I have the most beautiful desk, made from reclaimed teak from old Thai houses. My sewing machine sits on the left side of it, although I have learned that I don't really like sewing in this room. It is about four feet by six feet, and it starts feeling tiny when fabric is shooting out at me. I take the sewing machine and bring it to the larger dining room table. Often, a small child sits next to me and watches the magic stitches fly across the fabric.
Next to the sewing machine is The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver, and Essential Writings of Sadhu Sundar Singh. Next to that are my journals from the last year, as well as my sketch book for drawing out patterns of things I want to sew. Next to that is my Thesaurus. I have a large bag of beads, and then a basket full of measuring tape, scissors, thread and bobbins, tailor's chalk, and memory card readers. Nearby there are knitting needles, my pencil crayons, packages of envelopes, my Bible, and my current journal. It's a desk for all types of things. The very first thing I bought for my tiny studio was a fan. It keeps the mosquitoes away.
I'm compiling a book of the best of the first three years of my writing here. I chose the first three years because there is just SO MUCH writing, it wouldn't all fit into one book, and also because those were my blogging years in California. It seems to be a sensible place to stop, to save the overseas stuff for another book, because life is so different now.
I'm struck by how I've written my way through so much fear. I wrote the stories out, again and again. I still do it. And though deep down I don't change, this life is full of beauty I may never have seen if not for writing it all down.
Here are some recurring themes that I have noticed from those years:
1. Distress and panic in stores and when shopping in general.
2. Difficulty becoming used to being a mother.
3. Fear about people and friends, not understanding people and friends.
5. Lots of focus on writing, love, art, and light.
In March I took a test that I heard about on This American Life. The are you an Aspie quiz? In other words, do you have Asperger's Syndrome? It was a whim, I often listen to radio shows and then look up the things that were talked about in the show.
This was my result:
Your Aspie score: 146 of 200 Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 74 of 200 You are very likely an Aspie
This led me on a journey of a ton of books and writings on Aspergers and especially females with Aspergers and adult females with Aspergers.
I have not been officially diagnosed. I can't afford to be, these things take thousands of dollars. However, the things I've read about in books and on websites make more sense about why I am the way I am than anything else ever has. Why I can't bear soft touch, or large stores, or too many decisions, or thinking about anything other than what is directly in front of me. Why I'm usually convinced that people are angry at me, why I can't read them, can't understand what people are thinking, what my husband is thinking when we're talking. Why I record conversations in my head and replay them, again and again, without wanting to.
My first reaction to taking the test and reading about women with Aspergers was relief. My second was to offer the test to my close family and friends, because I was convinced that they probably would also come out as Aspie. But then none of them did. Weird, I thought. I would have sworn that we were all the same.
It's odd, because as well as being mystified and afraid in social relationships with people, I'm fascinated by people. I love to try to figure out what people are doing, why they're doing it. I make a catalog of emotions in my head, I don't ever forget when people tell me how they feel about something, I write it down, or just record it inside. I use these things to write about people.
Even this can be too much. I get too involved in the emotions of my kids. I find myself needing to step back. "Everyone has bad days," I tell myself. "He'll be okay. She'll be okay. Chinua? Do you think she'll be okay?"
"Are you mad at me?
Are you mad at me?
Are you mad at me?
Are you mad at me?"
Somewhere in the middle of 2007 I began taking medication for social anxiety. It changed a lot for me, it likely changed everything for me. I still struggle with fear, but I'm not paralyzed. Right now I'm bringing my dosage down, because of my pregnancy. This is hard.
It has me remembering a lot of things about the way I used to feel, about darkness and a tight fist in my stomach.
Reading through all those old entries, putting the story together, it seems to stare me in the face.
I'm wired differently.
As a mother, I have to spend a lot of time working on things that are not the easiest things for me. But getting those quiz results back, learning these things about myself, shows me that I also need to spend a lot of time on the things that are strong for me--the creative things.
Now, when I can't have a conversation without a lot of fear, I understand why. I tell Chinua, "I can't understand what you're saying. I can't tell what you're thinking, and I'm worried that you're mad at me."
At the end of a long day, I turn off the lights in my room, put my headphones in, and listen to music. If voices are on repeat in my head when I'm doing the dishes, I put headphones on and listen to podcasts.
It changes everything.
It has been hard for me to get the courage to write this. Mostly because I don't have an official diagnosis, and this syndrome looks so different in adult women, in everyone, really. I didn't want to open myself up to people saying, "That's not true."
A friend of mine recently opened up about how Asperger's is affecting her family, and it rung a little bell inside of me. Talk about this, it said.
When I'm reading through old writing, I'm struck by how helpful it has been in the past for me, to simply be honest here. To write myself into okay. Even into great, sometimes. I'm rocked right now, I can recognize it. All those old hormones. The level of fear in my life is large, right now. All you can do, really, is laugh at it. So I'm here, and if I feel it, I'll try to crack it open and write through it.
I'll try, try, try.
My little desk is so important to me, right now. All the soothing things, all together. My manuscript, my colors, the fabrics, slow, lovely words, pens and paper. I sit here and try to tell you about things that are bouncing back and forth inside of me. Honesty doesn't get any easier. But honesty is always rewarded, and I have the years to prove it.
What I mean to say is,
I love you. Thank you.