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.