A Few New Thoughts of Having Asperger’s In Middle Age

Photo courtesy of sidebysidecoaching.co.uk

 

VARIOUS MUSINGS REGARDING BEING AN ASPIE IN MY FIFTIES

These days, regarding people who are on the autism spectrum, particularly of the high-functioning kind and namely those with Asperger’s Syndrome,

There are an embarrassment of riches as far as services, programs and support for Aspies who are children and young adults in the form of:

  • Non-public schools geared toward that population – I know, I used to work at one
  • Various services such as counseling and support groups, and…
  • Programs that aim toward those aspies and others on the spectrum after the age of 22 (when Special Education and services & programs for those ages 3-22 end) gain independence in the form of jobs and “leaving the nest”, as in moving away from parents and getting an apartment

The other day a thought came to me…

What about those on the spectrum who are middle-aged and happen to be high functioning, like me?

Last year saw my fiftieth birthday, and as I am officially, by American standards, considered to be of middle age,

With me having high functioning Asperger’s, outside of meet-up groups I haven’t seen any support stuff geared toward aspies in my age group.

Besides those meet-up groups, the only thing I’ve seen among the developmentally disabled where the people are anywhere near my age is programs for lower-functioning groups; I’ve seen them from time to time when I take trips to the library, going online and reading books and magazines.

As for those meet-up groups – I know what quite a few of you are probably saying right now…

“Why don’t you check those groups out? Give them a chance?”

As much as I regret saying this, when I did sign up online for one of those groups in the Los Angeles, CA area, where I live,

Not only did their meet-up days and times not mesh with my schedule, I (to be brutally honest) simply didn’t feel comfortable enough to make any kind of commitments.

The reason for that discomfort?

One word: MAINSTREAMING.

 

This reminds me of myself when I’m out and about, only no backwards cap and the fact that I’m much bigger. Photo courtesy of wypr.org

 

 

After spending kindergarten in a special ed program – called a “Special Day Class”  in those days – due to my sometimes animal-like behavior stemming from my aspieness at that young age – the powers that be determined that I had progressed enough to the point where I could be mainstreamed into a regular class for first grade.

Especially when they found that I could do the academic work fairly easily, as though my behavior needed modifying my reading (I began to read at age two-and-a half), writing, and math skills were considered to be very good, par for the course for many aspies.

To make a long story short, from age six all the way to high school graduation, I never set foot in a special education class, even finding myself in gifted classes a few of those years.

Which unfortunately left myself feeling uncomfortable with those who were in the special ed classes, and – as much as I hate to say it – even when I taught physical education at a non-public, special ed school roughly fifteen years ago as in one particular instance, a co-worker who was clearly on the syndrome, while nice enough, tried too hard to be my friend, unexpectedly calling me during the evening on one occasion.

Which, though it wasn’t his fault as he didn’t know this, was not a good thing as evenings are my time to decompress, my attitude being “I don’t bother anyone, so I don’t want anybody to bother me”.

I reckon folks are wondering what my point is to all of this – here it is:

As good as mainstreaming was for me; I’m sure I would have never achieved what I achieved – a college degree, a work ethic of (at least) some kind, social skills, having my own sports blog which is growing, called SoCal Sports Annals.com ( Here’s the link: http://www.socalsportsannals.wordpress.com ) – if it were not for that,

I’m convinced that I would be more comfortable among aspies today if I were among them more during my formative years, rather than be completely separated from them.

One thing that I would check out would be a singles group consisting of those on the spectrum who are high functioning, where the opposite sexes can meet, form friendships and have an opportunity to date.

In other words, I would be interested in going to a mixer featuring high functioning women and seeing if anything clicks.

I know that the reason why I haven’t found anything like that is the fact that male autistics out number their female counterparts by an average of five to one.

But meeting a woman who’s a high functioning aspie, minimum age 35 but preferably in her early forties and up,  who shares the same interests as me, where we could provide companionship with each other,

Wouldn’t be something that I would be completely against.

Especially since I’m a fifty-something and don’t exactly have forever.

If there’s anyone out there who knows of any groups or programs like that in the Los Angeles area, please feel free to let me know!

There’s a chance I’ll check them out, but whether or not I choose to do so, I’ll feel glad knowing groups like that are out there.

 

 

Thank goodness I don’t feel as isolated as I used to, but that feeling is still there ever so often. Photo courtesy of bestpracticeautism.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

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WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpts from Chapter Ten of My Book Describing Having Asperger’s

Anyplace like this – open spaces, rolling meadows covered in bright green grass with mountains in the distance – is my happy place. Image courtesy of pngtree.com

 

Here are a few passages from my soon-to-be self-published book on my life having Asperger’s in the mainstream, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.

These excerpts describe my experiences as a forty-something, approaching-middle-age adult on the high-functioning autism spectrum;

The chapter is called “Frustrations In My Forties, With A Helping Of Hope” – which I believe explains it all…

 

I would be anywhere – in my house, or out and about – doing my thing, when all of a sudden a flashback of something socially stupid that I did or said, or a memory of someone like Marlon* putting me through hell, even though it had happened decades before those horrible reminisces would suddenly pop into my head with such clarity, they might as well have occurred that day.

The trauma resulting from these flashbacks would be to the point where I would scream “NO!!” inside my head in order to try to get them out, Sometimes I’d scream “NO!!!” out loud because the flashback and trauma would be so overwhelming.

This PTSD, combined with the faux-pas I committed that was a part of trying to live, be accepted, and liked in the neurotypical world on my terms, all led to a level of frustration that was so pronounced that it got to a point of, well…

Remember the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas?

That’s the movie where Nicholas Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor playing a raging alcoholic who, when he loses his job and everything else due to his dependency on booze, moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and ultimately succeeds in that goal, but not before meeting and falling for the proverbial “Hooker with a Heart of Gold”, played by Elizabeth Shue (who got a Best Actress nomination for her efforts).

Well, for a long time that’s how I felt, dating back to when I quit my last job as an after school teacher in Inglewood.

Did I start hitting the Jack Daniels or hook up with a working girl of the evening?

Of course not, but whenever I saw Nicholas’ character imbibing on the Vegas Strip and the surrounding streets, I couldn’t help thinking that I could relate to how he felt; how he saw absolutely no way out.

What triggered these urges in me were the acute feelings of oppression; being yelled at (in my mind), told what to do or what not to do in a way that (again, in my mind) made me feel like the one doing the yelling and ordering about saw me as an inferior less-than-human being, as that seemed to be the only time he or she ever communicated with me in any way when all I was doing was something that society has always said one should do:

Be Myself.

For practically my entire life, the messages I had received time and time again was that the world would universally respect, accept, and embrace me if I was myself and didn’t try to emulate anyone else.

Incident after incident, not just during my forties but seemingly my whole life, told me in no uncertain terms that the notion of “be myself and I would get respect” was nothing but a boldface lie – at least as far as I was concerned as I would never intend to speak for anyone else.

How does my being on the autism spectrum tie into all of this, you may be asking.

While I have described different episodes that highlighted my anger and frustration over being rejected, condescended to and bullied for the crime of just being me and – very important – not conforming to what was considered “normal” and “acceptable” in whatever group or endeavor I was involved in,

By the time I approached my late thirties and it became clear that nothing ha changed, my frustrations over seemingly failing to be liked, accepted, and successful in the neurotypical world got to be so overwhelming that I began to voice the suicidal thoughts that – judging from that time I went to jump off the top of SMC’s football stadium after I punched that girl when she told me to shut up – had been inside me since my late teens.

A decent example of this was at one of the places where I had worked. I had mentioned it earlier, about how I was told by the supervisor that I was no longer welcome in that place of employment due to the way I interacted with my co-workers and others.

“Well, there’s nothing left to do but kill myself,” I remarked, the reality of losing yet another job sinking in.

“You don’t need to kill yourself,” my just-became former employer replied.

“Yes I do,” I thought, as the spirit of Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas nestled inside me.

There were quite a few gnarly incidents like that over the next several years, when anytime somebody said something in a certain way that would make me feel picked on, put down, or like they didn’t see me as an equal human being those negative (in my mind) words would bring out the suicidal feelings; although I knew I shouldn’t take things like that personally – and was told such many times – I didn’t know how to take it any other way.

And, I must admit, still have a difficult time doing.

Of course the fact is I’m not dead (at least as of this writing as no one can predict the future and tomorrow’s never guaranteed to anyone), which along with never hitting the bottle or meeting and falling in love with a prostitute are the big differences between me and Ben Sanderson – Nicholas Cage’s Leaving Las Vegas character – as I couldn’t go through with the actual deed of taking my own life.

By blurting out my desires to take my life and not going through with it, I reckon there were a few people who saw me as the proverbial “Boy Who Cried Wolf”; it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.

The truth was, like every other person who has ever considered ending it all, I was in roughly forty years worth of mental and emotional pain as my blurting out my desire to end my life was akin to coffee spilling from a cup.

 

 

A VERY interesting photo of an Asperger’s brain compared with a neurotypical brain…

 

 

This next excerpt illustrates two personal traits of my Asperger’s – CONFUSION and ARRESTED MATURITY & EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT…

I was at the Culver City Library and had just finished with my online work on the public computers when this lady passed by me and suddenly, with this “Eureka!” look on her face, exclaimed “Derek!” like I was an old BFF.

I was thinking “Who the hell is this girl?” as I asked, “Do I know you?”

I won’t say her name in order to protect her privacy, but rest assured when she told me who she was – and old elementary school classmate who was in my 4th and 5th grade classes,  the memories came back.

And they were not good ones as she was, while not as bad as Marlon, was one of those who had bullied me, calling me an ape and a gorilla and not only picking a fight with me when I dared to stand up for myself, but punching me on the shoulder while I was trying to do the right thing and walk away.

The confusing part of all of this was that this girl didn’t always bully me. There were times when she treated me okay and I would think, “She’s my friend”, then for seemingly no reason she would turn on me, call me some nasty name, and I would get upset to the point of sometimes crying.

It was all a lifelong part of only being able to see things in black and white as in this case – and by my estimate several hundred other cases regarding my interactions with people – it was simply too hard for my brain to not see people as either a friend or an enemy, with no in between.

As far as I’m concerned, people either liked or hated me.

And I still struggle with that at times, because those shades of gray are too complicated for me to completely understand.

Fast forward roughly 35 years…

There we were in that library, me and my old classmate, and as the memories of her bullying me returned to my gray matter, rather than rejoicing over seeing her after all those years, my emotions were mixed as I voiced what she had done to me.

To her tremendous credit, her reaction was expressed by two words:

“I’m sorry.”

Even though I did forgive her, and even though we ended up having a nice little reunion that day, my mind still couldn’t avoid bursts of PTSD that stemmed from her bullying all those decades ago.

 

ARRESTED MATURITY AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

This was and is the other personal aspect of having Asperger’s Syndrome that over time I realized was a part of the disorder that really had a grip on me – and in some ways still has.

Starting in high school, and for a long time afterward, it became quite clear that I was emotionally behind the other kids in my grade as even though they, like me, were born in 1967, it seemed like they were older than me somehow.

They had signed up for driver’s education and had gotten their permits and licenses and cars the moment they were able to while I had not only waited until senior year to take driver’s ed, ending up with a bunch of sophomores, well…if you’ve been reading this book you know how trying to get my license turned out for me.

Many if not most of them were going to wild parties and getting smashed, while with the reputation I had even the slightest thought of inviting me to those soirees was pooh-poohed.

I always found myself interacting with younger kids not only in those days, as among other things I hung around my old junior high school a bit too much during my first year at Samohi and ran back to hang out at Samo at least one a week for the first couple of years I was at college; I was even told by a couple of well-meaning guys one night at a football game that I shouldn’t “make a habit” of visiting too much.

I wasn’t that clueless; I knew deep down that my choices in who I hung with were unusual. I knew deep down that the lack of interactions with my fellow members of the class of 1985 and my preference of befriending members of latter classes was, for lack of a better term, “socially (so-called) retarded”.

Even during the class reunions I attended, although I had a nice time and interacted pretty well with my classmates, I still felt like they were somehow older than me despite the fact that we were the same age.

The thing was, not only was I not driving and not partying, which seemed to me was what roughly 90% of my peers were doing back in the day, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that stuff even if I was welcomed to those shindigs.

I specifically remember during the fall of 1983 – my junior year – the Samohi marching band getting into HUGE trouble to the point of being pulled from all of our scheduled competition tournaments save one, because of the extreme partying that the majority of the band would do after games on Friday nights, some of them showing up to rehearsals the next morning hung over, and feeling left out and like I was seen as a loser because I had no knowledge of those parties, which meant I wasn’t invited.

Looking back, it would have been a Catch-22 if I had gone to them because all the drinking, drugging, and other madness would have been completely alien to me, like I was visiting from another planet with older folks as I still had that kid mentality of “Oooh, they’re drinking and smoking and having sex!”

They were going through the adolescent growing-up process and the wiring in my brain wasn’t allowing me to, which was frustrating, being mainstreamed into that neurotypical world, the level of frustration growing over the years to the point where suicidal feelings would manifest in me from time to time, for roughly thirty years after that.

Although I still sometimes continue to think that no one really needs me, that if I died people, at best, would mourn me for a bit and then move on as if I had never existed, their attitudes bordering on the “Good Riddance” variety, these desires to end my life eventually ended due to something that happened to me – and I’m still going through – back in 2012.

The root of all my social struggles stems from this:

HAVING ASPERGER’S SYNDROME IN A NEUROTYPICAL WORLD.

Allow me to make something crystal clear, however…

I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever, speaking for everyone in the Asperger’s community. I know full well that there are plenty of people with this condition, including some big names like Dan Ackroyd, who are thriving in the NT community and have done so for many years with independence, lucrative careers, and the like.

I am strictly speaking for myself, for THIS aspie.

 

(* = Not his real name)

 

 

A good illustration of me during my formative years, I think.

 

 

 

STRUGGLES IN THE WORKFORCE: Excerpts From Chapter Eight of “Walking On Eggshells”

This seems like a decent image of the hard times I had while in the mainstream workforce. Photo courtesy of yourstory.com

 

 

A brief update on the progress of my book, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”:

It’s getting closer to being done!

All ten chapters have been edited for the third (or fourth, I’m not sure) time and been printed.

I just have to go back to one chapter and possibly replace the name of a place where I used to work with a pseudonym, in case such place takes offense at its mention, the way I described my experiences there.

The next step? Getting my manuscript into a sort-of book form at the local UPS store and (finally!) sending it to Lulu.com for self-publication.

As I’ve mentioned on my Facebook page, if “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” is not in your hands by December 31st of this year, then I will consider myself as having failed at this endeavor.

 

As For Now…

I thought I’d give another excerpt of the struggles I had as an adult in the workforce due to what I know now stemmed from having Asperger’s.

My (mostly) bad times during those years toiling for a paycheck were so many, like my high school days I divided them into two chapters.

These excerpts are from the chapter I call “Failures In The Workforce, 1991-1998”:

 

As I obviously needed a job and it was, as Mom put it, “desperation time”, I went in, asked for an application, filled it out at home, brought it back, and a few days later I got a phone call from them saying I was hired. I remember promising Mom that  I would “work hard and do whatever they say”, feeling a sense of relief that I was gainfully employed again and was able to find something relatively quickly after such a monumentally terrible experience at Grant School.

That feeling of relief evaporated like water in Saudi Arabia in the middle of summer as my job as a salesman fast became what I call to this day “The Eight and a Half-Month Prison Sentence”, realizing quite rapidly that working in retail was even MORE of a wrong profession for me than education was.

I hated the concept in retail of “There’s always something to do”, even when no customers were in the store and all the luggage and counters were clean, polished, and stacked neatly.

I especially hated it when, just before the 10:00 p.m. closing time, which was the shift I was always given, what seemed to be a load of customers would come into the store and I would be forced to stay after having been there for eight full hours, gritting my teeth on the bus home and doing everything I could not to scram in anguish over slaving away at that plantation; for the record, it was the only full-time job I would ever have.

And I REALLY hated it when, on a scheduled day off which gave me a most blessed sensation throughout my being the phone would ring and it would be the store ordering me to come in and work because someone had called in sick, whom I would think would be faking so I would be tortured at that personal hell hole; there I’d be, so looking forward to a relaxing day at home watching TV and what not, and I’d be forced back into the salt mines.

And on top of everything else, in the tradition of pouring salt on what in my heart was a painfully gaping wound, there was one other thing that made tat place of retail a maximum security prison hell: A certain co-worker who, like Marlon roughly 15 years before, was a flat-out bully and a word-that-rhymes-with-witch.

I’ll call her Gina*.

(Gina) was short in stature – not quite like Snooki, but in that Jersey Shore girl’s league – with pale, pasty skin and long, wavy brown hair. She had an ever-present stench due to her being a heavy smoker, reeking of tobacco as a prominent image of mine regarding her was standing outside of the store with a pack of Marlboros in hand, dirtying her lungs, other people’s lungs, and the air with those wretchedly foul cancer sticks.

I’ll never forget one particular day when she pushed me too far and I snapped, going into one of those meltdowns which are common to at least some folks with Asperger’s…

Gina and I were standing behind the counter next to the cash register. I wish I could tell you what Gina said, but like so many other incidents before and since, I’ve blocked it out of my mind due to the extreme post-traumatic stress that it would cause to my psyche.

One thing was for certain: I was feeling low and depressed and Gina must have called me some bad name or made some bad gesture that pushed me over the edge. I do remember her putting her hands in her ears like Bullwinkle and making a taunting noise after I had told her to leave me alone.

 

 

A more accurate illustration of how I felt during my years working for someone else in the workforce. Photo courtesy of businessinsider.com

 

 

The next thing I knew, I was throwing some balled-up piece of paper at her and she reciprocated by spitting her Marlboro-laden saliva at me. No, I didn’t make any move to hit her – however much a word-that-rhymes-with-witch that Gina was, at least I had enough presence of mind and respect for females to not let it come to that – but it was another albatross around my hellish luggage store neck.

You would think that my experiences at that store would improve by leaps and bounds after Gina was finally fired for her evilness a few weeks later, the owner of the store dramatically pointing at the door and telling her those two words that I so wanted to her for the longest time, but nothing could have been further from the truth as my miseries went beyond that little Lady Voldemort.

That’s why it was a foregone conclusion that I would be relieved of my duties right before Labor Day, though in all honesty they beat me to it because I was planning on marching into the owner’s office right after that holiday and tell my oppressor, I mean employer, those two little words that I had desperately desired to tell him for so long:

“I QUIT!!”

I’m quite positive that many of you are thinking this right about now…

“You should have been glad to have had that job! You were just an ungrateful, spoiled little baby who need to suck it up and grow up!”

I can certainly understand that sentiment, and despite what it seems it’s not my intention to use my Asperger’s syndrome as an excuse for my fucking up at that store – and nearly every other job I had before and afterwards. I know that many Aspies have been successful in retail-type gigs and other professions where service with a smile is required,.

However, I’m about as far as those Aspians as one could get as not only is any gig of that persuasion isn’t any place for me, I knew even before that horrible experience that I was 1,000 times more successful in situations where I was allowed to do my own thing at whatever work I was involved in.

It’s like if I had a little plot of roses growing in this huge garden, and it was my responsibility to take care of those roses in that plot, keeping those American Beauties watered and the ground insect-free.

When an overseer, I mean employer, would criticize me on how I’m doing or micromanage me, he/she is – figuratively speaking – stepping on those roses of mine for what I see in my mind as no reason other than to be a mean bully.

That’s how I felt and, to be brutally honest, still feel. Even though I understand that employees need supervising and constructive criticism in order to achieve maximum performance, I couldn’t, and still can’t help from seeing that as bullying.

That was why I HATED evaluations…at least in my mind, evaluations were always a way for bullies, I mean bosses, to remind me that I was a lesser being in their eyes, which essentially and eventually ruined me as a person with ability to sustain gainful employment as far as working for someone else.

 

No, this wasn’t where I had such a horrible time but as it’s a place that serves the public, it’s in the same league as that luggage store where I toiled. Photo courtesy of themountaineer.com

 

 

 

 

Another Excerpt From “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”

 

[ File # csp7074823, License # 3116285 ]
Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php)
(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / mandygodbehear

 

I wanted to show another illustration of what it was like for me being a high school kid with Asperger’s while going to a regular high school and interacting with neurotypicals.

This is a blatant illustration of how bad things were for me, as these pair of excerpts describe my trips to Disneyland with my high school’s marching band during my junior and senior years and a particular incident that happened on both occasions.

These pair of excerpts are from Chapter 5 of my book, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, the chapter being called “ROUGH TIMES AT SAMOHI, PART ONE”.

Yes, I know I have posted excerpts from this chapter on this blog already, but seeing as these incidents were particularly traumatic and happened during the holiday season – thirty-something years ago this month – I thought it would be a good idea to write this.

OH, BY THE WAY:

I’m in the home stretch of my final editing and print-outs of the chapters to “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”; I have just three chapters to go before I can have it self-published.

In other words, this odyssey of mine is starting to get close to being done.

OK, here are more excerpts to “ROUGH TIMES AT SAMOHI, PART ONE”…

 

The performance went well enough, but in the grand tradition of deja-vu it was what happened afterwards, when we were sorting out who would have the glorious times with whom, that once again induced the type of trauma that I remember to this day…

I had found myself with a bunch of guys from the trombone and tenor saxophone sections. On the surface, they seemed friendly enough, and I was looking forward to having a crew to run around with in Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom.

There we were, following the red line on the ground that led us from our buses to some back door that opened onto Adventureland when a couple of my so-called “crew” said to me, “Let’s check out Main Street! We need you to do a man test!”

So off we went, landing at an arcade that was reminiscent of those penny arcades that were all the rage around 1900. We came upon this Zoltar-type machine with these two metal handles, which was essentially the “man test” as the object was to grab those poles and see how long you could stand the electric shocks that ran through them.

“Go ahead Derek, you go first,” the guys were saying, goading me in that “Come and join the big boys and be part of the group” way, which of course I was more than willing to do because what average teenager doesn’t want to be part of something?

Most unfortunately, however, what ended up happening was something that was eerily similar to that bird poop sandwich episode that was put upon me in the 5th grade six years before, showing  that with the naiveté that characterizes much of the young Asperger’s population, things often stay the same as far as the way non-aspie youngsters take advantage of them.

At least such was the case with this Aspie.

To get to the point, I was badly duped, dumped, and taken advantage of in a very cruel fashion by those fellow band members I was with.

I know this is so because as I was grabbing onto those handles, I saw out of the corner of my eye those so-called “friends” sprinting away, desperately hoping to ditch me and leave me to my dorky self, which I’m sure they thought of me as because if they didn’t think of me that way, they wouldn’t have ditched me the way they did.

I gave chase like some little kid being teased on the playground – deja-vu there, too – before I gave up and found myself standing there all by my lonesome, feeling the same way I felt the year before at that very same park when that alto sax player and bass clarinet player told me (not in so many words, but you know what I mean) to sod off, me sobbing inwardly at the reminder that I wasn’t liked too much.

Looking back, I understand that being someone with a high-functioning form of autism, I was too weirdly different for my peers to tolerate and be around with any more than they had to. They were forced to interact with me at school and in the band but when it came to the Happiest Place On Earth I’m sure that they saw being there as a sort of vacation from me and how I was, which due to the difference in how my brain was/is wired I simply could not help.

That was no excuse for those guys doing what they did to me, however; I don’t care how dorky someone seems to be, no one deserves to be treated the way I was at Disneyland – or anywhere else for that matter.

Ever.

For ANY reason.

 

 

Main Street in Disneyland, including the very arcade where I was ditched, dumped, and humiliated by some of my high school band mates two years running on the right. Photo courtesy of dreamstime.com

 

 

 

FAST FORWARDING A FEW PAGES TO ANOTHER EXCERPT, WHICH DESCRIBES WHAT HAPPENED TO ME AT DISNEYLAND A YEAR LATER…

It was after our performance, when we changed back into our band shirts and jeans on the buses and headed back into the park, when the ultimate deja-vu came to pass and the proof of at least this aspie – I can’t speak for others with Asperger’s – having a tendency to be gullible showing itself in what happened.

I found myself with the same group of trombones and tenor saxes what duped and ditched me at that penny arcade and the previous year. They seemed to welcome me along as we went back to that same arcade on Main Street, asking me to take that same “Man Test” with the same electrical poles on that same Zoltar-like machine.

Like the naive kid on the autistic spectrum that I was, I took the boat and grabbed the poles.

Out of the same corner of my eye as approximately 365 days before, I saw those guys run away, taking a hard left onto a side street. After I gave chase for a few steps I gave up and stood there, once again dumped and duped, feeling al kinds of negative feelings, particularly at the thought that I was such an undesirable to too many of my band mates.

If I were a neurotypical, I would have told them to go fuck themselves and their “Man Test” and walked away.

But that was neither here nor there as at that moment I once again found myself all by my lonesome on that Disneyland thoroughfare; because I so wanted to be accepted as part of a “cool” group like roughly 90% of all teens, I ended up in the same sorry situation as twelve months before.

It was an innate gullibility that led me to be taken advantage of like I was at that penny arcade those two years as I didn’t want to face the fact that those group of guys thought of me as too much of a social undesirable to want to hang with me. For me to think that would have been yet another albatross among the many that I had built up inside of myself not only during my Samo days, but pretty much throughout my life up to that time and afterwards.

I know, those guys who ditched me for two years running at what to me in those days was Dismal-Land had no idea that I was on the Autism Spectrum, and I also know that we were all just immature, non thinking insensitive kids at that time, but even though I (of course) forgive them that doesn’t take away the pain of what I went through as if those incidents had happened ten years before, I would have been crying my eyes out over the hurt that was put upon me at Disneyland.

To be fair, the guys involved in that cruel deceit had no idea of how hurtful they were being, and I’ve only had contact with two of them (there were five) since graduation, so if they read this I’ll bet they would be surprised, if not shocked, at the amount of mental and emotional hurt that I suffered at their hands.

That’s why it’s only right to forgive them.

 

Flip the gender, add about ten years, and this was me in high school – at least that’s how I felt. Photo courtesy of myaspergerschild.com

 

 

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpts From Chapter Six

I can certainly relate to scenes like this, because it happened to me many times throughout my school days. Photo courtesy of wisegeekhealth.com

 

My experiences as a high school kid with Asperger’s were so many, I had to divide them into two chapters.

These two excerpts of my (hopefully) soon to be self-published book, WALKING ON EGGSHELLS, is from the chapter I call “ROUGH TIMES AT SAMOHI, PART TWO”:

 

It was like there were so many areas of my life where I was behind seemingly everybody else: kids were partying up a storm complete with the obligatory drunkenness and debauchery with me never being invited to any of those shindigs. Kids were getting driver’s licenses and cars and God, seemingly, was telling me no to doing that same thing.

Not to mention kids, particularly in that moment in time, pairing up and hooking up like crazy…

In my mind at least, people were leaving me out of things because they generally didn’t see me as cool, which I fully admit I wasn’t, and that hurt. Every time I found out about some kegger bash which I was obviously not invited to, like this one huge blowout that the band had in my junior year in the Santa Monica Mountains, I felt humiliated, degraded, and like my peers regarded me as nothing but a waste of space.

But getting back to the prom:

There I was, without a date and feeling more than ever like a dorky loser.

Mom, who was dead set on my attending this rite of passage, made a call to one of my cousins who was not only a teacher, but the coach of her drill team at her high school.

The next thing I knew, I had a date to the Samohi prom.

Just in case you’re going “Yay, that’s wonderful!” right about now…

Don’t even bother.

This date was the classic nerd-getting-fixed-up kind, complete with a girl who, looking back, I suspect was compensated by my cousin either with money or in some other way; I sensed the why-did-I-agree-to-go-with-this-goofy-mark vibe when I talked to her on the phone a couple of days beforehand, and again when the big night arrived.

She wasn’t very outgoing or friendly; it was as if she was working a shift at McDonald’s, particularly as we rode in the town car on the freeway back to her house. As I tried to tell her what a good time I had and to hug her goodbye, she kind of pulled away from me, her body language saying “Yeah, whatever, just let me out you goofy-ass mark!”

At least, though she may deny it, that’s what I’m convinced that she wanted to say to me.

After that big soiree, I told everyone that I had a fun time, essentially lying to myself as I quickly saw the light of my situation and faced the reality of it all, which was this:

I should NOT have gone to the 1985 Santa Monica High School Prom.

 

 

Except for the gender, skin color, and hair texture, this was me in high school. Photo courtesy of  yourlittleprofessor.com

 

 

EXCERPT #2 FROM CHAPTER SIX: One Last Rejection and Humiliation

It was a couple of weeks before school ended, a gorgeous late spring morning…

That previous evening, the phone rang. Mom answered it, and a few minutes later she was in my doorway telling me that I was going to be “kidnapped”, along with all of the other band seniors, at around 6:00 a.m. and taken to breakfast, which was an apparent tradition, Mom telling me, “be sure you’re ready for when they come.”

As I went to sleep later that night, I thought, “This will be fun!”

So when I woke up at around 5:30 the next morning I made it a point to shower, shave, and put on some sweats and a t-shirt to look like I was in bed as it was supposed to be a surprise “kidnapping”.

As it turned out, the surprise was on me as 6:00 came, then 6:30, and no kidnappers; by 7:00 it was clear that they weren’t coming as I got dressed and walked to school as usual, feeling mighty low as one can imagine, this being the latest humiliating rejection in a series of humiliating rejections, three years’ worth to be precise.

When I got to school, in fairness to the “kidnappers” I was told that there was no time to pick me up, which was why I was stood up, but I was told that in a matter-of-fact was like they felt that it was no big deal to do what they did. I don’t remember hearing an “I’m sorry”, and they definitely could have called me and told me to meet them at whatever restaurant they were at if they really wanted me to hang with them.

That was what hurt more than anything else.

It was like when they realized that there wouldn’t be time to pick up everyone, they saw me as the easy odd man out, a case of “Well, we don’t really like Derek anyway, so why should we do something for him or spend any more time with him than we have to?”

Not that I was the simple helpless victim as over the course of me and my band mates’ three years together, my aspieisms, verbal and otherwise, aggravated too many of them more than they would have liked and certainly turned too many of them off to me as far as friendship was concerned; I wanted to be fair in emphasizing that.

So to quite a few of my music mates, I was seemingly nothing but a geeky jerk that did and said inappropriate things, consequently not deserving to be given the time of day.

The worst part of it all was that thanks to my autistic tendencies, I often thought that people were being mean to me for no reason, just like at Will Rogers and John Adams, and just like it would be throughout college and beyond as whenever somebody reacted badly to something I did or said, my first reaction would almost always be,

“What did I do?”

I sometimes still react that way.

 

This was likewise me in high school; just change the color of the hair and the skin, add a few inches, and take away the glasses. Photo courtesy of mysaspergerschild.com

 

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: The Fifth Excerpt

A good illustration of what my times in high school was like…

 

UPDATING MY PROGRESS WITH MY BOOK, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”: 

I’m beginning to make the final edits and printouts of my descriptions of having Asperger’s in a non-Aspie world; I still hope to have it (self) published by the end of December.

For now, here’s another excerpt of “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, this one from Chapter 5, which is a pretty significant chapter as it focuses on my MANY social struggles in high school;

It’s called “Rough Times At Samohi, Part One”…

 

My alma mater is impressive in many ways and for a kid who is properly motivated and whose social skills are on the ball, Samohi (the first two letters of Santa, Monica, and High) is an excellent place to go to school offering everything that a student could want; strong in academics, sports, the arts, and a great place to launch yourself in whatever passion you choose to pursue.

Most unfortunately, as much as I’d like to say that the high school I graduated from in 1985 was great to me and I had the kind of wonderful time that you see on TV sitcoms, I simply can’t say that, largely because of what was – at least at that time – the root of Samohi’s academic and social philosophy and culture:

SWIM OR DROWN

Let me elaborate…

At Samo during the time I was there, sophomores – it was a three-year school in those days –  were expected to quickly catch on to the rigors and expectations of high school from Day One.

Being an Aspie (without knowing it), I had no knowledge of that as my mindset going in was that high school would be a simple continuation of my elementary and junior high years, where I was really successful – at least in the classroom.

I do NOT blame Samohi for the bad times I had there, the way I was such a misfit as I eventually understood why my alma mater’s environment was the way it was. Samo’s attitude was “Swim or Drown” because the powers that be wanted to teach us students what it took to succeed in the real world, how to thrive and survive after the high school days were done.

All right, now that I’ve gotten all that out-of-the-way, It’s high time for me to begin my detailed description of the hell that my high school was for me, socially and otherwise, from late August of 1982 to June 21, 1985 – the day I received my diploma.

My primary extracurricular activity during my three years at Samohi was the Santa Monica High School Viking Marching Band. Band camp (preseason band practice) started two weeks before school did, hence my stating that my high school hell not only began two weeks before I set foot inside of my first high school class, it began that very first warm, sunny morning of band camp on the multipurpose baseball/soccer/football field on campus that late August of 1982.

Any chances of being thought as “cool” by the rest of the 10th graders, by and large, were dealt a HUGE blow when during a break in band camp rehearsal one day, I was introduced to some fellow sophomores in the band by an ex-junior high band mate who had joined the band with me as someone whose “…brain was absent most of the time.”

Another unpleasant memory that stood out for me that first band camp was the senior that played baritone sax along with me, someone who was, for all intents and purposes, my designated mentor who from my way of thinking was supposed to be a good friend and have my back.

He will go by the name of Boyd*

Unfortunately, as much as I understand now that Boyd was trying to help me and as much as his intentions were good, it was the way he went about mentoring me that gave me such trauma. Combine that with my then-unknown aspieness, my need of nurturing and friendly support, and the way my mind subsequently worked in inappropriate ways due to my high-functioning autistic tendencies, and you had a match made in – I’ll go ahead and say it – hell.

One really warm afternoon on that North Field, when during a marching exercise I made a mistake on some maneuver, Boyd said to me – and I remember his exact words all these years later…

“You’re stupid, Derek.”

Real sympathetic and supportive, don’t you think?

I must emphasize that my struggles in that band were not all due to Boyd and others who were giving me such hell.

I completely recognize that there was crap on my end as I – because of my autism spectrum trait of not doing well with change – was lazy and for a long time felt that ability alone was the difference between success and failure in anything. Due to my particular aspie trait of digging in to what I believe and sticking to my guns no matter what, it took a long, long time to understand the notion of needing to work hard to achieve anything, and that made my name mud among a lot of people in that Samohi band…

One instance of this social ineptitude due to my autistic tendencies comes to mind;

One gray, overcast afternoon I was hanging out in the back room of the music building. There were two other kids in there with me, one of them a girl who played french horn and had, at least in my eyes, the total 80s look going on, complete with her hair cut in a sort of junior grade Flock of Seagulls way. It was her hair that I was looking at when I said, in a friendly way that was not intended as anything negative or insensitive whatsoever, “You sure look trendy.”

I’ll never forget the dirty “How dare you speak to me like that!” look that that girl gave me as she responded to what in my Asperger’s mind was a compliment with a solid and sturdy “Fuck you!”, as she walked out of the room in a very pissed off fashion.

Being the high-functioning autistic teen that I was, I was flabbergasted in a what-did-I-say-that-was-so-terrible kind of way. I asked the other kid there, “Why is she so mad?” as in my mind I wasn’t trying to insult her at all. That other kid told me:

“You just called her a poseur. Trendy means the same thing.”

Which I didn’t know.

Not even in the minute slightest as among us kids at that time, being called a poseur was akin to somebody Black being called the “N” word.

 

 

Change the gender and add a few years, and this largely describes me in high school, or at least the way it seemed…

 

 

THIS LAST EXCERPT DESCRIBES A TRAUMATIC VISIT TO DISNEYLAND WITH MY HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BAND DURING MY SOPHOMORE YEAR:

I believe it was safe to say that no one wanted me along with them to play in the Promised Land that Mr. Disney built that day as seemingly none of the different “band buddy” cliques wanted me to hang with them; the only thing that saved me from being at that theme park all by my lonesome was a decree from the band director: “No one goes around the park alone.” When I brought it to the director’s attention that I didn’t have a group to go with, he went to some band mates who clearly (at least to me) wanted no part of me and ordered them to “take Derek along.”

So there I was, trailing along, seemingly three or four steps behind as I recall. The one place which I particularly remember going with this group to was the iconic Haunted Mansion.

We entered that Old South style house and walked along the hallways with the other patrons, hearing all about how there were 999 ghosts and how there was room for 1,000.

Near the end of the ride we all got into these big circular comfy-type chairs, which would take us around the rest of the house.

As we were passing through a mirror, the one which showed ghosts riding in the chairs with us, sitting in a chair all by lonesome of course – who wanted to sit next to a big dork? – I saw a reflection of myself, with a ghost putting his arm around me.

Let’s just say that I hated what I saw as what was looking back in the mirror at me was the most pathetically lonely African-American teen that I has ever seen in my life; I had never seen a teenager look that lonely since, it was so bad.

So much so that if I had a gun or a knife on me that day I probably would have come out of that ride as a dead 15-year old boy due to the fact that my depression and feelings of rejection in that nobody-likes-me way would have compelled me to off myself in that seat, blood pouring out of either my head or my chest with the ambulance and paramedics waiting for me at that ride’s exit to rush me to the nearest hospital, sirens blaring and no one knowing whether or not I would see the next day.

That’s the numero uno memory I have of that day at Disneyland; suffice it to say I did not have any fun in the very place where everyone else who visits it cannot help but have the biggest kind of fun.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH: An excerpt of Chapter Six, “Rough Times At Samohi, Part Two” as my mostly bad experiences of that place was so many, I was forced to split them into two chapters.

* = not his real name

 

 

 

How I saw myself much of the time during much of my mid-teens…

 

THE FOURTH EXCERPT OF “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – Being Rejected By People Who Looked Like Me

While I can’t draw anything like this guy and am higher functioning, I can certainly relate to him. Photo courtesy of intersecteddisability.blogspot.com

 

THIS EXCERPT FROM MY UPCOMING BOOK – “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – FOCUSES ON MY FEELING ALIENATED AND REJECTED BY SEEMINGLY TOO MANY PEOPLE IN THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY, SPECIFICALLY IN THE INNER CITY AS MY FELLOW BLACK KIDS, QUITE SADLY, BULLIED ME MORE THAN ANY OTHER GROUP AS A CHILD, SEEING ME AS A “GOOFY MARK” BECAUSE OF MY ASPERGER’S TRAITS.

HERE IS PART OF CHAPTER FOUR: “The Black Alienation”…

 

Mom and I went to celebrate the…festivities at a (place) which was located in a pretty much all-black (at that time) mid-to-lower income neighborhood full of people whom the only thing I had in common with – quite honestly and regretfully – was the color of our skin.

To a nine-year old boy on the Autism Spectrum who had interacted almost exclusively with white kids up to that point, I’m being brutally honest when I say that the folks in that neighborhood seemed loud, aggressive, crass, and just not very nice.

I won’t lie; it intimidated me.

During that late afternoon, I was sitting on a front porch when I was asked something about knowing how to fight.

I fully understand today that (the guy asking) was trying to toughen me up, to teach me how to defend myself and to not be so vulnerable, but he may as well have been speaking Sanskrit as I had absolutely no clue whatsoever of what he was getting at.

The next thing I knew, all these fists were landing on various parts of my body, mostly my arms and shoulders, but it seemed like a lot more body parts than that.

My attempts at fighting back at the seemingly dozens of people who by now had joined in were quite pathetic and futile as it culminated with some big thuggish-looking girl, who looked about 17 and had a big cast on her arm, clocking me with that cast, leading to some hysterical crying from me and much unhappiness as I went home that night, that traumatic memory ingrained into my gray matter for all time.

Being a sheltered Asperger’s boy, in my mind I was being bullied and abused by people who looked like me for no reason.

In retrospect, that beat down was symbolic of my alienation, ostracization, and rejection from African-American inner city culture, though in fairness I have to emphasize that nobody knew anything about me having Asperger’s Syndrome – I wouldn’t know for another twenty years – and I don’t blame anybody for any conflicts that might have stemmed from our background and socialization due to the fact that they were so different from me…

Getting back to that incident:

That episode set the tone for many of my future experiences in (Santa Monica’s) Pico Neighborhood.

Because of where I came from, I had absolutely no knowledge of what was considered “cool” as I was now living in an area where there were four liquor stores in a ten-block radius, seemingly large apartment buildings, five times the number of children running around, and alleyways with strange-looking writings on them; what the hell did I know about gang-banging and tagging?

I had no clue that among many, if not all, black youth in the lower-income hoods, being academically intelligent and getting good grades was considered a nerdy “white” thing, nor did I know about having a good part of being “cool” depending on how tough and “hard” you were; your brawling ability and how many kids you could beat up.

I was likewise ignorant of needing to have good gross motor skills, needing to be able to catch, throw, dribble, shoot, and hit a ball to be accepted, and woe be to those who didn’t wear the “fresh” fashions as to not dress like the dancers on that TV show “Soul Train”, seemingly, was a crime punishable by social death.

In those areas of “Blackness”, I failed miserably and fell way, WAY short of the mark as with my autistic tendencies, it was sort of inevitable that I would.

…when my toughness or “hard” factor was tested by the other black kids in school (Marlon* mostly, but there were others) and elsewhere by being punched all of a sudden, I either ran to a teacher or I cried like a little so-called “bitch”.

(* = not his real name)

One can imagine how that went down, my reacting the way I did instantly relegated me to being “scary” and an easy “mark”, and being made fun of accordingly. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just leave me alone or accept me as a young brother in the name of that Black Unity concept that was still all the rage in the 1970s.

 

This sort of says it all. Image courtesy of ollibean.com

 

This “mind-blindness” aspect of the Autism Spectrum Disorder rendered me as more or less incapable of knowing how to do what was necessary to be accepted and liked among too many of my fellow black kids in Santa Monica’s inner city community.

Another prominent word that too many of my young black peers in the Pico called me on a regular basis was the same name as one of Walt Disney’s iconic characters, a certain tall, skinny long-eared black dog going by the name of…

“Goofy”

That two-syllable epithet was something I heard from various kids – some of them white and Latino as well as many of the black kids – for years as “Big Goofy” “Goofy-Ass Mark”, and (pardon the expression) “Goofy Faggot” were just some of the taunts directed to me at school, on the playground, in the street, and pretty much everywhere else in that part of town. Being that I fell well short of the Pico’s coolness standard, I suppose it was inevitable that I was treated the way I was.

I imagine that some people may read this and think that I’m blanketing all African-American youth, over generalizing and saying that every black I encountered treated me like shit, bullying me and calling me all those bad names.

That, I need to emphasize, was NOT the case as I want to make crystal clear that there WERE some African-American children in the Pico who treated me well and became my friends, three of them living upstairs from me and Mom.

A prominent root of this general black social rejection and alienation (as a youth), besides having Autism Spectrum Disorder, was that being from a rural community where I was the only black kid in the immediate area that I knew of, having exactly one African-American classmate in the four years I attended school there, I was essentially an “Oreo”.

This was exacerbated by the fact that because I acted so “white” upon moving in with my mom, the white kids, by and large, were the ones that were friendly and accepting to me, and it pretty much stayed that way all through junior high and high school.

The social rejection and alienation was something I felt even as an adult as for example, during my mid-20s there was this young dude who lived next door and taunted me by shouting “Like a virgin!” (you know, that Madonna song from the 80s) every time I walked by him When I called him on it after enduring months of his ignorance he very tellingly said, “You act white!”

Along with everything else, this showed how much it hurt to have people who looked like you socially reject you.

It actually hurt a lot, to the point where I don’t feel like I’m a real part of the black community nearly enough of the time, as I feel that Black American inner city culture in particular doesn’t want me, a so-called “Goofy Mark”, around.

The pain that was put upon me during my childhood and over the years was deep, lasting, and though I know it shouldn’t has stuck with me as an adult, which is why – most unfortunately I must emphasize – don’t feel as naturally comfortable in the inner city African-American community (I feel more comfortable among the black middle class and elderly, probably because I didn’t suffer any bullying and “Goofy Mark” taunting among them) as much as I could and should, sad to say, because among my fellow blacks in the ‘hood I was shown too many times that in too many of their eyes, I was “Goofy”.

A “Mark”

A “Faggot” (sorry for the term).

An “Oreo”.

“Scary”.

“Retarded”.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH:  Excerpts from Chapter Five, detailing my rough times in high school.

 

No, I did NOT dress like this, and I was not nearly as clumsy or had his high nasal squeak, but I reckon that more than enough of my African-American peers during my childhood saw me as similar to Steve Urkel here. Photo courtesy of chron.com