Coping Mechanisms

I’ve had three meltdowns this week. I’ve set a new record for myself. I’m obviously not coping well. I’ve known that for some time. My original goal was to figure out what my problems/triggers are, analyze the current coping strategy (if one exists) and update accordingly to fit my present needs. I haven’t had a lot of success with this. These coping strategies would have been formed in response to behaviors that were “inappropriate” or “unladylike” when I was a child. I had no idea that’s what I was doing, and my family is less than helpful when it comes to this subject. So where do I go from here?

I’ve figured out a few things, so this hasn’t been a complete waste of time. Dollface and I had a conversation about this a few days ago. She’s noticed over the years that my go-to response in any situation I’m uncomfortable with is shutdown. Ranging from being verbally attacked to someone droning on, talking for the sake of talking, and saying nothing. I have the same outward reaction to all of it. She said my face becomes expressionless, gaze distant, voice monotone. I’ll make basic responses, so I’m paying attention on some level (it seems).

I know exactly what she’s talking about, but something very different is going on inside my mind. I’m internally screaming. I want to punch, kick, smash my face into things if it will make you shut the hell up. Would I say that? No. I’m too nice. It isn’t “appropriate” – I learned that word from a very early age. 

This leads me to my first realization. I think my main coping mechanism is anger. I have three basic responses to the world around me: neutral, angry, content/happy. When I react to something, it’s going to be one of those. More often than not, it’s either neutral or angry. I have a theory as to why this is. 

I’m used to anger. I grew up surrounded by anger. Hell, even my birth was angry. My mother’s pregnancy with me was angry. With a couple of exceptions, I’m still surrounded by anger. It’s the emotion that is easiest for me to identify, and easiest for others around me to identify. For someone who has been called cold, robotic, and emotionless her entire life, I think it makes me feel good to know that they know Im angry. I think after so long of being told that you’re emotionless and cold, you start to believe it. 

Which led me to my second realization – I don’t do anything about what makes me angry. I just take it. I take so much shit from everyone – and that in itself makes me angry. At me. Then there’s all the anger at all the individual situations that pop up every day, and I just take it. No reaction, nothing. I try to keep myself under control all the time. Then I have a week like this one – three meltdowns over the dumbest shit. My dog got in my face. Panic attack. My dog pissed in the floor. Meltdown. My dog wanted to run instead of being tied out on the lead (but she can’t be trusted – she likes to play in traffic). Meltdown. I don’t even remember what the other one was triggered by, but I remember slamming my head against the headboard several times before Carrie got her hand behind my head. I think it had something to do with my phone ringing.

Assuming this is correct, what now? How do you replace anger as a coping mechanism? What are other ways of coping? I need a list.

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A Question of Compassion


Yesterday was an extremely stressful day for me. Throughout the day, I ended up fighting with various members of my family. It just wouldn’t stop. Even thinking about it now, I can feel myself breaking down a little more. I keep trying to hold myself together, though. I don’t like losing control.

The worst altercation was, by far, with my mother. She told me in her mind, all the sexual trauma I endured was nothing compared to what she went through, along with another member of my family. Which is why she just didn’t do anything. Because to her, it really was nothing. 

I’m having trouble identifying how I feel beyond the basics of hurt and angry. I know it’s more in depth and complex. I really just want to run away. Logically, I know you can’t run away from problems. I can run away from her. But the days of running away from “mom” are behind me. I’m a married, 25-year-old woman working on starting a family with my wife. 

Then she told me I have no compassion. I disagree. I’ve had all night to think about this. No, I probably don’t process the emotion of compassion the same way others do. However, I think by definition, I do feel compassion when necessary.

I feel concern when others suffer. I help if I can, in the ways I know how. Empathy may not be my strong suit, even when I’ve been in the same situation someone else has. I do care though. I love. I am sensitive, even though I don’t show it. Just because I show my concern and compassion differently doesn’t invalidate their existence. Suggesting I don’t have any was rude, hurtful, and inappropriate. 

My mother has done some things for me over the years which were helpful and kind. Maybe even without thought for herself. She has also taken advantage of me, invalidated me, excluded me, used me, ignored me, and asked things of me a mother should never ask of her daughter. Has this relationship become toxic? Has it been a toxic presence in my life for years? I think the answer is yes. 

Now should I break out my compassion and try to understand she’s also stressed out? Going through a rough time? Don’t cut her out of your life, I’ll tell myself. Think of what it’ll do to your grandma. Or, I could have compassion on myself. Hasn’t she put me through enough? Can you take any more of her drama and hatefulness? Should you? If she was anyone else, what would I do? 

I think my answer came this morning via text message from my mother herself. After everything she said yesterday – all the hurt I feel, all the overthinking I’m doing now – no apology. She just asked if I was awake because she needed a ride to see her boyfriend at work. Am I surprised? Absolutely not. Did she answer this question for me? Absolutely. Compassion on myself, FTW.

The Fight for Control

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What does internal chaos look like? If you had to give it a voice, what would it say? Now, what about external chaos? Are the two cousins or even siblings? This probably isn’t making much sense. There’s so much running through my head, it’s hard to separate it all out into coherent thoughts.

This week has been hell. This year has been hell. I’ve watched two of the people I love most in this world go through unspeakable pain. I’ve watched my family be torn apart. It feels like my child has been ripped from my arms, but it’s compounded by the fact that I know it had to be done.

I’m watching my sweet baby sister go through an ordeal that no one should ever have to go through. I did my best to make sure it was never buried like my ordeals were. Kept secret within the family – one of those dark things no one ever talks about, and forces themselves to forget. She will have justice. Proper justice and help, and she will be taken care of. She will be given the opportunity to heal that was taken from me.

I’m watching my baby brother go through an internal struggle that so many people do. He’s in a destructive relationship that’s changed him. He used to be such a sweet boy. I helped raise him. For the longest time, it was just me and him against the world. This morning, he told me to leave him alone. He shoved my sister into a wall and left bruises on her for the last time. He left home. When he goes into a rage over something, he just blacks out. He loses himself. But he’s lost himself already. The succubus has claimed her prize, in a sense. He packed his bags in a blind rage, screaming curses at our mother and sister. I told him that if he needed to go live in this hell, this horrible relationship to come to his senses and realize his mistake – then he should go. I told him when his world fell apart, I’d be here and that I love him. Carrie and I took him to her.

This is what I can’t verbalize. This is my pain. It runs through my head every day and night. I’ve lost my brother. We were so close, once. Every time he crosses my mind, I want to call him and beg him to come home. I want to find him and drag him home by his hair. Anything. I know I can’t. He has to make his own mistakes and he has to learn from them, no matter how much it hurts the rest of us to watch. I feel physical pain when I think of all of this. Everything my sister and brother are going through. I don’t know if that’s normal, but I do. It feels like my heart is breaking, over and over again.

I’m glad my sister is safe, now. It’s important that she feels safe at home. It devastates me that our brother was the cause of her distress and caused her more pain. When I found out what happened to my sister, the only way I can describe what I felt is that part of my soul was ripped out. That’s what I imagine that pain would feel like. I felt it again when my brother left.

I’ve cared for them both through the best and worst of times. Everyone here looks to me to hold this wreckage of a family together and do what’s best. The pressure is immense. As I’ve mentioned before, I have problems with control. I want to control everyone and everything around me. I’m not sure if this is an ASD trait or just a personal quirk, but there it is. My life has been so far out of my control for so long that I’ve become depressed. Not my usual depression – the dark pit of despair kind of depression. That place that it’s so difficult to come back from. Dollface pointed this out to me recently. She told me the change in myself was evident if you knew where to look, and she always does.

She made me realize how far I’ve fallen, and why. I’m watching my sister go through what I went through as a child and fighting my mother to not keep it hidden. It’s bringing back memories of my past. I’ve lost my brother. We’re trapped in a dilapidated house that is full of rats and other vermin until we can save up the money to find somewhere to move. I’m under pressure not to move, but to stay and hold everything together and protect my grandmother from my mother. However, that conflicts with my want and need for Carrie and me to be functional adults and live on our own and start a family that is safe from all of this. I’m always the one trying to make peace between everyone when I can’t even sort out my own feelings or emotions for days. I feel the need to protect everyone from everything. My grandmother from my mother. My sister from my mother. My mother from herself. I do the minimum to manage my health problems, but I still push myself too hard. I expect too much of myself. I expect nothing less than perfection from myself, and when I fall short I sink further into the pit. I can’t have a routine because at any moment, someone could call and want something from me and I never say no. I feel obliged to accommodate, no matter the cost to me.

All of this has put me in a bad place that I don’t know how to get out of. The only goal I have right now is to move. I think that will do a lot for me. I keep telling myself that I can only control myself and what I think, but that is hard to accept and put into practice. I was driving down a steep road the other day and I thought about just driving off. I wondered if my mind would finally find quiet at the end of the drop. I couldn’t do it. There are too many people for me to live for. I have my wonderful and supportive wife, my sweet sister, caring grandmother, and my ever insightful Dollface. I may be in a bad place, but I’ll work every day to climb out and remind myself why I am worth the stardust I’m made of.

The Late Teenage Years

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When I was fifteen, I stayed the night with the succubus one night. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and was wandering around the house. Her twenty-two-year-old brother, R, was at the computer. He invited me to sit down beside him, so I did. We talked for a while, and then for some unknown reason, he turned around and kissed me. This led to the most hectic and terrible two years of my life.

R and I began dating. His family politely ignored it. Mine were outraged but tolerated it. After about two months, he was kicked out of his parent’s house. He said he had nowhere else to go, so he moved into my house. I didn’t want him there, but I didn’t realize I could say no. That has been a recurring theme throughout my life. The trouble with saying ‘no’.

The change didn’t happen all at once, as I recall. It would be little things at first. He would want to know who I was talking to or texting every time I got a phone call or text. I didn’t know this was odd behavior inside a relationship, so I went along with it. Soon, he wanted me to account for my whereabouts during the day when I wasn’t with him. Then I would start getting phone calls while I was out with my family. Where was I? Who was I with? What was I doing? When would I be home? Were there any guys there? Who was that talking in the background? He knows I’m out whoring around. The first time he threw this accusation at me, I was stunned. I didn’t understand how he’d arrived at that conclusion. He didn’t explain, either.

One day, in particular, stands out in my mind. He was out, and I was at home. I’d decided to lay down and take a nap. My phone was on vibrate on the floor. I was asleep for about two hours. When I woke up, there were 79 missed calls, 34 text messages, and 11 voicemails. At this point, it wasn’t surprising. I knew what I was in for, so I just took it.

Over the course of this hellish relationship, there were physical fights, screaming matches, rapes, and copious amounts of mental abuse. I know it for what it was, now. I was naive, and I thought it was normal. He’d separated me from my family and friends, but in the end, Dollface got me out. She gave me the strength to end it.

Immediately after R came C. C was only two years older than me and was more in love with his mother than he could ever be with anyone else. He moved in a week after we started dating because his mother kicked him out. Things went well for a long time. He had some problems, but no more than I did. Looking back, the biggest problems with this relationship was that 1) I was forcing myself to like men because I was raised to think I had to, and 2) we wanted each other to be people that we just weren’t. I wanted an independent relationship that didn’t include his mother as a third wheel. I had plans to go to school and pursue my interest in history, psychology, or something along those lines. He wanted me to do none of that. He wanted me to be an uneducated housewife, and I quote, “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”. This did not appeal to me at all. In fact, I was quite insulted. I wanted him to travel with me. I wanted him to have some ambition and do something with his life. He wanted to live in a trailer directly beside his mother.

In the end, I met my wonderful wife, Cassie. After a messy breakup with C and some stalking and threats from his new girlfriend, we moved on. We’ve been together, happily, ever since. I went through a lot to find the right person, but I also learned a lot. When I started researching about Autism, I found out that the crime victimization rates of people on the spectrum are insanely high. We have trouble recognizing the cues that would let us know we need to get out. Is there a solution to this?

Personally, I think the best answer is education and preparation. According to what I’ve read, people with Autism have excellent long term memory. Research signs of abusive relationships. Memorize it. If you’ve lived through it, never forget it. Break those it down into key points and watch for it in any relationship. This seems like the most logical approach to me. As far as sexual abuse and rape, this can happen in a split second. Your executive function could fail you, as it did me. I froze, and it just happened. The only thing that comes to mind for this situation is to train yourself to react in violent situations. Self-defense classes or martial arts could be a good option. You may even find a new special interest. Fun fact: my oldest godson has autism, and martial arts is his special interest. He’s eight years old, and is incredibly accomplished already! Anyway, perhaps if you stuck with it long enough and you did end up in a situation like that, self-defense would be a bit more instinctive. It seems like it’s worth a shot. Everyone functions at different levels. What works for one may not work for someone else. If you have any ideas, feel free to comment and let me know! This is a topic very close to my heart.

 

The Formative Years

My grandmother and my cousin Pam (who was a teacher) took me traveling a lot. We went to all sorts of historical sites along the East Coast. Sometimes my great-grandmother went, which always made things better. My mother never came because she had to work. When I was seven, she married her second husband. He immediately saw me as his child, I think. I don’t have many memories of having anything to do with them until I became a teenager, really.

The “discussions” between my grandmother and mother continued. I continued to try to be the peacemaker, despite being thwarted by my mother at every turn. When she would finally leave, my grandmother would just sit and cry, asking me what she had done to deserve being treated like that. I had no answer, and comforting has never been my strong suit.

The change from elementary to middle school was rough for me. Dynamics that I finally thought I’d worked out suddenly shifted, and I was back at square one. I was alone, bullied, and depressed. The workload dramatically increased, and I had no idea how to manage it. The predominant emotion I remember feeling is overwhelmed. Just overwhelmed with life. Then, I met Dollface. Dollface had been diagnosed with ADHD early on, and her therapist had taught her coping techniques for school and various other parts of life.

Dollface and I just connected. She just tuned into my weird ASD frequency and helped me fill in the gaps. She gave me my first planner and explained to me how she used hers. She knew I was bad for procrastinating so she would call me every night to make sure I had done my homework. When people bullied me, she immediately jumped to my defense when I tried to shrink into the wall. When people would come up to me and invade my personal space or ask me a quick barrage of questions, Dollface would intercede and become my personal shield. She knew when I was close to having a meltdown. She knew when I was shutting down. She would hold me and tell me it was okay. When I would have nightmares in the middle of the night and call her, she would always talk me through it. When I had no food to eat, she welcomed me into her home and fed me. When it was winter and I had no heat, she would invite me over to share hers. Dollface, in so many ways, is my savior, mentor, and mother. She still does all of this for me now when I need it, even though she’s taught me to do most of it for myself.

It was around this time that I was living alone. My grandmother had moved in with my great-grandmother, who had just broken her hip and needed round-the-clock care. Something that needs to be said here is that we’ve never had much money. My mother spends money first and worries about bills later. So when bills come due, she runs to my grandmother, and my grandmother always gives her the money. It’s like a family tradition. It’s just something that’s done. Whether we have food or not, whether the electric bill is past due or not, whether there was oil in the heater or not, my grandmother would hand over the money. I spent the majority of my teenage years wondering where my next meal was coming from, sleeping in a house with no heat in the middle of winter with my toes and fingers burning.

I managed to fall in with a rather rough crowd thanks to another “friend” that I’d made. We’ll call her Succubus. She was… to put it nicely – a slut. That particular fact never really bothered me until she got married, then continued to sleep around. Then it REALLY bothered me, especially when she expected me to help her sneak to and from her little escapades. That’s later though. Anyway, we got hardcore into pills. I dated her brother, and a few other guys because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I was raised in a Methodist household. The subject of homosexuality was never really talked about, that I can recall. However, I knew I was expected to find a man, get married, and become a baby making factory. Dollface made friends with her too, although part of me thinks it was to keep an eye on me. I would do things that Succubus didn’t like from time to time, and she would ‘punish’ me by not speaking to me for certain lengths of time. It really wasn’t so much a punishment as it was a relief. However, she would always come back.

When I was around fifteen or so, my father decided he wanted to move to Chicago and divorce his second wife (that he’d married twice). We packed up his little Subaru and drove to Chicago to the apartment that the company he worked for had gotten him. It was a lovely apartment, and I instantly loved it. I set up the house for him and stayed with him for about a month. Toward the end of my visit, he decided to sign up for an online dating service. Through this service, he met a woman I’ll call K. She came to pick him up that night, and I was left to wait. I was quite unhappy about this change in circumstance. I didn’t like the idea of him dating again and a new woman invading the relationship I was trying to build with him. Alas, the date went splendidly. The night before I was supposed to fly back home, he decided he was going out to the pub. He left about five. When 10 pm rolled around, I got worried. I tried calling him but got no answer. I held out until midnight before I called my grandmother and told her what was going on. She was furious. He finally showed up around 2 am, drunker than I’ve ever seen him. He puked on the floor. I had to change him and put him to bed. When it was time to take me to the airport at 7 am, he was completely out of it. I got into his phone and called the woman he’d been on a few dates with (by this point) and explained to her what had happened. Coincidentally, we had the same last name. She said she would deal with him and get me to the airport. That trip left quite an impression on me. My father was an alcoholic for years. His father was an alcoholic. My paternal grandmother died from cirrhosis of the liver at age 36. This trip instilled in me a sincere desire to break the cycle.

When I was in 8th grade, I attempted suicide. My stepfather found me and took me to the hospital. My mother said I was just being dramatic, but put me in a mental institution for good measure. I was locked up in there for a month and a half. I will say the routine was nice. It gave me a sense of peace and predictability that made me feel better. However, that was slightly overshadowed by the bars on the windows, the fact we were only allowed to write with crayons, and the fact that there were fights between the other juvenile patients about every hour. I missed my grandmother and Dollface. I remember my mother calling me once and visiting me a couple of times. I begged her to let me out, and she steadfastly refused. The medicine they gave me made me gain 80lbs. I don’t think the routine was worth the feeling of being imprisoned.

I dropped out of school in 10th grade because I was bullied mercilessly. I ended up beating a football player in the head with my science book because he put duct tape in my waist-length hair.

I’ll stop there for now. I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d had been diagnosed with ASD as a child, like so many boys. Maybe my family would have been more understanding of my struggles, maybe not. I still wonder, though.

The Early Days

There are parts of my childhood that I can’t remember. There are just gaps in my memory, and I’m not sure why. Anyhow, my memory is of no consequence in this part of the story, really.

My parents were married young. They were both eighteen. My mother married my father to escape from a bad home life, and my father… well, who knows. My mother got pregnant with me when she was 21. It was a rough pregnancy for her, and the birth was even worse. I got stuck in the birth canal, and we both almost died. She told me that when they finally got me out, I was blue.

As I’ve mentioned before, we recently found out my father is on the spectrum, which lends perspective to his behavior after I was born. He made it three weeks before he told my mother to get rid of me. She obliged and handed me over to my grandmother (her mother). I assume he couldn’t handle a screaming baby and all the changes that came with it, which scares me, honestly. Carrie and I are about to embark on this incredible journey of parenthood. What if I can’t handle it either? I keep telling myself that plenty of people on the spectrum are extremely successful parents, and I shouldn’t worry. However, worrying is what I do.

From three weeks old, I lived with my grandmother. I’ve always seen her as my mother, really. Consequently, my brain has cast my mother in the role of more of a sibling, which was odd over the years. My grandfather had MS. He was incredibly abusive to my mother and grandmother, but by the time I was born, he was bedridden and couldn’t talk. My grandmother tells me that he loved me, though. Neither of them has ever sought therapy for their years of trauma, which I think is a huge mistake on their part. My mother has turned into a tyrant in a lot of ways, so I grew up in a tense, angry environment.

When I was three, my father left. I remember him asking me if I wanted to go with him, and I just held on to my grandmother’s leg and wouldn’t let go. I saw him from time to time. I’m sure it was prearranged between the adults, but from my perspective, he was just showing up and putting me in his car. I remember kicking, screaming, hiding, and him having to throw me over his shoulder and carry me out of the house.

There were meals that I would request all the time and drive my grandmother crazy, and meals I wouldn’t touch because I didn’t like the texture. I would watch the same movies over and over again (which I still do). My particular favorites were Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and maybe a couple others. I would watch the tapes until they shredded in the VCR. I would play card games with myself and had to eat off of the same plate at every meal. Organizing my books and toys was a favorite pastime, along with eating mud.

I remember my mother and grandmother fighting almost constantly. I would run into the middle of the fight and tell my mother to stop yelling at my mama. She would drag me to the living room and tell me they were having a “discussion” and to stay out of it. That’s always the word she would use. Over the years, that word came to mean screaming match to me. Out of every basic emotion that I can identify quickly, anger is the one I’m most familiar with. If something happens, anger is my go-to response. I need to change that. I don’t want to pass that on to our children.

I started reading before I went to pre-school. My great-grandmother taught me to read, write, and spell. I started kindergarten at age 3. School was sort of alright for me at first, as I recall. I got excellent grades all through elementary school, but the social side of things was rough. To my knowledge, they didn’t start testing for ASD in school until after I was past the “window” they look at. Anyhow, my mother never would have allowed it. She has it in her head that all of her children are perfectly fine. It took an incredible amount of pressure to make her relent and let the school test my younger brother for ADHD, which he has.

At age 7, I was sexually assaulted my stepbrother. I won’t go into the details, but there you go. He is my dad’s second wife’s son. He was 14 at the time. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with what he was doing to me because he told me it was okay. When I went back home, my grandmother was giving me a bath. I just casually mentioned it to her. She called my mother, who called my father. To this day, I don’t know what he did. I do know that he wasn’t allowed to be alone with me, but I continued to go visit on weekends and for the entire summer. As I’ve grown up, I’ve grown to resent my mother for not handling that situation properly. Why would she not have called the police? Pressed charges? Something? Why would she let me go back? Is that normal? No one explained to me that what had happened was bad. It was taken care of quietly and swept under the rug. It was never mentioned again. It was a very confusing time in my life, and it has had far-reaching effects that I doubt anyone considered.

I’ll stop here for now. I know this has been depressing. I have a lot to work through, which is what I’m trying to do. I’m hoping to have some sort of grand epiphany, but nothing is that easy.

Hair

On Thursdays, I clean my cousin’s house for some extra cash. When I got to the dreaded bathroom, there it was. Hair. Everywhere. I’m not sure why I have this thing with hair. I don’t like it. I never have. Pet hair, human hair, doesn’t matter. If it gets on me, especially if it’s wet, there is instantaneous nausea, panic, and horror. When the dog is done frolicking on the bed, I immediately have to get rid  of every shred of hair. It diminishes my enjoyment of time spent with her because I know that afterward, there will be hair.

When I started chemo meds, naturally, my hair started falling out at an accelerated rate. I couldn’t stand it, so I shaved most of it off. Some might say this was an overreaction, but I disagree. If hair is the problem, remove the hair.

Do any other Aspies have aversions like this? I’d love to hear about them (so I don’t feel quite so unusual).