Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Just Thinking

Not long ago, I ran into someone I’d known years ago. She commented to my partner, “Bev’s not shy anymore,” surprised, I guess to see how much I had “changed.” Instead of looking away when she spoke to me, I had made approximate eye contact and had even chatted a bit. I’d almost forgotten how rare it had been for me to do those things just a few years ago. I was well into my thirties before I learned to hold a “proper” conversation, before I stopped ignoring questions as if I hadn’t heard them, finally having learned to acknowledge in some way that I’d heard, but was not yet ready or certain how to reply. This was toward the beginning of what I think of now as my Brief Invincible Period (BIP).

I don’t think I have mentioned this before, but for awhile I was SuperWoman. Certain people, had they seen me during that year or two, might have proclaimed me “cured” of something, whatever was supposed to be “wrong” with me. Miraculously, it seemed, I had started talking to people, sometimes even to more than one at a time. Various explanations were offered—a twelve-step program and anti-depressant medication certainly each played a role. The combination of the two might have looked like a sure-fire cure for my social difficulties. I’m sure I seemed less obsessive, too.

The story of Medication and Me is a philosophical tale of a weirdo determined to hang on to qualities others found useless. I was often unable to speak to people, preferring quiet solitude. I was averse to many of the alleged pleasures of physical existence; too many things in the world I couldn’t stand to touch, to hear, to be anywhere around. An allergy to air, I called it. I sometimes had the feeling my hands were made of paper. Yet I didn’t hate these qualities.

As a teenager, I had been offered many a trip to the psychiatrist, the sort of doctor I knew would be waiting to help my parents extract what I thought of as “self” from myself. I refused these offers of help, and I am glad that I did. Far into adulthood, I continued to think of psychiatric medications as a form of cheating and a denial of self. I did not view my constant attributes as separate from “me.” I still don’t.

There came a time, though, when I found myself unable to get through a day without uncontrollable crying. I still went to work everyday, but was often found in the corner, sobbing for reasons I couldn’t explain. Clearly, I needed some help. A few months earlier, a person I knew (not a doctor, not any sort of authority on such things) had diagnosed me with “an untreated anxiety disorder” for which she recommended I seek medical assistance. “You are not able to see how people feel about you,” that was the way she put it.

I had read Peter Kramer’s Listening to Prozac. I’d seen some familiar situations there, and read some amazing stories of what Kramer described as “transformative” experiences with the medication. These were said to be rare, but the descriptions of the people who had had these transformations sounded a lot like me. They were at the extreme end of “shyness” or “social anxiety” and were said to be both obsessive and deeply depressed. I decided, reluctantly, hopefully, to give the stuff a try, if a qualified doctor agreed that I should.

A few weeks later, I found myself able to do things I’d never done before. I spoke up in groups of people. I went to a party and “worked the room.” I started making art, something I’d always wanted to do, but had never gotten around to. I decided to go back to school and finally get a degree.

Was I acting less autistic? I’m not so sure about that. While I’d started talking more, this may have actually made me seem more different than before. Now instead of staring vacantly, for example, I was scripting and repeating constantly. Sometimes what I said made sense to the listener and sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t much care or notice either way, I knew what I meant! Being misinterpreted was nothing new. I wasn’t aware of my autism then, but I was pretty sure I was “cured” of something.

I understood that the effects of the medicine would not continue to be so powerful, that I would level out and no longer be Super. I was more decisive for a while, and I used that time to make what must have looked like some “good” decisions. For better or worse, I made commitments based on a level of energy and optimism I no longer quite possess.

My fears of losing my “self” did not come true. I was still me, but with more energy and confidence and without the crying jags. For awhile, I wasn’t sure of this. I thought of myself as Me-before and Me-after, and later as before, early-after and later-after versions. A re-sorting process was going on.

I am still learning and making decisions about what is essentially Me and what isn’t. Decisions, yes, the definition and boundaries of what is considered “self.” I am privileged with a fairly high spot, at least for the moment, on the Maslow pyramid. The struggles for survival and shelter, for safety are for the most part met. It’s a more fluid situation than I like to think about.

Did you hear what I said? She said “Bev’s not shy anymore.”

Yes, I heard you. I was just thinking…


  1. i love reading your writing, and think you're absolutely brilliant. it'd be great to meet, so we could sit there awkwardly, staring down at the ground, wondering if we should launch into a scripted conversation, but then instead we'd both get distracted by various shiny things, you by the square-pattern of the tablecloth, me by what hex color code the fuchsia neon tubing is made out of. then it'd be the way it's supposed to be. =)

    you're fine just the way you are. i pronounce that objectively, of course; subjectively, it's a whole different ballgame, i know. pick and choose, create your own destiny, be strong enough to make it real.

    the curse of being a hyper-intelligent and aware person: that one's identity oftentimes feels like a grocery list.

  2. you are so much like my daughter! I don't know how I refused to medicate her...but she has been a participant in the decision since she was 14 or so. How do we make parents see that you shouldn't want to medicate away individuality?

  3. Yeah. I spent a couple of years, it seems, running on that momentum, wherein I managed to come off as self-possessed, even "bubbly". Several people during that time, including a "teacher" who treated me -- and other students anything but white middle class cliquey types -- like absolute garbage and ridiculed me publicly on more than one occasion (and this was in college), thought it fitting to approach me and "congratulate" me during that time. It still bugs the hell out of me that I couldn't come up with a single thing to say to that "teacher". Even with the remarkable gift of witty tongue-lashing I seemed to possess during that period.

  4. Hi Bev,

    Just came across your blog and ended up reading much of it over the course of the afternoon. Your writing is a breath of fresh air and truly inspiring. If you're on Facebook, I'd love to add you and link to this blog. I've only just come out talking about my autism this year, even tho I discovered it in '99, and was active on autism/asperger discussion boards from 99-03.
    I'd like to email you further but for some reason cannot access it when I click the link, so here is mine, if you could kindly send it to me. Thanks!
    nbinghi @ gmail . com


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