Just because you have social anxiety doesn’t mean they’re not laughing at you

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” ~ Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Last weekend I was invited to a bridal shower along with some wonderful ladies I know from church.  When I got there nearly everyone was already inside and sitting down and talking.  I was so nervous I almost turned around and went home.

The past has taught me to fear these things.

The two people behind me were laughing.  They must have been laughing at me.

I had a friend over and she didn’t stay long.  I must have been boring.

That acquaintance from school never talks to me anymore.  She must not like me.

That other mom at the children’s museum was watching me as I passed.  My clothes are probably out of style.

That cashier seemed a little uncomfortable.  He must think I’m weird.

Social anxiety is like one never-ending performance review, only you are your own harshest critic.  That’s why a common therapeutic technique for people with social anxiety is replacing those negative thoughts with realistic ones.  But that opens up a rather frightening question:  what if I am being realistic?

When you walk down the hall and people suddenly stop talking and whisper as you go past, it’s not paranoia to think they are probably whispering about you.  It’s not paranoia when people give you puzzled looks or avoid talking to you and you assume it’s something you did.  There is nothing unreal about your friends suddenly turning their backs to you.  The fear is not the fear of what could happen, it’s the fear of what has happened and is likely to again.

I have an uneasy relationship with this fear; on the one hand, I don’t want it to control me.  On the other hand, I want it to restrain me a little, to keep me from making mistakes.

In the end, I went inside, set my food on the table, and headed straight for the bathroom to calm down.  And then I took my seat with the others.  And I think it actually went ok.  So there’s that.

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AS and Marriage: Managing Conflict

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Seeing as how I’m only around 8 years into this marriage business, I’m not even going to pretend I have it all together in this department.  In fact, I’d say I’m still flying by the seat of my pants most of the time (mad props to my incredibly patient husband who reads this blog).  But there are a lot of autistic adults out there trying to work through the craziness of relationships and marriage and so, as an aspie (very happily) married to another person on the spectrum, I thought I’d share some things I’ve been working on and what’s helped.

The thing that’s been the most difficult for me is dealing with conflict.  Conflict is frustrating for pretty much everyone, but when one or both people has difficulties with communication, it’s especially hard.

A healthy conflict would probably look something like this:

conflict–> communication –> resolution

Of course, in the real world, there’ll be some heated exchanges involving someone bringing up something that happened 10 years ago that has no relevance to the situation but makes the other person feel superior, or someone will imply that the other person’s mother smelt of elderberries.  But eventually things get worked out and resolved.

But there are social, emotional, or communication challenges that, for me,  have caused this process to break down:

Alexithymia.  People with alexithymia have difficulty describing and identifying their emotions.  So when one person is doing or saying something that affects the other person emotionally, it can be extremely difficult to work out what that is and what to do about it.  Sometimes hurt feelings can come out as frustration, anger, or resentment, leading the other person to feel hurt and angry at us, which leads to a feeling of disconnection that can make conflicts hard to resolve.

Low self-esteem:  When you’re hanging on to your last shred of self-worth with everything you’ve got, it can be very hard to admit that you’ve done something wrong (not that I would know anything about that…)  That’s when defense mechanisms kick in, things like denial and minimizing and projection.  This can lead to a lot of confusion, frustration, and hurt that further damage the relationship, leading us to feel even more guilty and defensive.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Anxiety and catastrophizing:  We autistics have a tendency to catastrophize, meaning small things can seem like a huge deal and lead to a lot of anxiety.  This can make small everyday things seem like a major issue-and because our anxiety and adrenalin levels are running so high, it can then easily become one.  This can also make it hard to walk away or just let things go.

Expressive language difficulties:  Forming thoughts into words and then saying those words is hard at the best of times, but when emotions are running high, it feels impossible.  This can lead to serious misunderstandings and hurt feelings that cause the conflict to escalate or go unresolved.

Sensory/emotional overload:  Raised voices, rushing adrenalin, confused thoughts, frustration at not being able to get your point across-all these things make conflict overwhelming.  Often our first instinct will be to either get away or just shut down completely, which usually comes across to the other person as avoiding the conflict or being difficult.  This is when the conflict has reached the boiling point; if it goes on much longer, a meltdown or withdrawal is often the result.

So then the conflict looks more like this:

conflict –> communication breakdown –> meltdown/withdrawal

And it can be very hard to break out of this pattern.

Now this is no substitute whatsoever for good, solid professional advice, especially when it comes to something as messy and complex as relationships, but here are the things that have helped me the most:

Walking away.  This, for me, is probably the single most important thing.  For anyone, but for us especially, it’s important to have that time to process and work through the situation and our feelings about it.  If the other person wants to talk right away, try saying explaining that you need time to think and set a time for later in the day.

Writing it down.  This can be really helpful if you have trouble understanding your feelings or communicating.  There is a world of difference between my speech and writing.

Owning up to my mistakes.  This is one I’ve had a lot of trouble with, but I’ve found that it makes the whole process go so much faster because it makes both people feel closer.  Working on self-esteem issues can help with this-it’s something I’m trying to work on right now (of course, not owning up to mistakes can also result from being an giant asshat, in which case you’ll need to work on that).

More helpful resources:

Asperger’s and Marriage

Aspie Strategy

Posted in Autism | 4 Comments

Conversations With Myself: Speed Limits

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Speed limits are one of those many things where most people see a fuzzy guideline and I see a hard-and-fast rule.  Chances are you’ve seen those stretches of road where everyone always does 10 or 20 over the posted speed limit.  I regularly drive one of those, and I often have a conversation with myself that goes a little something like this:

“Well, the sign says 50 km/h and the gauge is on 50 exactly.  Everything is right with the world. Hmm…everyone seems to be going faster.  Maybe I should do 60 like everyone else.”

“But…the speed limit is 50.”

“Well, yeah…but the unspoken rule is that you do 60.”

“BUT THE SPEED LIMIT IS 50!!”

“I know, but you’ve got to keep up with traffic flow, and everyone’s doing 60.”

“So if everyone else starts driving their cars into a ravine you’re just going to plunge to your death along with them because you’ve got to keep up with the traffic flow?”

“You know, that guy behind me is riding my tail.  I’m doing 60.”

“Oh, sure, just go ahead and flagrantly violate every traffic law you don’t like.  OMG YOU JUST HIT THAT LITTLE OLD LADY WHO WAS JAYWALKING ACROSS THE STREET!!”

“WHAT???”

“Ok, I made that up.  But that extra 10 km/h could have increased the distance required for stopping enough for you to hit a little old lady jaywalking across the street.”

“Well, she probably shouldn’t be jaywalking.”

“That’s not the point!  A hypothetical little old lady has just had her life snuffed out because you had to follow the herd!”

“Ok, I’ll do 55.”

It’s kind of like a metaphor for so much of my life, really.

CC image courtesy of mahiskali on flickr

Posted in Life | 7 Comments

You might be an aspie if…

…you flap and wave your arms when given a bookstore gift certificate for Christmas. 

We’re till easing back into the regular routine around here, but I’m hoping to have another post up within a few days.  In the meantime, I want to wish all of you a very flappy New Year! 

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A Very Aspie Christmas

My mom did Christmas like nobody’s business.  I’ll never forget staring into those pretty glass ball ornaments under the soft glow of the lights; breathing in the smell of pine; running around with my brother and sister to music; the hushed, quiet church at midnight Mass; baking with my mom.  Every time I smell cinnamon I’m back in our old kitchen at Christmas.   There were decorations all over the house and one year we even had a jigsaw puzzle of a Normal Rockwell painting set up by the tree.  It was like something out of a really warm and fuzzy movie that you want to watch fifty times.

I want my kids to have Christmases like mine used to be.  But there’s one teeny little thing standing in the way.

You have to plan.  And organize.  And carry out said plans.  You know, executive function.  My mom’s got it in spades, me-not so much.  Somehow you wouldn’t think buying a wreath (which I’ve been meaning to do for several years) would be all that complicated, but you’ve got to figure out where to buy it.  Then you’ve got to plan to go.  And when you get there, you’ve got to remember that you need it.  It’s usually this last step that gets me.

Somehow I can see our family Christmas being right out of a movie too-Christmas Vacation, in which Clark Griswold’s dreams of the perfect family holiday turn into one big (albeit hilarious) fuster cluck.

So I’ve decided that instead of getting hung up on the perfect experience, I’m starting small.  So far I’ve even managed to do about two or three things on my Christmas to-do list (you’ve gotta start somewhere).  Frodo is more interested in streaking across the house than he is with baking, and Elinor is totally blown away just by the lights on the Christmas tree.

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Those lights has colours?!

So we’re doing ok so far with just a few decorations and a batch of Christmas cookies.  But as they get older, I want to add more.  I want it to be special for them, something they’ll always remember.  And at the same time, I also want to take the time to meditate on the mind-blowing awesomeness that is God dwelling among us as a helpless newborn to poor unwed parents in a backwater province of the Roman Empire.

It might not be quite like it was when I was little.  But it will be ours.  And we’re gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny f#!king Kaye.

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Point, Counterpoint, Actual Point: I am an Introvert

This entry is part of the Point, Counterpoint, Actual Point collaborative blog series put together by Nattily at Notes on Crazy.  Do check it out. 

Point:  I am an introvert. 

Counterpoint:  I need to open up more and stop being so inhibited.  I need to be entertaining and witty and the life of the party or people won’t want to spend time with me.  Thoughtful conversations are boring.  If I’m not a team player I’ll never survive in the workplace, and anyway it is arrogant to want to work alone.  People will take it as snobbery.  I really need to get out more and fit more activities into my schedule.  I am anti-social and dull to spend so much time alone.  Everyone should be an extrovert. 

Actual Point:  By choosing my words carefully, I protect myself and those around me; people trust me.  By taking the time to think before I speak, I have more interesting or insightful things to say.  Witty banter is fun but people also appreciate a bit of depth , and introverts and extroverts can complement each other this way and make the conversation more dynamic.  Some people work more efficiently in a team, but some people work more efficiently by themselves, and good employers recognize this.  Many great inventors, artists, and writers worked alone and yet contributed hugely to humanity.  If I try to do too many things at once I’ll end up doing all of them poorly, but if I take the time I need to recharge I can excel at the things I do.  Needing time alone doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spending time with others-I love every minute spent with my family-and I am often using that time alone to think, reflect, create, and expand my knowledge of the universe.  Introverts provide balance to extroverts; the world needs both.

Conclusion I am an introvert, and that’s ok.    

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10 Things You Can Totally Say to an Aspie Parent

So there’s this thing going around the internet where people post a list of things that you’re not supposed to say to a a certain person or group of people, like parents of multiples and short people (no, I would not like a kids’ menu, and yes, I’m quite sure I’m old enough to peruse the adult section of this bookstore, thank you).  And I might do one of those in the future.  But that’s a lot of stuff to remember not to say.  So in the intersts of making things easier, I thought I’d do my own list of things you can totally say to an aspie parent (or at least to me).

1.  You’re taking your kids to the museum again?  They’re going to learn so much cool stuff!  As if musuems aren’t already the greatest places on earth, they’re fun for kids too.  Win.

2.  You spent hours and hours researching (car seats, child psychology, baby carriers, etc.)?  You’re pretty thorough.  Thank you.  Now if you have a few hours, I’d like to talk to you about cloth diapers.

3.  Are you starting with Episode IV or Episode I?  There’s only one answer to that question.

4.  Original or special edition?  This one is a bit trickier. We might just go with the original, but whatever we go with, you can be sure we’ll be watching the original ending of Return of the Jedi to shield him from the horrors of George Lucas’s revisions.

5.  Have a cookie.  Thank you, don’t mind if I do.

6.  I bet your toddler loves having a predictable routine.  He sure does, especially since said routine involves streaking across the house to the William Tell Overture.

7.  You often follow safety guidelines to the letter?  That’s so…safe.  It sure is.  And always remember, always take your baby out of his sling before you place him near an open flame.

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8.  You can have a disability and still be a good parent. I agree.

9.  Your kids will probably be more accepting of people who are different.  I hope so.

10. I’ve got your back.  Thank you.  Back at ya.

Posted in Autism, Life, Parenting | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Of Sleep Experts and Atypical Sleepers

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There’s an infant and child sleep equivalent of Godwin’s Law:  As the online discussion on sleep grows longer, the probabality of someone mentioning Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child approaches 1.  It’s one of those parenting books that has devoted a loyal and hard core following ready to swear up and down on forums across the internet how it changed their lives.

As a young parent with a baby who liked to rock and roll and day and party every night, I figured I’d try a few of the ideas.  Not his version of sleep training, which is one of the harsher methods, but his ideas on sleep windows and super early bedtimes.  As soon as 6:30 rolled around and Frodo’s eyes began to look a little glazed, we’d whisk him away from whatever he was doing and put him to sleep, after which he’d sleep beautifully.  Until he woke up.  At 10 p.m., ready to party.

And then there was the whole putting them to bed drowsy but awake thing.  There was only one problem with that:  Frodo didn’t get drowsy.  He had two settings:

ON/OFF

So much for that.

And then he turned 6 months old and the experts declared it was time to set him down in his crib and let his cries sooth him off to a peaceful, 12-hour slumber.  Except that for Frodo, being left to cry is about as soothing as a Yoko Ono record (I found out later there is a name for people who get worked up by crying: tension increaser).  I already knew how that one would turn out-hours of crying himself hoarse and concerned neighbors calling the police.  So I passed on that one.

And then I’d read about how all you have to do is keep things calm at bedtime and toddlers will naturally wind down and fall asleep within half an hour and I’d walk into the bedroom after our soothing, quiet bedtime routine and there would be Frodo, turning on the radio and jumping up and down on the bed to KISS.

I still don’t have any answers.  While a lot of the basic stuff makes sense for everyone-calming bedtime routine, consistent sleep and wake times, no screen time right before bed, etc.-there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t seem to work for some kids-kids with sensory issues, kids with delayed sleep phase disorder, even just kids with spirited temperaments.

I think of my husband, who as a kid used to lay awake in the dark past midnight, unable to sleep. I think of my son, a sensory-seeker and intense, active kid who for a long time just couldn’t settle his body and mind down.  According to the books I should have just left him to work it out on his own, but my gut told me he needed more help.  And now, at two and a half, he is much calmer at bedtime.  He not only falls asleep in a quarter of the time he used to, he even falls asleep on his own (with me close by, but on his own).  I still don’t know if I’m doing it right-he still doesn’t sleep through the night, never really has.  But my gut tells me to go with his unique personality, not try to shoehorn him into a one-size-fits-all approach.

The one and only sleep book that did help me was Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (the same author of Raising Your Spirited Child, which is also fantastic).  Instead of developing a single method for all kids, she talks about how different temperaments affect sleep and how to modify your approach to sleep based on your child’s temperament (she doesn’t mention specific issues like ASD, SPD, etc., but a lot of the advice applies, since many of us fall into the spirited category-active, persistent, intense, etc.)

That’s not to say that the sleep experts don’t have valuable information and advice-they do.  But I think that when it comes to sleep, like so many other things, sometimes the best thing to do is know your child and trust your gut.

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Autism Speaks Fear-Mongering FAIL

My apologies for the prolonged absence-still settling in after a wonderful trip to visit with family.

And no sooner had I returned to the blogosphere than my mind was blown by this editorial from Autism Speaks.  Not the article itself, which is the usual drivel about how you must give us teh moniez or autism will devour your children, destroy your marriage, and change all your Arabic numerals to binary.  It was the comments-777 and counting, standing almost unanimously against the fear-mongering and dehumanizing negativity that has long been this organization’s MO.  And that was just the start.

Yesterday, close to 250 people contributed to the This is Autism Flash Blog.  Self-advocates and parents.  Speaking and non-speaking.  All sharing their gifts, their challenges, their unique perspectives, all painting a picture of autism far deeper and more complex than a blue puzzle piece, far more positive than anything Autism Speaks ever wrote.

And then there was an article in the Huffington Post.  And Forbes.  And BlogHer.

Autism Speaks still makes a lot of money and wields a lot of power.  But I think this sudden onslaught of voices is the sound of the tide beginning to turn.

Posted in Advocacy, Autism | Tagged , | 3 Comments

This is Autism

This post is part of the This is Autism” flash blog.  Be sure to check out some of the amazing submissions there. 

UPDATE:  Looks like I was a bit too late with this one to submit it, which is what happens when you wait to write it until the kids are in bed on the day of the flash blog.  But do check it out.  Powerful stuff.

I am:

A wife.  A mother.  Unwaveringly loyal.  Giver of hundreds of hugs and kisses.  Anxious in crowds.  A history buff, a Tolkien fanatic, a lover of maps and globes.  Not good at organizing despite my professed love of cleanliness and order.   Deeply empathic.  Prone to losing things.  Not concerned with status symbols.  Constantly asking “why?”  Often gazing upwards at the sky, or the light filtering through the trees, or the birds.  Euphoric from the smell of lilacs, fresh laundry, garlic and onions cooking on the stove, my baby’s hair.  Too overwhelmed when speaking to make eye contact.  A good listener.  Often laughing.  Trying to get better at talking about my emotions.  Happiest when spending time with family.  Constantly self-censoring so that I don’t offend or say the wrong thing.  Calmed by motion.  Compelled to learn new things. Here for a purpose.  Autistic.

This is me.  This is autism.

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