According to HealthyPlace.com, here are the symptoms of Autism.
Impairment in social and emotional reciprocity that ranges from abnormal social approaches and failure to participate in typical give-and-take conversations to diminished sharing of interests and emotions as well as failure to respond to social cues and interactions.
What does that even mean???? I guess it means that we have general problems and difficulties with social interaction. But a little more deeply, I guess it means that in conversations we tend to either do all the talking or let the other person do all the talking. We may approach people in a way that is a bit abnormal, which may entail diving straight into our chosen topic without pausing for small talk. Don’t look at me funny; These are just guesses. We may share too much or too little of our interest and/or emotions. We may also fail to see when the other person is getting bored, or when the other person may be trying to make friends with us or take advantage of us.
Impairment in use and understanding of nonverbal communications used in social interactions, such as inability to make eye contact and abnormalities in body language. These children also have difficulty understanding the use of physical gestures and often have a complete lack of facial expression.
This basically means we have difficulties understanding and using body language.
Impairment in developing and maintaining social relationships
Well, this one is obvious.
Individuals with autism also exhibit restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities, including:
Repetitive motions or repetitive use of objects or speech
Inflexible insistence on sameness in routines, exhibit ritualized behavior patterns or nonverbal behavior
Restricted, narrow and fixated interests
Extreme sensitivity or insensitivity to sensory input from the environment, such as temperature, sounds, and textures
This means that we love a good routine, and some of us have trouble breaking this mold. We may have very narrow interests. We also might be very sensitive or insensitive to certain sensory stimuli. Although I don’t see what the last has to do with the rest. Now that i’ve explained this in layman’s terms…what does it have to do with my life?
Well, I was diagnosed with high functioning autism at around three or four. My Mom knew before that, but she deliberately waited on getting a diagnosis. She wanted only the best, most professional diagnosis for me so that there could be no “maybes” about it. Growing up, I tended to have one close female friend at a time. The rest of my friends were boys, younger kids, or animals. I wasn’t as close to the boys, younger kids, or animals as I was to the girl. But I was still happy with them. My school unfortunately had seperate recesses for the older and younger children, so I didn’t get to play with or see my younger friends very often. However, my school did allow the older kids to “help out” the younger classrooms during their break. This was never required, but I helped out often so I could at least be around my friends. I especially cherish the memory of helping my younger companions make paper mache pigs as part of their learning process. One of my buddies had a little sister, who I will call Alamea. I went to her classroom one day, to see if I could help out. For some reason, the kids were out of their seats. The moment Alamea saw me, she ran up to me and gave me a hug. It made my day. It still makes my day, remembering.
My animal friends were family to me. My Aunt (I will call her Lahela here) had two dogs when I was growing up. Their names were Dux and Brendan (both pseudonyms, obviously). I felt closer to Dux and Brendan than I did to most of my human friends. Since I loved dogs, I naturally wanted to learn about how they communicated. I read a couple of books on the subject, applied what I learned to them, and even managed to teach Brendan to sit (he was a very stubborn dog, and had previously gone untrained). Don’t ask me to do this today. I’ve lost my touch with dogs. But learning canine body language helped me a lot in developing a slight interest in human body language. You could even say it acted as a sort of bridge to humanity.
As for our supposed difficulties in developing and maintaining social relationships, I think this largely depends on who we try to befriend. Some people are easier for us to befriend than others. All of my close friends in middle school/high school were either diagnosed Aspies, or suspected Aspies. Obviously, I had an easier time making friends with them than with anyone else. I’d say my first real Friend with a capital F was a young woman my age named Behruz (pseudonym). She later came out to me as a transgender man, and became known as Hameed (another pseudonym) by almost everyone, even the people who did not know about his gender identity. But that will come into play much later in the game.
Behruz had Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism, just like me. And it showed. She did not speak in a monotone, like many Aspies. Rather, she would blurt out various things at inappropriate times, dress very oddly, and in general act very loud. A lot of people probably considered her behavior obnoxious.
This is where the bipolar comes in. Now, before we proceed with my story…let’s review the symptoms of bipolar. Again, Healthyplace.com is to blame for this list, not me.
Bipolar disorder symptoms seen during depressive episodes include:
Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
Feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless; feelings of guilt
Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
Unexplained aches and pains
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
I’m sorry Reader, but here we have to backtrack a little.
I met Behruz when I was in seventh grade. However, the symptoms of my illness were starting to become apparent before that. They first started becoming apparent in fifth grade, and manifested themselves in the form of developing a terrible anxiety about being raped. You might even call it paranoia. As is typical for me, I tried to hide my anxiety from everyone. It was when I was in St. Louis, in a hotel room, that someone knocked on the door. I was terrified, thinking that whoever was standing outside the door was going to rape me the moment I opened it. Fearful, I opened the door anyway. It turned out to be my mother. Sobbing, I then told her about my anguish.
The moment we got home, Mom made an appointment for me to see my psychologist. I had been seeing her for the autism since I was a small child. She was (and is) a very professional lady, and one of the best in her field. She managed to talk me out of my anxiety, but also told my mother that she wanted to keep a close eye on me because she hadn’t seen me this anxious in quite some time.
A short while later, I was introduced to what I call the “Radical Unschooling Ideology” in the form of www.school-survival.net. It said that public school are WAY too authoritarian, and that the best thing to do is to leave. They had one page where they listed lots of alternatives to public school, and one of them was unschooling. Although I didn’t seriously look into unschooling at the time, I found out what it was. It appealed to me greatly. However, when I tried to bring up public school’s authoritarianism with some church ladies, they treated me like a joke by starting to loudly discuss how authoritarian public schools were at their age. I realized then that no one was going to take me seriously because of my youth. So I did the only thing I could: I forced myself to forget.
This doesn’t usually work on people. I also have no idea how I did it. But for some reason, it worked for a year. Then I remembered, returned to the same damned website, and discovered a book called The Teenage Liberation Handbook. I read an excerpt, and it got me even further into the whole thing.
I started begging my Mom to unschool me again. When she didn’t accept that, I compromised and started begging her to homeschool me. She said no, on the advice of my therapist. So then I began something I call “The Therapist Wars”. Every time I saw my therapist, she would give me a new objection to me homeschooling. I would use the week in between sessions to find ways around that flaw, or an argument in favor. When she ran out of objections, I went back to Mom. She still said no. I was trapped in a nightmare that I was powerless to escape.
This is when the depression started. I began to be sad almost all of the time. I felt both hopeless and helpless. I also began to consider suicide as a way out. This had less to do with a way to escape the pain, as much as it had to do with simply maintaining my honor as a human being. It was also my only way out of my situation, because I knew nothing was going to change until it was too late. The only reason I didn’t kill myself was because none of the suicide methods I dreamed up appealed to me, and an essay told me there was a 0.0000000001% chance that things might get better. I wanted to stay alive for the sake of that 0.0000000001% chance. This was how I lived.
Until I met Behruz.
Behruz was like a ray of sunlight cast into the most hopeless place you can think of. Her sense of humor appealed to me, to put it mildly. I had never met someone like her in real life before. She loved to draw, was always drawing. She’d show me the new drawings she had made every time she saw me. She was also writing a book called The Tale of Sasha Rat. She showed me that it was possible to write a book. She printed out the first part of the Tale and gave it to me shortly after she met me. She gave me Part 2 on Christmas of that year. Her story distracted me from my problems. Making jokes about Sasha Rat gave me something to laugh about, a way to get through the day. She started calling me Sasha, after her character. And best of all, her mother persuaded my mother to homeschool me.
This began my years of happiness. I was not manic. I was energetic, but not hyperactive. I was more optimistic, and my self confidence improved. I did not feel invincible, irritable, or aggressive. I had trouble sleeping, but I had always had that. There were no grandiose delusions, or an inflated sense of self importance. No special connection with God, celebrities, or political leaders. My speech and thoughts were normal, and I was not impulsive or distractable. My judgement was fairly good for someone my age. I was too young to drive, and didn’t spend a lot of money, invest in anything, or have sex. Most significantly, I did not experience any delusions or hallucinations.
I simply had the sense that I had overcome something enormous, and that I was reaping the fruits of my labor. When I entered high school, and Mom put me in a stricter, school-like homeschool program, I had the feeling that something was being unjustly taken away from me. The depression, if you can call it that, came back. But it was different this time.
I didn’t feel the sort of burning sadness that I used to feel. I was definitely sad, but it was accompanied by a sort of numbness. I did start to feel helpless and hopeless again, I may have started feeling a little worthless as well. I felt very guilty for feeling this way. I was very angry at my Mom for putting me in this situation all over again, but I didn’t show it much. We just had the occasional quarrel. I became much more pessimistic, too. I lost my belief that everything would turn out happily in the end; I was beginning to see that this wasn’t always the case. I was as energetic as always, but I couldn’t concentrate on most things and became a very indecisive person. Behruz had moved on to the local arts high school. One of our best friends, Jasmine, had moved to the Desert. And I wanted nothing to do with the fellow students at my school, even though some of them were interesting people. That would have been tantamount to admitting defeat. So I acted as oddly as I could to scare them off; this largely worked. I had no thoughts of suicide this time around.
During this time, I became a sort of amateur therapist for my friends. Behruz came out to me as Hameed, and became increasingly depressed. He realized that if he came out to his friends and family as a man, he would likely lose all of them. His family and friends were (and likely still are) very important to him. They are also extremely religious Calvary-Chapel-type-people.
Jasmine was going through her own issues growing up bisexual and homeschooled in a highly religious family. However, she wouldn’t have traded being homeschooled for the world. She was just like me, she had read The Teenage Liberation Handbook, and so I know that she wouldn’t have done well in school despite her other issues. But she had a lot of general struggles with depression and anxiety, and was extremely reluctant to take medication. I tried to talk her into it once. I don’t remember whether I succeeded, but know that she eventually came around on her own.
Hameed was madly in love with Jasmine, and was eventually brave enough to tell her how he felt about her. She accepted his feelings, and they continued to be best friends. However, they never developed a typical romantic relationship. One time, however, the three of us were having a sleepover. We were all sleeping in the same bed. I fell asleep. Hameed and Jasmine proceeded to have a very intimate cuddling session while I was sleeping on the bed next to them.
I guess Jasmine succeeded in doing what I never managed to do: make Hameed happy. Because no matter how much I tried to listen to him, he never seemed to get better. This frustrated me to no end. I cared about Hameed. I never forgot that he saved my life. I was royally pissed that I couldn’t do the same for him.
Although I was helpless where Hameed was concerned, my life eventually began to improve a little (no thanks to Hameed’s Mom. She had talked Mom out of unschooling me when Mom was beginning to seriously consider my wishes). My Mom eventually saw sense. I don’t know why, but she took me out of Halstrom and enrolled me in a much less restrictive homeschool program called Boston School. I wanted to start unschooling right then and there, but Mom wouldn’t let me. She insisted on designing the whole curriculum herself. Weary, I accepted this.
Eventually, I discovered two books. One was called something like College Without High School by a certain Blake Boles. The other was called The New Global Student. I forget who it was written by. College Without High School was like The Teenage Liberation Handbook, but much less searing. It told me how to achieve a life of adventure, which was really what I had wanted all along. The New Global Student talked about how to take your kids around the world, and let them graduate high school at the same time. Much more exciting than it sounds.
When I read these books, I called up Hameed. “Hameed,” I asked, “Would you be ok if I left you to go out travelling?”
He paused for a bit before answering.
“Yes. I think I would start acting weird, you know, get into alcohol and drugs and all that. You leaving me would leave a huge hole in my life. But I would basically be ok.”
We had a few more conversations and get-togethers after that. But Hameed had given me his blessing, so that conversation was largely the end of our friendship. In the meanwhile, I found out Blake Boles ran something called Unschool Adventures. This organization takes Unschoolers and Homeschoolers on international trips to places like New Zealand. They also ran a National Novel Writing Month Retreat annually. Since I couldn’t afford a flight to New Zealand, I signed up (with Mom’s blessing) for the National Novel Writing Month Retreat. I had never written a novel before, so I bought the book by the creators of the challenge. I packed my bags. And off I went.
Going there was a huge weight off my shoulders. I was free to do what I wanted, within certain limits. Other people there had heard of the Teenage Liberation Handbook. The counselors there supported and understood my dreams of adventure, instead of knocking them down or saying they were impossible like my Mom did. I never hung around the other kids much, but for some odd reason they all seemed to like me. My usual routine would be to wake up in time for lunch, walk to the bookstore, do some reading, come back and do some novel writing, do the afternoon activity or the “power hour”, eat dinner, go out on coffee run, come home, relax, and then sleep. Sometimes there were small variations to this, like antique store shopping, or a night hike, or a day hike.
For a few weeks, this was just what the doctor ordered. I made plans with a friend to get out of the house and stay out, because I realized what a toxic place home had become for me. This in itself was not manic. What was manic was that I stopped sleeping. I grew more and more energetic. I started having grandiose delusions of being enlightened by God. I spent almost all of the spending money Mom gave me on books, but didn’t spend any money that I didn’t have. I did not engage in any sexual indiscretions, although I became more and more obsessed with asexuality and queerplatonic relationships. I also started having crying spells.
The others thought I was just eccentric. However, Mom insisted on speaking to me. She realized I was sick, and made arrangements for me to come home early. The counselors still gave me the choice, though, and I don’t think they would have forced me to leave if I hadn’t wanted to. I did know that something was really off here, and that I needed to go home. So they put me on a plane back, where I deteriorated rapidly. When I got home, Mom took one look at me, tried to calm me down, and when she couldn’t she put me in the hospital. I stayed at a lousy hospital for one month, and a very good hospital for almost two weeks. When I got out, they had put me on lithium and risperdal. I wasn’t having hallucinations and delusions anymore, and haven’t had them since. Instead, I just felt very heavy (physically) and (emotionally) empty inside. An old teacher-friend of mine took me in and basically homeschooled me. It was a very liveable situation, and i’m not sure I would have graduated high school without her.
I had no denial about my bipolar. If someone had diagnosed me earlier, I probably would have. My depression up until then was largely influenced by circumstances. If life was going well (it seldom did), I was happy. If I was in a “strict schooling situation” I was miserable. I think the reason that I had no denial about my bipolar is that it struck when things were finally beginning to go my way, so I couldn’t chalk it up to circumstances. I also found out that autism and bipolar tend to walk hand-in-hand, for some reason.
I went on to college. After giving it a spin for a year and a half, I decided it really wasn’t for me. I was wondering what to do, when I remembered a suggestion my ex Akihiko (pseudonym) made a long time ago. When we were together, I gave him backrubs a lot. He said that I was really good, and that I should go into it professionally. My other ex, Chavvah (pseudonym), had told me the same thing. I had given my Mom a backrub on Christmas of that year, and she “thirded” their advice. She told me she never understood why I would even consider doing anything else.
There is another reason why I do massage therapy. When I was in college, I was studying to be a psychologist. But then I began to have some nagging doubts about that. If I couldn’t help Hameed so long ago, then what made me think I could help anyone else? My other friend Nicholas had also called me insensitive by then, and said that I had hurt his feelings many times.
There are many things people can say that can cause harm. However, a good massage done well never hurts anyone’s feelings, like I did with Nicholas. It never makes anxiety worse, like I suspect I may have done with Hameed. And best of all, it requires less study. So I went into massage therapy, and that is what I am doing to this day. I have other vocational dreams for the future, but massage is what i’m pursuing for now.
So I think this gives you a pretty good understanding of my bipolar. If you want a better understanding of autism, I can see if I can arrange for my autistic friend to do a guest blog post. With Hosea’s permission, of course.
I have also discovered a series of articles about the positive aspects of having autism. If you like, I can post responses to the articles. Let me know which option you like in the comments. Better yet, choose both!