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Autism: What Could I Be?

It was early in the visit, I think, and it took me a long time to try to figure out which words I should use. The words are always important, for I have found that if I choose wrong, or say it in the wrong way, or… people seem to think I am attacking them.

Not that my mom responds in that way, but enough people do that it has become a major concern every time I want to ask or say anything of any importance to me.

Was I good at anything as a child?

What was I good at when I was young?

Was there ever anything I was especially good at?

Who was I as a child?

Was there anything you thought I could be when I was a child?

Was I always this broken?

If I had the experience, do you think there is anything I could do?

Did you think I had potential to be anything when I was young? Or something? Or more than this?

Did you see anything I might have missed?

I don’t even know how it came out when I did ask her, for all the time I spent thinking about it. I do know that I was really anxious, and my heart was pounding, and my mind was trying to build walls and block things out, and my hands were shaking.

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I do know it wasn’t easy for me to ask. What if she thought I thought that she didn’t do enough to encourage me when I was young? That certainly wasn’t what I was trying to express. I just… wanted to know if there was maybe something I had missed.

Something I could be. Something I could do. Anything I might be able to succeed at – for this string of failures that has been my life since at least my teens (though the feeling was there long before that) has devastated my confidence until I am blinded in fear from trying again.

I was glad to have my mom there. For years sometimes, between visits, she is not there – and some things are hard to ask on the phone, or even in emails. This was one of them.

Was there anything I was especially interested in?

“Writing,” she said. “You were always writing.”

“You never wanted to play sports, or work in teams, or do things with other people. You just always had paper and pens, and I don’t even know what you were writing most of the time. You just loved to write.”

Well… there you have it. What I am, I’ve always been. There is nothing I love to do more than write.

 

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Autism: When I Crash

When I am doing something, though I am filled with apprehension that I will ‘get it wrong again,’ frequently I enjoy myself. This is especially true when I am accomplishing something, learning something, or doing something that I feel is worthwhile.

It was true most of the time I was running my daycare – and bye the way, the children and parents were nearly always happy with the care that I provided. With the exception of the times when I was overwhelmed, and so tended to repeat what I was doing for days on end, without changing to something new (such as when I was still running the daycare during our adoption placement visits – too stressful!) I really liked what I did.

I especially liked circle time (stories and action songs,) craft/science/baking time, and the times when the children just wanted to sit with me – even though for the most part, I don’t like people in my space.

When I took my construction courses, my fellow students believed that I was ‘smart’ and would come to me for help. I would explain – especially the theory – in ways that they could understand, when what the instructor had told them confused them. I could do that.

While I learn Spanish, or write stories, or spend time knitting, or… While I am doing these things, I often feel good. It is when I stop that I quickly start to believe I could never do it in the first place.

When I am outside, spending hours working on my garden, with my pets weaving around me, I almost feel like I am in Heaven. It is such a wonderful feeling to be out there doing.

back garden

During the time I was working at the motel, I pretty much believed I was good at what I was doing – and this was confirmed by those I worked with and for.

Though the anxiety is extremely high, even while I am doing the activities, my hope, and even my confidence is such that “I can do this” – until I get overwhelmed, that is. And then no amount of ‘positive thinking’ or ‘pushing myself through’ is going to help.

I crash. And when I crash, the exhaustion is all encompassing. It fills my life, and creates a fog in my brain, and tells me “nothing is possible.”

Since in work, and school, and parenting, and… everything else in life we are expected to be consistent, and to keep going, and to “always do our best,” the longer I spend doing something, the more likely I will crash, and the more often I will be seen (and see myself) as a failure.

I might be able to hold it together for a week, a month, a year… and then it is lost. I crash, and everyone who was watching seems disappointed. I think… I think they want me to succeed, and they are watching with hope that I will be able to do this well – but they don’t understand how very exhausting it is for me to ‘hold it together’ for any length of time. And the crash – which always comes – lasts so much longer than any activity that I was trying in the first place.

That is just a fact. Not something I have ever been able to overcome – and in fact, the harder I try to ‘hold it together,’ the less time I actually can, and the longer the crash will be.

And when I crash, I forget. I remember the anxiety, and I remember being overwhelmed, and I remember the crash – but I forget how good it felt to be doing something. I forget that I ever believed I could do anything. I forget that there was ever anything more to me than the crash that brought me to failure, and the disappointment that I see in the eyes of those who were watching; and I am so afraid to try again.

 

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Autism: One Failure

When I was in the second grade, I tried out for the school choir. I remember my brother singing “when the snakes crawl at night” or something like that. He had a nice voice. He was accepted. I tried singing, “Oh Canada,” and I think I forgot the words due to stage fright. Needless to say, I was not.

But in those days, singing was something we did. A lot. My father loved going for drives. He was a shift worker, and I remember him waking us up frequently after his 3-11pm shift, loading us all in the car, and driving. We would just fall back to sleep in the car. I didn’t have trouble sleeping in the car as a child.

When we went during the day, however, he would play his music – Everly Brothers, or John Denver, or something – and we would all sing along… okay, my mom never sang, but the rest of us did. It was a lot of fun. Since I was never abused while in the car, and since I never had to look at anyone, it was a safe place for me. Until I started to get motion sickness, car rides (amusement parks, and campgrounds as well, for the same reason) were the places where I could just be.

Just be a child. Not broken, or afraid, or disgusted, or feeling there was something terribly wrong with me. These were the places I had a good relationship – even with my father. Even now, those songs bring back memories in which I was feeling safe, and happy (not a normal feeling for me in any other part of life.)

My younger brother had a terrible voice! I mean it. He didn’t really sing, he just talked – loudly – in a completely inharmonious tune. I certainly preferred the rides where he didn’t come along… mean, I guess, but both my brother and father had really nice voices, and mine was okay – I even made the choir for third grade, and every year after that until I gave it up around the eleventh grade.

I really liked singing.

Then I moved away, and still I sang with my son all the time. I sang with the daycare. I even joined the church choir. I loved singing. I didn’t have a great voice. I would never have been asked to sing a solo, or anything, but it was fine for choir – and I really, really liked singing.

choir

Then there was that one year. We weren’t married at the time. Both of us were singing in the choir. My (husband) also sang and played guitar on the worship team at church. That year, the person standing beside me said I had a nice voice, and should sing with the worship team. I guess she mentioned that to him, for a few days later, he asked me to sing with him in the hallway of the church – no one else was there. He was working there at the time, and I went to help him fold bulletins or something.

The problem was, I had a cold. I had a bad cold, and could hardly talk let alone sing. But I was trying to do things in spite of my anxiety (no matter how much people encourage that, it has always been a really bad idea for me) and so I sang. Of course, with my cold, I was out of tune – and couldn’t get it despite my best efforts. He never asked me to sing with him again, and from that moment on – though I knew the reason I couldn’t sing well then was due to my cold – I never had confidence in singing with people again.

One failure, mixed in with years of success. One failure, and I have never been able to overcome it. I have joined the choir since, but I tend to sing very quiet – just because. I am still afraid to sing. I still have no confidence in my voice – and that very lack of confidence has made it so much harder to do well after. One failure, mixed with years of success – and that is what defines me.

 

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Autism: Simple Machines

For my son’s seventh birthday, I made him a cape. Although he hasn’t much of an imagination, and it often seems like he doesn’t have any at all, we were reading Lord of the Rings that year, and he was Gandalf. He signed into Sunday School under that name, and even signed that name on his library card. My mom had bought him a wizard’s cap, and I thought a cape would be a particularly suitable gift for that year.

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The only thing was, I hadn’t taken Home-EC since the eighth grade, and didn’t particularly know much about sewing. Even buying the materials was foreign to me. Yet since I do not ask for help in such things (if I fail, it makes it so much easier on me if no one knows) I went into the fabric store, told them I was, “just looking” (for if they want to help me, I want to run – always!) and bought what seemed like good material to make a cape.

At the time, I also decided to attempt to make a parachute toy for my daycare – when I have the desire to do something, I like to go “all in.” So I got materials for this as well (again having no idea what I was doing, what material to buy, what it should cost, or even how much I would need.)

I brought the materials home, and without a plan, just went ahead and made those items.  The cape was a little heavy, but they both (I felt) turned out well, and all of the children enjoyed the use of both the parachute, and the cape.

Only the next time I tried to sew something, it didn’t work at all. The thread kept bunching up, and the needle wouldn’t go anywhere… it was a frustrating mess! I thought I had broke the machine, and after several attempts, ended up sending it off to the thrift store feeling like I couldn’t sew.

It was years later when I decided to try again. I bought another sewing machine, newly repaired, from the thrift store, and attempted to use it. Once again, the thread all bunched up, and it didn’t work. Again, thinking I had broken the machine, we brought it back and had it repaired again – only to have the same thing happen.

I had pretty much given up at that point, and returned to doing occasional sewing by hand, despite my strong desire to know this skill. It was just one more thing to remind me of how very incompetent I am, and believe me, I feel that deeply! But then I picked up a book from the library on teaching children to sew (I had no children, but felt that must be the level I am on – and if children can learn to sew, surely I have to be able to learn to do something.) It mentioned in choosing a machine, to look for one with a drop in bobbin.

Ahhhh! Now I had something to look for, and asked my husband to look for that type of machine for me. One day he brought it home. That was right at my 38th birthday (meaning my son had turned 18 that year.) And would you know it? Every time I have tried to sew something, it has worked wonderfully – every time for eighteen months!

Here I was fully believing I was incapable of ever learning how to use a sewing machine well – and okay… I admit that I must be incompetent in threading a complicated bobbin – but that, most certainly, is not the same thing. It only took me eleven years, and a whole lot of self-doubt and frustration to figure out.

 
 

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Autism: All Encompassing Failure

It isn’t like I have failed at everything. Even the things I have failed at, I didn’t always do poorly with. It just feels like that. It feels like the world is constantly reminding me of my failures… and that is hard, since I am already constantly fighting the demons that not only remind me of my failures, but make them all seem that much bigger than they were to begin with.

Take my children, for instance. In my mind, that is the biggest failure of my life. I am reminded by several people that I didn’t actually lose my children – the adoption fell through. While I know that is true, and it would make a difference if I thought that way for other people, it still feels as much of a failure to me as if I had lost my children. After two and three years, they sure felt like mine.

But when I think about being around children now, I have no confidence. It is as if I have never been good with children, and could never be good with them in the future. Even though I know that is not true.

Before we tried to adopt, I not only had my son (who was happily homeschooling, and doing well) but I also ran a licensed day care out of my home full time. After graduating with honours from a two year early childhood education program in college, I opened my daycare, and looked after 5-7 children each day in my home.

It was not babysitting. I had a full program for the children, which I planned out in quite detail. We had stories, songs, crafts, baking activities, science activities, outside time… I played with the children, and took good care of them. That isn’t just my opinion. Most of the children in my care were excited to come to daycare each day. Most of the parents were happy to bring their children to me. As far as daycare went, I think I did okay. (Those that weren’t happy was most exclusively about scheduling – because I was alone with 5-7 children, several of whom needed me in the room with them as they fell to sleep, I could not accommodate young children on different schedules.)

And then we tried to adopt, and for two years the social workers, doctors, specialists, and foster parents were pleased with the care we provided… until they weren’t, and over a year the adoption fell through. Those moments have become so large in my mind, that it seems to define all of me – even when I am told that is not true.

After the adoption fell through, the ministry continued to have some supports in place for us to help us with the loss (not enough, but some.) It was through those supports that I was encouraged, with the social worker’s knowledge, to return to providing child care to other children.

It never made sense to me that they could take my children away, leaving me to feel like a horrible person, and yet encourage me to work with other people’s children. I still can’t understand this. However, after a time, I did start to provide child care again. And once again, both the parents, and children were happy with the care I provided.

daycare

I never could shake that lack of confidence and feeling of failure that came from having our “adoption fall through.” I was a childcare provider for nearly another year after that event, and chose on my own to move to a different job when those parents (for various reasons, not one having to do with the care I was providing for their children) stopped bringing their children. My reasons were mainly threefold.

  1. I was working long hours for little pay. Since I was not licensed at the time (and didn’t have the confidence to get my license again) I could only care for two children at a time, which wasn’t enough to cover the bills.
  2. Succeeding with other people’s children, only reminded me how wrong it felt that my own children had been taken away.
  3. Having children that had been in my care leave, though all due to the parents work situation and not my fault, hurt every time. I don’t handle change well, and while it takes a lot of effort for me to connect, I do in fact connect to the children, and that loss hurts. That is why I wanted to adopt – so they wouldn’t be taken away.

Yet despite how my successes “sandwich” my failure, the failure remains to be what is forefront in my mind. It not only stops me from trying again, but leaves me feeling guilty for wanting to. And that is how it is with everything. My confidence is something that is easy to break, and I may never overcome being told that I have failed.

 

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