Growing up like this

What if I am a little autistic? How could I have gotten to be in my thirties without a diagnosis? I have some thoughts about that.

First, I was a smart kid. I’m not saying that I’m not smart now. But when I was a kid, I excelled at school. Math was the best, but I even did pretty well in spelling, reading, science, anything that grabbed my interest. I was a quick study. So when people said things like, “Don’t do that, that’s rude,” I learned not to do that. I learned the rules. I learn the metaphors. I learned not to take everything literally. I remember watching people’s mouths when they spoke. Sometimes I still have trouble understanding what someone is saying if I don’t. And I remember being told to look people in the eye. I did my best to follow this rule, but I also got confused by it. Which eye was I supposed to look at? Going back and forth was distracting. So I started looking at the bridge of their nose. By this point, who knows what they’re saying to me? Doesn’t matter. I look like I’m paying attention, right? So by being a smart kid, I learned to look and act as close to normal as I could. Changing schools many times over the years didn’t help. I have a feeling that a few teachers and administrators started to get a sense that I was different, but then we would change schools, move to another state, or whatever, and I would get lost again in the shuffle.

The second reason is my looks. I was a cute kid. Adolescence was a very awkward time for me. Glasses and puberty came together in a very unfortunate way, totally demolishing what self-esteem I may have had before. I easily disappeared behind a book during this time. But luckily, by my senior year, I started to emerge from my ugly duckling phase as a pretty decent looking swan. I was thin, a decent height, with muscular legs, and by then I was wearing contact lenses, so no more gawky glasses. As a young adult, I was quite attractive. I could get through the social scene pretty effortlessly on my looks and goofy sense of humor. If I stayed quiet, I wouldn’t look too weird. If I had a couple drinks, my behavior could be dismissed as a result of my inebriation. Once I was comfortable around people, I could get loud and boisterous, but that was forgiven as well. Pretty girls can get away with a lot.

I dropped out of college and met my first husband. I got pregnant. I had my son and got married, and later had my daughter. My marriage was a disaster. He was only with me because of my looks, then only because of the kids. We drove each other crazy, and not in a good way. Depression, rage, suspicion, there were a lot of feelings that I could not cope with. And he could not cope with my seemingly irrational behavior. He lied to me every day since the beginning. My naivety was to blame for the first couple of years, and after that, I was tied to him by our marriage and our son. Divorce, custody fights, and more lies. But I had finally learned that he could not be trusted. Now his words have no value to me whatsoever. I cannot believe anything he says.

I’ve been divorced now for ten years. A decade since I put my foot down and stood up for myself. I have come a long way. Another marriage, two more kids, a diagnosis for ADHD, which explained a lot to me. And I started school again.

But working on a psych degree is another learning process that has brought me to a realization that I never expected to make. I could be a little autistic. In fact, I see Autism in many of my family members. And I don’t think that I am jumping the gun. I am watching and paying attention. I am learning. I am researching. I am fixating, the way I tend to do. And I do say something to my husband every now and then. Sometimes he blows it off, but sometimes it sinks in a little. He brought up what I had said about his dad a few days after I said it. I guess I’ve got his gears turning as well.

I’ve stopped worrying about my looks. I dress to be comfortable and try not to look too odd. I remind myself to shower and brush my teeth. I continue to learn, but I don’t force myself to socialize. Socializing is very anxiety-inducing for me. It isn’t worth the meltdown. I’m learning to move forward. I’m really bad about living in the moment, and I’m trying hard to set goals for myself. I still need help in a lot of areas, but I can accept that. I’m a work in progress.

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The real starting place

I hate that I haven’t written in a few days. I was so proud of my blogging there for a while. But one night I was online looking for jobs, found “free” online training. I took a whole course, tested and passed, just to find out that I had to buy the certificate. So much for free.

Since that took up a few hours of my time, I forgot to get on here. Since I missed one night, I fell out of the habit a lot more quickly than I like to admit. But I haven’t been idle.

Friday I went to the university here in town to talk about my options. Since I was in Upward Bound in high school, I knew about the TRIO programs, so I asked if they were available here, and they were. So I talked to them and found out about some great programs and options available to me, as a first-generation college student, and even as a student who left school for a while and returned. I returned this morning for a meeting to go over some things.

As it stands right now, I have 78 credits and a 3.34 GPA. I think that’s pretty good considering that I have dropped out three times. They have two programs here for people who are returning to school after quitting. One if for a two-year break and one is for a four-year gap, and they both forgive and remove all F grades from your transcript, which can raise your overall GPA. So there’s that. Then the EOC, part of TRIO, paid for my application fee, and helped me with my FAFSA. I have a list of CLEP exams available if I want to study up and earn credit without taking a class. We discussed not only my major and minor, but also the possibility of picking up a few more credits and earning an Associate’s in Liberal Arts while I work on my Bachelor’s degree.

Having learned about many of these things last Friday, I approached my bestie on Saturday and made her fill out a transcript request so that I could see how close she is to graduation, and maybe even that Associate’s degree. That poor kid has so much stress, she could use a boost right now. Not only would it be a boost to her overall morale, but it would give her some options as far as her career. I’m afraid she’s stuck in a crap-hole now, and I feel like it’s dragging her down.

And I love that helping her excites me. Because for the first time in a very long time, I am excited about helping someone. It gives me hope for finding my own career. I want to help people. When I first learned about my ADHD, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. The more I learn, the more I see those things about myself that were overlooked all these years. It hurts my heart to look back over my life and to see how lost I’ve always been. I want to help people find themselves sooner rather than later, like me. I want to work with kids, and help them learn to work with their challenges, in a way no one could figure out how to help with me. If not kids, then adults. I want to be involved in education. I’ve always said as much, but the amount of organization that is required always overwhelmed me before. Whether it’s helping kids in preschool, or high school, or college, or adults, or whatever, I want to be involved in that. I want to help people figure out how many more credits they need for a degree. I want to help kids master the technique of rising above their frustration and practicing patience. I want to teach them how to write a great story. Or how to get up in front of a class to speak. I want to help them succeed. I want to help people succeed. If I can do that, then I will have succeeded. That is what I want. I want to feel the satisfaction of having helped someone. I want them to look at me with gratitude and tell me how much they appreciate my help. I want to see them not walking away, but soaring away when I am finished with them.

I don’t yet know what I want to do with my life exactly. But I will get my BA in Psychology, with a minor in creative writing, and my certification to teach, and when I am ready, I feel confident that the appropriate opportunity will present itself. If I can work while pursuing a Master’s, I just might. If I can get a job I love without it, then I won’t need it.

I could teach elementary. I could teach middle school or high school. Maybe a Psych class, or a creative writing class. Maybe I can be a counselor, or maybe that requires a Master’s. I can tutor. I can be a special ed teacher, or an assistant teacher. I’m sure there are different types of therapy from a medical standpoint that I can work in. Speech therapy? I can work at the university, maybe for one of the TRIO programs. I can teach a class here or there for the university itself. Or any of the smaller schools in the area. I want to teach, advise, encourage and empower people, kids and adults. I want to show them the parts of themselves that shine, even when they can’t see them.

I don’t need a ton of money. My husband and I are doing alright. I just need an income, so I’m not trying to get rich. I finally feel like I want something more than just punching a time-clock and getting a paycheck. I want a career. I want to do it. I want to finish school, and this time I will. I won’t let myself get overwhelmed. I will look at the light at the end of the tunnel, and keep moving myself forward. I will make my husband and my kids proud of me. I will become someone that they can look up to, not just come to when they can’t find their shoes. I am so excited about my life for the first time in… well, ever.

This is what I’ve waited my whole life for. Goddamn, I better not disappoint.

Direction

Since I found out that I have adult ADHD, I have learned so much about something I once only associated with young boys. I have learned that girls and boys tend to show symptoms differently, and that adults who have it are often not diagnosed, or were diagnosed as kids and told they’d grow out of it. With my elementary history of going to nine schools in three states by the time I was twelve, and making honor roll through all but my senior year, I slipped through the cracks. Knowing what I do now, and how it has affected me after all these years, I’m compelled to advocate for those kids like myself. The ones who look like they’re doing fine until one day, they’re high school graduates, and they don’t have the first clue what to do next. Or worse, like me, are handed an education by way of scholarships and grants, and somehow feel too much pressure and not enough support, and so they walk away, unable to succeed, and feeling like the only reason is because they’re lazy, or irresponsible.

I spent over an hour today looking at college majors at the local university. I want to write. There is a creative writing minor, but not a major. So the logical major, in my opinion, would be English. So I look at the English requirements, and I’m overwhelmed by the classes. British Literature. William Shakespeare. Thesis. Ugh.

So then I look at other options for an hour. Finally I settle on Psychology. I don’t know what I would do with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. I guess at that point I have the option of going for a Master’s. If I don’t end up writing for a living (which, lets face it, is unlikely), then I want to help kids like me, like my friend’s son, like my little cousin, who just can’t seem to get their head around things. I want to learn what I can about treatments, techniques, and routines that will help them succeed not just in school, but beyond school. So I guess that leaves a few options. I could be a teacher. I could be a school counselor. I could be a tutor. The thing is, I don’t know yet. I feel like I need to get into a classroom before deciding if I can handle it. I have a friend who teaches middle school math. I’ll have to talk to her about it. I also have a friend who used to teach art at an elementary school. I’m sure they could both offer me some insights. But none of that can happen, of course, until I get my medication where I need it.

So today I started to crash again, after lunchtime. I know it isn’t from not eating this time, because I did eat. I guess I have three weeks left before I can get it adjusted, since she made the next appointment one month out. All the amazing differences I was noticing the first few days are starting to fade as my body adjusts to the Adderall. I am still more motivated and I am keeping things much less cluttered. After my daughter goes to bed, I go through the living room and pick everything up off the floor. I never did that before. I also cleared the backs of the couches off, and they stay relatively clear. The few things that did gather there today, I put away before getting on here. So I know it is still having some affect on me. And I am sleeping so well. Probably because I’m doing more work during the day.

I noticed something the other day when I was talking to my therapist. I used to shy away from making a lot of eye contact with people. I guess I figured if I didn’t look at them, then they couldn’t see me, couldn’t cast judgment on me. Eyes are so intimidating when your self-esteem is in the tank. But with this medicine, not only do eyes and faces no longer intimidate me, but I no longer just see eyes and faces. I see the person. I’m not looking at something scary, but just another person, like me. Before when I mentioned that everything seems to have more depth and dimension, this is the same thing. I’ve always been pretty superficial about looks. I think that it was because before, that’s all I could see. I could tell myself that I was being shallow, and that there is a person under there. I could even argue with other people who would say someone was fat or ugly. But now it’s like I’m wearing glasses, like my vision has cleared, and now I can see the person behind the face. The funny thing about that is that before, I had such a hard time remembering faces. Even when I did look someone in the eyes when we spoke, even if I had a whole conversation with them, or sat next to them for a whole day. I would still have trouble recognizing them a week later, or in another context. I have spoken to each of my new(ish) next-door neighbors, but I guarantee that if they approached me in public, away from our neighborhood, I wouldn’t know who they were. But now, even though I haven’t tested my theory, I feel like that won’t be as much of a problem any more. Because faces aren’t just empty, intimidating vessels to me anymore. They’re people. And just realizing that difference, I am even more amazed that I have done half as well in life as I have. But not surprised that I don’t have tons of friends. I guess I will have to work on that.

On a somewhat related note, having been diagnosed with ADHD, and having learned more and more about the symptoms, I almost want to go back and tell everyone that I have ever known. I could almost take out a billboard, only it wouldn’t reach everyone who lives in other states. I want to tell the world that I wasn’t trying to be rude, I didn’t want to offend, I never meant to be self-centered, I didn’t realize I was ignoring you, or hurting you, or dismissing you. I hate that I’ve always known my brain didn’t work right, but I never knew I could do anything about it. It’s so frustrating to know that you’re smart, but to feel so stupid. To read a paragraph in a book, over and over and still not know what it said, or what they meant. To be shown how to do something over and over, and still not know how to do it. To have three kids, and still make it out the door without the diaper bag. Or your purse. Or the baby. How worthless you feel because you just can’t seem to get anything right. Or finish anything. Or even start something. Because you just can’t seem to make friends with your neighbors, even when they’re making friends with each other, just because you are so blasted shy. Then when you come across as being stuck-up or flaky. It’s all so blasted frustrating, so you get frustrated about everything, and so you don’t want to think about anything because you don’t want to get frustrated, so you just throw your hands up in the air and say, “Fuck it!” and go read a book or play a video game or watch a movie because then you can imagine a world where you’re not getting frustrated, and none of those real things matter anymore, and everything is copacetic, and there are no bills to pay and no dishes to wash and no dogs to walk, out there in the real world where the people are.

I have lived my whole life… hiding from my life. Trying to escape. Not knowing how to become an active participant in MY OWN LIFE. And now I am thirty-five years old, and I am looking back and thinking It wasn’t just me. I’m not worthless. Maybe, just maybe, I can turn it all around. I can be more than an active player in my life, I can be the director. I can be the composer, the author, the producer. And that is a wonderful feeling. Underneath is still the feeling of outrage that I have lived so long without a diagnosis, but for now, I want to focus on the relief, and start moving forward. Because I can’t get anywhere moving backward.