I’ve been thinking, lately, about how much my attitude about myself has changed in the course of my life. I actually have a pretty positive regard for myself, including my skills, my abilities, and my overall character.
This wasn’t always the case.
In fact, for most of my life – up until about five or six years ago – which would put me at about 45 years – I had such a profound disrespect for myself and such an intense dissatisfaction with just about everything about me, it was well nigh impossible for me to interact with other people as though I were an actual human being. Why would they want to? I was a reject. A terrible mistake of a human being. I couldn’t get anything right, couldn’t figure anything out, and everything promising that I started always came to naught.
It seems strange to think about it now, but I hated myself so intensely, and I could see no good reason that I was on the earth, other than to do the bidding of others. At least I was useful that way. Other people could always find a use for me. I hated everything about myself. I hated my face, my nose, my teeth, my ears, my hair, my posture, the shape of my legs, and just about everything that had to do with my personality, my abilities, and many other things that make me who I am.
From what I could tell, other people seemed to like me well enough, but I couldn’t see why they did. I thought that everybody else was just a flaming idiot, for not being able to see how useless piece of crap I was. And every time someone paid me a compliment or tried to get to know me, it made me dislike and detest them all the more. Who in their right mind would even bother with me, let alone pay me a compliment or try to get to know me?
Idiots. They didn’t know any better, and they were too stupid to figure it out.
It’s really pretty amazing, when I think back about it. My self-hatred was so intense and so all-encompassing, there was no chance for me to get started on anything substantive in life, or follow through, or reap the rewards of all my hard work, because I could not for the life of me believe that I actually deserved any of the rewards I might receive.
I was a waste of space and an oxygen thief. Nothing more.
I keep trying to figure out how I could have gotten to such a miserable state. Who thinks that about themself? Who actually believes something so completely off-base and untrue? I now know for a fact, I am not a bad person, I am not a waste of space, and I am not just taking up oxygen that someone more deserving should be using.
But I didn’t know that until about 5-6 years ago.
I think that Aspergers played a huge role in my self-image. It was so much a part of my life and my make-up, so much a part of me, and it shaped me in ways that really set me apart from the norm. Looking back, I see that that could have been a completely, totally excellent thing. Just like it’s a totally excellent thing now. But I lived in a world where very few other people shared my opinions or sensibilities — or the ones who did, covered them up.
I grew up in a world where everyone was expected to be exactly like everyone else, and if you did not uphold the norms, you were an outcast. Punished. Actually, the worst thing was not to be cast out, but to be pulled in even tighter under the iron fist of community cultural norm enforcement, and constantly bullied, coerced, threatened, insulted, belittled, and so forth – every conceivable technique being pulled out of the proverbial cultural toolbox — to force me to become the type of person that other people could tolerate.
A person I could never, ever be. And resisted becoming at every turn.
So, my basis for understanding who I was and how I was was fundamentally grounded in me not being right. I did not uphold the cultural norms. I could not uphold them. And the punishment came fast and furious, from every side.
Being my uber-Aspie self, at an early age, I developed a flawed logic around why I was being punished. If you were being disciplined, it was because you were a bad person. Because you’d earned it. In my mind, I thought I deserved the constant pressure and mistreatment. Everybody else seemed to think I did, so therefore it must have been true.
Another important element of that, was how bad I felt all the time. Physically, I was in a lot of discomfort from sensory extremes – mine, not the world’s – as well as tactile defensiveness. I had a terrible time with touch, as a kid, and I can’t remember ever wearing clothing that actually felt good to me. It was always scratchy or rough or painful in some way. And since I was in pain, and logically I deduced that the only time that you are caused pain is when you have done something to deserve it, I figured that it was my fault. I had done something to deserve all that pain. I was a terrible person who had earned the punishment.
Otherwise, why would it be happening?
I think that this was especially true, while I was menstruating. My periods were extremely difficult for me from the start, kicking off with several days of intensive PMS, which was always a very stressful emotional roller coaster. The days of intense, passionate upheaval were followed by a day and a half of crippling pain, vomiting, confusion, and not feeling like I was even in my body. After I spent a while throwing up, my body seemed to right itself, and I could get on with my life. But every single month, it was same series of lost days, the same useless hours and hours and hours of intense stress and suffering.
And that took its toll.
The great irony is, although I thought I wanted kids when I was younger – probably just a knee-jerk response to what the world around me expected me to do – I never had any desire to bear or raise children. So all that pain was for absolutely no purpose. It was just a phenomenal waste of time and energy and human spirit.
I’ve heard about some women choosing to have hysterectomies. I believe Temple Grandin actually had an elective hysterectomy, and that choice probably would have made a lot of sense for me. Then again, normal hormonal fluctuations and profiles – if you can call what I experienced “normal” – are a big part of what I believe gives women a certain intuitive advantage in life. I’m just sad that the price was so high, in my case.
Ever since I entered menopause, things have calmed down considerably, and I have noticed a real correlation between myself regard, and the absence of a monthly cycle. It’s really pretty phenomenal, when I think about it, to not be on that monthly roller coaster of intense stress – and at the same time trying to maintain a regular life, staying functional through everything, despite crippling pain, nausea, confusion, and being just a shadow of myself. Not having to deal with any of that for the past five years, has made a tremendous difference. It’s also translated to my self-image. I’m much better now, thank you very much.
I sometimes wonder how much might be possible, if women on the spectrum were properly educated about their cycles, as well as given the proper tools to deal with the ups and downs. I don’t know if that would have made a difference in my earlier youth and adulthood, but I do know that menopause has made a tremendous difference for me now. Of course, the standard-issue doctors get all worked up over my “premature” menopause, telling me that my life is going to be cut short by x-number of years, for every year my end of cycle is premature. People love to get all worked up over that stuff, but I actually have a history in my family of women going through early menopause, and they lived to be close to 100, so all the alarmist doctors can just take a hike, as far as I’m concerned.
But I feel like I veered off course, and I’m not sticking with what I meant to talk about.
Self-regard… self-respect… and just not being a mean-spirited bastard to yourself, is a new experience for me. Hooray for menopause, and hooray for my growing sense of consideration for myself. For the first time, I feel like I can genuinely see, recognize, and fully appreciate my strengths and my skills. And I can see very clearly and logically, that I actually am a really cool person with a lot to offer. Everybody who told me otherwise over the years, punishing me for being different, punishing me for not being exactly like them… they were wrong. So very wrong.
And that’s what I have to remember, as I embark on a family drama around aging parents in declining health. I am the oldest in my family, and I am the one most able to take care of my folks, in times of emergency. This is one of those times. It’s hard enough trying to reason with frightened parents who are experiencing cognitive decline, and who are surrounded by people who make terrible medical and lifestyle choices, themselves, but when the parents you’re working with have also treated you like crap for most of your life, and laid the groundwork for your terrible self-image with their judgment, their heavy-handed, fundamentalist, hetero-normative, socially violent discipline, over decades of shame and coercion, things get even more interesting.
So, I guess this is a test of how I’m doing in terms of my self-image. And it’s a test of how well my logic can withstand the onslaught of cultural bias, hetero-normative prejudice, and narrow-minded adherence to norms and standards which serve no purpose other than to cement the power of a small group of people and let them feel superior about themselves.
Life is full of tests, and this is just another one. That’s what I have to keep in mind, as I move forward into drama lasting days and weeks and months… possibly years to come. The people who I am helping, have been actually very cruel to me over the years, but that can’t stop me from doing the right thing for them, making sure they are taken care of, and making sure that they get the best medical care possible.
How ironic, that the one person who can help them the most, is the person they probably treated the worst for so many years.
Well, so it goes. I know I am not the first person to have this experience. I have heard many such stories (black sheep of the family gets to take care of Mom and Dad) in the course of my life. I can’t get spun up about it, and I can’t let it get to me. I just have to keep on, making the right decisions for the right reasons, regardless of what my parents think about me, what my siblings say about me, but what my parents’ harebrained immediate social circle tries to enforce.
There’s always the chance, too, that all of my efforts will be in vain, and everything will fall to pieces for no good, logical reason. It’s entirely possible – and actually likely – that everything I try to do to help will be pushed away and rejected. But I still have to try.
Because I know now, after all these years, that I am not a freak, not a reject. I’m not the loser, the weirdo, that everyone treated like a useless waste of space for so many years. On the contrary, I have every right to be here, I have every right to respect myself, and all of the evidence is there that I actually do make considerable contributions to my world, even if I’m not rich and famous, even if I’m not the darling of their community. That’s the role my siblings play.
I’m strong. I’m resilient. In situations of intense stress, I’m impervious to panic — that comes later, when the dust has settled. I’m resourceful, insightful, and I can be extremely persuasive, when I put my mind to it. I might have a hell of a time talking to my own doctor(s), but I can communicate with others’ much better. I’m great at both strategy and tactics. I’m the sort of person you want on your team. I know that now. It took me 45 years to realize it, but here I am.
So, another day comes, more medical developments emerge, and life goes on. I’m just one small person in the world, and maybe I don’t have a lot of consequence in the grand scheme of things, but I am the sun of my own universe, and that means something.