Zoom Autism Magazine Issue 8 - Page 10

ing out of control, totally disconnected from the person I’d always been. Why? Well, my boyfriend of almost two years — with whom I was absolutely head-over-heels — had pointed out that all of my classes were in the humanities. He was in the sciences and had not done nearly as well at school, despite being every bit as smart. So, he told me, I was obviously outperforming him because my classes were much easier. I was a fraud, an arrogant pretense … as well as a lot of other bad things, he explained. Many times. And because I loved him, I believed him. I just no longer believed in me. In a nutshell: when something is truly difficult, bright, talented, creative girls often interpret our struggle as proof that we just don’t have what it takes. That whatever smartness, cleverness, and goodness we have (or haven’t) is inborn — unchangeable. Innate. Part of a “you’vegot-it-or-you-don’t” package. And being on the spectrum adds a whole extra dimension to that concept. By our very nature, we tend to see the world in acute all-or-nothing, I’ve-got-this-or-I’m-an-utter-failure terms anyway. Bright girls, in general, are likely to see themselves as inadequate, and spectrum girls add an extra dose of intensity, anxiety, depression, and self-loathing. As soon as life experiences “prove” our shortfalls, our worst fears are realized. The smart (or creative or imaginative) person we thought we knew — well, she’s turned out to be a scam. Turns out — we are fakes. Frauds. 10 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses And really, why keep at what you obviously can’t do well when you can, to some gratification, focus your ultra-fierce attentions on the one person who deserves your scorn for being such a failure? Yourself. SUPER-IMPORTANT, CANNOT POSSIBLY BE OVERSTATED FACT I’m now going to tell it like it is because certain deadly, dangerous, disfiguring specters haunt girls on the spectrum more than any other population: eating disorders, cutting, burning. It makes sense if you just think about it; genetically, we are prime candidates. We’re socially programmed to judge ourselves harshly. We’re neurologically wired to be rigid and exacting. To be perfectionists with obsessive and depressive tendencies. To have minds that get stuck on something and replay the idea endlessly all day and night. And we don’t like to feel out of control. We are, literally, the textbook illustration of the kind of girl/woman most vulnerable to self-harm. Let’s be clear. You deserve love. And understanding. And compassion. You are not a mistake, my friend. You are not some amoral piece of garbage who’d do better to numb out and disappear. You are good at much more than destroying yourself. Do you hear me? Losing yet another pound — hiding one more scar — stuffing down one more cookie — it isn’t a triumph. It doesn’t make you superior to anyone, even though I know that’s how it can feel. Years ago, I was hospitalized for anorexia, and on some deeply-troubled level, I was actually proud of the “achievement.” Really. Proud of getting so good at losing weight, at being so skinny (in reality, so malnourished) that I had to be admitted to a hospital for a month. And you know what? The day before I went in-patient, I was still getting compliments on my uber-teeny jeans. And, so, I didn’t really want “recovery” — to lose my only coping mechanism. I felt light and numb and admired … until I was admitted and finally discovered that no, I was just wholly sick … and wholly friendless. You see, after a while, you begin to love your addiction. Binging. Starving. Compulsive exercising. All of it is about trying to escape from your own feelings. And for a while, it may feel like it works. For example, when we are babies and we get overwhelmed, we seek the comfort of nursing or of a bottle. That is, we find relief from our big, scary feelings by filling our mouths with sweet, rich tastes. It makes perfect scientific sense, then, that even though we may not realize it, consciously, our brains (smart as they are) haven’t forgotten how to switch on the selfsoothing mode. Maybe we’re feeling left-out or defective, ashamed or insecure. The feelings get too big, and … for many of us, the fix is to fill up on treasure troves of sugar and fat: pizza, ice cream, cookies, cheese, chocolate. For a little while, the chemical relief numbs out the hurt. Hurt? Worry? It’s all shoved deep down beneath layers of chips or donuts. Hidden. Out of sight and out of mind. Until the chemical buzz begins to wear off … and it turns out that the feelings never went away. They’re still here. And worse, now there’s self-loathing and shame to add to the mix. So we punish ourselves … until the hurt gets too big and the cycle starts again. For those of us who starve ourselves, the story isn’t much different. We’re still trying to escape overwhelming feelings — of being a fraud, not good enough, unworthy, a failure. Instead of indulging in cover-up chaos, under-eaters (like I was) discover relief - even a sense of power - in artificial control. At one point, I kept a spreadsheet of every calorie, gram of protein, fat, carbohydrate and fiber I ate. Every day. As I got hungrier and hungrier and then suddenly, somehow … numb (that’d be my brain literally shutting down) … there was a kind of euphoria. Even arrogant achievement. I didn’t feel the hurt. I didn’t feel anything … except … trapped by my own rules. Afraid of dinner dates or parties or anything outside of my rigid routine (how very, very spectrummy). What I Need You to Remember When you starve, you don’t actually get away from anything. What really happens is this: you get ashamed and secretive and ever-more isolated. Then, finally, when you emerge from the fog — if you emerge — life won’t have magically ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses 11