Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bullies and mean girls

One seemingly universal characteristic of people with AS is that they were bully targets as kids. I think being a girl made my experience a little different. In fact, when I first read about AS and bullies, I thought I might be an exception to the rule. My picture of bullies was someone strong arming you for your lunch money, literally. The picture of a squirrelly little guy being slammed against a locker was what I understood bullying to look like.

Then I got thinking. How about the tough girl who rummaged through my purse and took what she wanted, while I could only look on helplessly? Then there were a few years in middle school when I was the target of a couple of girls who threatened me with "kicking my a.. after school." Maybe they were just teasing, but I took them seriously, and even faked sick a few times when the threat seemed especially real. And there was the time when another girl threw a lunch tray milk carton, still full of milk at me, and then stood up and asked me in a threatening way what I was going to do about it. I ran away.

Less physically, but still hurtful were the 'socies', those girls with nice clothes, good looks, money, and popularity. Their sniggering remarks and sometimes demeaning questions, which I actually thought I must answer honestly have done a lot to shape how I feel about myself today, and how I relate to other people. Or the couple of times I was told I was a good dancer, and they wanted me to show them. Now, looking back, I know I wasn't a good dancer, it was just another opportunity for them to laugh at me.

I was a very smart kid. I was not ugly, although I thought I was. My clothes were homemade, back when mothers stayed home and sewed, and store-bought clothes were too expensive. Other kids had homemade clothes, and were not very pretty, yet they had friends. I always wondered what was wrong with me. I had never heard of Asperger's, nor had the rest of the world.

But the Asperger's had everything to do with the bullying. I didn't have a circle of friends, so I ate lunch alone, and walked through the halls alone. That was like having a target on my back. There was no one to speak up for me, to be a witness to other kid's baseness, perhaps to encourage me to stand up for myself.

And now, as an adult looking at reshaping my thinking patterns, I can see the imprint of all those years on my core beliefs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Anxiety a la Mode

I met with a therapist today about learning strategies for dealing with anxiety. That's stressful in itself. Add to that an assessment the district wants to do on my ASL skill level on Thursday that I just learned about. Now, add to that the phone call I got just after meeting with the therapist that a neighbor's house is on fire and my husband is gathering our valuables and papers and is preparing to go to a safer place...and I'm still 45 minutes away from home!

Not my best of days, by far. But, the fact that I'm sitting here at home writing this (and not in a Red Cross provided motel room) shows that the worst didn't happen. It smells bad, and I feel sorry for the neighbors, who I really don't know. My clothes may smell like burnt vinyl siding and electronics, but at least I still have them. Hey, it might even serve as a conversation starter at work tomorrow. "Sorry I smell like a burnt house, you see..."

I'm eager to get my hands on some information and strategies that would help me not react so physically to everything that happens. My blood pressure ramps up any time a stressful event happens and takes a few days to come down.

Since I can't get through life without stressors large and small, I have to take steps. The therapist suggested bio-feedback. That's my homework for the week.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Second Guessing

I'm sitting here wondering whether I did the right thing today...did I make a mistake in standing up to the vice principal of the school where I work?

Here's the story: The powers that be didn't see fit to provide a substitute aide (they are supposedly hiring someone for this position) for a one-on-one student today. So, the current staff has to fill in. It's like the ancient Egyptians telling the children of Israel to make the same quota of bricks as before, but they aren't going to provide the straw anymore. If we manage to cover this student, then why hire anyone, right?

So, the class goes on their Thursday outing. I usually stay behind with my deaf student, so he can go to ASL class. This other student is also in ASL. That went okay, but then I had to eat my lunch with both students. I usually don't mind doing that with the deaf student. He watches a movie and leaves me in peace. The other kid...

Therefore, I DID NOT have a duty-free lunch. The folks who usually cover the students were on the outing. I ate, but I couldn't even leave to use the restroom, not with both kids in there. So fine, I figured I just take at least 15 minutes back at the end of the day, after the students were gone, plus my usual 15 minute break.

After the students had gone for the day, I spent the first 20 minutes tidying the room. Just as I was about to take my break, the vice principal walked in and said they needed help in the front office with grade cards. I instantly could visualize the frantic activity and bustle of many people working in the front office, plus donating my lunch and break to an ungrateful district, who, as I said, would only be too glad to let me cover for the employee they don't seem to be able to get around to hiring. Plus, plus, plus I wan't planning to do that, and I really needed some down time.

So, I basically said, "No. Can't do it." I even explained the reason (i.e. I didn't get a duty-free lunch). I don't read faces, so I don't know what he might have been thinking. He didn't say anything. And now I'm wondering whether I have jeopardized my job, or at least an important person's good will.

Part of me says, "You stood up for yourself. You know what you need," while the other part says, "Nice work! You could have sacrificed a little time to stay on the good side of the vice principal." I don't know though. Had I gone to the front office, I know I would have been seething with resentment...and I'm not good at hiding how I'm feeling.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Communication

I listened with interest to a keynote speech a few years ago as part of a professional development day for the school district. The speaker was a Russian Orthodox priest who is probably the only white guy in the world who can speak fluent Yu'pik Eskimo. He works with Yu'piks and is married to one. The main point of his speech was how difficult communication is, especially across cultural lines.

He told a story of how a Yu'pik victim in court said, "And he [the defendant] let me into his car." The jury wound up convicting the defendant on a lesser charge. What the victim meant by these words was, "And he forced me into his car." What a difference it would have made had the jury understood what was meant by the words, rather than what they actually heard. For the victim, English was a second language.

The speaker drew a couple of circles on the white board. They overlapped like a Venn diagram. He said that even in the best of circumstances, when the cultures are the same and the people have the similar educational backgrounds, communication isn't precise. What is said, and what is heard don't always correlate.

He went on to say that when people of different cultures try to communicate, the circles overlap even less. That's what happened to the Yu'pik crime victim. I think that's what happens to us Aspies, as well.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Star Trek

Is being a Trekkie an Aspie trait? I would love to see the statistics. However, I loved Star Trek long before I, or anyone else for that matter, had ever even heard of Asperger's. I started watching the show when I was 9 years old and it was on NBC (channel 4 in the area I grew up in) at 8:30 pm on Friday nights. How I reacted when we couldn't be home to see it (in the dinosaur era of no VCR's, video tapes, DVD's or other recording methods) is one of many clues that lead me to my diagnosis. I mean, if somehow we were out and we couldn't be back in time, I thought I was truly going to die. And I cried lots of tears when the series was cancelled.

When Star Trek came on in syndication on channel 13, one of those channels that featured commercials by Cal Worthington and his dog, Spot, I had to be there every day to see it. My mom questioned the rationality of anyone who could watch the same shows over and over. We even traded insults. She made fun of Spock's ears, and I made fun of her soap operas. Alas, on channel 13, they cut out hunks of the show to make room for the commercials. I was really bothered by that. I would have been in kid heaven had all this taken place in the last 20 or so years, when recordings were easily available.

I was a trivia expert, too. Later, in college, one of my favorite past-times between a couple of my classes was to sit outside with another student or two and try to stump each other with Star Trek trivia questions. I didn't often lose. Come to think of it, they were probably Aspies, too.

Around the time I was in 6th grade I invented my own auxiliary characters and started thinking up short stories. I wasn't able to get inside the head of a grown man (Spock), but I could with a young, female character. My isolation and social difficulties even then brought me to the point of identifying with someone who was half-alien and didn't fit in no matter which planet they were on. Then, of course, there had to be the ultimate friend, the person who understood my half-Vulcan character and accepted her for who she was. Thus T'Pring (I know, I ripped the name off the show, but it's not the same character) and Lorraine were born. I have continued to refine and write these stories over the years, adding more characters, including an Aspie human character, who really is just another aspect of me. I find writing these stories to be cathartic.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

It's New Year's Day in the coldest month in Alaska and it's above freezing. The worst thing about thawing and re-freezing is the ice. First the snow melts, then it refreezes with a layer of water on top to make it all smooth. Then the wind blows and polishes it. Nasty stuff!

Okay, I have a tendency to look at the negative side of everything. I don't do New Year's resolutions, because they are often too grand and they set me up for failure. But something I want to try to do in the new year and always is to look more on the positive side. That's going to take some work. Somewhere in my development, I learned to see the down side of everything, not to say I can't recognize a half-full glass when I see one!

I wonder if this isn't a defense mechanism that allows me to hope for the best, but to expect the worst. When I go to coffee hour after church, I hope to connect with someone, but I really don't expect I will. This has been the story all of my life. Am I setting myself up for failure? Possibly. Even probably. But Einstein said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I have to learn how to 'do' it differently. Until then, I'm stepping back and reassessing things in the light of my recent diagnosis.

So, what's positive about a mid-winter thaw? We use less wood and electricity to heat the house, and that's definitely a bonus. The van isn't as cold when I first start driving in it. Let's see...