Telling the story

Today I’ve been thinking about why telling the story of how I acquired my phobia makes me so uncomfortable.

I feel like there are two different ways I can try to tell the story, and both of them have problems. I can tell it in a very short, matter-of-fact way, but re-reading that, or thinking about how it’ll be perceived by other people, is uncomfortable because it feels inaccurate. It doesn’t actually get across why the experience scared me. I feel like I’m not actually answering the question. Also, it’s just really alienating to look at a description of my experiences that doesn’t actually convey how I felt at all. It feels unreal.

On the other hand, if I try to describe how I felt and why I felt that way, (a) I feel like my powers of description aren’t up to the task regardless, and (b) I don’t want to think about it that closely! I don’t want to re-feel those feelings.

It’s hard to talk about it without a certain degree of detachment, but because of that detachment, what I’m talking about isn’t really the thing. It isn’t really the phobia.

So far, I can’t seem to find a middle ground between those two things, being totally detached or overly immersed. I’ve made some progress over time, at least when it comes to telling myself the story inside my own mind, but there’s definitely still a long ways to go.

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60% joking, 40% serious

It’s probably bad that whenever I see someone post something ill-thought-out online and get backlash for it, my reaction is “See, this goes to show that you should just never say things. Don’t say things when you’re angry. Don’t say things when you’re upset.”

Because there’s this pattern where the result is them getting more upset, saying more things they probably shouldn’t have said, people being more critical and less forgiving of them, and everything getting worse.

It’s probably bad, but when it keeps being true, what am I supposed to think?

Principia

I saw a post on Tumblr about bullying (and Harry Potter, to be specific) and what bullying teaches people about the world, that called on the usual narrative of the deliberately cruel bully who enjoys other people’s pain. And I had some thoughts. So here are some bits of what would my personal How Bullying Works / Why Bullying Happens / On Bullying / etc. that differ from that.

Continue reading “Principia”

Oh

Yeah

Why didn’t I think being “gifted and talented” was a fun and cool thing?

Because my first teacher for “gifted and talented” classes was… not a good kind of teacher.

The activities we did in her class were interesting, most of the time, but “excitement about learning,” “creativity,” “inquisitiveness” were not really ideas she was interested in. We had a very regimented set of activities we did, and… we never really talked, I guess, is what I feel was missing? We never discussed things. We just got activities and did them according to the rules.

One of the things I remember is the periodic math tests that were put out by some organization, I don’t remember what. They tended to have the same categories of questions, if not the exact same questions, every month (or week or whatever the timeframe was). One of them was made-up mathematical operators, like, “If [triangle symbol] means multiply and then add two, what’s three triangle five?” Another was questions about clocks or schedules that would be easy to answer with algebra if we had known algebra but really hard without it– like, “if this clock runs ten minutes slow, and that clock runs five minutes fast, and right now they show the same time, how long will it take for them to work around to showing the same time again?”

Young-me thought the made-up new operator questions were ridiculously easy and was totally bewildered that any of my classmates got them wrong. I never got to ask my classmates why they had trouble with those questions or explain how I solved them.

Young-me occasionally managed to solve the clock questions by making very long tables. I never got any feedback on my solutions or any explanation of how else I could have solved them. Even though we did them every few weeks for the whole year. It was just, “do these math problems,” no context, no discussion, no learning except whatever we came up with ourselves.

This was also the class in which I was assigned a really bad research topic, then was lectured until I cried because (a) printing out articles from the internet and highlighting parts of them didn’t count as taking notes, only handwritten notes counted, (b) none of our books and in-class activities had mentioned my topic, so I hadn’t made any handwritten notes. Did she tell me in advance not to print stuff off the internet? Of course not. I was just supposed to know somehow.

That incident is one of the things that comes to mind whenever I talk about teachers assuming above-grade-level “giftedness” comes with above-grade-level informational knowledge and skills, but for some reason I hadn’t connected in my head that all these things happened in the same class.

The other big assuming-skills issue with that class was re: organization and communication skills. So this “gifted and talented” class was something I was taken out of my regular class to go to. I was expected to know when it was and take myself out of my regular class to go to it. Since I was in the school band, I also had to keep track of my own music lesson schedule once the band teacher told me when my lesson would be, which changed each semester. That’s kind of a lot for an elementary schooler to keep track of already, I think, but the real problem was that one semester, my band lesson time was suddenly changed to a time that overlapped part of the “gifted and talented” class time.

The “gifted and talented” teacher did not like this, understandably. What’s not so understandable is that she expected me to handle it, on my own, instead of her talking to the band teacher herself. “I only get one hour a week with you kids anyway, you can’t take this time to go to band. You need to reschedule your band lesson.”

When was I going to do this? Since I wasn’t going to my band lesson?

How was I, as a nine or ten-year-old (autistic) child, supposed to take the initiative to (a) go see a teacher outside class hours (b) or interrupt them during a (already very busy) music class, to (c) tell them what to do with their own schedule?

It was like a perfect storm of things I could not cognitively deal with (some of which I still have trouble with):

— interrupting people
— bringing up new conversation topics even if it’s not a direct interruption
— remembering/fully understanding things without seeing them written down
— remembering and bringing up things from one context in another context without some kind of reminder
— understanding that bureaucracy isn’t actually infallible unchangeable laws from on high, but rather a system set up by people who can change their minds and make exceptions to the rules
— having to weigh two conflicting but equally authoritative orders and decide which to follow

Anyway, this post was brought to you by Tumblr posts about gifted students. Why didn’t I feel like being a Gifted Student made me superior? The fact that in practice it was just another setting for me to get in trouble with rules I didn’t understand and expectations I couldn’t meet, is probably part of it.

 

Note to self: things I will write about

Maybe sometime soon-ish:

  • Something about trauma and “exaggeration”
  • The inherent wibbliness of most mental illness/cognitive disability labels
  • More about autism stereotypes vs Asperger’s stereotypes

Hopefully eventually someday:

  • Something less context-dependent about authenticity
  • The role of fantasy/writing/roleplaying in defining and understanding yourself, especially as a child/teen
  • Autism/disability in general and “moody debatably evil loner gets redeemed” narratives (i.e. why I have always loved those characters beyond reason)
  • This thing about autism and emotional abuse that’s been in my drafts for literally years

 

Today on Tumblr I saw this lovely positive article about a woman with Down syndrome who is entering the Miss Minnesota pageant. She’s also a dancer, it’s generally an awesome and happy article. But part of it made me choke, not because there’s anything negative about it in itself but because of what it reminded me of:

Born six weeks early with Down syndrome and without an esophagus, a condition that required surgery, Holmgren has always been a “go-getter” who has never been defined by her disability, said her mother, Sandi Holmgren.

She was born with the same conditions as “Baby Doe” in this euthanasia case. 

Baby Doe died at six days old, of aspiration pneumonia, because his parents refused to allow his esophagus to be surgically fixed. Their doctor encouraged them to think that Baby Doe would only be a burden, that because of his Down syndrome, he would never accomplish anything even if he grew up physically healthy.

Some 30 years later, here’s a girl born with the same set of disabilities, in college, competing in a pageant and described as a “triple threat” talented dancer, actor and singer.

We often talk about how beneficial it is when parents support and encourage their children’s interests in things like sports, art and music, how parental belief in a child’s talents enables them to excel. It doesn’t usually mean the difference between life and death though.

Sorry but

The difference between a funny joke and a cringeworthy mistake is entirely dependent on your opinion of the person who said it and your willingness to recognize their point of view (which is not the same as agreeing with their point of view.)

Holding up part of a person’s statement as cringeworthy is a great way to shut down a discussion and discourage anyone else from defending them or even understanding what they were trying to say. It’s just another form of self-perpetuating uncoolness: once a person is labelled as uncool, then everything they do is worthy of mockery, even totally unremarkable normal things.

I don’t like it. Either say something about what’s actually wrong with what they said, or don’t get involved. You can win the argument without fighting dirty and you can leave it without insulting them on the way out. I don’t care if the person truly is awful. This isn’t about what they deserve; it’s about what tactics you consider acceptable, because that affects everyone you talk to, not just awful people.

Pet peeve

When somebody makes a resource about a problem, and their attempts to make it understandable to people who don’t have that problem, directly make it less accessible to people who do have the problem.

I mean things like:

— articles about PTSD that begin with a graphic description of a traumatic situation

— videos about / fictional TV or movie depictions of sensory overload that use enough bright lights and loud noises to cause sensory overload in the audience

and the thing that prompted this post, a video about how to cope with vertigo that began with a good sixty seconds of the camera being swung wildly back and forth. For the very same reason that I would like to watch the rest of the video, I don’t want to watch that.

Honorable mention goes to articles about trypophobia that include a bunch of pictures of things that are likely to trigger it.