Before the age of 10 I was a fairly happy kid and mostly normal with the exception of severe separation anxiety and timidness, i.e., I screamed and cried whenever left anywhere without my mother, and was very shy and quiet. But I remember acting without self-consciousness and it was ok. I remember my mother smiling at me.
After about the age of 10 is when I got weird. Super uncomfortable to be around, really aspie in retrospect. Grownups avoided eye contact with me. Especially my mother. When I smiled all my gums showed and it was unpleasant. Often people would laugh in response to me and, not knowing how to behave myself, I mistook their laughter for approval. So I kept acting weirder until finally my mother asked me to stop. I was making people uncomfortable, she told me. “No one acts that way because they want to.” She didn’t look at me when she said this. I was in 7th grade. Soon after my aunt took me for a drive. She seemed to be the only person who cared about me and recognized something was wrong, but for some reason I hated her the most. On the drive she asked me how I felt, and why I said the things I did. I stared out the window, my stomach in knots. When we got to the beach I ran to the breakers and dared myself to jump in. I thought it would feel nice to die in the ocean and drift without weight. But the waves crashing against the rocks made me think otherwise. My aunt called me from shore and I finally ran back. “Why didn’t you answer me? How could you not have heard me?” After that, I stopped talking around family. I had misread their signals and the pretend script I created for myself had failed. I didn’t know how to make another one and it was easier to keep quiet. During holidays I would hide in the bathroom as long as possible to avoid socializing. When I had to come out I stayed mute. Thinking back, my family always acted happy to see me. I don’t know why I hated them so much, or if it was just residual from no longer having a script.
Walking the halls of middle school, I felt like I might tip over because my nose was so big. I feared I would turn my head too fast and knock someone over or bash against a locker. I wanted to be invisible, but that wasn’t possible so instead I just stayed mute through the school day. I obsessed over my nose for the next decade until I dropped out of college and got a nose job. In retrospect I realize how warped my reality was. I didn’t see my physical appearance realistically, but I also didn’t see how others perceived me realistically. Without any hobbies I grew bored and fell into maladaptive daydreaming, which I much preferred to reality.
I had a childhood best friend who was normal and well adjusted. But around the time I started getting weird, she moved and her mother didn’t want me to visit her anymore. She thought I was a bad influence on her daughter and that it would be healthier for her daughter to socialize with people at her new school. And she was right. I turned into a terrible friend. I called her once a month only to cry on the phone and lament about my miserable life. I developed a crush on her brother and talked badly about her to him. I called her a bitch and tried to turn him against her. She found out and we didn’t talk much after that. She wasn’t mad, just disappointed. I wasn’t worthy of her anymore. She was at the level of those normal people who knew how to talk to each other and have fun, and I was in the audience, watching with morbid fascination.
In middle school I met two immature, sadistic girls who hated everyone except each other. They befriended me out of boredom and I learned to imitate how they spoke and what they wore. For better or worse, I can say that those girls helped to transform me out of my aspie persona into something slightly more normal. I was still fucking weird, but less so, and I was learning to master the art of imitation.
I remember thinking about fat girls a lot in high school. There were only 2 of them at my school. I had a pretend connection with them. I wondered if they felt as alienated as I did. Did they also feel naked wherever they went? Were they also mortified by their appearance? But they seemed to keep functioning and socializing in a way that I wasn’t able to, and I wanted to ask them how but never did.
Every year my mother would take me to get my annual physical. And every year they would draw blood to test. (I didn’t realize until a few years ago that this wasn’t typical.) I had a phobia of needles, so they would put me in a large brown leather chair that I sunk into, and call over doctors and they would all hold me down while I screamed. I remember when I was a teenager, maybe 13 or 14, going and telling myself I wouldn’t cry this time. I remember sitting in the doctor’s room shaking, my stomach sinking, trying to will myself not to cry, but failing. The doctor sighed with annoyance and said “Oh come on and act your age.” (That’s what I mean by making people uncomfortable – I wasn’t a particularly likeable child.) I remember looking out the window and it was one of those horizontal ones that was cracked open and there was a ledge. I envisioned myself climbing out the window onto the ledge. People would see me and start yelling, but before they could grab me I would jump. My mother would see me hit the pavement. I would be dead, but my mother would feel guilty the rest of her life. But instead I sat there frozen in fear, completely paralyzed.
Every summer, my uncle would take me camping. I don’t remember ever having a real conversation with him. He was intimidating and I had a lot of respect for him and wanted to appear normal and cool, so I avoided talking to him unless absolutely necessary. When I was little I got to sleep in the same tent as my male cousins and we would play all day and night. But there came a point when I had to sleep in my own tent. It was a very uncomfortable week and proof just how miserable my home life was that I actually looked forward to it. I stayed in my tent as long as possible. In the mornings I tried to stay asleep so I wouldn’t have to leave the tent and interact with my uncle and have to eat with everyone around the campfire. They expected me to take initiative and make myself breakfast like a normal person, but I was too terrified. My aunt would shake the tent yelling at me to wake up, it was 2:00. I heard a podcast today about camping and thought to myself, why on earth did I go camping every summer for that terribly uncomfortable week?
I remember sleeping until noon on weekends, or later. And staying up too late during the week and being exhausted at school. I remember we never had much food in the house and I’d usually take a swig of coffee and walk through high school like a zombie, shaking from too much caffeine, feeling sick to my stomach from fatigue and lack of food. After school I would eat bowls and bowls of cereal and whatever was in the house, binging on it. I had no self-control and no idea how to take care of myself.
I finally got a boyfriend when I was 17. He had a rare form of anemia and needed blood transfusions every 3 weeks to stay alive. We were both desperate and neither of us liked each other much, but we stayed together for 3 years. I became obsessive about his ex girlfriends and jealousy ran my life. I hated it but was terrified of it going away. I couldn’t imagine life without constant anxiety. The alternative seemed to be terrible boredom, death of all emotions, and no point to life. I had started cutting at the end of high school and it got worse in college. My mother applied me to a private school to fulfill her dream of having a successful daughter. I wasn’t ready and shouldn’t have gone. I was surrounded by intelligent, strong-willed overachievers with big personalities. I failed classes and spent all day in bed listening to emo music and cutting my arms.
I also remember feeling manic, but I didn’t know it was mania then. Toward the end of high school my old aspie self came out around my mother and sister. I blurted random things and cracked up laughing at things that weren’t funny. The typical response I would get from my family were eyebrow raises, which would send me into hysterics. It went that way for a couple years and I loved it. Often my mind would race and I would talk very fast. I would pace back and forth flapping my hands. But eventually that ended. My sister stopped raising her eyebrows and answered me seriously. She told my mom to stop responding or “she’ll keep doing it.” Oops. One time when I was flapping my hands she told me to stop it, it was weird. I never noticed it much except that it felt amazing. But I made myself stop.
Each year after high school and especially after my breakup and nose surgery, I got more normal. The cutting got a little worse, but with longer interims between. A big normalizing force was a 5-year relationship I had with an extremely stable, near-emotionless engineer. He had a very balancing effect on me. I also went on wellbutrin after cutting and hitting my head on the carpet. The medication helped a lot.
My last “episode” was 3 years ago, when I was 31. I became infatuated with a bisexual goth and, upon realizing he didn’t like me as much, grew anxious and cut. But it wasn’t working like it usually did and so I had to keep cutting. The sheets and my shirt were bright red and I realized I wouldn’t be able to stop because it wasn’t working like normal. So I drove myself to the hospital and immediately felt better as soon as acknowledged. The doctors were kind and brushed nice feeling cool brown stuff on my arm and thigh. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw their reactions. Doctors came in and stared as if in awe and a counselor was called in to talk to me. When I got home I was giddy and high and drew pictures the rest of the night laughing. After that I added Lamictal to the Wellbutrin and the urge to cut pretty much disappeared.
I’m not writing this to play the victim, or ask for attention or for a diagnosis (although I am rather curious as to what people would diagnose me with). I’m writing this because now, at almost 35, I feel normal, stable, well-adjusted, and pretty content. I don’t really get depressed anymore, and while I have fleeting vibes of mania, it’s nothing like it used to be. (It might not even be mania, I just feel excited sometimes and worry that it’s mania, because I’m not totally sure what normal is.) I can wake up before 9am, of my own accord (most of the time). I get all A’s in my classes. I even stopped biting my nails. But I’m not medicated anymore. And I don’t really understand why I feel so normal and good. And it freaks me out a little, to be honest. I’m constantly afraid the real, horrible me will come back. Or that thing I have, whatever it is, will descend upon me once again and everything will fall apart. Or that if I let my guard down, that weird aspie girl will come out and people will shudder and turn away.
I spend most of my time with my dog. I rarely go out to socialize with people. (Although I think I might actually enjoy socializing if I could be anonymous, but that’s not an option here.) The other day I was listening to a new band I like, and I thought of cutting and paced a little, moving my hands with the beat, but not flapping. Is this ok? I asked myself. Sure it is, I have it under control, I told myself. See, no flapping. And I’m changing the song after this one.
I haven’t cut in 3 years. I can’t remember the last time I lay in bed all day from depression. But it still haunts me. Sometimes I feel like I’m fooling everyone. I even fool myself. I’m pretty confused about my sexuality, sometimes desiring women and sometimes feeling totally asexual. Sometimes when I’m socializing I act so normal, it feels genuine. Sometimes I talk in the tone of that sadistic friend I had in middle school, whose tone and manner of speaking I carry over to this day. (She’s no longer sadistic and is actually wonderful, now. But I limit our interactions to facebook because she reminds me of who I used to be.) And other times I get just a little quirky as to feel like myself, but someone I like. And sometimes, I’ll say something and immediately regret it. Was that an aspie moment? I’ll ask myself. Sometimes I’ll run something through my mind over and over again, trying to hear it objectively to decide if it’s cringe-worthy. For a while, I would say something out loud and immediately panic, forgetting if I asked it out loud or just thought it in my head. “Did I just ask you that, or did I think it?” I’d ask. Cue perplexed expression. That hasn’t happened for several months now, which I’m very thankful for.
I’m thankful for a lot of things. And afraid of everything. But usually, feeling thankful enables me to appreciate what I have.
Do we ever really change? What if we hate who we used to be? How do we reconcile who we are today with who we used to be? Do some aspies imitate their entire lives, faking it not until they make it, but literally embody it? And if we embody it, does that mean we’re cured?