Constructing a Timeline of Life: my Aspie-flavored autobiography, Part 2 of 3

This is the second installment of my Asperger’s-tinted autobiography.  As stated in Part 1, I’m writing this for (at least) three reasons.

  1. To give one example of what an Aspie female child might look like throughout her life (well, at least up to her late 30s) 🙂  Hopefully this helps counselors, parents, other family, and friends of–but most importantly–Asperger’s/autistic females themselves, or those who suspect that they might be on the spectrum.
  2. To serve as an outline for a “timeline”-like evaluation by Tania Marshall, PhD
  3. Most importantly, in hopes that someone out there might see similarities and not feel as alone as they might currently feel

Picking up where Part 1 left off, we moved to the city between Grades 4 and 5, early in the summer.  Always having been sickly with constant colds/flues and ear infections (the bane of my existence!), I got tubes surgically inserted into my eardrums once we were barely settled into our new house.

I started Grade 5 (having turned 11) at a much better school, one of the Top 10 public high schools in the country at that time.  As an incoming transfer student, I was evaluated with a day-long series of assessment tests in subject areas such as reading, spelling, and math.  The assessment was part of the school’s procedure for any students transferring in from other places, because this particular school was set up to operate at a grade level ahead of the average.  This means that their Grade 5 material is covered in Grade 6 at other schools.  The school’s default policy is to require incoming students to repeat their previous grade level unless they did well on the assessment.

I passed into the next grade level, and it was “game on”.  In this school system, there are no segregated “high/medium/low” math or reading groups; everyone is kept together.  This meant that math became even more of a challenge for me.  After having been in the “low math group” at a low-to-average rural mid-American school, suddenly having to adapt to the new school’s math material required a difficult stretch in cognition; it was like skipping 2-3 grade levels at once.  At that point, math truly became a struggle.

The other kids presented their own new, unique challenge, too.  I’d been used to a rural farming town where people weren’t the sharpest tools in the drawer, and I found myself smack dab in an inner-ring suburb of a big city, where everyone had lots of money.  Even though I desperately wanted to move to the city, it required a huge adjustment.  Trends and fads ruled.  It was hard to keep up; the learning curve was almost vertical.  The stakes were higher, too, because I wasn’t going to get another chance; we weren’t going to move again.  I’d be with this group of kids until I graduated, which seemed like forever.

Legos and keyboard music composition still topped my list of favorite activities; in fact, I started composing even more music.  My mom enrolled me in piano lessons.  I also developed an interest in the flute, so I took lessons for that as well.

My father, on the other hand, was not in favor of this move to the city, and he did not enjoy it.  He seemed to resent us for it; it had been my mom who knew that my sister and I needed a better school system and the wider variety and availability of amenities, activities, and opportunities that the city could provide.  But he never felt comfortable there; he always felt out-of-place.  And we all picked up on that resentment.

So, my parents almost split up…the “third close call” for their marriage.  At that time, I had essentially wanted them to split.  I was saddled with so much anxiety from several major sources: trying to “fit in” with the new group of kids at school (had one chance, couldn’t afford to mess it up!), fighting with my sister, who was in kindergarten by then but only had half-days (so she had plenty of time to come home and, daily, go through my room and use/disorganize/steal my personal belongings, and of course, my volatile and often explosive relationship with my father.  Walking home from school, I would peer around the corner and see if his truck was in the driveway yet, or if he was still at his shop.  If it wasn’t, I heaved a huge sigh of relief; if he was, I was screwed; my heart pounded and my hands got sweatier than they already (always) were.  I had already learned years ago to shut myself up in my room without saying a word or letting him see me.  After all, out of sight, out of mind.

Yes, this meant that I was getting pummeled from two sides, for the fifth year on: I’d take the teasing and bullying from the kids at school, and then get singled out by my father when I got home at night, with petty and unnecessary criticism.  No matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t convince him that I was doing the best I could; “excuses are for loser”, he’d repeat.  It was his mantra.

I prayed for weekends, when I was relieved of my duty to go to school and thus I got a break from the other kids, but my dad was often home on weekends, and he was bored, and very irritable.  His mannerisms were extremely rough around the edges and his tone was very gruff.  To top it off, he never actually said what he meant or what he was feeling.  His emotions would come out sideways, at the very person who’d be least likely/able to fight back: me.  The pent-up anxiety usually kept me up until 4-4:30am on weekends, usually reading.

During Grade 5, I finished puberty with a “bang”, as my first monthly cycle appeared–again, much, much earlier than the other girls.  I was pissed off about that, too.

Grade 6 was a little better.  I was 12 by then and I had kind of gotten the hang of things.  I knew where to shop and which clothes to buy.  I had discovered TV shows and radio stations (there were many more of them in the city), and I had made a few friends.  I had made a conscious decision to force myself to be more outgoing.  I was tired of being a meek, shy wallflower, and I was going to change that, come hell or high water.  This didn’t feel natural to me, though, so there was a lot of mimicking going on.

We were taught music theory as part of music class at that school, which I found I had natural ability for.  Unimpressed with my first piano teacher from the previous year, we took the advice of a friend and transferred to a piano teacher with a home-based instruction practice.  She was of much higher caliber.  What I didn’t realize at first was that her forte lied in teaching rich kids how to play “The Classics” (Classical music) to impress their status-preoccupied parents who wanted to show off their talents to the rest of their family and friends.  Yuck.  I wanted to create–and write–my own music.  I had the tunes; I knew how to play them.  But I struggled to get started writing them down.

So, I came to this new piano teacher one day near the end of the year and informed her that I’d like to do something different that day; I’d like her to help me get started writing my own music.  Literally each weekly lesson after that, we kept the Classical books closed and shelved, and I would play for her something new that had “come to me” during the week since my last lesson.  I literally couldn’t practice any piano without coming up with something new.  The music that came to me had some “staying power”, and by the end of the school year, I had the equivalent of about an album and a half’s worth of finished songs.

Grade 6 also saw me start to study psychology and handwriting analysis on my own.  Within the first few weeks of independent studying, I had hammered out neurosis, psychosis, schizophrenia, manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder), and paranoia.  It was utterly fascinating.  And while my teachers wrote on the blackboard, I would analyze their handwriting and be able to tell things about them.

I started junior high in this (better) school system at age 13.  Still in a rapid-fire music-inspired period, I started writing music by hand during boring classes–probably about 2-3 (or possibly 4) albums’ worth.  During Spring Break, I decided to try and write a song for the school band.  I was playing the alto sax in band by then, but would play the lone keyboard part for this song.  My desire was to have us perform this in our song lineup during the spring band concert.  I didn’t have much time.  I also had a lot of work ahead of me.

So I got right down to business, writing each part for each instrument, transposing the music into each key for each instrument, and then finally, creating a Master/Conductor’s score, so that our band instructor had his copy with which to keep tabs.  I even had multiple parts (“chairs”) for each instrument, especially if that instrument section had a lot of students.  I got it done in three weeks and just about a week before the concert, I approached the band instructor timidly, showed him what I’d done (I’d also made all the necessary copies so that each student would have their own to keep in their music folder), and asked him meekly if we could do this, fully expecting him to say no.  He was a little rough around the edges, too, so I was pretty sure this was not going to happen, especially with so little time before the concert.

He looked at it.  And to my absolute shock, he said, “this is wonderful!”  And kept complimenting it.  And surprisingly, agreed enthusiastically to do it.  We pulled it off; we learned it in just a couple of school band practice sessions.  On the day of the concert, I brought my keyboard in and we amped it so that it could be heard with the rest of the band.  My dad videotaped the performance and at the end of that song, he stood up, pumped his arm and hollered, “POWER!  Music POWER!” Lol.  One of my fondest memories to date.

My mom then enrolled me in a second weekly piano lesson with a third instructor (I was still also studying under my second, classical-based one (who was now helping me fly through the levels of Music Theory) (link to MN Music Teacher’s Association).  This instructor was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota’s MacPhail Center for Music (link to their site), so my mother drove me to downtown Minneapolis once a week for an hour’s lesson with him.  He introduced me to lots of alternative academic music concepts, like atonal music, which I found utterly fascinating.

I also started writing stories, mostly short stories, all fiction.  I loved English class, as long as we were writing something I could get into.  I also became extremely interested in cars–not the run-of-the-mill, everyday cars, but the exotic cars.  Ferrari and Lamborghini were my favorites.  I had posters of each covering the preteen-selected pink-themed wallpaper.  I was a total tomboy by then.  I subscribed to Motor Trend and learned to draw cars by tracing them through trace paper.

Between Grades 7 and 8, when I was still 13, I had an honest-to-god meltdown.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening; I just knew that I was no longer in control.  It scared everyone around me.  Hell, it scared me just as much!  Afterward, I wanted to pretend it had never happened.  I wanted to dissolve into the concrete.  I wanted to fade into the prairie.  Or the mountains.  Anywhere but there, anywhere that my family wasn’t.

My summer “episode”, as I had called it, turned out to be kind of a premonition, a sign of things to come.  Grade 8 was a difficult beast.  I was 14 by then, and all of my stressors were hitting home, piling on me simultaneously.  “Life” came to a head that winter, and I sunk into a deep depression.  My sleep was all over the map; one night I couldn’t sleep until 4am, and the next day I’d take a 5-hour nap and then sleep 8-9 hours that night.  I wore black T-shirts and black jeans, with a muted-colored flannel-like button-down shirt (unbuttoned) over the T-shirt.  My hair was suddenly frizzy and curly; I loathed it.

I was administered an MMPI (link to Wikipedia article, with decent sources) evaluation and finally given an official diagnosis of “clinical depression”, for which I was prescribed Prozac.  The meds resulted in an improvement, but this improvement plateaued too quickly; my benefit was limited.

I kept writing music, but it had morphed slightly; its darker undertone varied in subtlety.  I began to write short stories and some song lyrics; I realized I loved doing that.

My mom enrolled my sister and me in karate lessons, which were awesome–a hugely uplifting experience.  I loved karate; it did so much for me.  I also got chiropractic and acupuncture treatments from a wonderful chiropractic physician with whom I’m still in occasional contact today.

I also began a music college preparation program at the U of MN for high school students who are pretty sure they’re going on to universities like Juilliard.  It met once a week, on Saturdays; we’d begin at 8am, progress through a structured schedule of classes in different areas (music theory, composition, appreciation, etc), and end at either 3 or 4pm.  Being only in Grade 8–smack in the middle of junior high–I was one of the youngest ones there.  This was a bit scary, but–shockingly–I actually related to those kids better!  Oh thank goodness; here was a group of kids who was not going to make fun of me!  I decided that high school kids were very superior to kids in my grade, but I had one problem: I couldn’t take high school classes with the high school kids yet.  I had another two years before I could.  Damn.

The Prozac lasted a year before I decided it hadn’t done me enough good for me to consider it worth keeping on taking.  So I stopped.  Abruptly.  Luckily, the cessation/withdrawal effects were minimal.  I finished out Grade 8 with a straight “C” grade average.  My parents were not impressed.

Now medication-free, I was quite unbalanced through Grade 9.  My father and I fought like cats and dogs, strangers living under the same roof.  My parents were going through their own source of stress, a situation that made state history at the time.  I delved deeper into karate.  I dropped out of band altogether and took Spanish instead; Spanish came extremely easy to me.  I continued writing songs and taking piano lessons.  I did let go of the U of MN college prep program; it just wasn’t where my heart was anymore.  I didn’t know where my heart would wander off to, but it wasn’t dingy, aged hallways studying music from the 1890s.  My heart wandered into psychology…and possibly the military….and possibly the US FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), as a serial killer profiler and behavioral scientist.

By Grade 10, I was 16 and this marked the first year of high school.  High school was kind of a blast.  I had a few close, trusted friends, and we would hang out.  I was in excellent physical shape, being that I was in my third year of karate, chiropractic care, and acupuncture treatments.  My diet left a lot to be desired, but my appetite was voracious and yet I was skinny…and yet very muscular and toned.  I was also still medication-free, and by now I was a lot more mentally stable than a half-year before.

That year, after continuing to struggle in math year after year, I finally said, “hold on; back up.  Let’s take Grade 9-level math over again and this time, really learn it well.”  I did, and it worked.  I grasped the material and it sunk into my brain and stayed there.

Creative Writing dominated my activities.  Music composition waned, but there were still some songs written during this time.  I continued with piano lessons and Spanish class.  I started to immerse myself back in Abnormal Psychology.  Also started studying astrology; reading books on the subject felt like review; the concepts came so easily and I could instantly see all of the repeating and corresponding patterns and cycles.  It made perfect sense.

Toward the end of Grade 10, my mom started to suspect that I might have ADD/ADHD.  She gave me a few photocopied articles to read.  I started to think she was right.  I was brought back to the counselor, who referred me to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Zoloft.

Grade 11 is more of a blur; I was extremely sick that year.  I still wrote, but piano and karate severely waned.  I also saw less of my friends.  Even at age 17, I was still having ear infections that affected both sides.  I was frustrated and disgusted with it.  No one else my age ever got those!  (With a lot of time at home, I studied more astrology.)  I ended up having tubes put in my ears a second time; it hadn’t worked all that well the first time, but the second time was more effective.

I was also severely anemic and dealing with the horrible side effects of the strong antibiotic medicine that I’d had to take.  I was dizzy and fatigued, sleeping through all of my classes, stumbling down the hall between classes, and giving up some physical ed-based classes altogether.  I barely remember much; I’m glad I kept a journal (which I had done since about Grade 3).

Grade 12 is also a blur, but for different reasons.  Now 18 and in my final year of school before graduation, I finally buckled down and studied hard, for once taking pride in my homework, other assignments, and school projects.  We had more freedom to take electives, and our school offered an excellent and rich variety of elective classes.  I also worked three part-time jobs, while making the “A” Honor Roll for the first time in my entire life.  And I applied to a single college, into which I was immediately accepted (fearing rejection, I “undershot”, selling myself short, applying to an inexpensive school that I was sure to get into).

I do remember developing a keen interest in theater and acting, so I listed “Theater” as my intended major on my college application.  I also learned to drive well, got my driver’s license, and opened a checking account within the last few months before graduation, knowing that within a few short months after that, I’d be moving out on my own.

The idea of remaining at home after high school graduation was never dreamed of, never uttered.  It was simply not an option.

And so (if you’re still awake LOL), I offer you one last installment, Part 3. 🙂

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