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!

A Week of Sorrow

This week has been the most difficult week of my teaching career. I know I have been teaching only three years and have many more years to go before I can retire, but I know this will remain one of the most difficult times of my career.

I thought it was difficult to find out that I will be losing my job at the end of the school year due to cuts in the school system. It hurt, because I love my job. My school is also closing because they built two new schools in town, so all of the teachers I work with will be split up and spread amongst the new and the old that are kept open. Such a great staff will not be together for much longer.

But it was this week that the staff suffered a tragedy that no one should have to face. It is hard enough when a school loses a student due to an accident or illness. But it is another thing all together when the student commits suicide.

This student, who shall remain nameless because of his tender age of fourteen, was in my homeroom and book club. He was on my team, and I saw him daily. Every morning he would walk through my room with his headphones blasting so loudly I have no idea how he had any hearing left. I could be at my computer desk and know the instant he was ABOUT to enter the room from the opposite doorway. It was that loud.

I got the call Tuesday night and I was devastated. I never expected something like this to happen. He was not bullied. He was a well loved student who many looked up to or were friends with. Teachers loved him as well. He was bright. He loved poetry. He was an advanced reader who enjoyed Dante’s Inferno and could discuss the translator’s style with me. He was gothic in the true, original sense of the word, and loved all the literature that accompanied the style.

Wednesday morning I had to read a short announcement to my homeroom about the loss. I broke down crying. My homeroom, of course, already knew. They were all friends with him. I have never known a silence to be that pervasive. My homeroom is never quiet, but they were for the entire Flex period. I almost wanted to beg them to say something, make some sort of noise to shatter that silence, but they didn’t. They could barely even look at his seat.

The school did so well with handling the students and staff. A crisis team was called in to offer support for students, and each of the teachers of my team had a sub in the room with them in case they needed to step out and grieve. It was wonderful to have another adult in the room with me. Even though I was okay for most of the day, just knowing someone else was ready to take over if I needed it was help enough.

Friday evening was his wake. The teachers on my team went together as support for each other, the family, and our students. I stayed the entire three hours with two of my fellow team members. The right shoulder of my shirt was soaked by the time it was finished. Students I never thought I would see cry broke down and hugged me tightly. Other students came up and hugged me, told me it was okay for me to cry, that they understood I was being strong for them and that they were there for me, too. That made me tear up. It’s wonderful to know how much the kids care.

I have had a hard time processing everything. I wanted to write about the experience, but I just couldn’t find the right words. When I finally did, I wrote a poem. It’s five pages long in my poetry journal. It felt good to get the words out onto the page, and perhaps I’ll share it later. But for now, I’ll keep it close until the time is right.

Suicide is never the answer. So many people are left behind hurt and confused. Maybe it’s selfish of us to want the person to stay when they are in so much pain, but that pain will not last. It will get better. It DOES get better.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, PLEASE get help. There is always someone out there to talk to. Someone will listen. Tell a trusted adult. Call a hotline.

If you are in Connecticut, you can call the United Way of Connecticut Crisis Hotline by simply dialing 211.

There is also the National Hopeline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

Or The National Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Please. Get help. It Gets Better, no matter who you are.