked both ways, imagined I was on my way back, and gestured and mouthed the backward directions to myself while turning my entire body in both directions (I’m a kinesthetic learner). At one point, I found, to my horror, that I was performing these certainly bizarre-looking behaviors in the doorway of my boss’s boyfriend’s office. He was looking at me strangely. I quickly rounded the corner, hoping he didn’t recognize me, and nearly collided belly-first with a woman who was clearly approaching her third trimester of pregnancy. I mumbled an apology, averting my gaze, and pushed open the bathroom door. It was indeed crowded and the only open stall was right in front of the sinks and mirrors.

Whoever designed these bathrooms apparently has a personal vendetta against awkward people with social anxiety because the spaces separating each stall door are nearly an inch in width, meaning that the person in the stall and whomever is washing their hands at the sink have a high chance of making eye contact through the mirror if they both look up at the same time. This is what I mean by how horrifying crowded communal bathrooms are. I can’t even look up when washing my hands if someone is using the stall behind me; my eyes are frozen to the countertop. When I’m the one IN the stall, it’s even worse, and I try to edge my way as far to the side as possible to avoid seeing the mirror and the employee standing in it. If I know the person is almost done and leaving soon when I first walk in, then I just stand there behind the stall door until I hear the door close.

At least I now know where the other bathroom is located, since I had to use it for the rest of the week, although I continually held my pee as long as possible because it was never EVER empty. I hope and pray my default bathroom will be functional again on Monday.

Mentally Preparing to Party

Today, my childhood friend turns 30 and is having a party—a party she has been reminding me about every other day for two weeks. First the Facebook invite, and then via text. The first one said, “I know you have a life over there in Orlando and everything (I really don’t), but I really, really want you to be at my party” (I’m not entirely proud of this, but she knows how I am regarding parties, especially ones where strangers will be in attendance).

I’ve been kind of freaking out about this, to the point where I just feel really tired and have had a constant headache for the last three days. It starts at 2:00 (the party, not the headache), and the invitation says, “Kid-friendly until 7:00,” indicating that this is supposed to go on for several hours. Some of the people on the invite list I know (although only one of them really well—Erin, another childhood friend I met when I was 12, and I am excited about that—but seeing a few of the others will be like stepping into a mini high-school reunion (not so much excited about that). I really hope “kid-friendly until 7:00” doesn’t mean “everyone feel free to bring all your kids. . . ”

I was hoping to bring the boyfriend. The boyfriend is an extrovert and a social butterfly who will talk to anyone like he’s known them for years. I was hoping he could do that while I stood there smiling and offering the occasional interjection, leaving them all thinking, Wow, look at Sarah’s totally normal and super-friendly boyfriend! She must be totally normal and super-friendly, too, and clearly does not have crippling social anxiety. But the boyfriend cannot come because he has a fantasy football draft at the same time.

So I will pop a couple Advils, buy some beer, grab a snack tray (I wanted to make something myself so I could wow everyone with my culinary prowess, but I overslept and now I don’t have time), and grin and bear it until a socially acceptable time to slip away. Or who knows—maybe everyone will be really cool and I’ll end up having a super-awesome time, and all this catasrophizing will have been for nothing. I really hope for the latter.

I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

Just kidding; I am never late. Ever. I’m late if I’m not early.

However, I have a tendency to walk like I am perpetually running late for something. Like the bus stop is a five-minute walk and I am three minutes behind, except that I drive a car and I watch the traffic report while I get ready in the morning, after I wake up at least two hours prior to when I have to leave.

Part of me wants to associate this habit to the fact that my dad is very tall, so whenever we went somewhere together when I was a child, I had to practically jog the whole time to keep up with his freakishly long strides. I did not complain about this; I was a bottomless well of childhood energy and welcomed every opportunity to burn some of it up, and jogging through the mall in order to keep up with my dad was a perfectly appropriate situation where someone wouldn’t yell “WALK!” at me.

In reality, I’m sure I was more speed walking than jogging, but I digress. The habit stuck with me indefinitely, from bobbing and weaving through the slow students in college, so many of whom seemed to just sort of waddle about as slowly as possible while staring at their phones and trying to hog the whole sidewalk. Inside my head, I was yelling at them all to move your ass! I am in a huge rush. . . to get to my car . . . to get home . . . where I have nothing to do and no plans and no roommate and no urgent deadlines to meet. Whatever; just move it! 

I’ve been called out for this behavior when walking on the beach at night with friends (which I dearly miss, but my friends have moved away, and I have moved away from the beach, which used to be my calming sanctuary where I could just drive the five minutes to lie down on a towel, bury my toes in the soft, white sand, listen to the symphony of the waves, and just sort of let my busy, busy mind float away on the soft salt air. . . )

“Dude, walk slower!” they would say—a rather rash, unwelcome jolt from my quiet reverie (a little rude, if you ask me). “What’s wrong with you? This is supposed to be a leisurely stroll, not a 15-meter dash.”

“Well why didn’t you tell me? I thought we were working out.”

“If we were working out, we wouldn’t be carrying a bottle of Jager.” (We were around 19–22 at this time, so really, it was perfectly logical for one to have equated “working out” with taking shots of Jagermeister straight from the bottle while speed walking on the beach at midnight).

At work, at 30, I find myself speed walking to the bathroom. Like if I don’t get there quickly, it very well may vanish from existence. And I’m sure it has remained right there in the same place it has been ever since it was built there however many years ago (yeah, I didn’t do a whole lot of research on the expansion of this college).

Sometimes I catch myself, and I say to myself, “Self, why don’t you walk a little more slowly? Do you see anyone else in such a mad hurry? Won’t slowing down a bit help the day go by faster?” Then I try to slow down, but it is almost painful to do so; it literally requires a continuous, conscious effort. Besides, if I really want to make the day go by faster—if I really need to burn off some of that compulsive speed-walking energy—I’ll just march straight back to my desk, grab my bottle of water, and go speed walk around the building a couple times. If nothing else, it’ll get me out of that arctic freezer of an office where I’d otherwise be sitting shivering in a cardigan, but that is a complaint for a whole different post, perhaps one entitled, “Why the Fuck am I Freezing in July?”

For the time being, I should really just invest in a waistcoat and an antique pocket watch and accept myself already.

Invisibility in the Form of Cakes.

Throughout college, I waited tables (what a nightmare; more on that some other time).

This was a college town and mostly college students worked there. When they graduated, they planned their last days and everyone had a little back-of-the-house celebration for the bright-eyed fresh grad. There was always cake, and most of the time, a card.

The same thing happened on birthdays.

One day, I overheard a coworker talking about how it sucked he had to work on his birthday, but at least the computer said “Happy Birthday” when he clocked in (which I can only assume was sarcasm). I had to chime in.

“What?” I interrupted, “Mine didn’t say that!”

“It has to be on your birthday,” he said with a tone that seemed to suggest I either didn’t hear the first part of what he said or that I don’t know what a birthday is, “It’ll only do it on your actual birthday.”

“It was my birthday. Why would I be shocked if it didn’t say ‘Happy Birthday’ on a day that’s not my birthday?”

No one getting me a card or a cake or even remotely recognizing me on my birthdays or last days at a college job was one thing; I was awkward, I didn’t relate to most people, and I was very quiet. But even the computer, which was literally programmed to remember my birthday, forgot to say anything to me. That was the defining moment of my adult life that really confirmed to me that I am, in fact, invisible. The first instance of this occurred in the sixth grade, while I was walking behind a couple sidewalk-hogging friends who turned to let me know, when I chimed in a couple words on what I thought was a group conversation, that they didn’t even know I was there.

What Would 8-year-old Me Think?

I have decided recently that, whenever faced with a moral or ethical dilemma, the most effective way for me to come to a decision regarding what is the right thing to do in an given situation is to ask myself, what would 8-year-old me think? 8-year-old me really seemed to have it together; she had a firm grasp on right and wrong and wasn’t afraid to give her two cents on the matter, regardless of what listeners may think or say in response. Regarding the whole Confederate flag debacle, for instance. At first, I was just annoyed at all the in-your-face rednecks parading around with whole armies of Confederate flags, dressed in Confederate flag garb, and basically just trying to make everyone feel uncomfortable. Don’t they know they look like jackasses? I wondered. And at first it was just hilariously incorrect and ignorant of them to start using the swastika argument (if you haven’t heard, apparently it’s okay to tout the Confederate flag everywhere in the wake of the racially-charged fatal shooting of nine black people guilty of going to church and being nice to a little white boy who came in to pretend to worship, because the Germans still have the swastika on a flag). Note: Any use whatsoever of the swastika was banned in Germany in 1952. They lost that war, and have since been apologizing for the events that lead to it in the first place. Despite the general annoyance surrounding the myriad ignorant and ill-informed posts that assaulted my Facebook news feed for almost a month, grown-up me would not have been too bothered by the whole thing. Why should I? I’m white and from the south (if you even consider Florida as truly part of the south in this context), and completely understand the whole “southern heritage, not hate” argument. But then, I confided in 8-year-old Sarah, and she told me she just learned all about the Civil War in school. She just learned all about how it was not entirely a slavery issue, although that was part of it. She had also just recently read the American Girls book about Addy Walker, the little slave girl her same age, who endured a brutal whipping for some minor infraction that was described in strikingly vivd detail for being a children’s book, and reminded grown-up me of how horrid I’d felt while reading it. 8-year-old me also argues that hate groups have since been using this alleged “heritage flag” while committing such vile crimes as lynchings and burning crosses, setting black peoples’ houses on fire, brutal and often fatal beatings and rapes of black people for no reason, etc. After my conversation with 8-year-old me, I am left with no choice but to say, “Huh. You’re totally right. In my adulthood, I’d nearly forgotten all this stuff under the influence of the college psychology and literature classes I’d been taking throughout adulthood. But you’re right, 8-year-old Sarah, just like you were right to reprimand my step-dad for throwing soda cans in the trash despite that the recycling bin was literally ten steps away in the garage.” There is no place for this flag anymore, except in museums about American history, or inside the houses of those heritage enthusiasts who wish to keep it as a reminder of the war fought by some great-great-great-grandfather. It has no place flying in front of government buildings when it is a symbol of hate and oppression for an entire race of people living in our country. For them, it is a reminder of that subgroup of people who still wish cotton fields and free labor ruled the south. For them, it is a flying middle finger in the wake of losing a loved one in a shooting at an effing CHURCH, for Pete’s sake. Maybe the group of activists who organized the mission to climb the flagpole in front of the South Carolina capitol building for the purpose of removing it should’ve been a clue that this flag is indeed a “big deal” for many people.

Colds and Coming Out of the Neurodiverse Closet

I haven’t been sick in at least four years. I used to credit that to my amazing immune system, but now I think it had more to do with the fact that I spent the majority of my days in the small, private-practice dental office that employed between 10–12 people. Now, I have a cold, and the only thing that’s changed is I now work in a large office with lots of people who touch things all day.

I have been a little slower this week as a result, due in part to the heaviness in my head and in part to the deleterious effect DayQuil has on my brain. More than once, someone asked me a question or tried to explain something to me only to be met with a blank stare. More than once, Mitra (my fellow editor-in-crime) cocked her head to the side and asked, “Does that make sense?” Luckily, I was able to just blame my overall aloofness on the cold and its related drugs, ad luckily, they’ve seen my work and already know I know my shit. I also noticed my reading comprehension was suffering and Mitra was catching a lot of things I missed when proofing my edits. I really hope I’m better next week (I don’t see any reason why I won’t be).

I am reminded of the blog I read by musingsofanaspie about being “not ‘a little slow.'” I’ve had those experiences more times than I can count when not suffering a cold. My boyfriend was a regular offender until I flipped out on him one day for always following explanations with, “Does that make sense?” Yes, I’m not stupid; it’s just multitasking for me to remind myself to do things like nod and say, “ok,” and “right,” while someone is talking lest they think I’m deaf or uncomprehending. Also, my concentration face apparently looks more like a confused face, so I have to constantly remind myself to relax my facial muscles when listening to someone.

I guess I will consider this blog to be my “coming out of the neurodiverse closet” post. I first really started to learn about Aspergers Syndrome and high-functioning autism while doing an assignment for a clinical psychology class during my graduate program in which we had to choose a movie with psychological elements and use it as the basis for a research paper. I chose Mary and Max, an Australian clay-mation film about a man with AS and a lonely little girl who started an unlikely pen-pal relationship with him. Halfway through he movie, I thought it was all about social anxiety disorder (which I have), so I’d been taking all these notes in relation to that to start my paper, and then the real diagnosis was revealed. Granted, I am not completely like Max, but so much of what he said hit home, and I started immediately to read everything I could on the topic after watching the film twice more and subsequently reading the script. Then, I started collecting peer-reviewed studies to use for my master’s thesis on the widely understudied gender differences in autism phenotype. Suddenly, every issue I’d ever had growing up and still deal with daily was explained. It had a name.

Kind of. It’s been almost a year since I graduated, and I have not sought formal diagnosis for many reasons: 1.) I was broke and it is not a cheap undertaking, and 2.) I can’t find anyone who appears to be knowledgeable in that area of diagnosis with adult women (I didn’t even know about it until halfway through my own graduate program in psychology!) 3.) Living in the U.S., I am very aware of how shockingly low our country rates in the health care arena, and even with the Affordable Care Act, which is wildly unpopular among Republican politicians, loss of health care access is a very real concern.

I wish it weren’t an issue though, because I feel like I really need a professional to tell me this is not all in my head. That there’s a reason why small talk terrifies me—why I hate busy shopping malls and loud music and clubs and crowds in general. Why I don’t really “hang out” with anyone on weekends and not having a bunch of friends is not a problem for me. Why I am always bouncing my legs, picking my skin, swiveling in m chair, biting my lip, rubbing my hands, twisting my fingers, stretching, twirling my hair, or rubbing my lip. Why eye contact is so intense and I have to remind myself to look up at and stop looking past people while I talk and try not to stare at their teeth so much. Why I didn’t grasp the concept of show-and-tell in elementary school or why a dirty, battered teddy bear could possibly be “very special” to someone, or why no one clapped at the conclusion of my showing of the dictionary I brought twice. Why I laugh at jokes I don’t get and have to Google popular expressions or have someone explain. Why I get enjoyment out of reading The Chicago Manual of Style (no, this is not a book about fashion in Chicago) at work and why the most exciting thing about being a graduate alumnus is my lifetime access to PubMed. Why I get lost so easily and refuse to drive downtown by myself and had to GPS my boyfriend’s parents’ house literally the first 15 times I drove there myself, even though they live less than five minutes away. Why I am never interested in what typical females talk about and have no clue how to shop for fashionable clothes or do anything at all with my hair besides up, down, or bun. Why I can never seem to use the appropriate voice volume. Why the worst thing about someone I know losing a loved one is that I am unable to form words of condolence that don’t sound rehearsed or copied and I am terrified they might want to talk about it and I that I won’t look empathetic enough, so I avoid reaching out to them altogether. Why I am so smart academically but will also believe almost anything someone tells me (see: not getting jokes). Why I got the highest grade in my high school AP English classes but failed the AP exam, or why I spent almost 7 years as an undergraduate and wasted tens of thousands of borrowed dollars taking unnecessary classes because they “looked interesting.” Why I seem to hit it off with a new person I meet but then we never end up becoming friends, or we exchange contact information but no contact ever takes place, or I contact them and am ignored. Why my peers at work hit it off and end up hanging out on weekends but I am always just the work acquaintance nobody even friend requests on Facebook. Why I couldn’t cry at my friend’s funeral in 9th grade after he shot himself in the head despite that I was sad, or why I do tear up every time when watching the newer Alice in Wonderland when Alice starts rehearsing her “six impossible things” while slaying the jabberwocky. Why people tell me to “stop smiling” when telling an upsetting story, and people I used to work with nicknamed me “Tourette’s” because of my unpredictable facial expressions, and friends (I do have a few, and I’ve known them all for 15+ years) still call me Eeyore because of my monotone voice. I apparently smiled while breaking up with a boyfriend who then called me “cold and callous.” I had another one tell me I never open up. My current one tells me I am unaffectionate. A guy I dated in high school told me I didn’t ask enough questions about him and therefore didn’t care (I did care; I was practically obsessed with the guy), so when I started making it a priority to ask more questions, he told me I was “asking the wrong ones.” Why I stutter when trying to answer a question on-the-spot but can communicate it so eloquently in writing. Why I can never tell when it’s my turn to speak. Why it sometimes takes me a long time to answer a question in general, leaving an awkward pause. Why I always felt different from my peers. Why I’m 30 but my brain is still in denial about being a real “grown-up.” Why I still throw temper tantrums when pushed past that limit where I say “stop.”

Why I don’t wish I were any different.