Suicide: Part 1

The first time I ever thought of the word suicide must have been at about 13. That was when most of my life started falling apart. Home had turned into a place where I had to take care of my mother so I was no longer free while I was there. School had turned into a survival match between the bullies and the teachers: both parties seemed to want me to suffer every day.

Nothing was safe, and nothing was sacred any more. I felt more angst and pain than I thought was possible, and saw no way to express it. I tried writing, drawing, music, nothing seemed to help. I felt completely lost and scared and that I was all alone out there. Most of the time, it felt like I was trapped in a foreign planet where everyone else seemed to speak a whole different language than I did. They were all doing normal middle school things, and I was over there in existential crisis, trapped inside my own dark and abusive thoughts.

For weeks I stayed up all night trying to think of a way to fix these problems. I am firm believer that any problem can be fixed with the right strategy. Even in my depression, I felt that way. But I could not find any solution. I was too young to get a job, I was too scared to run away (and I didn’t want to leave my dog).

I finally realized that there was one way out – I could die. If I died, then suddenly I don’t have to go to school and get made fun of, I don’t have to go home and take care of my mother, I don’t have to figure out my life plans any more, I could just stop being a problem to the world. I felt sick the first time I thought of it and pushed it out of my head for a few days. But then, like a tiger hunting in the jungle, the thought pounced back onto me in a moment of weakness. I had a pang of longing in my heart as I realized that my death would take me out of this awful situation. This time it stuck with me for a while. I had heard people say that suicide was ‘selfish’, but I didn’t really understand what that meant (I still don’t to be honest). Living seems to be pretty selfish, why would dying be more so?

I thought a lot about what death meant. I had been a Christian for a while, but never really believed in the whole afterlife thing. I had no concept of what death was like and being such an unknown thing scared me. I tried to imagine what death was like by closing my eyes, holding my breath, and being perfectly still. I imagined doing that until the end of time. It sucked. I didn’t think that was what death was like.

So then, I thought about death being nothing. Death would mean that all that I was would suddenly cease to be and everything that I had learned and thought of, would suddenly disappear. It hurt my brain to think about that. I realized that death also meant that I would lose all of the things I cared about in life, that much I knew was certain. If I died, there would be no more mac and cheese, no more puppies, no more Lord of the Rings and so on.

I realized that I had two options: live or die. Dying contained a lot of unknowns which scared me. Living contained a lot of problems that I didn’t like and couldn’t solve. I really couldn’t decide which one was the better option. That was really my reason for stalling. Not some belief that every life is precious, not some faith-based reason, not a deep seated will to live, not a dramatic savior swooping in to save me. I didn’t kill myself because I couldn’t choose between life and death. One of the few times that indecision and black and white thinking can be a good thing.

I made a pro and con list of living. It seems crass now to distill life down to that level, but it made sense at the time. I wish that I still had that list, but it got lost in a move, along with my Bag of Emotional Baggage. That’s not a joke, I used to keep everything that I cared about and felt emotions for in a bag. I would look through that bag when I felt bad. Losing it was devastating, but that’s a sad story for another day.

I believe my list was something like this:

Pro for Living:

  • Puppies
  • Sunrises
  • Sunsets
  • Rain
  • Sunny days
  • Trees
  • Flowers
  • Books
  • Video games
  • Mac and Cheese

 

Con for Living:

  • Bullies – they will stop one day
  • Taking care of mom – she took care of me when I was younger
  • Hating myself – I will learn and be better one day…probably
  • Feeling lost – “Not all who wander are lost” – Gandalf the Grey
  • Emotions – ???
  • Puberty – will end at some point, right??

 

I remember very clearly writing in solutions for all the things that were on my con list. I had the mental capacity, even then, to see that those things were fixable problems. I think what helped me was to writie the pro list first. I then felt that there were so many things that I enjoyed, that I couldn’t miss out on those.

I decided that the problems from living could or would be fixed with enough time. The uncertainties of dying might be really really bad, or could be great. I don’t like to gamble, so I decided that the best option would be to live.

So I then sat down and thought about how to add more of the things I liked into my life.

 

Masking Depression

Another sad update from the pits of depression.

Lately I have been consumed by one thought: I want more than anything to be better, to be myself again. I want to be able to laugh and smile and enjoy things again. I want to be able to sleep through the night. I want to be able to go through a day without wanting to die.

But I am not there yet. There have been a few days that I have felt like that, and that should be giving me hope. However, it has the opposite effect. I feel that I am slipping further and further away from those days of being myself again.

I have given up on myself in a lot of ways. I don’t believe that my life will be good again, I don’t believe that I will ever have fun again. I don’t believe that there is anything in my future to look forward to. I want to believe those things so much, but I can’t. Believing in those hopeful things feels like lying, and I can’t tolerate lying.

I can sense that people around me are beginning to give up on me, like I have given up on myself. Sometimes I can tell that they are concerned about me, and sometimes they offer to help me. But they don’t know how, and I don’t even know how they could help me. I can tell they want me to get better but are starting to think that it is not possible too. I can feel them starting to move on with their lives and forget about me. I feel that I will soon become just another statistic, a data point to show a lost life due to mental illness.

I do not want that to happen. I want things to change, I want things to be good again. I have no idea how to do that.

So I have started putting on my ‘mask’ anytime I am around other people. I put on my mask that makes me seem happy and ok. I use the mask to make myself controlled and consistent enough so that I can go to work on bad days. The mask keeps me from melting into a puddle, and keeps me from screaming at small problems like the wind blowing in my face. I used to be able to keep the mask off, but now it is a necessity.

I have to hide my true feelings because I know that people are sick and tired of hearing it. When someone asks “How are you?”, the mask forces me to answer with “Good”. But the truth is something more like “Absolutely horrible in every way, I feel the crushing weight of the universe on my eyelids every morning and can barely keep them open because all I want to do is go to sleep forever.” But that is not an answer you can ever really give.

People like the mask, and I often think that they like it instead of me. I feel that no one would like the real me anymore, and I can’t blame them. I don’t even like the me that I am now (although I have rarely ever liked myself).

I used to have friends and some family that I could be genuine with, people who never expected me to wear the mask and who accepted me without it. But now, anytime I try to take it off and be open with them, they clam up and start to freak out. They run away from me when I try to share or resist me. That makes me feel so much worse. I don’t want or expect them to fix me, I just want someone to actually listen. I don’t even care if they do nothing other than say “Yeah” and “Uh-huh” in-between my sentences. I don’t even care if they care or not. I just want the dignity of another human being caring about me enough to let me explain how I feel. And not to have them interrupt me to try to correct me or try to solve my problems as I explain them. I just want to take off the mask and share actual honesty with someone. I used to be able to that, but now I can tell that people are too worried about me. They judge me too much. So I have to keep all those awful feelings inside of me, bottle them up and hope that they don’t leak their toxins into my bloodstream.

I hate when I have to take the mask off at the end of the day. It feels as if my face is rotting underneath the mask. Every time I take it off, it smells and feels a little more rank. I am unsure who I am without that mask now. I keep trying to wear the mask constantly, but I can’t fall asleep with that thing on. But then when I take it off, I realize how bad of shape I really am in and how I can’t even talk to anyone about it and I get too scared. I am constantly terrified. I don’t know how much longer I can keep up this fight, I am running out of options and out of time. Something has to change soon.

 

Finally some good news: I wrote that post last week, and between then and now some huge things have happened. I saw my psychiatrist, who said that I could be a good candidate for a procedure called Trans-Cranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). It is a treatment used to help when anti-depressants have not really worked very well and there has not been much recovery. The process is basically powerful magnets that send waves into the brain to help reactivate parts of the brain that do not function well in depressed patients. It also has been shown to help with anxiety, OCD, and improve autism as well (still not entirely sure how that one works).

I found out my insurance approved it and would pay 99% of the huge amount (I won’t say how much exactly, but that it cost about as much as my college degree). I spent the last remnants of my medical savings account to pay for it because it seemed like a great option. I am hoping that it works. I am currently on Day 4 and so far all it has done is give me headaches and make me very very sleepy. But those are perfectly normal side effects so far.

 

PS: Apologies if my posts here have drifted a bit. My intent was to keep this blog about autism related things and life stories/perspectives and all that, but my life has been totally taken over by this depression. I feel like a lot of my depression is because of my autism, or at least exacerbated by it. And depression is a very common problem for those with autism, so it technically isn’t too far off base.

How the Depressodon Nearly Defeated Me

Yes, I am still alive and still here. A lot has happened over the past few months. I will add a warning now, this post will be very dark. I will talk about depression and suicide. If those things bother you, then you should skip this part.

For some reason, our culture refuses to talk about suicide. It is some mysterious taboo that is too horrifying to speak of in the daylight. It is something that only hopelessly lost people think about. I think that is completely ridiculous and extremely unhealthy. If someone is feeling suicidal, we need to welcome them and comfort them, not shame them. I have had suicidal thoughts for years. But I have never said anything out loud because I was too afraid. I was afraid that if I told someone about it, that I would get locked in a padded room. That fear forced me to live so many years suffering quietly with the torment of those unspeakable thoughts. I hope that we, as a society, can learn to accept suicidal thoughts and help deal with them rather than create a culture of fear.

So, on to my story.

I had a lot of huge life events that happened, most of them terrible. My depression took a sharp nosedive and took me with it. I can’t really talk about the specifics of what happened in my life, because it is far too personal to share. But I can tell you that I have been dealing with the worst depression I have ever experienced.

I have always lived with somewhat of a mild state of depression, I call it the Depressodon. The Depressodon doesn’t really have a definite shape or form, it exists more as a shadow. I sometimes see him as the absence of happiness.  He is there in the back of my head, sometimes contributing sad and awful things to my day. But mostly, he doesn’t exert much control over me. He grew to mammoth proportions a few months ago and very nearly defeated me.

The Depressodon feeds me irrational thoughts constantly. For example, if someone doesn’t call me or text me for a while, the Depressodon will suggest that they must hate me. Depressodon tells me that the only logical reason they would not talk to me is that they hate me and don’t want to be around me. I can tell that that thought is not very sound or logical when I say it out loud, or when I can identify that it came from the Depressodon. But when I am in the moment, and that thought pops up in my head, I have absolutely no way to distinguish where it came from. All I know is that I think that, and I can back it up with ‘evidence’, therefore it is must be true, and therefore I must feel bad.

I have to have a very close relationship with my thoughts because they make up the ‘real me’. The thoughts I have define my actions, which define how the world interacts with me, which determines how the world treats me. Any kind of breakage along that chain causes an enormous amount of distress and means that I can’t really function properly. I must have complete trust in my thoughts- all of them. If I can’t trust some thoughts because they might be irrational, how can I trust the other thoughts? How do I know which ones are irrational and which ones aren’t?

This is another example of the ‘black and white’ thinking, I can tell that much. But it is so fundamental to my existence that I can’t even imagine being alive without having complete trust in my thoughts.

I can often times spot these thoughts as being false, but over time they wear me down and I begin to accept them. I begin to adopt them and use them as mantras to protect myself. Whenever someone hurts me, I can just repeat to myself “Everyone hates me. It’s not a surprise. It was my fault for thinking that someone could like me or ever be nice to me.” Using the irrational thought to justify things can make them seem a lot less random and a lot more personal, which in turn makes them much easier to process and categorize.

I think is a large part of why Trapeziums struggle with depression so often. We have a difficult time determining which thoughts to trust, because we see things as binary. If we can’t trust some thoughts, then we can’t trust any thoughts. If we can’t trust any thoughts, then what do we have?

Another huge problem is that most of the advice people give consists of “Focus on the positive things” or “Ignore the negative thoughts”. I HATE that advice. There is no way to just ignore some thoughts. If you only focus on some thoughts and leave out the others then you are not being fully honest, and that is bad.

So for me, when I try to focus on the positive stuff, I then get worried that I am ignoring something huge and important. I then realize that I am not being honest and am telling myself lies by leaving out the bad side of things. That causes an inordinate amount of stress, which then makes me feel even worse. I haven’t yet found a good way to avoid that stupid cycle.

Anyways, back to the super depressing stuff. A few months ago, most of my life fell apart. I lost almost everything that I cared about and had worked so hard to build up. The Depressodon became much larger than anything I could have imagined. Instead of whispering quietly in the back of my head, he was now screaming into my ears every second that I was awake (and usually while I was asleep too). He screamed things about how I am horrible, and I will never be happy again, and that no one could ever care about me. He pushed these thoughts into my brain like horse parts into a sausage machine.

I was beyond terrified and I had no idea how to fight him. I was destroyed and I felt like a useless empty shell of my former self. The Depressodon told me that I should die, that everyone would be happier if I was dead. And instead of fighting it, I agreed. He told me that I should kill myself, and that the sooner I did it, the sooner I could escape the pain of life.

So the Depressodon took control. This time he continued to scream at me, all day and all night. I didn’t sleep for about 3 weeks. He convinced me that there was nothing left in my life to live for, that there was no reason for me to exist. He told me that the world clearly didn’t want me in it, and that the people in my life clearly didn’t want me to exist either. He told me that I would never ever be happy or smile again. I believed him, every word of it. I had nothing left, no fight in me to resist. I became his puppet. I accepted his words as truth, because I could see no other alternative. I saw no way that my life could ever get better, and no way that I would be happy again. I believed that the only thing I would ever feel is loneliness and sadness.

Being a very logical person, this led me to conclude that killing myself was the best option. If my life was going to stay this way forever and I would be unhappy, there was no reason to live. Without anything to hope for or to look forward to in the future, I was already dead inside. So I decided to make that change to the outside.

Every time that I tried to kill myself, something in me would rise up and cause me to stop. Somewhere deep inside me, a tiny little candle was lit and a little voice screamed into the hurricane that “I want to live!” I focused on that voice and tried to encourage it, but quickly the hurricane of depression drowned it. But then, when I tried again to kill myself, the same little voice screamed as loud as it could. Each time it’s candle grew a little bit brighter.

I am really grateful for that little voice. I would not be writing this if that voice hadn’t stopped me. It kept me going long enough to suffer through a few more weeks and that was enough for things to move forward. Life doesn’t really stop just because you are super-depressed. I guess that’s a good thing.

I continued to be a puppet of the Depressodon. I gave up all will that I had. I fell back into all of my old destructive habits, because I had nothing else.

One day, I stopped long enough to look myself in the mirror. I had no idea who or what I had become. I noticed my eyes had turned to gray, they no longer shone or sparkled, but they lurked behind the shadows of my eyelids as if they were too ashamed to be seen. The dark circles under my eyes gave the impression that I had been punched a few times in both eyes. My skin looked dry and didn’t seem to feel right. I noticed that my face had no trace of happiness on it at all. I used to get compliments from the old ladies at church because “I had such a great big smile!” and my “smile brightened up the whole room”, and I “smiled with my whole face”. I never really understood all that meant, but I did understand that the face I was seeing in the mirror had none of those qualities.

I lost it. I fell/sat down in the bathtub and cried for a really long time. I thought about my life so far, all of the hard times that I have suffered through. All of the friends who have left me. All of the friends that I have left behind. I thought about the time when I went to a homecoming dance with one person, and wound up making out with a different person. I thought about the ‘goth phase’ that I went through in high school, where I wore combat boots and black jeans and tried to get away with a trench coat. I thought about the time when one of my closest friends tried to kill herself and we drove to nowhere and did nothing, but came back and felt better. Then we went and got matching tattoos from a poem that we loved. I thought about my friend in second grade who had a pet ferret and his parents were super-rich, but then he found out I lived in a trailer park and never talked to me again. I thought about the time some friends and I went to Miami to ‘live it up’ and I discovered that I hated the city of Miami and the people that lived there, so I ran off and sat on the beach till everyone else finished being stupid and drunk. I thought about the time when I as 10 and my grandfather gave me a knife he made taught me the rules of how to use it responsibly, and then I thought of how I carried a knife with everyday since then, even in school where you aren’t supposed to for some reason. I thought of my trip to Buenos Aires where my credit card got stolen on the flight, and we went to a zoo because it was in Spanish and wanted to compare it to a zoo in English (conclusion: pretty much the same kind of place).

I thought of all those random memories and how many more that I had deep inside of me. I thought that I could not end my story now. I wanted to keep collecting stories, because stories are all that we have. Stories are the one thing that unites us and teaches us and entertains us. I realized that I wanted to be a part of the story for longer.

I wish I could say that that moment and that experience fixed everything and my life became great again. But, it didn’t. Things never really seem to work out that way. I had realized that I wanted to have my life back, and to not be a slave to the Depressodon. But I had no clue how to even begin to fight him.

I realized that I didn’t really want to die. I realized that I didn’t want to live the life I had. I latched on to that thought and ran with it. I started thinking of ways that I could change my life to be like others. I tried to come up with all the ways I could copy them and maybe then I could have their kind of life.

I guess that I am on the path to getting better. It doesn’t really feel that way most of the time. I have to remind myself to try to smile so that people won’t think I am crazy. I have to actively put on my ‘mask’ to be around other people and it is awful and difficult. But now, there are moments when I feel a little bit like myself again. Moments when I can laugh and smile, and it is not just a pretend laugh. For now, I am holding on to those moments as tightly as I can and hoping that more of them will come.

The Depressodon

So I haven’t been able to write a post for a while now. I have been busy, but more importantly, the reason I haven’t been able to write for a while is that I have been feeling really depressed lately. I think I have lived most of my life in a state of mild depression. Not trying to sound dramatic or anything, because I don’t really care about drama.

Often times I feel that there is a huge creature of sadness that sits on my shoulders and holds me down to the ground. I want to be happy and free and float in the sky with the lightness of being (bonus points if you catch both references in that sentence). But I can’t do those things because I am held down by this awful ugly and lumpy thing that chains me to the ground. Since I love dinosaurs, I will call it the ‘Depressodon’. He is a beast that is constantly around me, lurking behind every happy memory and everything that will come. The Depressodon just waits, his looming presence is awful enough so he never really does much.

Life is really hard sometimes. Other people seem to be able to tune out the bad things and somehow feel happy or at least feel better for a short while. I can’t do that, I can’t just make myself happy. If there are things that are bothering me or making me upset, then they will continue to do so until I fix them or they go away of their own causes. Occasionally, I can forget about them.

A lot of what bothers me is that I never really feel like I am getting what I want out of life. Invariably, feeling that way always makes me question what exactly it is that I want out of life. And the truth is that I have no answer for that. I truly don’t know what I want, which is also a large part of the problem. Even down to small things like do I want to go to the store now or later, I have no clear picture of what I want. It is very rare that I get a strong feeling of something that I want to do or that I want to get. That feeling stretches up to bigger life things, like a ‘career’ or ‘relationship’ and that sort of thing. I have a vague sense of wanting something more than I have now, but I can’t really define it any clearer than that.

The vagueness stresses me out a lot more than not being able to get it. I know that the reason I can’t get what I want is because I don’t know what I want. Once you know what it is that you want, it is pretty easy to get started on the process to get it. But finding out what you want, that part I have no clue how to do.

So here I find myself working really hard at what I do, not really making much progress on getting a ‘career’, not really saving enough money to buy a house soon, not getting married or starting my own family, not even really getting enough time to hang out with my friends, not having enough time to enjoy life and do the random things that I think of doing (like going to kayaking on a Tuesday), and ultimately feeling at the end of every day that I have done absolutely nothing to move my own life forward and I am not any small bit closer to getting what I want out of life and I didn’t spend any time thinking of what exactly it is that I want to get out of life. See why that kind of thing can lead to feeling depressed? I hate it. I don’t really know how to fix it, which I know is a part of my autism. But knowing it’s a part of my autism doesn’t help in any way, it actually makes it a lot worse because then I know that it will not improve unless I do something about it.

But I don’t know how to improve it. So, I get stuck in that loop, and that depressing loop is why I haven’t slept for more than 4 hours in the last month. Every morning I wake up that awful thought creeps into my head within a few minutes and fixates my brain until I finally pass out from exhaustion late that night. Sure, I can distract myself with my work or a video game and feel a little better. But as soon as I stop those things, then I feel worse than I did before. Then I realize that I have wasted another day and gotten older, and still gotten nothing accomplished at the major life things that I want to do.

Writing this out is really helpful to me, I encourage everyone to write about the things that they are struggling with in life. It is a great process to explain and solidify the ambient stresses of life and confine them into the syntax and word structure required by language. Once I have tamed the Depressodon and forced it to bow to my will, then I have a sense that I can defeat it. Even if I don’t currently have the tools I need to slay it, I at least know that I can explain it to someone who might know the tools that I need and that maybe together we can take it down.

Dating

I have not dated very much lately, I’ve had 3 dates in the last 10 years. I keep telling myself that I will start dating once I figure out my life and get more stable, but that is something that will never happen either. I dated some in high school, but those all ended badly too, for reasons I will not go into yet. I have been told that dating me was like ‘dating a wall’, or that I never kissed back in the right way, or that I never initiated anything, or that I took too long to reply. After a fair amount of failures, I think it’s pretty safe to give up on something like dating. Plus, there are so many things to do that are more interesting than dating.

I recently decided to, as the old saying goes, “put myself out there” and try dating someone. I finally feel like my life is stable and ready enough to try and be in a relationship. Or, more truthfully, I realized that things will never be fully ready as much as I would like them to be. So I am wasting my time by waiting for things to be perfect, that will never happen. I also am tired of seeing everyone else around me be happy and surrounded by people they love. I feel sick and awful when I am alone now, which is something that is really new. I used to love being alone with my thoughts, but now I can’t stand that feeling. I genuinely want to be around people, at least people that I respect and enjoy. That is a strange new feeling for me.

So for those reasons, I decided to try and find a date. I was surprised that within a day, I had started up a conversation with someone and they seemed awesome! I was so excited and nervous to meet them finally. I set up our first date a few days later and then realized that I was so totally not ready for this. I was so nervous the day of the date that I was close to calling it off. I felt that there was no way they would possibly be able to like me, I mean most of the time I can barely tolerate myself, so the thought of someone else choosing to and enjoying being around me is still surprising. But I persevered and went to the first date.

It went very well, I am proud to say. I had a great time, which surprised me. I realized that like most of the problems I face, it was all in my head. Once I get out there and do something, I do it well.

I made the difficult decision that I needed to tell this person about my autism. I have made a lot of mistakes in the past while dating, and I can ascribe almost every single one of them to my autism. So, I thought that maybe by telling them, they would be patient with me and maybe understand. I told them, and they said they knew nothing about it but that they would look it up. I don’t think they have yet.

A few days later, we met up again, and they were unhappy with me for not replying to their texts fast enough. I had to work really hard not to start yelling. First of all, it should never matter if someone replies to a text ‘fast enough’, that is such an asinine millennial comment. I prefer to, you know, live my life and do things, rather than spend my time staring at a plastic screen waiting for people to send me messages. Which rules out about ¾ of the dating pool it seems, because everyone seems to be controlled by their phones.

Instead of giving that rant, I explained that the way my brain works is to focus on what I am doing. If I am focused on something, I can’t very well pick up my phone and suddenly reply to a random text about something else, and then switch back my previous task. I have learned that I am very bad at multitasking. Especially if I am working around children, and the distraction is something lewd and not child-friendly, then things do not go well. So I tried to reason that, but got nowhere. They were oblivious still.

As I got to know this person more, I got less interested in them. All they seemed to do was go to work and then go home to watch Netflix. They had no real hobbies, or interests, or passions, or cares. I have no respect for people like that, and quite frankly, see no reason to waste my time with them. I feel that as a human, we have a strong need to be three-dimensional. By that I mean that we need to have things that we do, things that excite us, things that we enjoy, things that make us learn and grow. If we are not doing those things, then we are not living well. I can’t tolerate people who don’t find and seek out those things, people who just meek out an existence and survive. That is not interesting to me at all, because I don’t believe that is the way we are meant to live.

So, I got less interested in my ‘date’, and eventually reached the point where I realized I didn’t care about them at all. I was terrified to break up with them though, because I felt that they were a good match for me. I am a difficult person, and they were able and willing to put up with that. Furthermore, they liked me a lot and appreciated most of my quirks. I had a few days where I thought about ‘settling’ and dealing with a relationship where I didn’t respect the other person. That was a weird feeling that I have no logical explanation for. Still not quite sure where that came from, but luckily it went away.  I ended the relationship because I realized that it had been two weeks since I saw them, and had no desire to do so. In a rare moment of clarity, I had the courage to call it off.

I learned a lot from that relationship, about myself and about dating. I learned that honesty is always the best thing to do. Not that I didn’t know that before, but I reaffirmed it. I know that telling them about myself was the right thing to do, and I will do that next time (if there is one).

More importantly, I learned that I am, in fact, capable of dating. Which is surprising to me too. I also learned that I can end a relationship on my own. That was the first time that I have ever broken up with someone, and it didn’t destroy me like I thought it would. I don’t really have any regrets from that experience, I am glad that I tried dating. Maybe I will try it again someday.

 

 

Eye Contact

I think that looking into someone’s eyes is creepy. I tend to distrust people who look into my eyes too much. If eyes are the window to your soul, as the old saying goes, then why should others be expected to look into your window? What if I want to put up some blinds? What if there are some areas of my soul that I don’t want someone else to see right away?

I feel that looking someone directly in the eyes is overpowering. There is a lot of ‘energy’ that gets sent back and forth when making eye contact with someone. I don’t really know how to describe it, I am trying my best, but a lot of these things are just so fundamental there that they are impossible to describe. It feels like if I asked you to describe what the word ‘what’ means, or asked you to describe the feeling of your ring finger as compared to the feeling of your middle finger.

I have a really hard time making eye contact for a sustained time. Sure, I can force myself to do it when I know that I am supposed. But you can force yourself to do anything for a short amount of time. Those who have met me have probably noticed that I am not very good at eye contact. I can do the whole handshake with direct eye contact thing, mainly because I know it is an old tradition. Beyond that, I don’t like it and I usually avoid it.

I have learned that you are supposed to maintain eye contact while having a conversation, so I typically try to avoid those sorts of conversations. I usually try to have conversations while doing some activity, because then there are no expectations about eye position. If I am talking to someone while working on a project, then suddenly I can focus on the conversation rather than on trying to maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact. I know that doesn’t make much sense, because usually doing something would distract you from the conversation. But I have the opposite problem. If I am sitting and staring at someone and trying to have a conversation, then I am hopelessly distracted. I have to then focus on looking at them the acceptable amount of time, on not making weird facial expressions randomly (which is alarmingly difficult for some reason), on not fidgeting too much, and I have to focus a lot on making sure that I do not appear to be doing any of those things. You have to make it look natural and easy otherwise people think you don’t like to talk to them.

I also have noticed that when talking to other people on the spectrum, there is none of that pressure. They also do not like eye contact, and I have had entire conversations without any eye contact. Those have been some of the most beautiful conversations ever. Without eye contact, I feel free to actually say things and express things.

I like to have conversations in groups because then I can switch my eyes around and not get distracted, and it also means that I have more time to process what everyone is saying. That extra processing time is hugely important, because then I don’t say stupid things at the wrong time and sound like an idiot.

A few months ago, I went to a weekend training for work. We were in a very small group the whole weekend, so we got to spend a lot of time together. The man leading the training was interesting, a very old-fashioned kind of guy. He made direct and constant eye contact the entire time and it was horrible. I was so distracted by his intense eye contact that I could not listen to a word he said. I kept looking away from him just so that I could breathe and stay alive. It felt as though he was a monster who was draining my soul away by looking in my eyes. He was a very amiable man, but this eye contact was killing me. At the end of the weekend, he took us aside individually for a feedback session. He told me that I needed to work on focusing more and maintaining better eye contact. He said that I seemed to be bored and looked untrustworthy. I was so close to screaming and punching my way into a jail cell, I could not believe that he was going to call me out on that shit. Who does he think he is? He was not there to talk about that kind of thing at all, he was there to train us on kayak safety. I managed to leave calmly, but it took a lot of effort.

I read that not making eye contact is one of the diagnostic criteria used, and that they have studied very young kids and monitored their eye movements while showing them pictures of people. Typically, the children will gravitate quickly towards the eyes. Kids with autism will instead wander around the face, pausing at random features, and maybe eventually get to the eyes. That was one of the most painful articles I have ever read because it is depressingly accurate. Anytime that I see a picture or a movie, I do that exact same thing. I will stare at their hair, their teeth, their eyebrows, pretty much anything other than the eyes. I often look at their mouths, which is apparently also very common. I don’t really know why this one feature upsets me so much, but it does. Maybe it is because I watch a lot of TV and movies and I catch myself doing it constantly, so it serves as a constant reminder that I am different. It is enough to take me out of whatever I was watching and make me feel really sad and awful about myself. It’s probably also because I think way too much about it and that stresses me out too.

Apologies for the darker ending there. I am not really sure of any good advice to give out on this topic. Eye contact is weird and I think it is a terrible social custom that we should get rid of. I think many people on the spectrum will agree with me on that account.

Emotions Part 1

When I was in elementary school, I had diagnosed myself with alexithymia. I had read about alexithymia in a book somewhere, and being young enough to think that actually adults cared, promptly ran to the school nurse to report my diagnosis. She laughed at me and said that was cute. I probably mispronounced the words in some adorable childlike way which belittled my efforts. But still, couldn’t she tell that I was very serious about this? I saw that nurse a lot, mostly to profess that I was too sick and needed to be sent home immediately. I think that was about the time that I decided that no one believed me and I should just keep things to myself.

Alexithymia is a disorder that makes it hard to identify and understand emotions. It is common with people on the Spectrum. I do not know as much about it as I would like to, but I do know my experiences with it.

When I was younger, I struggled so much with expressing myself. I got into arguments a lot (usually on accident) and I lost them all because I could never think of what to say fast enough or at all. I still struggle with that one, I have to be very careful not to turn every conversation into an argument. It happens a lot more than I would like to admit, but usually only around my close friends. Thankfully, they have developed a tolerance to my random arguing and know to just ignore me.

I could never really tell when someone was mad or deduce really anything about what they were feeling. I got into a lot of trouble for things like that. So I turned my brain onto that problem and did a lot of experimenting. I watched a lot of movies and studied the emotions of the people there. I watched a lot of drama movies and noted how they reacted and how they looked. I began to mimic those emotions and it worked. I began to watch other people closely for their reactions and began to spot their emotions. I have gotten really good at this habit now, when I focus on it.

But, I have still not gotten very far with identifying my own emotions.

I see emotions mainly as problems to be solved. If I am feeling angry, I will stop and figure out what made me angry and then fix that thing. If I am feeling happy, I will stop and figure out what made me happy and try to do more of that thing. Emotions are like a giant lifelong experiment to me. This gets me in a lot of trouble with other people though, because I do the same thing to them. When I see someone who is upset, I will usually be able to figure out pretty fast what caused it. For the regular shaped people, it’s usually something very simple and familiar (Oh no, your boyfriend didn’t call you? How tragic that must feel for you!). But I have gotten into a lot of arguments over that sort of thing because for some reason, people usually don’t want you to invade their personal lives and start to tell them how to make things better. For some reason, people seem to value their broken and messy personal relationships. I’ll save my views of relationships for another post (it’ll be a good one).

I think all this emotional experimenting began when I got interested in psychology in early middle school and read a lot of Sigmund Freud and Victor Frankl (you know, the usual things that 6th graders are into these days). I wanted to become a shrink one day and ask the famous “How does that make you feel?” question. I began to ask that question to myself constantly and went from there. Since then, I have been able to identify and catalog pretty much every emotion I have experienced. I can place them all in their proper places, and I like that. I understand them, and I understand how to use them to motivate myself. But really, I only have known or experienced a few emotions. I know anger, happiness, sadness, and love. And, of course, there are some weird combinations of those four. I always group things into a few simple categories because that makes much more sense to me. I like simpler taxonomies, like the binomial nomenclature system, rather than the full KPCOFGS (That’s a science reference for those playing along at home. They can’t all be math related, I like science too).

Anger is probably the most common one to feel, it’s my go to whenever something unexpected happens. Anger usually feels like a warm wind blowing through the body and a dull ache in the back of the head. Usually, time seems to slow down as if I am watching a movie on half-speed playback. Then I get a lump in my throat that starts to irritate me until I do something about it. When I am angry, nothing in the world matters, other people are not even remotely considered. True anger is very terrifying. I try to avoid it at all costs because it hurts me the most. I can almost always stop it before it gets to that point though.

Happiness feels like a soft mountain stream flowing in the shade of a sunny day. There is a gentle breeze flowing by, and some perfect clouds in the sky that look like happy little animals. There are many kinds of happiness. There is a happiness that comes from being around friends, and it feels very insular and protective, like we are on a private island that is protected from the rest of the world. The ‘friends happiness’ has a feeling almost of separation from others and I don’t like that aspect of it. There is a happiness that comes from animals, which is very different than then happiness that comes from people. ‘Animal happiness’ feels warm and comforting, like petting a dog’s fur or snuggling with an adorable animal. I get that feeling anytime I am around an animal that I like.

Sadness feels like a star falling from the sky that never quite manages to land. Sadness feels like you are completely left alone on a planet where everyone else has gone and moved on from you. There are definitely different levels of sadness. I can talk a lot more about sadness later.

Love feels like warm perfect sunshine pouring into your body. Love feels like a warm blanket beside a fire. Despite my sarcastic exterior, I am a very sappy romantic. I love being in love, it’s just not something I am too familiar with.

However, there’s a weird feeling I have been experiencing a lot the last few months. I believe it is called loneliness. It’s not something I am familiar with, or have ever really experienced prior to this year.

The feeling begins with a sensation of my heart sinking down towards my stomach, as if it was sliding down the esophagus. My brain begins spinning, almost like I am dizzy, but it feels like the inside of my brain is moving. Then, both the misplaced heart and the spinning brain begin to physically ache and hurt. Sometimes this lasts for a few seconds, sometimes for a few minutes.

Whenever I feel this feeling, all I can think to do is run away until I feel nothing anymore, because feeling nothing is so much better than feeling that way. If that is what loneliness feels like, then I can understand why people die from a broken heart. It terrifies me because I have no idea what it is or how to fix it or how to prevent it from happening ever again.

It always seems to happen after I see a picture of people laughing or smiling or doing something fun, or sometimes when I hear a story of something cool happening involving my friends. Sometimes, even just hearing people laughing can set it off. Sometimes, I’ll be lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep and I’ll get this feeling out of nowhere and can’t sleep for the rest of the night. It’s happened 3 times this week……

Anyways, that’s enough on emotions for now.