Monday, November 11, 2013

Life is hard.

Warning: negative-ish post ahead.  With some less negativeness mixed in.

I've got a lot on my plate.  Between work, school, home obligations, preparing for moving out to a new school next semester, and my incessant need to start ridiculous projects that I really don't have time for, but make me happy, I have no time to breathe.  My friends keep asking me to spend time with them, but I tell them I can't, which adds more stress, because I feel guilty for turning them down.  I've got several big projects, and one huge one, that I've been slaving over for months, and getting nowhere on.  The first draft of The Project is due tomorrow, and the actual presentation is due a week from tomorrow.  I've literally locked myself in my room for hours after school, every single day, working on this things for weeks now.  And it's not only not done, it looks like I've barely even started.

Today, I got home from another long day at school, sat down at my desk, and started working on my homework.  Five minutes later I was bawling, and after that, all I could do was sit and knit for at least an hour.  I only stopped because I discovered that my yarn was the wrong color, and I realized I couldn't even do that right.

I'm having a breakdown.  Seriously.  Okay, not seriously.  I don't know what a mental breakdown feels like it, but I know I've been through worse.  Much, much worse.  But I've come to the point where I care so much that I can't care anymore.  I can't stand the thought of failure, but I can't handle even trying, and that--that--is what scares me the most.  I'm used to being the kid that is ridiculously stubborn.  Who does things that other people find impossible, who will not, cannot accept anything less than absolute brilliance.  Getting an A in my classes is the standard.  Walking through Hell with a smile, or at least a blank face, is the definition of my childhood.

Standing around going "oh, well, I guess I'll just quit" feels like stabbing myself in the stomach.  It takes actual effort to do nothing whatsoever.

So, I'm going to assume that this is just a phase.  Granted, I was never very good at managing my stress, but I recently found out that my thyroid medication is at an incorrect dosage, and I haven't had a chance to get it readjusted just yet.  So that doesn't help me much right now.

I really don't know what to do.  Accepting anything less than an A++ on a homework assignment feels like defeat, and in my mind, I am absolutely certain that tomorrow my professor is going to look at The Project and ask me questions that I've never heard before like "Is this all you've done?" or "Why didn't you come to me sooner?  I could have helped you." or "You call yourself a musician?" and  "What are you even doing in my class, you should be off flipping burgers somewhere."  It's disheartening.  The only light at the end of the tunnel is this: in about a month, the class will be over, succeed or fail, and I won't have to think about it anymore.  I'll get about half a month off to stress out about Christmas and work on transferring to my new school, but it shouldn't ("shouldn't") be this stressful.  Plus, I'll have my thyroid medication adjusted by then.  But I won't have to worry about The Project anymore.  Then.

But it it is not then now.  It never is, though, is it?

Anyway, to sum up: I am depressed, and have been running on about %5 energy for the past month.  I'm not sure why exactly I needed to write this.  I know I said in (probably) my last post that I wasn't going to post any of the depressing or boring stuff, but here I am doing it.  I guess it's because I need to tell someone about my burdens, and also, I feel guilty for not writing in such a long time.

But here's the thing: I still have time for God.  I to go to church.  I've been making a point to read my scriptures every morning. I've even let my friends talk me into to joining them at institute (scripture study class for young, single adults).  I'm always afraid of offending people by saying this (which is ridiculous), but I'm a religious nut, and relying on a higher power is the only reason I've made it this far.  And last week, at institute, we were discussing Emma Smith, (the wife of Joseph Smith) (I'm Mormon, if I didn't mention this before, I can't remember), who was an incredible woman, for the record.  

At the end of class, we had a list of qualities that she inspired, and the teacher suggested to us that we pick one to work on for the week.  The one that stuck out to me was "No fear."  Not being fearless, necessarily, but letting faith lead our actions, instead of fear.  And that's a big deal to me.  I've got a lot of faith.  But when things get tough (like right now) I go into panic mode.  I forget all the times when things looked like the whole world was going to end, and then it didn't.  I forget how many ways the Lord has helped me through difficult periods, and given me answers I needed, and put people in my path at exactly the right times.  It's a human thing to do, I suppose.

And I've been doing better.  Aside from my mini breakdown, I've actually been doing a lot better lately.  I'm capable of considering the fact that if I don't do absolutely awesome on The Project, it's not the end of the world.  In fact, I transferred all my credits to my new school last semester, so technically this semester doesn't count (unless I go through the process again).  I could totally flunk, and it won't count.  It's a freebie, really.

Dude, this is totally a freebie.  What the heck have I been stressing about?  If I screw up, I can retake this class in the spring, no harm no foul (and I'll ace the class, because I already know all the material).

I actually feel a lot calmer now.  I think I can go back to working on it, and maybe I'll do a better job at it, because I'm not panicking nearly as much as before.  Maybe this really was a good idea, to come and whine (somewhat) on the internet.  Thanks, internet!

Later, gators.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


So, I may have mentioned that I have a friend who went overseas for a year and a half.  She and I had gotten pretty close before she left, but I didn't write her much while she was gone, so I didn't tell her about any "mental health issues", although I wanted to.  You see, the reason I discovered I was autistic, was because I wanted to serve a mission for my church (which is what my friend was doing).  A very long story short, in the process of applying for a mission, it came out that I suffered from anxiety and depression, which the Man Upstairs thought I might want to learn how to deal with a little better before I left everything I'd ever known and surrounded myself by complete strangers, while possibly speaking a foreign language.

Wow, after all my secrecy, this actually wasn't as hard to say as I thought it would be.  I guess it's because I see His wisdom in all of this.  At first I felt rejected, though I tried not to, and it was hard for me to deal with.  But the incredible thing is, I never would have asked for help, if I wasn't "forced" to (I'm allowed to reapply in a year, after I've had some counseling) and because of it, I've learned so much about myself, and how to deal with my issues (and with stress in general), that I am extremely grateful for the whole experience.

I've been making little changes, like making sure I always have snacks nearby (so I won't panic about nutrition like I always do), and sleeping with a lot of pillows (I don't like people touching me--but cuddling with pillows feels amazing.  I can't believe it's taken me this many years to try it), and wearing sunglasses when I'm driving (it used to be that by the time I got home, I was exhausted and irritable, every day, sometimes even with headaches, because it's too darn bright outside for me to be driving after a long day of school and work.).  When I got worried about my students cancelling on me all the time, (and taking that paycheck with them) I sat down and did the math, finding out that I still have money for gas, (with a little extra on the side) so I can just enjoy the opportunity to get my homework done a little early.  These little changes are HUGE for me, and I've been dealing with stress so differently, so much BETTER, it's like I'm a completely different person.

But I'm still uncomfortable about telling people why I won't be going on a mission (in the foreseeable future), so whenever people ask me about it (and everyone and their cousin has), I tell people that I have "health issues" to deal with.  I feel like I'm lying, but it's true.  It's just as dangerous to put yourself in an extremely stressful and exotic situation with a broken body as it is a broken mind.  It's just that I don't want anyone to look at me in a negative light because of who I am.  I think that's something everybody wants.  There's still a lot of mystery and negative connotations when it comes to mental illness (I'm not necessarily saying that autism is an illness, but chronic anxiety and major depressive disorder most certainly are, and they came as a direct result of not giving my autistic brain what it needs), and so I'm always a little worried about what I should and shouldn't say.

So, when my friend returned from her mission, and asked me "so, how's the mission prep going?"  I told her the same thing I told everyone else, about my unforeseen "health issues", but I wanted to tell her what a blessing it was for me even to apply.  Before I put in my papers, I had to confront a lot of things about myself, mentally and spiritually, that I couldn't have--wouldn't have faced, if it weren't for my mission.  That being turned down was the biggest blessing of all--because I got to find out who I really am.  But I was too afraid to tell her.  She's been back for almost two months now, and I've been trying to get up the nerve to tell her about my autism, but I haven't seen her much, and it was never an opportune moment.

My moment came yesterday.  Last night, she and I were driving to a religion class (we call it "institute"), and our conversation kept plopping more and more opportunities in my lap.  For example, she mentioned a mutual friend of ours, who was the first person I'd ever met with Asperger's, and we talked about them for several minutes.  But I kept letting the moments pass by, too scared to say anything.  Then the subject came back to my mission, and she said, "May I ask about the health issues you were talking about before?"  I decided it was time, that if I didn't have the guts to tell her when she flat out asked me, then I never would.  I stuttered a lot at first, but I finally said "I actually found out that I was autistic," which was a surprise to her, naturally, because I always seemed so "normal" to her.  I explained how, because of it, I had a lot of anxiety and depression, which is why I couldn't go on a mission presently, and she understood that.

She had so many questions, and I'm so glad she did, because she's the first person outside my family I'd ever told (aside from that class where they asked us to tell them something "weird" about ourselves), and I've been so terrified of being rejected, or "brushed off."  Even in my family, I've had someone try to subtly explain to me how I'm "not really autistic," and they're obligated to love me for who I am.

Now, this girl has known me since we were teenagers, (although we didn't really get to know each other until college, where we both worked at that Mexican restaurant together) so I had some examples to show her about how I was different, like how I barely spoke in high school, things like that.  I told her about how hard it is for me to communicate with people, and a little bit about how I obsess over things.  I made sure to tell her that knowing I'm autistic has made a HUGE difference, and how my anxiety and depression are all but gone.

At one point, she mentioned that when we worked at the restaurant, I had lots of friends, and I seemed pretty at ease.  I wish I had told her that every single day before work, I would lock myself in the bathroom and pray until I stopped shaking.  Working there was one of the most terrifying (and taxing) experiences of my life.  I have explained it before as an "autistic nightmare," which was no exaggeration.  The only thing to help me was that I had good people to mimic, and memorized scripts to get me through speaking to a hundred strangers every day.  I also had the wonderful excuse of a language barrier: everyone that worked there spoke Spanish, and a few of them didn't speak any English at all.  So I had a million excuses as to why I didn't understand what was going on, and a perfectly acceptable reason to ask for someone to repeat what they said, or explain what was going on.  Actually, being immersed in a foreign language is exactly like being autistic, only when you're autistic, speaking in your native tongue, you feel like you're not allowed to ask questions, because everyone else your age has already got it.

However, I did tell her that the person she knows now is the result of years of work and study.  I told her that I have literally watched people and taken notes, to figure out how to behave, and what's going on.  I told her that I've taken a lot of acting and performance classes, which I apply in my life every day.  I told her that getting to work with my special interest (music) has also helped me greatly, because I have something that excites me, and that I excel in, that keeps me going.  Also, because I spend so much time around music and theater people, who stereotypically, are all very strange people, I realized it was okay to be weird, and I grew more comfortable in my own skin.

I also her that it's very difficult for me to read people.  For instance, I cannot sense deception, therefore, I either have to trust everyone, or no one.  Luckily, for the people that I know, I have enough experience to guess that they wouldn't want to harm me, so I choose believe they're telling me the truth.  I was tempted to tell her that her face is very often inscrutable for me.  Nearly every conversation I've had with her since she returned has ended with me trailing off, because I couldn't tell if she was bored or annoyed, or just listening to what I was telling her.  I didn't say any of that, though.

I told her that the reason I seem so normal is because autism tends to show up a little differently in women, and that women tend to be very good at mimicking.  I told her that I do very well in one-on-one conversations, because I mimic the people I'm with.  She seemed a little taken aback, and said "I'm a terrible person to mimic!" and I told her that she was actually a lot more fun to mimic that a lot of people.  Which, I admit, is pretty weird, but I was being completely honest, so I had to say it.  I could have listed off of the idiosyncrasies I notice she does, which I copy to a small degree, but I didn't.  I didn't want to be creepy.  But that's just how I've always been.  I don't copy accents, because I don't want them to think I'm mocking them, but type of word choice, posture, level and frequency of sarcasm and teasing, it's all there, and I use them to get people to feel comfortable around me.  Actually, up until very recently, I had no idea who I was, because I didn't know who to be when no one was around me.  Now, though, I dial back the "monkey see, monkey do", and let some of my own style leak through.

I occurs to me that I didn't make that clear in our conversation, but neurotypicals don't like to know ALL the details, and I felt that I had been rambling beyond the acceptable limit, so when the subject started to change, I let it, and I didn't bring up autism or mental illness for the rest of the evening (all y'all would be proud of me).

But I did it.  I DID IT.  I told someone about my autism, had an actual CONVERSATION about it with them, and they didn't reject me.  I feel like there were a couple of times where she tried to convince me (or herself) that I wasn't very weird, or I wasn't exactly autistic.  But I suspect that that wasn't her telling me I was wrong or lying (which is what my autist brain wanted to tell me), but that we are not so alien from each other that we shouldn't or can't be friends.

Which is absolutely true.  We were already friends to begin with.  The only difference between then and now (beyond the fact that I am more comfortable with myself, and that I'm better at dealing with stress than I used to be) is that now we both know I'm autistic.  We're still both the same people we were before, just a little older, a little wiser.

I won't bring up autism with her again--I know that I want to know every single thing about autism that I could possibly know, but I don't know that she does.  If she asks me anything about it, I'll happily answer.  But if it makes her uncomfortable to think of me as anything other than "my friend, Penny" (for example "that weird, autistic chick"), then that's fine by me.


Ps, today, I saw someone reading "Look Me In the Eye" by John Elder Robison.  I flipped out.  I told this random stranger that I LOVED that book, and she told me her son's on the spectrum, and I said I'm on it, too, and this book was the reason I found out.  I was super excited, but our conversation was short, and my friend was waiting for us to go (this was a different friend than the Missionary).  I wondered what she must be thinking: she probably didn't even know what book we were talking about, and "spectrum" could mean just about anything.  Heck, she might not have even been listening to our conversation.  But I still think it's cool that in less than 24 hours, I told two (and a half) people that I was autistic.  It's a good day.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Positive Punchline Function

So, there's another reason I haven't been writing much over the past little while (beyond the near-constant overwhelming of homework and work duties) is that I'm not sure what to write anymore.  It's not that I don't have anything to say, I've just been really worried that I've been writing too much negativity in my posts.

Most people that know me (in the non-virtual world) consider me to be a cheerful, optimistic person.  This is because I believe that people shouldn't complain unless they are directly asking for help--and I don't ask for help.  I've always felt that, short of catastrophic circumstances, any problem I have is manageable, and I should figure out how to deal with it myself.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that even if the world isn't ending, it's still okay for me to ask for help.  And even though I'm not really sure how or when, I've started to rely on my friends and family.  But my former mentality seriously affects the way I behave, and I've noticed that if I say anything negative, whatsoever, the people who know me get very worried.  They think I've never been negative before, so there must be something wrong.  But in reality, I'm just expressing a side of myself that I don't normally.

Now, when I get on here, since I want to accurately express my thoughts and feelings, I want to tell you everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But when good things happen in my life, I want to tell someone.  When someone compliments my artwork, when I get an A on a test, when I get asked out on a date, I want to tell someone.  And since it's not negative, nor a problem needing to be solved, I feel completely free to tell my loved ones.  And I do.  When it's really good, I tell all of my family, and many of my friends.  When it's just something a little good, I might tell one or two people.  But that's enough for me.  So when I start writing, my brain goes "welp, I've already said all the good stuff, so I'll unload everything else onto these unsuspecting people."

But I don't want to do that.  I don't want to be that person: nobody wants to read only the negative thoughts of a relatively balanced person.  The world has enough negativity.

So, from now on, I'm going to give a more accurate, balanced sampling of the World According to Penny.  If that means leaving stuff out, or not writing as often, then so be it.

And that brings me to another point.  I ramble.  A lot.  I always feel like I need to tell every detail of the story, to get people to understand what I'm trying to say.  But I've noticed for several of my posts, even I get bored, while I'm writing it.  And if I, the subject of the story, who is fully invested in it, isn't interested in writing it, why in the world would you be interested in reading it?  I want to learn what parts I can cut out, to get straight to the "juicy bits".  I think that focusing on how to write like that will help me in my social life, as well.  I'm already learning how to "skip to the punchline" in my conversations with other people, and I've noticed that more people have grown interested in what I have to say.  (although, for an art project at school, one which I created in 11 hours, over two days, when we discussed it in class, I turned off the "punchline function" and answered their questions with full ideas.  I haven't talked that much, nor that enthusiastically, for quite some time, it was fantastic)

Anyway, so that's my version of a "short" post.  My life is good (and bad, too, but mostly good).

Ta ta, for now,

Thursday, September 26, 2013

An emo, whiny post about how my life sucks

So, I could say that the reason I haven't posted anything in a while is due to the influx of homework and work assignments since the start of the semester, which is mostly true.  But it's also due to the fact that I'm having a really hard time bringing myself to write about this.

While I haven't completely resolved every issue I could ever have with autism, I have made significant progress, enough that other issues have begun to overshadow it, and I haven't really thought about it much (although today, when someone asked why I don't like shopping, I explained that I have sensory issues, and she totally got it, which was such a validating feeling).

What's been on my mind is only related to autism in the most insignificant of ways, yet I really need to talk about it somewhere.

I am asexual.

I'm terrified of even typing it.  I know I shouldn't be: it's not the worst thing in the world, and there are plenty of other people in the world just like me.  But, unlike discovering that I am autistic, the realization that I am not capable of being attracted to other human beings is just... I can't even find the right word for it.  Sad is too juvenile, depressing is too emo.  I'm actually even a little angry about it, even though it's nobody's fault.

I always thought that I was a late bloomer.  I figured when I found the right person, I'd become attracted to them.  I sometimes toyed with the idea that maybe I'm just bi, equally attracted to both genders, which, I suppose is technically true.  I never heard of the concept of asexuality until a few months ago, before I ever read anything about autism.  I wondered for a while if that could be me, but it didn't make sense: I find people aesthetically appealing.  There are many beautiful men and women in the world, and I have the finely tuned senses to spot them.  I've trained myself since I was fourteen to do just that, ever since I found out that fourteen year olds were supposed to have "crushes," guys that they were "in love with" and were terrified to tell said "crush".  They're supposed to write their names with little hearts in their notebooks, and explain to their friends what was so great about those guys.  I didn't get it, and I didn't know how one went about picking a crush, but when cornered, I told them the first guy I could think of.

Since then, I paid close attention to the guys that all the girls crushed on.  Sometimes I could tell what they liked about them, sometimes I couldn't.  Sometimes I would pick someone, and just try.  Try to be in love, to engage in this hobby of teenage girls, but it was no fun, confusing, not to mention time-consuming and annoying.  I gave up after a while, and I couldn't understand why other girls were still doing.  I guessed it was just like all the other hobbies other people were into, which I didn't understand, like watching football, collecting clothing, socializing, and things like that.

I feel like an idiot now.  Watching movies, and people around me, I never understood why people made googly eyes at each other all the time.  How showing a little skin, or gyrating bodies can make people lose their minds.  I really couldn't get it.  I didn't know what I was missing, but I figured it was an acquired taste, like pizza, or Doctor Who, both of which took years and multiple attempts to understand what everyone liked about it.

Problem is, it has been years.  I've dated several people, none of which went anywhere, because each and every one of them was too stressful to pursue.  The last and first serious relationships were possibly the most traumatic times of my life.  My first was constantly asking me why I didn't initiate anything with him: I was always responding, reacting.  My most recent one was even worse: he was so sweet, so respectful, so careful with me.  I was terrified of breaking his heart.  I couldn't understand why I couldn't fall in love, why I still, after everything, cringed at the idea of having him touch me.  I never talked myself into kissing him, not once, and we dated for months.

I'm twenty-two for heaven's sake.  If I haven't "bloomed" yet, I'm not going to.

I finally got the courage to do some research, to better understand what asexuality is, and whether or not that describes me.  You see, if being asexual means you aren't attracted to either sex, that means you've never felt what it is to be attracted to someone.  And how can you know what something feels like, if you've never felt it?

Well, in this case at least, there is a way to know.  When I see scantily clad bodies, I don't get excited: I'm curious.  When I see women in bikinis, I hope to heaven that those skinny straps don't break or get untied.  I'm honestly grossed out by boobs.  I can't understand why two mounds of fat and skin are so important to the opposite sex.  I can't understand why certain dance moves excite them.  When I see men in bathing suits or underwear, I often see body hair, excess fat, and tan lines, all of which I am disgusted by.  In the absence of those, I do admire the hard work he must have put forth to maintain his physique.  And I count ab muscles: there seem to be a different number on every single guy, but maybe it's because they're shaped differently.

My guess is, this is not what runs through a sexually minded person.

I hear sex mentioned on a daily basis.  They talk about it on TV and the movies, songs on the radio, jokes, art, not to mention regular conversation.  It's brought up so often, that my mind jumps to sex at nearly anything, which drives me absolutely mad.  I can't hold a normal conversation with a man, or a woman, without wondering whether my words or actions are being interpreted sexually.  And I have a hard time being alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex.  I just stand there (or sit there, if I'm forced) on high alert, carefully watching, waiting for the soonest possible moment that I could leave.

And touch?  Don't even get me started.  I would have been uncomfortable with touch anyway, with my hypersensitivity, but I actually didn't mind that so much growing up.  I only started having problems when I began to learn that some touching is intended sexually, and some is not.  I have no idea how to tell which is which, but I know it's true.  That if you let a guy touch you in certain places, that makes you "easy", and if you don't let people touch you certain places, that makes you "sobbish" or paranoid or something.  So, after some study, I've decided that if someone touches me in the "sex areas" (where my underwear is), I make a fuss.  If it's somewhere else, I put up with it.

But then people expect me to touch them.  I remember my first boyfriend getting fed up, grabbing my hand, and putting it on his knee.  I didn't know was supposed to touch him, and I didn't know where, when or how to do so.  My friends pat me on the arm or the shoulder, they hug me (and a couple might kiss me on the cheek), all of which is still alien to me, but I know it means they like me, and I let them do it.  But I only recently realized that I'm supposed to do these things back to them.  I try.  I really do.  Hugging's the only type of touching I can do even halfway right, and even then, I don't know for sure.  Every time I pat someone back, I feel off-tempo, like I didn't time it right, or maybe I did it too hard or soft.  I don't know how to tell if it was welcome or not, or if it was even expected of me, or if it had the desired effect.  I keep doing it, though, because that's what you do.

But the thing is, when I touch someone else, it's weird.  Gross, even.  The best way for me to describe it, is handling a dead body.  I feel flesh and bone, and it's even warm (most of the time), but... it's not part of me.  I only feel half of the interaction.  It gives me the creeps.  I can't understand why other people want to engage in this behavior, all I know is that they do, and I must keep at it, if I'm to make people feel comfortable around me.

Keeping all of this in mind, I'd like to get to the point where I feel somewhat bitter about my situation.  I know, it's not like anything really changed before and after I started finding out about this stuff.  But knowing that there really is something missing in my head, some extra sensory perception that everyone else on the planet seems to have but me, that's distressing.  All of this autism stuff was great, because I found out why I'm so different from other people, I found out all the things that I do have that other people don't, for the most part.  But this?  This is the first time in my life that I've felt truly defective.  It shouldn't matter: I could make great contributions to the world without ever having a sexual relationship.  I mean, look at Isaac Newton (who, fun fact, was the first one I had ever heard of who was asexual).  He didn't bother with chasing girls around, and instead, he followed his true interests, and rocked the freaking world.  I could be that.

But, all my life, I've wanted a family.  I would be okay if they didn't teach about me in history books, or name a school after me.  In fact, I'd really rather not have people know my name.  It's one of my idiosyncrasies   I just want to make a difference in the world, and the biggest, best way that I know of, is to be a great mom.  I look at my mom, and my parent's moms, and they were the world to somebody.  They shaped who my parents were, who shaped me in turn.  They changed the world, even if the world doesn't know it.  I want to do that.  I want to be that.

But how can I have kids?  I could adopt, I suppose, but I always wondered what my genes would turn into, mixed with whoever I pick, or who picks me.  And how, how can I expect someone to stay with me, to love me, to want me, if I don't feel that way about him?  If I can't be attracted to him, and it's almost painful for him to touch me?  That's not fair!  It's not fair to either of us, but especially to him.  He'd feel like I "settled" with him.  That he's not really what I wanted, but I went for it anyway.  That every time we make love, it's not because we both want it, but because I'm doing him a favor.  What kind of relationship is that?  How could I possibly do that to somebody?

I couldn't, that's how.  I don't want to give up, and I'm not, not completely, because there are so many things about people and relationships that I just don't understand.  But it feels like the only way for me to stay in a relationship was if I hated him enough to put him through... me.  If I actually loved him, I couldn't do that to him, so I would have to let him go.

It's a paradox, and my stupid Aspie brain hates paradoxes.

Eventually, I'm going to start dating again.  Eventually, I'm going to figure out how to tell people about this.  I haven't told a soul.  This is the first time I'm even writing it down, that's how... ashamed I am, I guess.  I don't know how to tell them, or if I even should.  This is somehow even more personal than being autistic, and I don't do personal with people.

I honestly don't know what to do.  I just feel so lost right now.  I wish there was a button I could press, a book I could read, a pill I could take, that would make me more like everyone else.  Activists would probably spit on me for saying something like that, but it's true.  It sounds so fulfilling, to be in a relationship where both of you are gravitating towards each other, instead of one poor soul following me around, too stupid to realize that I don't even know how to want him.

But I know there's no way to change any of it.  I just have to trust that everything will work out in the end.  That I'm the way I am for a reason, and that I can do so much good in the world because of it.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Storm

Dark clouds waited on the horizon.  I'm driving away from the storm, but I hope it'll follow me.  I can't remember the last time it rained.  But I keep driving, and forget about it as I hurry to class.

They're closer now, distracting me from my student.  I say "it's going to rain," but I need to focus on math right now.  Too bad I'm sitting right next to a huge window, with a perfect view of the sky.

A couple droplets fall as I make my way to the computer lab, but it isn't much at all.  I ignore it as I slip into the internet.

Then the power flickers, and the computer shuts down.  I try to hide my glee: I love it when the power goes out.  It means we've got a real storm on our hands.  I pack up my things and go, passing the hordes of students hiding from the rain in the doorway.

I've got a long way to walk, and the rain is torrential.  I'm soaked to the skin in under a minute, squelching and squeaking as I pass through a building to get to the other side.  I can barely hide my grin, exiting alongside another brave soul, into the open air.

We run.

The water is pouring down me, my hair plastered to my skin.  I take off my glasses, because I can't see a thing through them anyway, and I want to feel the water hit my face.  It's a kiss on my nose, a brush down my arm, a whisper on my neck.

My shoes are full of water, but I don't even think to take them off, I just giggle, swimming through the air like a fish in the sea.  I pass a few people, huddled under umbrellas.  I laugh, louder than I meant to.

I keep walking, but I want to dance, twirling and jumping, flinging water droplets through the air.  Whatever I have, I hope it's contagious.  More people should see how beautiful the world is.

When I enter another building, I look and feel like I've slithered out of a swimming pool, watery footprints marking where I've been.  I see a teacher, and she almost didn't recognize me, "Oh, poor Penny!" she says, but I just laugh and keep going out to the parking lot.

I put my things in the car, so they won't get any wetter than they were before, but I just stay there, eyes closed, gentle kisses washing over me.  I hear cars pass, and I wonder what I must look like to them.  Who is this girl, standing in the rain, her face turned up to the sky?  I wish, again, that other people could hear what I hear, see what I see.  Maybe then, they'll understand what a glorious place this planet is.

I finally force myself to get in my car and drive away, but I open all the windows and let the water in.  I hope that my car won't smell funny after this, but it just feels too good to pass up.  I drive past people, huddled inside their safe, warm cars, and I sing, my hand out the window, letting it drip on and through me.  I start to pity them.  They're all stuck in traffic, on a cold, dark, wet, day.

I, on the other hand, am in heaven.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let's talk about light and sound, and how my world just completely turned on its head.

This is going to be unrelated to autism, except for the fact that I am currently geeking out of my autistic little brain about it.  I will warn you, some might find this boring, confusing, or both (heck, I'm still not sure if I have the right words to describe it yet, but I'm just so excited, I want to try), but today I basically had my brain step out of my skull, slap me in the face, then break-dance down the street.


Holy crap, light.

I never paid much attention to it before, beyond using it to understand the world around me a little bit.  See, sound is more my thing.  I've been taking mostly music classes for the past couple of years, so I tend to snuggle up in the auditory region of my brain.  I know more than just music, too.  I took a class about microphones once, it was awesome.  We learned about how certain materials absorb different frequencies of noise (as in, if a sound is high or low), which is why a room with all flat surfaces is echoey (because very little gets absorbed, so instead it reflects), and a heavily carpeted room sounds claustrophobic (because the high notes get absorbed), things like that.  From this, I know that all materials have a different "sweet spot," everything absorbs sound at a certain frequency, and conversely, everything has a frequency that it "likes" which it will vibrate along with.  Like, if I had two guitars, tuned identically, and I struck one of the strings, the same string on the other guitar would vibrate as well.  In fact, even if I had just one guitar, and I struck one string, then muted it, the other strings would still be ringing along with the note.  It's really cool stuff.  (this is the condensed version of "Things Penny Likes About Sound."  I'm trying to keep it chill for the non-obsessed, slightly less geeky audience)

Well, here's the thing.  Light?  It's a wave, too (yes, I know it's also a particle, but I haven't wrapped my brain around that yet, so we'll ignore that for right now).  I know, I've seen it a million times, but it never really struck me.  People always told me "you don't see color, you see light bouncing off of the object, and whatever light it doesn't absorb is what you see," and ever since I was a little kid, I was like "You make no sense.  What the heck are you talking about?  If the thing is not colored, then why does it have a color?  I'm going back to reading about wizards in England.  At least that stuff has some form of logic."  Well, not completely like that, but you get the idea.

But today, in class, I heard/saw for the fifty-billionth time, that light is waves, and that color is whatever doesn't get absorbed by the object when light hits it.  And then it hit me.  Light.  Sound.  They're both waves.  They're both waves.  They behave the same way.  Materials that will either reflect, absorb, or transfer the waves that hit them.  Materials that will often alter the waves that hit them, giving the observer a better understanding of what that material is composed of.  Like how I can tell how a box is empty or full, just by listening to it, or how I can tell that a glass of water is dirty, just by looking at it.

They're all just different waves from the same spectrum.

Taken from this website that I didn't really read, so I don't know if it's good

Do you know what this means to me?  It means that we hear stuff with our eyes.  Holy crap.  This is so cool.

And do you know what else is cool?  Light has always been a huge mystery to me.  Like, I know that it is, but I don't know why it is.  Seriously, why?  Why, when I start a chain reaction of energy transferences (I'm making up terms, now), such as burning a candle (turning wax and string into heat and light), or completing an electrical circuit, where one part of the circuit is made of extremely thin wire, do I get light?  Why not just heat?  I understand heat.  Heat is energy.  When I start a chemical reaction, energy is either released or absorbed.  I get that.  But I always wanted to know what the heck light is, where does it come from, and why is it here?

Seriously.  These kinds of questions keep me up at night.  I wondered this about a decade ago, and I haven't been the same, since.

But I get it now.  Eureka, I freaking get it now.  We're just hearing with our eyes.  We're hearing energy, waves, with our eyes.  See, higher frequency means higher energy, that's why fire (and other hot things that produce light) can hurt us, because when we come in contact with it, the energy hits our particles so hard that they move.  Sound doesn't hurt us (not unless it's really, really loud, and even then, it's just our sensitive sensory organs that get damaged) because it doesn't take as much energy to produce.  But it's all waves.  Light isn't just this alien thing, it's just part of a spectrum--a really, really small part.  I feel like it's just one octave: with sound, it goes A1B1C1D1E1F1G1A2B2C2D2E2F2G2A3B3C3D3E3F3G3 and so on, repeating over and over, but with color, it's only the one octave: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.  Ohmygoshholycrapohmygoodness do you see what I see?  It's seven.  SEVEN.  As in it actually is an octave.  Do you realize what this means?  This is why certain colors go together, and certain ones don't, just like certain tones go together, and certain ones don't.


Stolen from this seriously awesome website that you should check out, there's lots of pictures
Ormaybethisone, 'cause it's easier to read.

Seriously, you should go to this website and check it out
So our brains are like "here's a A# from this octave, and another A# two octaves up, oh, and that A# that's 40 octaves up, yeah, that's a yellow."  As in, holy CRAP, physics is cool.  This also probably means that ultraviolet is actually red, and infrared is actually violet.  Except that ultraviolet and infrared cover more than just one "note," or "color," so actually, no, only part of it is red and violet.  I guess ultraviolet is just "beyond violet" and infrared is just "beyond red," instead of being one color.

In my ponderings, I wondered what it would be like, if we could perceive the entire spectrum.  We would hear color, we would see heat and energy in octaves.  We could hear FM and AM radio waves, see gamma rays.  Oh, my goodness, is that cool, or what?

Looking at the rainbow, and how there are seven colors, it leads me to my issue with indigo.  It kind of bugs me.  Whenever I see indigo, I always say "that's purple," or, "that's deep blue."  I never saw it as a separate color, and I assumed no one else did, either.  But I've been wondering if the way I see colors are different, either more or less acutely than other people do.  I don't know if other people see indigo better than I do, but I always assumed other people didn't.  I think I may be "colorblind" to indigo, which is an interesting discovery.  I think I might actually be slightly colorblind, even though I always pass the "colorblindness tests" with all the dots making numbers and whatnot.  The other day, my mom asked me to use the "orange" spatula, when I know for a fact that we have no orange spatula, although we do have one that is bright red, which is the one she was talking about.  Another example is that I sometimes struggle with "blue-green" colors.  A lot of times, when people ask me to identify the color (which happens more often than you would think), I say that it's blue, but other people say it's green.  I've had some confusing experiences with that.  It never occurred to me, until recently, that I might be colorblind.  Which would explain why I get so distressed when I try to "harmonize" my outfits.  I usually end up wearing one color and black, instead of another color, because I'm too worried that what I've chosen doesn't match.

In my reading, autistic people are either over- or under-sensitive to stimulants.  I always assumed I was over-sensitive (I can hear better, feel better, smell better than most people around me), especially because when I'm stressed out, I need to get rid of as many stimulants as possible (to calm down, I lock myself in a pitch-black room.  I would cover my ears, too, but it produces too much noise when I touch my ears).  But maybe, when it comes to color, anyway, I'm actually under-sensitive.  That I perceive light better than others (and can be aggravated by busy patterns and bright colors), but I'm not so sensitive to color.  This is all very fascinating.

I've heard of people who had a brain injury who could "see" sound.  I didn't understand how that was supposed to work, but now I get it.  This is so cool.

And your skin is receptive to light, too.  For instance, up until recently, I couldn't sleep with the light on, even if I had my eyes covered: I always felt too hot, even though it's not technically that big of a difference.  Even now, if I try to nap during the day, it gives me a headache.  Our skin is sensitive to energy (heat), which is often (possibly always, but I have no research to back that up) expressed in waves.  So, your skin can "hear" and "see," as well.  I've heard of one deaf woman who can hear quite well by putting her hand on a speaker.  I don't know how acute that hearing is (or how common this type of thing is), but she could follow the conversations on TV pretty well.  And I remember, a long time ago, watching a film where a blind woman could feel color with her hands (but this was a fictional movie, and I don't know if that actually happens).  All of this seems more possible now, and it's all just so very fascinating.

Plus, if you think about it this way, that higher frequency=more energy, this means that high frequency waves travel faster and farther than low frequency waves.  As in, light is faster than sound, as in that's why I can see my socks lying on the floor over there, but I can't hear them, even though sound is a wider range of waves, and therefore is statistically more common than light.

I hope you appreciate how blown my mind is right now.


Monday, September 9, 2013

To tell, or not to tell?

I just realized it's been a little while since I've been on here.  The combination of school, and my renewed drawing obsession has taken time away from my writing.  But I just had a small thought today, which I want to write about.

I was hanging out with my friends after classes today (yes, I know, "Penny has friends?"  Well, I'm pretty sure I do, but I still haven't found the rule book, and I've noticed it's not kosher to flat out ask people if they're you're friends)  I have two in particular that I've begun to spend extra time with again, thanks to school, who share my passion for music.  In fact, I suspect that one of them might be on the spectrum, like me but it's subtle enough he might never have been diagnosed, and so it might be considered rude for me to ask.  My two friends, who we'll call Male M and Female M, have been dating for a few months now, and it's been fascinating watching their relationship.  I don't stare (because that's creepy), but I've never had the opportunity to study couples in their natural habitat.  They're almost always in physical contact with each other: holding hands, touching shoulders, hugging.  It makes me uncomfortable just watching this, but they find happiness being close to each other.  I'll never fully understand neurotypicals, I guess.  It makes me worry about my future relationships: is it a requirement to touch each other so much?  It certainly seems so.  While we all make sacrifices for our partners, I'm not sure that should be one of them, in my case.  It just feels wrong to me.

But more on that later.

My thought today sprung from a conversation I was having with M&M, and our mutual friend, L.  L was complaining about how he was such a bad musician (which is absurd), and I was only half listening to him.  I was analyzing what I know about him, along with everything I've learned over the summer, and I realized that L might actually be autistic.  He is incredibly focused when it comes to his instrument, and he's very knowledgeable.  He practices 6-8 hours a day, as a student, when most of us don't even make it a full 60 minutes before we give up and watch TV.  In addition to that, he has, as one of the M's phrased it, "no filter".  He says whatever comes into his mind, even if it's blunt, rude, or even insulting.  Last semester he had an annoying habit of cussing for no reason, because he thought it was funny.

None of this automatically makes L autistic, and I wouldn't say that to him unless I was absolutely sure, (and I thought it would do him good to know.  Some people don't want to know they're autistic) but I've gotten into the rather nasty habit of trying to diagnose my friends and family with autism or Asperger's.  I don't know what they're life is like, or how they think.  I could be completely wrong.  I should stop trying to "categorize" people, and just treat them all as people, giving them the benefit of the doubt when they slip up.  Which is what I try to do anyway.  But as an Aspie, I like to understand things at a molecular level, especially when it comes to psychology.

Anyway.  I was thinking about how it was possible that he was autistic, when Male M brings up that L seemed to be "kind of autistic."  Which brought me to a halt, even though I wasn't saying anything out loud.  As if no one in the world knew about autism but me.  Fun fact: Male M is interested in psychology, in addition to music, and likes to read psychology textbooks for fun (like me).  Wanna guess which M I suspect is an Aspie?  Anyway, when M said this, L was affronted and disgusted.  He said something along the lines of "no way I'm like that," which had everyone talking at once in an instant.  We all flustered, saying "there's nothing wrong with being autistic," and I thought "here's my shot!  This is the perfect segue to telling my friends that I'm an autist!"  But I froze.  I've been trying to decide whether or not I should tell certain people in my life about my autism (I know, I told a ballet classroom full of strangers, but that's a clean slate, plus, we were asked to share something weird about ourselves.  I've know L, M&M for at least a year, some of them longer, and I don't know if I have passed the appropriate time period in which I explain certain aspects of my personality).  

I have not yet decided if I should tell anyone "I'm autistic!" or just say things like "Oh, yeah, I'm horrible with names," or "I'm super focused on stuff like this!"  That actually makes sense, for acquaintances, because a lot of people don't know what autism really means (I sure didn't), but they do know what "don't touch me like that, it makes me uncomfortable" means.  But what about the people close to me?  Anyway, I was standing there, trying to decide whether or not it was time to "bare my soul" to a bunch of people or not, but before I could make up my mind, the moment passed.  I managed to blurt out "You could be autistic, L," putting as much positive emotion into that sentence as I could, but I didn't say anything else.  I wanted to, man, did I want to.  But I didn't know if it was time yet, or if it ever would be time.  How do you know?  How do you know if someone's ready to know things like that about you--or if they even want or need to know?

As I've been writing this, something has occurred to me.  My friends, M&M in particular, know I'm weird.  They know I have a weird sense of humor, they know I obsessive and geek out over stuff, like music, art, and Harry Potter.  They seem to instinctively know not to touch me (possibly because I don't touch them)(well, with one exception, but she loves to get into everyone's personal space, and I've come to expect that from her).  They don't seem to be disturbed when I go completely silent for long periods, which makes me more comfortable, and I express myself easier afterwards.  They don't know I'm autistic (I assume), but it doesn't matter to them.  All they know about me, is that I'm me, whatever that entails, and they like me for it.

So, do I need to tell them?  Actually, probably not.  Except for the psychology buffs, they probably don't care either way, and it wouldn't necessarily help them understand or interact with me better.  I might tell Male M one day, because one of his special interests is psychology, and because if he's autistic, he might want to know.  Although, if he knows about autism at all, he may already know for himself.

Just like my other special interests, my autism is pretty much only important to me.  Having facts and details thrown at you about something that doesn't really matter to you makes for a boring and frankly, sometimes disturbing conversation (remind me to tell you about the warfare buff I ran into at a war memorial.  My autistic brain can't forget a word he said, and it is nasty stuff).  I think if someone brings it up, I might tell them, but I'm seeing it as less and less of a good idea for me to "throw it in someone's face."  In the meantime, I'm going to revel in the new realization that my friends like me, quirks and all, without any conceivable reason to explain them.  

Neurotypicals are weird, but they have their good qualities, and plenty of them.