Thoughts from a tree

Archive for the ‘Life Stuff’ Category

A Matter Of Perspective

Once upon a time, back when “car phones” were the size of dictionaries and Apple was a struggling company, I was in a car with a friend, waiting at a red light.

She glanced in her rear-view mirror at the driver behind us, said, “look, she’s talking to herself,” and laughed.

“She could be singing to the radio,” I said.

“No way. That’s not what it would look like.” She then proceeded to mimic singing, moving her body in time to the imaginary music and tossing her head.

This memory stuck with me for two reasons. The first was the added fear that, oh great, now I have to worry about people judging me from their rear-view mirrors, and for something as simple as singing. The second, of course, was that she was wrong. Not everyone sings like that. I don’t, for one. She assumed that everyone else must sing that way because she did. The only perspective she would consider was her own.

Some people might wonder why I’ve been writing these posts. And I’ve gotten some reactions I didn’t intend. Nothing bad… but I wonder whether I’m succeeding with my objective. I’m not out for sympathy, pity, or condolences. I don’t need to hear that people still like me, or whatever (and I’m not very good at handling compliments anyways). I’m happy with myself. I’m happy with my life. My friendships may be few, but they’re strong.

My goal, is to offer a different perspective. I want people to think about their assumptions about other people. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When they do something that bothers me, I try to think of a reason why they might have done that. I’ve gotten into arguments trying to defend someone’s actions with possible justifications. Granted, this optimistic viewpoint has burned me on occasion. And some people will cross a line after which I will assume the opposite. I still think that trying to imagine the perspective of others is a good idea. Maybe it’s natural for me to reach this conclusion, since I’m so bad at reading body language. I Might as well err on the positive side. Or maybe it’s because I know that I am so often misread.

I have unintentionally offended people many times. My default expression when I’m deep in thought apparently appears to be a glare.Some people who I eventually became friends with told me that they thought I hated them at first, because of this. Sometimes, I was just trying to remember who they were (I have horrible facial recognition skills). A teacher once said I gave her “the evil eye” – boy was that a fun parent-teacher discussion.

I give honest answers when the standard social convention would be to lie (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve lied since childhood, and each one still bothers me – please don’t ask me if I think your baby is cute). I’m rarely intentionally rude, but I often come across that way. Managers have yelled at me to be more tactful, as if it’s something I can just *choose* to do. It isn’t that simple. The social niceties aren’t instinctual. Lies, even “white” ones, are abhorrent.

I am not the only one with these problems.

Other people have different problems.

Just because something isn’t what you would do, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because some action from you would be an attack, doesn’t mean it is from someone else. And even if that girl *was* talking to herself, she didn’t deserve to be laughed at.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Imagine someone else’s.

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How I Learned To Be Human

A lot of the time, I feel like a fake. Someone just pretending to be “normal.” Not that I will ever really pass for normal, but there are varying degrees. By this I mean someone who isn’t about to get locked up, ridiculed, or ostracized. Social interactions are the worst of course, but it goes beyond that. Faking my job. Faking relationships. Faking that I care. How much of that doubt is just low self-esteem is hard to judge, because in some ways, I *am* faking it.

Asperger’s is often referred to as “High-Functioning Autism” (whether or not those should be two distinct labels I’ll let someone else argue about). The definition of “high-functioning” appears to equate to someone who can function in society. You tend to hear about Asperger’s in regards to children. Parents freaking out, mostly. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that by the time we’re adults we’ve learned enough to fake it. I feel like parents should calm down a bit. In the end, their kids will be fine, more or less. They’ll figure it out. Maybe they’ll never win a popularity contest, but so what?

I think it’s the worst for girls. What we suck at is social skills, yet girls are the ones who are expected to be good at being social. Boys are more likely to be forgiven for “anti-social” behaviors and more likely to be encouraged if they express desire in odd intellectual pursuits. We’ve got all those absent-minded professor and Bobby Fischer archetypes to point to and say “well, maybe he’s like that.” Not a lot of examples for girls. A woman who doesn’t have people skills is a lot more likely to be persecuted than celebrated, regardless of what else she does. Hopefully less so today than in the past. At least there are fewer being burned at the stake.

My upbringing was probably easier than most girls like me. If my parents ever freaked out about my behavior, I didn’t know it (admittedly, part of that may be related to how many other Aspy family members I have). The private elementary school I attended had very small classes and an inclusive attitude. It wasn’t until I went to a public middle school that it was clear to me how horrible I was at making or keeping friends. It wasn’t until high school that I cared enough to try to change.

It’s difficult for me to understand people. I’ve often wanted the ability to read people’s minds. Why did they do that? Why did they say that? What do they mean? One of the things I like best about books is how they get inside the heads of other people. They help me to understand. I prefer books with multiple points of view. Seeing how different characters react to the same events is fascinating. I’m not a fan of first person though; it feels too much like having someone chatter *at* me, instead of seeing inside them. I want to see how the gears turn, not hear what the clock sounds like.

It’s not just books though. Movies, TV shows, video games, music – anything with a good story can teach something about the human experience. About what it’s like to be normal. Or not normal. I’ve read several stories about Autistic kids who first learned to express themselves because of Disney movies. And I love Disney movies. How much of my own adaptations are thanks to them? As Elsa clothes herself in ice, I clothe myself in stories. Each one a thread in my garment of pretend normality.

Even some of my eccentricities are another shield, in a way. If they remember my tie-dye, maybe they won’t remember something else. Like how I’m not good at meeting their eyes or smiling. And if I do manage to stay focused and smile? If I succeed in carrying on a normal conversation, about nothing important? Then I feel like a fake. Someone who learned how to pretend to be human. And I always was a fast learner…

Achievement Unlocked: Dopey Challenge

How did I get here?

As I walked, this was the thought that kept running through my head. How did I, someone who had frequently professed to “hate running” end up trying to do not just a full marathon, but 48.6 miles in 4 days?

It started out small. I joined a 5K race on a lark, refused to run for any of it (I can walk pretty fast) and finished it successfully. Then there were more 5Ks, I started running, a 10-miler, and we completed a few half-marathons.

On the heels of finishing a half marathon “surprisingly easily”, our friends somehow convinced us (ok, me) to try the “Dopey Challenge”.

I should have known better. Really. When I first started the races, it was always my feet that held me back. Flat feet + Fibromyalgia caused immense pain even during 5Ks. Better shoes, new orthotics, and medicine that actually worked were the only reason I could go longer distances.

During training for Dopey, I soon realized that the improvements weren’t going to last me through a full, even with an increase in meds. Then, with less than a month to go, my ankle gave out. Between then and the first day of Dopey, I think I only managed to do one practice run. Not the best preparation.

The 5K was rough. The 10K was rougher. After finishing the half, I said, “How are we supposed to do that TWICE tomorrow?” By then it was a battle for which was worse: my ankles, or the standard foot pain.

I started the full with a brace on each foot. They helped the ankles, but made other parts of my feet hurt worse. By mile 3 I started having IBS issues, on top of everything else. Around mile 11 I told Gary to go on ahead of me. I also got some Tylenol from a med tent, even though I knew it would make me sick.

By mile 12 I was more than ready to quit. I went to a restroom, took off the ankle braces, sat there for a while, and massaged my feet. When I went back outside, there was no one in view but the emergency people on bicycles. I thought it was already over, and felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. Then some runners showed, but not many. I ran, and managed to catch up with the balloon ladies.

I told myself I’d stop at the next med tent (it seemed like a better plan than just sitting down in the road to wait for the struggle bus). Then it was “after the next mile”. Or the next. I ran little, barely kept ahead of the balloons, and thought about quitting at pretty much every step. When my friends hit 20 miles, I got a notification, so I knew there was a tracker there. I decided I’d try to go that far because it would post mine to Facebook, and then people would know that I at least got that far. But at 20 miles, well, there were only six miles left. Right?

Somehow, I made it to the finish line.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I was sure I wouldn’t make it, but I still showed up on that start line. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. Two years ago I would have laughed if anyone had even suggested that I should run a marathon. Yet, I did it. Determination and stubbornness can do amazing things.

Our dreams may appear to be impossible. Our fear of failure can be so high, that oftentimes we don’t even begin. We talk ourselves out of showing up on the start line. But, if we take just one step at a time, maybe we can get there after all.

What have you accomplished that you didn’t think you would? What are you working towards now?

I have a confession to make

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but kept procrastinating writing it. Partly due to fear, I’m sure, of what the reaction of others might be. Will they treat me differently? Think of me as somehow “less”? Argue with me about the validity of my statement, as has already happened once? Then, this weekend, without really meaning to, I told a room full of mostly strangers. It was in the middle of something else, just a line that’s in my query letter, which I was reading out loud. The reaction was thankfully minimal, at least to that, but my *secret* was still out there.

Meanwhile, I have several other posts that I want to write, that require this post to come before them.

So the confession is this: I have Asperger’s.

This won’t be a surprise to those who both know me very well, and understand what Asperger’s is/means. I don’t want to call it a disease, or a syndrome, because I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s just a “difference.” A different way of seeing and processing the world, with both pros and cons.

I had pondered the possibility for a while, first given to me in 2010 at an ex-AOLers party. When discussing my lack of tact in certain matters, someone said to me “We probably all have a little Aspy in us.”

I researched it, of course, and took some online tests (all of which were positive), but was still reluctant to admit it definitively. We all know how unreliable self-diagnosing over the Internet is, after all. But I kept thinking about it, and considering…

A bit later, I was working on a book (the one I’m currently querying), and some of the main character’s personality traits are modeled after my own. One thing I really wanted was a main character who wasn’t witty in conversation, who didn’t immediately make friends with everyone, and who had problems understanding things like body language. They say you should write the books you want to read, and I wanted a character I could relate to.

Then I saw the episode in Glee with the girl who uses Asperger’s as an excuse for everything and it made me really angry. When I think of character’s on TV who portray Asperger’s, I think of Bones, and Sheldon. But not that girl. She’s just a caricature (as everyone on Glee is, I’ll admit). But because of her, I decided that I wanted to put it out in the open why the character in my book is different. I wanted people who read it to know that that girl on Glee isn’t a good representation. I wanted children who have been diagnosed with it to *know* that my character was like them (not counting her magic powers and personal baggage). I wanted parents to see more in their kids than the problems. And I didn’t want to deal with people telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, though I’m sure some still will.

So, I got tested. It was a somewhat lengthy and expensive process, more so than I expected. I could only find one place in the Orlando area that would see me as an adult. I’m not sure what they think happens to kids when they grow up, since this isn’t something you grow out of. You just learn to cope, with varying degrees of success. Asperger’s basically means people with a form of autism that are still able to function in normal society. So there are lots of people, particularly in the generations before it was well-known, who have it and were never diagnosed. Lots of people I know, since I work in a field where the Aspy tendencies are both accepted and beneficial, as my former coworker pointed out. Many of my friends. Many of my family.

I stumbled across this post over the weekend, and it was the final push that made me decide it was time to write about it. I think it’s important that Asperger’s in adults is discussed more. I think it’s important to recognize that women have it too.

After I got the diagnosis, the therapist asked what I wanted to do now. Did I want therapy? Did I need anything for anxiety or depression? No. I just wanted to know. I wanted a word to use to describe the differences in myself. A word that others might understand. An easier way to explain why I don’t like big parties and can’t lie when someone asks me if the picture of their baby is cute (sorry, but it never is). I don’t want to change who I am. I want to be understood and accepted.

Now you know.

“And knowing is half the battle.”

Depression

To anyone who might be keeping track, you might have noticed I’m falling behind on my one-blog-post-a-week goal, since I didn’t write anything last week. To make up for it, I’m going to try to do two posts today, one is 😦 and one is 🙂 . This is the 😦 one.

I’ve been having difficulty the last few weeks with lack of motivation/depression. It was triggered by someone who I care a lot about trying to kill herself. It’s hard to explain the details of why it bothers me so much without possibly revealing who it was, which isn’t my right to do. Let’s just say that the circumstances that precipitated the event are still ongoing and things seem to only be getting worse.

When I was younger, I sometimes believed that I was living in a Truman-Show-esque world where I was being watched and everything revolved around me. A symptom (“proof”) of this was how when I had recently learned about a particular topic, or had something on my mind, it seemed like everyone else was talking about it. As I have been thinking heavily about depression/suicide/mental illness (or, trying not to think about it), the subject seems to keep coming up. For instance, a guest on Wil Wheaton’s blog discusses his own struggles with depression, which leads to someone who regularly contemplates suicide. Just a few minutes ago, a podcast discussing mental health prevalence in writers came up in a writer’s group discussion on facebook (this was the final prod that made me decide that I should write this post, btw).

I saw this infographic on a completely unrelated article the other day and noticed a disturbing statistic: INTENTIONAL self-harm is the THIRD-leading cause of death in America on this chart. (you can find the full picture here). Now, this chart isn’t all-inclusive and is a bit vague, but it got me thinking and I found this, which lists suicide as rank 11 on causes of death in the USA. That still seems *really* high to me. More importantly, it seems really high to me in comparison to the amount of attention it gets. Mental illness, in general, does not seem to get enough attention. Often, we seem to still believe that it is somehow the *fault* of the person who is experiencing it and that they need to just ‘grow up’ or ‘toughen up’. People are often afraid to mention their struggles, lest they be marked as ‘crazy’, ‘incompetent’, or worse.

We need to talk about it.

People tend to think about depression in two primary categories: 1) teens, which they often dismiss as ‘moody’ and 2) adults who had something bad happen to them. While the idea that someone can be physiologically depressed (with no ’cause’) is hard enough for most people to grasp, it seems even more difficult for people to imagine that a child could be depressed. “What does a child have to worry about?” Children are, after all, supposed to ‘bounce back’ from nearly everything, right? I know that I was depressed quite a lot when I was a child. I wasn’t good at making friends, there were problems at home, and I had a lot of health problems. Anxiety runs heavily in my family and I worried about *everything*. I was maybe ten or eleven when I started contemplating suicide. I have a very vivid memory of standing in the shower and trying to figure out how difficult it would be to drown. I decided not to for a fairly stupid reason (I had a cat who I worried wouldn’t eat without me), but it could have easily gone another way. I was not alone in my struggles. I had a friend who regularly engaged in self-harm, starting at that same young age; she would grasp a piece of skin and cut into it with scissors (the large/sharp ones).

I have continued to struggle with depression, off and on, the rest of my life, as have many others. While I gave up on the idea of suicide, I have often wished for death, or thought that everyone would be better off without me. I know that many of my friends have had similar struggles. As the podcast discusses, creative people are the most at risk for depression, for whatever reason, and most of my friends are creative. I have tried several medications and have been dissatisfied with all of them. The majority of them seem to dampen everything down; they make you feel as if you are in a fog and/or cause you to not care about anything. Not caring has a double-negative effect in that it can cause you to not care enough to keep your job, or your spouse, or whether or not you take your meds. Then when you stop taking the meds, whether because you can’t afford them anymore, you forget, or you don’t want to, you end up in withdrawal *and* you have all these things that you’ve been neglecting to make you feel even worse. Some people manage to find drugs that work well for them, and that’s great, but I worry that the medical industry is going about it the wrong way (not that it is trying to create drugs, but the type of drugs).

While we can’t cure depression through force of will alone, there are things we can do to ‘manage’ the illness better, just like we would for someone with cancer or diabetes. Getting enough/good sleep/sleep patterns is important. Going outside, particularly in a ‘nature’ environment has been proven to ‘lift spirits’. Regular exercise is often key; it doesn’t have to be strenuous, just a simple walk will do. The podcast discusses standing desks and treadmill desks, which is something I wish more offices would support. Getting rid of depression ‘triggers’, when we can, is also good; for me this includes health-related issues. Depression and poor health are often linked and can feed off each other into a descending spiral of gloom. However, I found it frustrating when I would go to some doctors and all they wanted to concentrate on was my depression (maybe I wouldn’t be depressed if I wasn’t in pain all the time!) Things like Fibromyalgia are relatively new ideas and when a Dr. can’t easily *see* what’s wrong, they tend to leap to diagnoses of depression (‘it’s all in your head’) and ignore the rest.

Having a support system in place is crucial, whether it’s a spouse, a friend, or a family member; someone we can tell about our doubts and fears without being disparaged or criticized and who will find ways to encourage us without being patronizing. I know that I am lucky in this, having found Gary. One of the things that makes me so upset about my friend who recently tried to commit suicide is the way her husband treated her afterwards – he actually gave her grief about ‘taking a vacation’ from her duty to be a wife and mother. WTF? That is pretty much the exact opposite of what a good spouse should do!

I better stop here, before I go off on a long rant about that… sorry for the rambling discussion; hopefully it is useful to someone. Just remember, depression and suicide are more common than we think. If you are ever feeling depressed or suicidal, know that you are not alone, that it will get better, and that killing yourself will only hurt the ones who love you. If you can’t talk to anyone else, you can always talk to me, even if it’s just an anonymous comment.