This One Time At Band Camp

Story time!

So lately, as I process a lot of stuff about myself, I’m starting to see signs that I am, in fact, autistic. (Self-diagnosis is valid. Actual diagnosis at this stage in the game is costly and could potentially do more harm than good. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Here is a story (or two) about me that should have clued in *someone* that my brain is wired differently.

I wasn’t too into church or youth group until I went to a youth conference called Acquire the Fire and, oh buddy, did I acquire it. I thought Jesus was awesome and everyone needed to think so too, preferably at 7pm on Tuesday nights. I became the youth group’s biggest PR rep and cheerleader. If I knew you *might* be interested in coming to group, I was definitely, DEFINITELY going to invite you.

This one particular girl, let’s call her “Kay”, came to church with her family every Sunday and to the morning prayer circle at school every day. The morning prayer circle at school consisted of myself and about 3-4 other kids who were “unashamed” of the gospel. In my mind, anyone brave enough to join the morning prayer circle at school must be a hardcore believer like me. In reality, we met at a time and place where no one really saw us holding hands and praying together. So, honestly, not much chance for “persecution”.

I thought if Kay was as devoted to God as she seemed to be, she really ~needed~ to come to youth group. I started inviting her almost every chance I got. At least a few times a week, I’d ask if she was coming to youth group. She always gave noncommittal answers such as, “maybe” “we’ll see” “what time is it again”, etc. I took this to mean there was a chance she would come. I’d even wait expectantly for her to walk through the door each week. I never got upset or hurt if she didn’t show. I just figured she was busy or forgot and I needed to keep asking. That is until…

She told on me to her mom.

Yep. You read that right. My stepmom sat me down one day because Kay’s mom had called her asking her to get me to stop bothering her daughter and asking her to come to youth group. Apparently, I was making her uncomfortable. Of course, I was surprised, embarrassed, and upset. I was a junior in high school at this point. No one had tattled on me to their mom for quite some time. I left Kay alone after that. I didn’t really talk to her much even when a few months later she started coming to youth group all on her own.

That’s just one story. I have so many more.

How about the time when I was a married, adult lady, not a kid in high school anymore, and it took me months to realize my (now ex) husband’s friends didn’t like me.

The band we’d been in for 2 years had broken up. The next one we’d started ended suddenly when the drummer ditched us right before a big show and I was 5 months pregnant with my first kid. We became friends with 2 single guys and started hanging with them regularly. We even made stupid homemade movies together. One of them asked me for advice about a girl he liked. We decided to form a band together. I thought we were all friends. I treated them the way I’d always treated my guy friends. I shared personal stuff with them because that’s what I’d always done. We would all be hanging together in a group and things would get deep and I’d share my deep stuff too. Apparently, that made them uncomfortable.

After a while I finally took the hint and wrote a resignation letter to the band because to me it seemed like the guys didn’t like me. AND THEY WERE SO RELIEVED THAT I QUIT BECAUSE *THEY DIDN’T LIKE ME*! I made them uncomfortable.

You want more stories? I could tell you more.

I could tell you the brief tale of the multiple times when I was pregnant with my first kiddo and my (now ex) husband was constantly working overnight so I never saw him and got very lonely. I guess I sort of invited myself over to watch tv with some friends. It took me hours, *HOURS* to realize they wanted me to leave.

The point of all these stories and others will be the same. I don’t pick up on social cues from people that I am making them uncomfortable. It is “normal” to make others aware of your discomfort by your tone of voice, your facial expressions, your body language, even the subtle choices you make in the language you use. But, clearly, all of that is over my head. I miss the memo. If you don’t explicitly tell me I’m making you uncomfortable, I won’t know.

And the knowledge and terror of that is so real for me. When you KNOW you make people uncomfortable but you also don’t know when you’re doing it OR what exactly you’re doing that makes them uncomfortable, you spend way too much time in your head trying to construct the model that will finally tell you how to behave. When you don’t know why people you thought were friends are just done with you, you become an anxious little bunny afraid of her own shadow.

The grey world of subtlety that others seem to thrive in and understand, the world of subtext and pretext, of undertone and gradation, of ambiguity and nuance is ~uncomfortable~ for ME! I might make them uncomfortable by not picking up on their social cues but their social cues are uncomfortable for me. I LOVE direct, honest communication, not that I’m always good at it, nevertheless, I LOVE IT. I’ve outstayed my welcome and you’re ready for me to head home? Tell me! I’m texting too much (bc the bees inside my head never shut up)? I want to know! Something in my mannerisms or language makes you uncomfortable? Ok, I’ll adjust accordingly. I’m not difficult to work with here, folks. You just have to communicate with me directly.

But people aren’t direct. Even many fellow neurodivergents who value direct communication are, themselves, indirect. This is probably for the same reason I’m not always direct: we were conditioned not to be because it makes others (say it with me now, folks) ~uncomfortable~! That coupled with the crippling need to people please because our RSD is rampaging in the Tokyo of our mindscapes like miniature Godzillas means that, we too, go for subtlety instead of just saying what’s on our minds.

And, oh, my dear fluffy Lord in heaven, I’m so exhausted by all of it.

Like all humans I desire love, friendship, and acceptance but my pursuit of such things hasn’t always turned out the way I’d hoped. And I’ve always accepted the blame for that. In another recent post, I said that I mythologize other humans. They are Greek god, I am mere mortal. When you’re told often enough early in life all the things you’re doing wrong and not nearly enough what you’re doing right, you begin to believe you can’t do anything right. You start to only see your negative traits and not your positive ones. Something about you is alien, wrong. Because if you were human, right, you wouldn’t push away so many people, would you?

I’ve lived in the fear that I will make my most loved ones uncomfortable, that I’ll annoy them, that I’ll finally push too much and they will leave for good. And I’ve come to see that fear manifest before my eyes into reality. And it was more painful than I’d expected it to be. But I survived it. Somehow and by the grace of God.

I’m in a computer class in school. Principles of Computing. It’s a beginner’s beginner’s course to writing code. And guess what? I mother flurping love it. I love it so much. Computer code is my new favorite thing. Why?? Because there is no subtle grey area to navigate. You input something and it does the thing. Is there skill and knowledge involved in figuring out what things to input so what you’re trying to create will perform correctly? Uh duh. But I know if I use “x” input, it will perform “x” function. I don’t have to coax it into doing what it’s supposed to or try reading between some imaginary lines. It is what it is and that’s all it is. No grey. All black and white. Ones and zeros. It’s amazingly beautiful. It’s my friend now. We’re having soft tacos later.

Of all the things I’m discovering about myself, this one might be the most helpful. I don’t like ambiguity in my relationships. I want to know where we fall on the friendship rainbow. Are we closer to the cloud side or the pot of gold? I don’t like the idea that someone is not cool with me and expecting me to figure it out by the helpful hints they’ve left for me. Gross. Tell me we’re not cool. I’d rather you call me a massive douche to my face and tell me why I’m a douche than to just fade me out of your reality.

I’ve spent a long time assuming I was annoying people and preemptively trying to put out fires that didn’t even exist. I’m not doing that anymore. If I’m annoying you, grow a pair of tits, balls, or vocal cords and TELL ME. Or if you’re too much of a coward, tell on me to your mom and have her do it. But unless I’m explicitly told I’m annoying you, I’m gonna go ahead and assume I’m not.

Input “x” results in “x” function performed. It’s that simple. Tell me I’m annoying you and then I will know. I am not a mind reader. And I’m done playing Scooby Doo only to unmask the villain and find out it was ME all along.

I’m finally getting to the place in my life where I like myself. All the self doubt, worry, and guessing games have to go. I’d rather spend the rest of my life alone than continue to gaslight myself this way and play these harmful mind games.

I started this post by saying “here’s a sign I might be autistic – I don’t read social cues”. Neat. Now what am I gonna do about it? Nothing. Love myself exactly how I am and work on reconditioning myself so I’m not so worried about putting out imaginary fires or alienating people just by being me. All my fears about losing people and being alone, fueled by my mini RSD Godzilla, have just held me back for so long and kept me from truly finding the love, friendship, and acceptance I seek. Time to work on abandoning those fears. Time to work on finding the love, friendship, and acceptance I seek in myself. (#corny)

Dark and Difficult

I remember it so well. We were lying in bed. I was trying to fall sleep. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Nick asks me if I think people think I’m a good person or a bad person. Without thinking I said, “I don’t think people think about me.” He said that was sad but I didn’t mean it in a sad way. I meant that people are wrapped up in their own lives and stories and I don’t really factor into anyone’s story in a significant enough way for them to think about me when I’m not around. Out of sight, out of mind.

But now I’m thinking about all this again while I struggle to recognize my rejection sensitive dysphoria for what it is. I still think people don’t think about me unless I pop up in their life. If I send them a text, for example. But if I’m not in their immediate view (irl, social media, text messages, etc.) then I go back to not existing. If someone were to ask me that question again, do people think I’m a good or bad person, I would answer the same way with an addendum or two.

When I imagine what people think of me, I see my worst traits. I imagine that all the good things about me go unnoticed and only the worst parts of me are what come to mind. Annoying, embarrassing, talk too much, too sensitive, too emotional, boring, overthinking, fat, ugly, grating speaking voice. It’s a wonder I have any friends at all.

When I think about how I feel about myself, I see a lot of good. I think I’m kind, funny, intelligent, generous, pretty, and somewhat adventurous. I like myself and my British accent. I don’t care if my kids say it’s not believable.

I’ve been on a real roller coaster of emotions since admitting to myself the other day just how bad my RSD has gotten. I’ve been trying to hype myself up and keep my spirits up but tbh it’s a struggle sometimes. I’m struggling right now as I write this.

I wish I could say I’m worried about what people think of me but the truth is I feel like I already KNOW. They don’t think of me. I don’t exist when I’m not around. And when I am around, I’m back to being the annoying, weird kid in class that no one plays with at recess.

At the moment, I’m feeling very “hide from the world” for a while. Disappear. A friend told me after I moved to Iowa that they thought I was just gonna disappear one day. Wishful thinking? Were they hinting at the future they hoped for? I don’t know.

One thing I know is this journey of rediscovering myself is sometimes fun and sometimes dark and difficult. Today, right now, we’re at dark and difficult. All I know is I don’t want to be cheered up. I want to sit in this feeling until I understand it. That might mean I disappear for a while. Idk. I have no idea what’s next or what tomorrow will bring. I just know there are always rocky valleys to fight through.

People have been calling me brave for a year now. Every time I make a difficult decision to change my life, or share some hard won lesson I’ve learned, someone calls me brave. I’m not brave. I do what I must and nothing more. I don’t have a choice. The things I’m doing are all things I feel I have to do. So I do them. And doing the things, even the really hard things, will lead me closer to where and who and what I want to be.

Right now, doing the things has led me to dark and difficult. Tomorrow may be different.

PS. I mean it when I say I don’t want to be cheered up. I’m just using this blog and this post as a heart patch to sew onto my sleeve. Idk why writing this out helps me but it does. It’s part of my process I guess. Idk. Thanks in advance for not trying to cheer me up.

The Mythology of Other Human Beings

I had a big ole fat realization the other day. And it’s making me look at everything with different eyes, through a different lens, in a new light.

Firstly, I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I am a neurodivergent sweetie for the last few years. Definitely have ADHD, most likely on the autism spectrum, etc. But something I’ve only recently begun to accept about myself and examine is the fact that I have RSD. What is RSD, you ask? Let me tell you what I know.

RSD is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. Common in people with ADHD, it is not a specific medical diagnosis but rather a way to describe and categorize some of the symptoms we have. These include:

  • Being easily embarrassed
  • Get very angry or having an emotional outburst when they feel like someone has hurt or rejected them
  • Setting high standards for themselves they often can’t meet
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling anxious, especially in social settings
  • Having problems with relationships
  • Staying away from social situations and withdraw from other people
  • Feeling like a failure because they haven’t lived up to other people’s expectations
  • Sometimes thinking about hurting themselves

According the Lord of the internet, Web MD:

“People who have RSD don’t handle rejection well. They get very upset if they think someone has shunned or criticized them, even if that’s not the case. Up to 99% of teens and adults with ADHD are more sensitive than usual to rejection. And nearly 1 in 3 say it’s the hardest part of living with ADHD. People who have the condition sometimes work hard to make everyone like and admire them. Or they might stop trying and stay out of any situation where they might get hurt. This social withdrawal can look like social phobia, which is a serious fear of being embarrassed in public.”

As a person who has been told their ENTIRE life that they are overly sensitive and wear their heart on their sleeve, I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to correct this in myself. I’ve tried to develop a “thicker skin”. I’ve tried to mask how I really feel so no one will see the “heart on my sleeve”. I’ve tried learning what people expect of me and then projecting that image so they will accept me and not see what’s going on under the surface. I’ve never liked being sensitive. It was one of the most common insults I endured as a child especially from my own family who constantly told me I needed to learn how to take a joke. Even after learning that RSD was a thing people had, I tried to deny I had it. I didn’t want to be that weak person. I wanted to be strong.

But over the last few months I’ve begun accepting that I do, in fact, have RSD and it does massively affect my life. When I say it took guts to admit this, you would probably have to have RSD to understand.

Now that I’m working the night shift at the hotel, I spend a lot of time *alone* with my *thoughts*. LOL. Yes, I listen to music and audiobooks while I work but that doesn’t stop my brain from interrupting the music or book with its own commentary on just about anything at all. So the other night it just sort of hit me like a ton of bricks that Nick leaving the way that he did triggered a massive RSD episode in me that may or may not have been just ongoing for the last year.

That thought sent me down a huge rabbit hole that I’ll keep to myself, thank you.

But today I was really examining it all again and realizing that I mythologize other people. I am a classic “they are good, I am bad” kinda gal and I just go around assuming that if someone rejects me it is because something is wrong with me. *Thanks RSD.* If I like you, love you, admire you in any way, then I will put you up on that pedestal so freaking fast. Even if I see your faults and issues, I just KNOW you are better and more wonderful and smarter and more beautiful and the most absolutest bestest person and so much just BETTER than I am. And I *KNOW* if you reject me in any way, it is because of something I did. You are greek god, I am mere mortal.

I mythologize other humans.

But something else I’ve been realizing: I cannot control if someone decides to reject me or not. I am actually a pretty great person. I’ve definitely got flaws and issues and *problems* but I’m not an asshole, I’m kind, I’m generous, I’m funny, I’m not even ugly. I have nice tattoos and my boobs aren’t the worst. I usually don’t smell. I’ll probably make you some kind of art at some point. And I can cook. So if someone does decide to reject me that’s ok. It doesn’t make me a piece of crap. It just means I wasn’t their particular brand of whiskey. Does my RSD cause me to be a little clingy sometimes? Guilty. Does my RSD cause me to be overly sensitive? Guilty. Am I a crazy asshole? No.

I’ve been sitting here my whole life thinking that my worst, most annoying traits totally cancel out my good ones. If I’m a little clingy or talk too much or get my knickers in a twist a little too easily then I must not be worthy of love? I call bullshit.

So now I have to work on this. I can’t make my RSD disappear. But I can call a spade a spade and recognize what’s really going on here. I can remind myself that I am doing the best I can and that I’m a pretty great human. If someone doesn’t like me or outright rejects me, that’s on them and not me. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean (and I cannot stress this enough) I CAN’T MAKE PEOPLE LIKE ME NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY. It is their choice. All I can do is be my lovely, wonderful, goofy, neurodivergent self and hope for the best.

People WILL reject me. That is a part of life. And my RSD will continually rear its ugly head to try to take me down and make me mythologize the people in my life. I’ve gotta recognize it and take it out like a freaking Ghostbuster. Ghosts will always haunt NY but the Ghostbusters will always be there to take them out and lock them away. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. I’ve gotta live with myself for the rest of my life so I may as well start trying to tame this RSD now.

Alright, I gotta get ready for school. I could probably talk about this a lot because I’ve been thinking about it A LOT. But I gotta go make my life cooler and better now. Peace.