When I was a girl I read a lot of TEEN magazine, and SEVENTEEN of course. You know, studying up on the normal girls. One of my favorite parts of these was the feature known as “Embarrassing stories.” I actually HATE embarrassment humor. Like the majority of The Office or all Ben Stiller movies. Don’t get me wrong, I know that The Office is hilarious. And I can appreciate how funny it is. But it gives me A LOT of anxiety. So I can only watch that kind of thing while I am either intoxicated or heavily medicated.
(Or I can just watch the fire drill scene over and over again because that is true comedy. (“Save Bandit!”) Also, how many people identified with Dwight as an autistic person? He is SO on the spectrum. I often wondered about Michael Scott, too. (“No one needs multiple magic sets.” “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!”) I mean, that’s why he and Dwight were ultimately such good friends. And why Michael was always trying to prove that he was “cooler” than Dwight. Hello, self-loathing masking?! BUT that’s a different post altogether.)
Anyway, back to embarrassing stories, TEEN magazine… they were very girl-centric, usually something like, “I got my period while I was wearing white shorts after labor day. What a nightmare!”
Which brings me to today. And an interesting but horrible realization. My medication is less effective while I am on my period. (Eeek, I know, I mentioned it... the menstruation… I know, it’s embarrassing to talk about, but I literally named this post embarrassing stories. So I’m leaning into it.)
And I was like, I’ve been on these meds for about four months and every month it is the same “batten the hatches” situation. Why hasn’t anyone told me this would happen? I have felt like I was going insane, literally, every time. Once a month, I was terrified that my meds were no longer workings. That I was going to go back to what it was like before. Then after a few days, things went back to normal. My preferred, reasonable, comfortable, focused, normal.
With that in mind, I have decided that someone needs to woman up and tell all the embarrassing realities of being a neurodiverse woman. Or at least, my embarrassing stories.
Sigh. It’s mortifying, and my TEEN reading inner child is just screaming at me to stop. But I made it my mission to help others. And telling said others that they are not alone is one of the most important things you can do…
So, welcome to my deepest darkest secrets…Read with caution…
I’ve decided to do it in a list form. No particular order. Just spilling my guts like it’s TEEN 1997 all over again.
–When I was a little girl, I thought that mirrors were like television screens, meaning that everyone was watching me through them. My peers, my teachers, my crushes and my bullies. And when I say, “little girl,” I was really a young adult. This fear/concept followed me well into my late teens. I attribute this to the need to mask taking over my pubescent mind.
–Hygiene and beauty were difficult for me as that same little girl. If I was not directly taught something I did not retain the skill until a traumatic event made me either force myself to learn or run away from it entirely. So like, brushing my teeth was a difficult task. Not only did I have issues with remembering to do it, the sensory response to the act was uncomfortable.(It was also in front of a mirror, remember?)
Second note on hygiene and beauty, for some autistic people, they had parents that helped them learn these things through direct instruction. My parents taught me a lot of things- a love of reading, writing, and the arts- compassion, awareness, and intelligence- all the really important stuff, but they did not teach me the little things, like deodorant, shaving, make-up, etc. I usually learned from either watching my older sister who is very well groomed and beautiful, school programs, movies and television, or by trauma. Technically, I learned make up through the theater. I’m still learning how to do make up on myself, instead of someone else, which is so much easier.
-I read a great bit of advice the other day, it said, “forgive yourself for the things you did when you were just trying to survive.” Being an undiagnosed autistic is often so humiliating. Especially with this next thing… I did a lot of mirroring in times of crisis. Meaning, that I would literally repeat people in echoic fashion. Their mannerisms, their actions, what they said. Especially in times of emotional crisis. I actually still can’t come to terms with some of those, or even speak about them. That’s how traumatic that was.
I will reveal just one of those times. Here. Now. Probably the worst one in my memory. Something that only the people involved and my husband know about… possibly some witnesses…
It involved a college ex boyfriend and a friend. The three of us were in a near constant love triangle. Twilight with two women and no vampires. Honestly, the day we all moved away from each other and started dating other people was a good day for everyone. BUT on one particular occasion, none of us were seeing each other. Or so I thought. When I found out that my friend and my ex, were back together, in public with no one telling me beforehand… I was so shocked, and emotionally unsettled, that I started mirroring everything that she did to him. Including, kissing him on the cheek and other intimate actions.
It was completely involuntary. I could feel myself screaming to stop, BUT I could NOT stop. I think I only managed to stop myself when we all separated for the night. It was like a fucking spell. Sometimes, I wondered how I was ever going to get over something so uncontrollable and humiliating, but telling my husband about it made it easier, and then here, now. Speaking about it, made its power over me, so much less.
–I did weird impulsive things that I still don’t understand. One time, I tapped a girlfriend on the shoulder in class and showed her my bra- not the strap, the bra. No reason. It wasn’t even a fancy bra. I think it was like the most boring nude colored bra. But the instant I did it, my mind went, “What the fuck did you just do?”
-I made out with someone who wasn’t my date at the homecoming dance. My date and I were only going as friends, and I really should have released him from his promise when he started dating a different girl, but I didn’t understand that until we were already at the dance. So I made out with another dude to make up for it. I over-corrected. And because I have issues with loyalty and not wanting to hurt people, I dated that guy I made out with for over a month. When I eventually broke up with him he spread a rumor that I was only dating him for his car. (It was a red car? I still don’t remember what was so great about it other than it was red.)
-One time, I infamously joined a different choir’s song, ON THE STAGE, in the middle of a holiday concert. That one definitely still haunts me. I can’t listen to the song “Santa Baby” without having a mini-meltdown. It’s a stupid overly sexualized song anyway. (WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?! I didn’t even know the words!) Like I said, this stuff is embarrassing.
–I stabbed someone with a seam ripper in home economics. Uh, yeah. It was completely unprovoked. I just had a compulsion. Ok, it was much more of a poke. I am not a sociopath or something. This was at age 11, so I blame puberty.
–I wrote fake journals to be “read in the future.” It wasn’t like they were decoy journals or something. I legit lied to future generations about who I was and then donated them to Goodwill. I sometimes try to attribute this to being a writer? I’m still not sure. Or they were masks that I was trying on? Probably that one, because I kept my name the same. I also would destroy huge sections of these journals because the uneven spacing around my handwriting set off OCD triggers, or a misspelling. Can’t have that! I’d just rip them right out the book and throw them away until it was a thready husk of a journal. Definitely not eco-friendly.
–I did a lot of movie and television echolalia. Not even like cool movies. If a situation even remotely resembled something out of a movie or television show I would impulsively do it. (There was at least one junior high, Titanic “I’m on top of the world!” in gym class. It was not well received, not by the students, by the teacher, not anyone.)
There is a scene in the show Community with Abed (one of the best representations of autism on television I’ve ever seen) where a fight in the library makes him burst out into Judd Nelson’s speech from The Breakfast Club. I had to hide my face in my husband’s shoulder it hit so close to home. Don’t worry. I was simultaneously shrieking, “I love him so much!” So it was a good experience despite the trauma memories.
I actually still do this, but so does my husband, so we really enjoy it immensely. We can communicate completely through reference, like we’re that alien species on Star Trek the Next Generation. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra… anyone? Bueller? (See, a reference on top of a reference. It’s like reference inception. THREE REFERENCES! I can’t be stopped!)
–I impulsively lied. A LOT. And for no reason. This one I sometimes attribute to masking, sometimes to ADHD. Some people would call it manipulative and attribute it to BPD, but it was never malicious. It often went something like this:
No one: …
Me: I’m actually a natural blonde. This brunette color is hair dye.
THEN I WOULD COMMIT. Whole arguments would break out over what I said, but I would double, triple down on whatever weird idea I just thrusted into the world. I still don’t know why. If I had to gamble, I would go with ADHD impulsive, lack of filter, and masking. (Blondes are cooler, right?)
And then some of them were just weird half truths like, I lived in Canada. I visited Canada for several weeks with a friend. What? Why?
You know, obviously there are so many more. But that’s probably all my TEEN magazine soul can take, for today. Whatever it is, remember the advice I shared, “Forgive yourself for the things you did when you were just trying to survive.”
And, uh, never stop referencing Star Trek. That is not embarrassing. That’s just awesome.
That picture was taken by my friend’s mother, we are about 16 or so here. Notice the sunglasses on my head (photophobia) and the completely bare face, not an ounce of make up. You can really pull that off when you’re sixteen though. Youth was the best mask I had back then. Harder to pull off when you’re 35.