You still read that?

Bullet points are taken from Samantha Craft’s website and post on Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which can be found here. 

Section C: Escape and Friendship

  • Escapes regularly through fixations, obsessions, and over-interest in subjects

When I get interested in something, you can bet I devote 100% of my attention to it. I always have been like this. Some interests last for a few weeks, some a few months, others for years. Books have always been an obsession of mine, as they were one of my escapes, but other things have managed to work their way into that slot as well. Most of my obsessions, however, did revolve around books or series.

For example, when I was in sixth grade, my school, St. Matthew’s School, had a Scholastic book fair. There I discovered the Animorphs series. I was obsessed with it for years. I stuck with it until the very end. I would spend my allowance money on the book every month. When it first came out, it was $3.99, or $4.23 with tax. After a few years, however, the price of the book went up one month to $4.99, or $5.25 after tax. I was devastated because I always brought the exact right amount of money with me to the store. I was lucky because the cashiers knew me and let me bring the extra money back with me next time I visited, which was frequently.

I loved that series. I loved the short-lived TV series, too. I was convinced the characters were real and lived in my area. Every time I saw a red-tailed hawk in my area, I was convinced it was Tobias. I thought that I, too, could turn into an animal if I concentrated hard enough. In fact, I spent a good deal of time in the garage focusing on changing into my cat. I would stare at my arms and will myself to change.

The series ended in 2001. I was finishing up my sophomore year. When I was still in eighth grade, I had a friend, also named Jen, who was reading the series. We briefly remained friend in high school, and when I talked about the series and what had happened to Tobias—my favorite character—she stared at me in shock.

“You still read that?”

“Yes. Why?”

“We’re a little old for that,” she laughed.

I was horrified. Yeah, the series may have started when we were younger, but the characters were aging as well, and more mature themes had been introduced. And didn’t she want to know what was going to happen with the Yeerk invasion? Didn’t she want to know if Tobias ever gave up his hawk form?

Turns out admitting to reading Animorphs still was pretty much social suicide, and she stopped talking to me shortly after that.

I was obsessed with Sailor Moon, too. I recorded every single episode of the anime and watched it all the time. The one episode that never fails (still) to make me cry, is when Serena—in the dubs—finds out she is the Princess and Darien dies. I bawl every single time. It was the one episode that for whatever reason never recorded, and I was so upset because it meant weeks before I could watch it again.

That’s about the time I began writing fanfiction as well. I wrote about Sailor Moon and Animorphs. Sometimes I crossed them over. Sometimes I made my own characters. I did that a lot, inserting myself into the stories. I created my own Sailor Moon character, Sailor Sun, who was not based on me and I wrote fiction about her as well. Somewhere around here I still have drawings of her as well. I had the soundtrack for the English show as well, at every single night for two years I would put the CD on when I went to bed to help me fall asleep. It was half an hour long and I usually fell asleep towards the end, although sometimes I needed it twice. (This later changed to me putting on To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar every single night before I went to bed. This also went on for at least two years.)

  • Obsessively collects and organizes objects

My collection of books is ridiculous. I have several thousand. I’m not exaggerating either. If you take into account the books I had in my classroom library, there were two thousand there alone. I also own over 600 hundred volumes of manga. That’s only a portion of the books I own.

Categorizing books and organizing them brings me peace. I love putting them in alphabetical order. I think maybe that’s why I enjoyed working at the bookstore so much. My favorite thing to do was fix the shelves and make sure they were completely alphabetical. I found a sense of peace in it, and whenever a customer or staff member messed it up, I would get so angry. I felt it was disrespectful to the books. But seeing the books in the right order felt so calming. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.

When I had my own apartment, Dad liked to come over and sometimes tried to mess up my books without me knowing. He would switch a volume of the manga or two around so that they were out of order. It drove me crazy!

Sometimes I like to reorder my books, but for the most part I have found a system that works for me. What made my students laugh was how well I knew my classroom set up. They would ask if I had a book and I could tell them not only whether or not I had it, but exactly where on the shelf it was, without even looking.

I also had quite a large collection of unicorns. I loved the creatures, and had many statues. I collected them in snow globes at every swap meet my dad went to. Eventually I got rid of those, however, when the water inside the globe became filthy and, although I was a hoarder, I realized they were beyond salvaging.

Barbie also made it onto my list. I collected them in boxes, especially the different nationalities and Christmas editions. I don’t remember what year I stopped collecting them, but it went on for a long time. When I let it slip to friends in middle school that I collected Barbie…well…that didn’t go over too well.

As an adult, I continue to collect books, some Sailor Moon figures, teapots, and for a while any Poe Dameron figure I could find. Oh, and we can’t forget Bumblebee! I have dozens of Bumblebee Transformer figures that I bought or were given to me by friends and family. Hey, what can I saw? They go with the car.

 

How to choose the perfect seat in class

The first of a series of posts about my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, written during National Novel Writing Month. Bullet points are taken from Samantha Craft’s website and post on Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which can be found here. 

Escape and Friendship

  • Survives overwhelming emotions and senses by escaping in thought or action

When I was younger, if I was overwhelmed, I would often retreat into myself or flee to my room. My room was my sanctuary. I still retreat now, and I have found that after a long day at work, sometimes I need a bit of downtime. This was more the case when I was teaching in a physical school. Now that I teach at home a majority of the time, I have less of a need for downtime. However, before this, I would come home exhausted and not want to talk to anyone. Andrew and I worked out that if I went into my library or the spare bedroom and shut the door, it meant that I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet. I didn’t always use it, but it felt good to have that option.

Back to when I was younger. I remember at least one time where I moved my toy chest to block the door to prevent anyone from coming in and bothering me. Of course this didn’t work because the bedroom had no doors that I can recall, and there were two ways to get into the room: off the kitchen, and off the hallway. We live in a small two family home above my great-grandmother, so the floor plan was almost entirely open. Sure, there were walls, but the only doors I remember were to the pantry, the downstairs, the porch, the bathroom, and the front door. There was no real way to get away unless I crawled into a closet. That didn’t occur to me at first.

I did have a safe space outside, too. In the backyard there were bushes that had the perfect space for me to crawl into. I would play in there often. What made it even better was the natural seat I had. The bushes had grown around an old stone wall or something, and I had a space to sit. I could see out into the yard and people could see me if they looked, but I felt protected in there. It was a great place to read, and we all know how much I love reading.

In Maine, where we went to our grandparents’ cottage every summer for three weeks, I loved to play in the closet. I would bring my toys in there—mostly Barbie and My Little Pony—and set up little villages for them. I would spread out a blanket and play for hours, either with my sister or without.

At our new home, once my parents bought a house and we moved out of my great-grandmother’s place, I made a space for myself in my closet. It was tough because the floor was sloped and had maybe four inches for my feet, but I enjoyed going in there sometimes and closing the door. I would bring a flashlight in and either read or just relax. I didn’t realize what I was doing then, but it was refreshing to me. With the door shut, it was so quiet I couldn’t hear much, and I could recharge.

Once I was diagnosed with anxiety as a freshman in high school, I started escaping mentally. When class got difficult or my anxiety popped up, my body went into fight or flight mode. I would often flee, but sometimes the idea of fleeing and drawing attention to myself made the anxiety even worse, so I would mentally retreat. I began plotting escape routes from every single room I am in. I made plans for how long it would take me to cross the floor and get out. I would think of strategic places to sit that would afford me the best possible scenario. The seat closest from the door was not, actually ideal. In fact, let me share with you some of my strategies.

The first seat is not ideal because it is so close, everyone is looking there. Whenever someone passes by in the hallway, everyone turns to look. The back seat in that row is also not ideal for the same reason. Any front row seat is absolutely OUT of the question. People sit behind you, and therefore when they look at the board, they will be looking at you, and I can feel them watching. So nope. No way. Middle row seats are also unacceptable because it’s too claustrophobic. One person ahead of you, one behind you, and likely surrounded on all sides. Nope, no chance. Back row is ideal, however, which row? Depending on how the classroom is set up, if the room is split so that some seats are facing the door rather than the board, then the seat furthest from the door is actually ideal. It sounds crazy, but there is logic to this. First, by sitting in the back row, no one is behind you. By sitting in the corner away from the door, you are also away from the clock. So people who stare will likely look to the clock. Also, the teacher rarely walks over there. If you need to get out quick, you can stand and make a beeline for the door very quickly. Any other rows on the back part of the room require you to walk up the row, turn, and then exit. This draws more attention.

 

If the room does not have a side section, then the ideal row is actually the third row from the door. Less people will be looking at you, and it’s a shorter distance to the door from the last row. This can be tolerated.

That might sound crazy to most people, but those are thoughts I had every single class. If we were allowed to choose our seats, BLISS! If not, well, God help me. Because my last name was M or L (depending on the year, freshman year it was M), I was likely in the middle row in the middle seat. Absolute hell. And of course I was usually too afraid to ask for a seat change, as that would draw even more attention to myself, so I just suffered in silence. Usually by daydreaming, doodling in my notebook, writing stories in the back of notebooks, reading the textbook or any book, and staring out the window. The only classes I didn’t have anxiety was English, Art, and Mythology. In Mythology I came out of my shell and volunteered to answer every single question. Why? Because I read the entire textbook the first week class started and had it memorized. I loved it. My team loved me when we played Jeopardy because they knew I had the answers and let me answer everything.  And we always won.

  • Escapes routinely through imagination, fantasy, and daydreaming
  • Had imaginary friends in youth

Oh how my imagination ran. I’m sure it’s common for many children, but I’m pretty sure mine was on overdrive. At one point I had an imaginary friend that I shared with a girl at school. It was Yoshi. Yes, that Yoshi. From Mario. I’m not sure why we decided on him, but we did. Anyway, he would travel between our houses at night to keep us both safe. We shared a bus to and from school, so he often rode the bus with us. We would talk about him, but not to him there. I had vivid dreams about Yoshi many nights, and he did protect me from my nightmares. I hated ghosts and whenever I had a ghost dream, Yoshi would pop into my dream and rescue me and vanquish the ghosts. I was always excited to tell my friend that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day she stopped believing in Yoshi. Said she never really had and it was just a game. To me it wasn’t, though. I was upset, but I held onto Yoshi for myself for a while after that. I don’t know when I lost him, I don’t remember it ever happening, but I must have stopped one day. I do remember him, though.

I also remember intense role-playing. Oh man. I loved the game Tales of the Crystals from Milton Bradley. I don’t know where my copy went, but if I ever find it again, in a store, you can bet I’ll buy it! I loved that you had different things to role play and create. One time we had to turn my bedroom in a forest or something, so we hung sheets up on the bottom bunk to create a cave. I always wanted to play it, and would have for hours. Tiffany got bored quickly, so I would often play it by myself. While it might not sound as fun to people, and the game calls for 2-4 players, I was perfectly content playing all of the roles myself if I had to.

My role-playing days were not limited to childhood. When we got a computer with slow dial-up, I discovered the Yahoo forums, back when they were popular. I would role-play as characters I created based on Digimon or Sailor Moon. I also had some original characters in an original role playing game that I loved. I was about twelve then. I made some great friends online and felt like I had truly made friends that would last. As the Yahoo forums changed, the groups ended, and I lost contact with those people. However, I then discovered Prince of Tennis in 2003 and well…of course I started role playing. Never original characters, though. I would always play as Kaidou Kaoru. I discovered the website Livejournal and we did all of our playing there and on AIM. We would buddy up and play, and then create logs from the chats and post them. I loved it. I don’t really talk to anyone from that fandom anymore except for my best friend, Alley. Even when the games ended online and fandom cooled off, we continued to chat and play on our own, and became friends well beyond the fandom. We still talk about it, of course, because I never let anything go.

I think it’s important to note that this point in my life, my teenage years and even well into college, my only friends were online. I knew people at work, and I talked to some people at school, but a majority of the people I knew and liked were online. I felt a deeper connection to them than anyone else. It’s probably because they couldn’t judge me, or if they did, I didn’t know about it. Also because we definitely had the same interests, and they wouldn’t judge me over liking an anime about kids that play tennis, or watching musicals about kids who play tennis with grown men playing the kids. No one I knew in real life liked that stuff, but online, all bets were off.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

I posted this on my Facebook page the other day, and I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to document my journey on my blog. It’s not my usual writing, to be sure, but I feel that it is important–at least to me–and if it helps at least one person, then great!

Over the course of several days, maybe weeks, maybe even months if I like how it’s going, I will be discussing my journey through anxiety and depression as well as my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. I am doing this to help end the stigma against mental illness as well as ASD. I want more people to be aware of what Asperger’s is like for a woman who is diagnosed later in life.

There are many wonderful resources already available about there, including the books Aspergirls by Rudy Simone and Everday Aspergers by Samantha Craft. If you are interested in women and Asperger’s I highly recommend you check out those books.


 

The other day I made a cryptic post on Facebook about myself and people sticking with me no matter what. I had wanted to say something about myself that I have learned in the last few months, however, I was unable to figure out how to say it. After speaking to my therapist and Andy, I decided I’m going to say it and share my experience so people can understand me better.

Yes, I have been seeing a therapist again for my anxiety and depression. Many of you are already probably aware of that, which is fine. That’s not the revelation. While going to my awesome new therapist, we started working through some things and I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which—if you don’t know—is part of the Autism spectrum.

Before you write or say anything, please let me say a few things.

There is no need to say you’re sorry. Don’t be! There is nothing wrong with having Asperger’s or being on the spectrum. It’s something that surprised me a bit at first, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, it makes complete sense to me and now I understand myself better than before. It’s been a wonderful revelation that has allowed me to understand how my brain works and why I do things differently from other people. I know can process why my teen years were so difficult, and why I felt like I never fit in with anyone.

Please do not also say “There’s no way! You must be mistaken!” or “But that doesn’t sound like you!” I assure you, this is not something that happened over night. I started this process many months ago, so it’s not something I decided in twenty-four hours.

For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, Asperger’s has a wide range of characteristics that may or may not all be present in a single person, and the degrees all very. Some of the characteristics include:

  • limited or inappropriate social skills,
  • tendency to discuss self rather than others,
  • lack of eye contact,
  • awkward movements,
  • and obsession with specific topics.

There are of course many more indicators, and these indicators are different for men and women. After reading the book Aspergirls by Rudy Simone, Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft along with other books, I discovered that my experiences are nearly identical to theirs.

Some examples of my experiences:

  • I have always had a hard time looking people in the eyes. It is actually physically painful for me to maintain eye contact, and during a conversation, my inner dialogue sounds something like this: “Look them in the eye. Hold it. Hold it. Okay, don’t stare! That’s creepy. Look around. Look back at them. At the eyes, not the nose, oh they have nice eyebrows why aren’t mine that nice, look away. Look back! Smile. Don’t smile too big, it seems fake.” I actually credit my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching in instructing me on how to maintain proper eye contact. She saw I struggled with it and gave me some tips. She called it acting class.
  • I struggle with conversations in social situations. I often say weird things, or interject at strange times. This has caused seriously uncomfortable situations where everyone will pause and stair at me, or they laugh awkwardly and ignore me for the remainder of the time. It hurts. A lot, actually. I’m trying to fit in and have friends, but it’s so difficult.
  • I also have to remind myself not to talk only about me, but to turn around and ask other people how they are. I might be an introvert, but when I get on a subject I’m passionate about, forget about it. I will steamroll over anyone. I have to consciously reign myself in and remind myself other people are present.

A great list of other attributes can be found on the Everyday Aspergers maintained by Samantha Craft here: https://everydayaspie.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/females-with-aspergers-syndrome-checklist-by-samantha-craft/

If you’re looking for books to understand, I highly recommend Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft and Aspergirls by Rudy Simone. They were wonderful books that helped me process my diagnosis.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them in the comments below or in a private message. And again, I’m not ashamed of my diagnosis, nor am I embarrassed by it. Rather, it’s been liberating for me. I now understand that my brain processes things differently from most people, and that’s why I do what I do. It has helped me cope with things that bother me and come up with strategies that actually work! I am no different from the Jennifer I was before, we just now have a name for why I’m a quirky, socially awkward person!