Sorry for dropping off the side of a cliff, folks. I’ve been up past my neck in this weird thing called “college,” or rather “going back to college after having been on medical leave.” If you’ll pardon my language–don’t you always–it’s kind of a fucking shitshow.
I am accustomed to getting compliments about my intelligence. I have been getting them for a long time. Something about not being able to like…do basic tasks necessary for maintaining my physical health and academic standing on a regular basis makes compliments like “You’re so smart!” lost a little bit of their lustre. That aside, though, I appreciate those compliments. But I want to be clear and honest here, because I feel like that’s how I can be most of use:
- I get lots of compliments about my “smarts.”
- I am considered extremely intelligent.
- I am autistic.
- I have severe ADHD.
- I’m currently taking a 3/4 credit load of mid-level classes during what should be my (second) senior year in college.
- I love the course material in the two courses that I’m currently taking that aren’t independent research.
- I’m actually, or nearly, failing both of those courses at the moment.
I’m failing them not because I haven’t thought about the course. Not because I can’t understand the material. But because of two main issues: attendance and writing assignments. And both of those issues? They basically boil down to anxiety.
ANXIETY. anxiety. a.n.x.i.e.t.y. anxiety.
I almost hesitate to use the term in reference to my situation, because what I experience as anxiety is so much different from what most people experience as anxiety. My anxiety is much closer to what might, more broadly, be described as “dysphoria.” I don’t really have “panic attacks,” and when I do have things like panic attacks, I don’t feel like I’m going to die. I don’t really think about “dying” as a “thing” when I’m stressed or worried–that’s a bit too abstract for me (this is not true of all autistic people whatsoever, I have a friend who thinks like…way too much about how scared of dying she is). I just feel a sense of inner distress, or agitation (for another good example of how I often feel, see: akathisia). But in general, it prevents me from getting lots and lots of basic, everyday shit done. Not necessarily always because I am anxious about doing a specific task, and more often because the self-calming things that I need to do to deal with my anxiety take up time I would otherwise be using up doing other things.
When I was first going on anti-anxiety medication (in my case, SSRIs), and getting actual therapy and things, I had to keep reiterating to people that none of my other problems (with daily life skills, with writing, with planning) were going to be solvable if my anxiety wasn’t addressed…but that addressing my anxiety might solve a lot of my other problems in the first place. I was right. It took a long time for people to believe me, and understand what I was trying to say, but they eventually saw that I was right.
With writing, the problem goes like this: You know how like, when you’re writing, you often start out really anxious, and can get really anxious at pauses, or “blocks”? Assumedly, most people are able to deal with this anxiety because it’s interspersed with periods of being in “the zone,” or of feeling like you’re going in the right direction/getting shit done. But imagine that, no matter what you wrote, or how good it was, or how far you got, you always felt as anxious and unsure and uncomfortable as you do when you’re trying to start. That’s what it’s like for me. My internal compass, or gauge, that tells me when I’m being productive, or doing good work, or writing well? It’s broken. Completely fucking trashed. I don’t have the energy to narrate how this happened. But it did.
So like, every time I finish a sentence, I look at that sentence and have no idea whether or not it’s appropriate, or grammatical, or on-topic, or productive, or worth keeping. Every single sentence looks the same to me. And they all feel wrong, all the time.
I’m probably going to get people saying “Oh, honey. That’s how writing feels for everyone! Stop being so self-critical and just write.” I’m going to trust that these people are well-intentioned. I’m also going to preemptively tell them: “Seriously shut up.”
When it comes to my anxiety around going to class, that feels something like this: Should I go to class? Is it today? How much time do I have? Have I done the reading? Was I supposed to do a Moodle post? I still haven’t turned in any papers for this class…Will the professor be upset with me? Will they want to talk to me after class? Will the other students be staring at me because I’m so rarely there? What will I say if the professor wants to talk to me? I have no excuse. What if I’m failing? What if there’s no more extensions? What do I have to do afterwards? What about this thing I’m doing right now? Do I have time to get breakfast/lunch? Do I need to change my clothes? If I go change my clothes am I going to be able to get it together and actually leave my room afterwards? Should I just be working on my papers for the class instead? And so on. And so on.
On the whole, my tl;dr message for this post is: A solid 75% of the time, the cognitive/emotional is “anxiety,” and the most productive thing you can do for yourself (and/or your autistic child) is to figure out what the source of anxiety is, and take it out with a baseball bat, or sledgehammer, or what-have-you. Yes, even if you think the problem is “skills.” Or “language.” Or “oppositional behavior.” Or “doesn’t try hard enough.” I’m gonna bet you. Right now. Solid odds are on that it’s anxiety.
Hearts 4 now,
This is a photo of my friend took of me, sitting on my bed in my dorm room, with my stuffed animal specklepuppy sitting on my head. I am making a really emotionally conflicted face because I’m listening/watching something called “Tiny Grey Cat Meme” which, like…just google it. It’s very much my aesthetic. And not just because everything I’m wearing, and all my bedsheets, are grey.