Hello.  My name is Amanda, and I am chronically insecure.  I once said, in reference to a certain member of my family, “I really need to grow a set and stand up for myself,” and guess what?  I never did. 

Word to the wise: do not be like me.  Your thoughts and your feelings matter (I am not talking about politics here—I have very deeply held convictions regarding that shit.  No, I’m talking about life in general.).   You have a right to them, just as much as the other person does.  They do not, however, have any right to belittle you and get away with it, so don’t stay quiet and let someone else say hurtful things to you. 


The other person here—so we’re clear, they are not the same person mentioned above—has their own set of issues.  They do not deal well with their own emotions and struggle with displays of emotions in others.  I am a very emotional (some would say volatile) individual, so it’s a powder keg kind of situation, and from time to time, explosions happen.  It’s inevitable, unfortunately.  I love this person dearly, but I am intimidated by them.  They possess a quick wit and a viper tongue, and when they get angry, they have a tendency to say things that really sting, so I generally go out of my way not to piss them off because I can’t handle it when someone is mad at me, nor I can’t handle biting remarks aimed in my direction.  Worse still , I can’t do anything about it. 


My shrink tells me that the ability to be assertive is not innate.  It takes practice.  Well, part of my problem is that I cry when I get upset.  It’s involuntary.  Reflexive.  I hate it, but I can’t stop it from happening, and it makes me feel like an overgrown baby in situations where I really would prefer to feel like a fearless  Amazon warrior.  The other part of my problem is that I most decidedly possess neither a quick wit nor a viper tongue.  At the critical moment, I stammer and stumble and forget everything I need to say, and it really does suck.  I don’t want to look like a bumbling moron.  I am not a moron in any way, shape, or form, but you wouldn’t know it if you overheard me trying to defend myself or argue a point of any kind.  I am emotional, and I am overly sensitive.  It’s not a good thing when you want to stand your ground, and it gives the other person a very definite advantage. 

Take last night.  The other person and I had a disagreement about, of all things, a baseball player.  I dislike said player, but the other person does not, and when the player played poorly in a must-win situation, I voiced my displeasure.  I said,” I’m sorry, but I just don’t like him.”  Granted, I was, as usual, overly emotional at the time, but even so, I had the right to my opinion on the subject, didn’t I?  The other person responded with “I don’t care if you like him or not—you don’t like anyone when they aren’t playing well.” (which, just for the record is completely untrue). 

I thought the last remark was unnecessary and not very nice, but do you think I was able to tell the other person so?  Do you think I was able to defend my position?  Hell, no.  Of course not.  As soon as this person vacated the area, I started to cry.  I am nothing if not predictable under these circumstances. 


This is hardly the first time something like this has happened.  I let others walk all over me all the time, and I have a long history of it.  I don’t know why I have this problem, but I do, and I am evidently unable to solve it to my own satisfaction.  In hindsight, I know exactly what I would have liked to say last night.  I wouldn’t have aggressive been confrontational (the root of the issue is that I hate confrontation, and I avoid it at all costs.  Even when that cost is my right to speak up when I feel that I have been wronged).  I would have been all diplomatic  about it.  I would have practiced the effective communication and conflict resolution skills that I have discussed so often in therapy, but instead, I clammed up.  Someone talked down to me.  Someone made it clear that they do not see my opinion, even on something as trivial as a baseball game, as valid, and that is not okay.  But I let it happen—again. 

In a way, it’s my own fault that I get bullied by some of the people in my life.  I just sit back and allow them to treat me like crap when I should be politely telling them to fuck off (obviously not in those words) because I have a right to my thoughts, feelings, and opinions.   Are my displays of emotion over the top at times?  There is no question about it.  But that does not give anyone license to invalidate what I am thinking or feeling.  It’s just that simple, and yet… it’s so much more complicated. 


I said that in a way, it’s my own fault that certain people continually treat me like crap, but really, IT IS NOT MY FAULT!  Should I stand up for myself?  Duh.  But these same people know damn well that I struggle with confrontation.  They are not so dense as to be unaware of my emotional vulnerability.  Yet, they continue to do what they do, and that is on them.  They have a kind of power over me, albeit one that I allow them to have, and they do not hesitate to use this power.  The way I see it, it’s not all that different from schoolyard bullying.  It is someone strong choosing to pick on someone with a clear weakness.

They say that bullying stems from insecurity, and maybe that’s the truth.  Maybe these individuals are just as insecure as I am, in different ways, and if that’s the case, I am sorry for it, but a bully at their core is still a bully.  The reasoning behind it does not matter.  They still have no right to knowingly make someone else feel like shit.  I’ll say it again: it is not okay.    

I hope someday I will find the courage to tell them that it is not okay. 


Ever seen the TV show Grey’s Anatomy? It’s been on the air for something like fifteen years, but way back when, one character said to another, “You’re my person,” and that phrase was repeated many times between these two fictional doctors. I always thought it was cute, but when I lost my grandmother in 2014, “You’re my person” took on an entirely new meaning.

My mom is an amazing lady. I would almost call her saintly because she managed not to kill me, and anyone else probably would have done the deed and disposed of the body long ago.

I treated my mom like crap for a very long time. Mind you, I was not okay in the head, and I guess I needed to take my pain out on somebody. They say that those who love us most are always those who see us at our worst, and in this case, that old adage is very sadly true. My mom never stopped trying–never stopped loving me–even though my behavior toward her could easily be termed wretched, and it brings me to tears when I think about that. My eyes well up every single time.

My mom and I are opposites in nearly every way. She is ever the upbeat optimist, while I am a doom-and-gloom pessimist . She is a math person and I am a word nerd. She is a morning person, and I am a night owl. She isn’t a reader at all, and I am a voracious consumer of literature. She is outdoorsy, while my idea of roughing it is sitting in an uncomfortable chair. She is confident. I am not.

Perhaps our differences can best be summed up this way: She used to have a t-shirt that said “Life is Good.” Me? I had the corresponding “Life is Crap” emblazoned on my t-shirt.

My mom was the all-American girl. A pretty, petite, cheerleading honor student. By the time I got to my last year of middle school, I began to question everything to do with her: how in the world could this cheerful, perky person even begin to understand someone like me? I am no beauty, I detested the cheerleader types, and even though I was more than capable of being an honor student, I never did my homework. I was seriously depressed for more than half my life, and I was unable to see much of anything good about this world, but my mom was always looking for the best in other people. She had never been to that dark place that I had visited so often.

She had no idea what it was like.


From the time I was a little kid, I loved my grandmother. I loved her more than anyone, and my mom knew it all too well. It must have hurt her terribly, but she never called me out on it. Instead, she was glad I had someone who was able give me a little of the understanding I so desperately craved. Grams was not like me, either, but somehow she understood me. I saw her as the only person on Earth who “got it.” She said it was because she had been a nurse and had a medical background–she had even worked in the psych ward and cared for the actress Gene Tierney (who later became an outspoken advocate against electroshock therapy)–but I think she was just an extraordinary human being.

The way I saw it, Grams simultaneously loved, understood, and respected me, and there was no one else who could do all three at once. She was my beloved grandmother and very best friend all at the same time.

She was my person.

She was everything my mom would have been if only I had allowed it.


It took years of therapy, but I now understand that I projected my disappointment in myself on to my poor mom. Let’s face it, no parent dreams of having a kid like me, and I imagined that my mom longed for a daughter more like herself. A happy daughter. My perception was warped, but I was convinced that she was deeply disappointed with me. I wasn’t cute, perky, cheerful, or anything. Instead, I was weird and morose. I wouldn’t even let her hug me. She loved my prettier, thinner, outdoorsy, affectionate younger sister more than she could ever love me.

I didn’t blame her, but it still stung.

I was messed up, but I was also a brat, and that is a lethal combination. I loved my mom dearly, and in a sense, I worshipped the ground she walked on because she seemed like this paragon of a perfect person, something I could never aspire to be. But I grew resentful. I just knew she wanted me to be perfect, too. I craved her approval, and I longed for her to be proud of me, but how could she possibly do either? I mean, look at me! Still, I was her child, so why couldn’t she love me in spite of my glaring imperfections?

I tried so hard to make up for my shortcomings. I did extra chores and convinced myself that she didn’t even notice. I worked hard in college because I wanted to hear her say I did a good job. I tried my best because I was seeking her approbation, but I felt like I never received it.

At age twenty-three, I underwent a battery of psychological and intelligence tests because even my shrink–a trained professional–couldn’t figure me out. As it turns out, my I.Q. is well over 160, so technically I’m a genius. I was very excited when the psychologist informed me of this fact, but my mom… she barely reacted. I know now that she was already aware that I was a smart kid and that some stupid number like I.Q. didn’t mean anything to her–she just wanted me to be a good person–but at the time, well, I thought she just didn’t care. I thought that I couldn’t even impress her by having a genius I.Q.

Well, what else is there? What more could I possibly do to win her over?


When Grams died, I was devastated. Crushed. I felt like I had been eviscerated. I had lost my confidante. My rock. The only person who loved me exactly as I was–the only person who never asked me to be any different. Were it not heavy doses of a good antidepressant combination, I am convinced I would have gone off the deep end. I would have been suicidal.

Somehow, though, losing Grams made me see my mom in an entirely different light. I grew to understand that she had always loved me. She must have loved me. I realized that I had gravely misunderstood her intentions. I thought she tried to push me because she wanted me to be different, when in actuality, she pushed me because she wanted me to be able to survive.

Grams’s death forced me to take a long, hard look at the people I had left, including my mom.

So, Mom and I grew closer and started cutting each other a little slack. I figured out that my mom a person like anyone else, and she learned to let me do things in my own way, in my own time. This newfound understanding between us did wonders for our relationship, and I found myself confiding in her more. In turn, she stopped treating me like a child. I discovered that she “got me” more than I ever imagined she could, and I finally saw her as a real person rather than an archetype of human perfection.

She became my person.

At long last, I gave my mom a chance. At long last, I let her in. My single biggest regret in life is that I didn’t do it sooner. That I was such an nasty kid for so many years. That I couldn’t allow her to love me because I thought she couldn’t love me.

All along, though was me who couldn’t love me.


When my sister moved out, my mom and I really connected. We both missed Lindsay, and Grams was long gone. Maybe we got to be best friends because we were each what the other had left, but I’d like to think we were just late bloomers. I’d like to think it was that we finally learned to accept each other. We will always be opposites in many ways, and while opposites will inevitably clash, they can also complement each other. They balance each other out.

Opposites and balance or not, I would be lost without my mom. I am so grateful that she never gave up on me, that she never pegged me as a lost cause. Her capacity to love is the easily most amazing of her many amazing qualities–I put her through hell, but she never stopped loving me.

My mom has become my person. She was my person all along.


Change is hard. From what I gather, most people agree on that. For an autistic person, though, change can be torturous–no exaggeration.

About two years ago, my sister–my constant companion since the day she was born–moved out, and I was utterly devastated. She was only doing what normal folks do, but I was angry with her: no one had ever knowingly done something that caused me that kind of emotional distress, and it took a long time for our relationship to fully recover. I shouldn’t have been angry like that, but I was, and I had no control over it. I sunk into a deep depression, something that hadn’t happened in years, and some awful part of me almost hated my sister because I saw her as the sole cause of my misery.

Yes, change is hard.

Every time I passed her deserted bedroom, I would tear up, and it took everything in me not to cry. I missed her so much, and the knick-knacks and things she left behind served as stark reminders that she was not coming back. There were many nights that I cried myself to sleep, and I spent my days deeply resenting her absence–I did not ask for these changes, nor did I want them. No way, no how. They were being imposed upon me by a young woman who simply wanted to spread her wings and fly. After all, most people leave home eventually.

Not me, though.

I cannot hold a traditional job, and I will most likely live with my parents forever. I used to struggle with that knowledge quite a bit; this is not how my teenaged self imagined her life would turn out, but it is my reality, and I had no choice but to accept it. Truthfully, the idea of moving out is enough to bring on a panic attack–I don’t want to be all alone, and again, change is hard. Like most autistic people, I am very much a creature of habit, and I can’t stand even small disruptions in my daily patterns and routines, so leaving home would probably give me a freaking ulcer or something.

But back to my sister’s onetime bedroom. It is on the second floor and is much more spacious than my closet of a room in the cellar. It has a beautiful view of the mountains, a full-sized bed, and a walk-in closet, all of which sorely lacking in my basement abode. My mom offered my sister’s room to me early in 2018, and I was very tempted, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Moving is stressful for anyone, but for me? I need to feel settled and secure, and that in-between, neither-here-nor-there feeling, which I have experienced before (when my family moved from the house where I grew up). As much as I wanted that beautiful upstairs room, I didn’t think I could put myself through that kind of upheaval. The room needed to be repainted, and that would take time, and I firmly believed I would be unable to deal with the waiting period.

It isn’t that I am particularly impatient, but… change is hard.

If you want to get Freudian about it, maybe deep down I also viewed taking over my sister’s onetime space as the final severing of the cord. If I were to move upstairs, it was the surest of signs that she was never coming back to me and that things would never be the same.

Still, part of me yearned for that room. For a year, I vacillated back and forth–I want to move upstairs. Wait, no, I can’t. A few weeks ago, though, I looked into the bedroom and thought of how nice it would be to have it. I thought of how much fun it would be to decorate it, to organize it, and to make it my own, but my hesitation persisted. I just couldn’t put myself through that kind of change.

So, I told my shrink that I had the opportunity to have a much larger bedroom with a real closet and a big girl bed, not to mention a spectacular view, and she convinced me. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t take that room,” she said. I explained to her how excruciating it was for me to leave my childhood home ten years ago, and in return, she said that I have changed a lot since then: I have learned a few coping skills, and my depression is under control. I knew she was right, as she usually is.

That evening, I told my parents that I had made my decision regarding my sister’s old room. I wanted to move upstairs. I would suffer through the ordeal of waiting for the paint job to be completed, provided it be completed as quickly as humanly possible, and so it was settled.

It took a week for my dad to finish the work, and it was a hellish week. I couldn’t think about anything else, and I couldn’t sleep. I had to emotionally detach myself from the room that had been mine for so many years, and everything to do with the waiting was nothing less than excruciating. Two days ago, however, I moved all my worldly possessions up two flights of stairs, and now… I am so glad I was able to tough it out. I couldn’t be happier with my new space.

My big bedroom is beautiful. I have a full-sized bed in which I can really stretch out and luxuriate. I have a walk-in closet, and I have never in my life had so much storage space.

And yesterday morning, I got up early and watched the sun rise over the mountain.

Change is hard, no doubt, but sometimes–even for those of us on the autism spectrum, it can be well worth it in the end.


“The whole world is moving / but I’m standing still.” – The Weepies

I am standing still. For everyone else, things happen and life goes on, but me? At this point in their lives, most people have a home of their own, or at least an apartment. I live in my parents cellar because living alone is just too scary to contemplate. Other people my age are married. They have kids. These things are not viable options for me because I suck at human interaction and interpersonal relationships, and whether or not I want them is irrelevant these days. Other people are gainfully employed. I can’t hold a traditional job because of the social impediments I face.

I am a thirtysomething with all the social skills of a particularly awkward fifteen year old. See, I never learned the fine art of communicating and connecting with others, so I am stunted. Stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence.

All, or nearly all, of my (online) friends, people with whom I went to school, have long since grown up.

Yes, I am standing still. The universe has left me behind, and life has forgotten me.

I was fourteen when I realized that I would be a solitary creature, doomed to a different–often lonely–kind of life. I was sitting at my desk attempting to knock together the stanzas of a terrible little Emily Dickinson-esque poem, one brimming with all the angst of my years, and I called the finished product “Solitaire.” I knew, but I was neck-deep in denial–I held out hope that maybe I would turn out to be normal, and that maybe all my brooding was just my raging hormones talking. Still, I knew.

I continued to hold out hope right up until my college graduation. I spent my university years living in terror of what would become of me once I received my degree–because I knew. My family was starting to figure it out as well; my poor mom finally had to let go of her dreams that I would one day be okay, and while part of me was relieved by this, the other part was crushed because it meant that others were giving up on their visions of my normality. My own dark thoughts were one thing, but the necessity of applying for disability benefits at twenty-four, at my mom’s urging? She had heard my insistence that I was doomed, and tacitly–somewhere deep down–she was now able to agree with me.

Almost miraculously, I was able to fulfil one seemingly unattainable dream when I earned an MFA in 2016 (from a non-residency program, obviously, because having to move away wasn’t going to happen), but that was three years ago. I have edited two books, and written the introductions, for a historian (online) friend of mine, but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t make any money, and I’m not allowed to make any money anyway, as it could affect my government benefits and student loan forgiveness, so many people would say it was a waste of time and effort on my part, but what else could I do? Let’s call it a valuable learning experience–I learned that I do not want to be a proofreader.

Yes, that’s pretty much it. So what is left for me? What is there for me to look forward to? I don’t get to have the husband, the kids, the dog, and the house with a white picket fence. I don’t get to have the fulfilling career. It’s just not in the cards, and that was a hard pill to swallow, but I have long since choked it down, gagging all the way. Still, there has to be something in this world that is just for me. If God exists, what is His plan for me? I wish He would give me a hint about what my purpose is.

I long to return to school. More than anything, I wish I could complete my education and attain that crown jewel of academia: the PhD. But that too, it seems, is absent from the hand I have been dealt.

I am fortunate in that I have a wonderful, loving family, but what is going to happen to me when my parents are no longer here? I’m pretty sure I’m going to live and die all alone, and it is not a pleasant thought.

Some days, and today is one of them, I feel very much like my best days –my college days, back when I deluded myself into thinking that some semblance of a normal life was possible–are ancient history. However slim it was, I miss having hope for the future. I miss believing that maybe–just maybe–life might work out for me someday.

Like everyone else, I had hopes and dreams. This is not the life that a younger, less jaded version of me had envisioned for her future, but I’ve had to adjust my expectations along the way. I’ve had to accept a lot, and it hasn’t been an easy road.

Contrary to popular opinion, throwing in the towel is never easy.


I’m new to this whole “neurodivergent” thing. I am thirty-four years old, and my diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (in my case, what used to be called Asperger’s), is a new one. I was always quirky, it was no secret, but no one was ever able to put their finger on why–until a year or so ago, and while I am still getting used to the label, I am learning to embrace it. It has been a process–still is–but I am getting there.


I didn’t speak at all until I was two and a half years old. My grandmother thought I might be deaf, but my mom knew my hearing was just fine–to her, it was obvious I understood everything that was being said. Then one day, I burst out in full sentences. No baby talk, just… full sentences. A year later, I taught myself to read. See, I loved my bedtime stories, and if I misbehaved, I was sent to bed early and no one would read me a story, so really, learning to read on my own was an act of rebellion on my part.

There were other clues, too. I didn’t like to play with other kids–I much preferred the company of adults–and I had a definite case of “little professor syndrome.” I had fits of rage and all kinds of irrational fears, so much so that my parents didn’t know how to handle it; none of the parenting books said anything about this sort of thing–so my mom brought me to my first therapist. I was four years old.

Her name was Susan. She was a soft-spoken pregnant lady with a green dress and a long blonde braid, and in her office, she had a beautiful dollhouse with a red roof. I longed to play with that dollhouse, but I was too shy to tell myself stories as I would have done at home, and besides, Susan wanted me to tell her some stories. She asked me what was making me so angry, but I was embarrassed–even then, I knew that my explosive tantrums were not quite right–and I made every attempt to change the subject.

Nothing ever came of my visits with Susan. She went off to have her baby, which she planned to name it Stefan if it was a boy, and I never saw her again. I’m not sure why, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was because the visits produced no answers.

I started school and struggled with the social aspect. The other kids just didn’t seem to like me much, which may have been because I had a tendency to boss them around, and I definitely didn’t like them. I saw them as my supporting cast, after all, and it irked me that they failed to meet my expectations. The social hierarchy has its own rules, and its rules were never my own; I never could figure out how to conform.

Academically, I had extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses. I was reading well above grade level, and I spent one summer vacation teaching myself the Greek alphabet, but I was unable to do basic math if my life depended on it. I could take one look at a history textbook and know all the names and dates as if by osmosis, but algebra? My teachers passed me solely out of pity. Yet, no one ever seemed to find this suspicious. They all said I didn’t do well at math because I didn’t like it–it didn’t come naturally, and I didn’t try hard enough. One teacher had the audacity to suggest I might have a learning disability, and I was mortally offended: I was supposed to be one of the smart kids, and here was this woman saying I was some kind of r*tard or something? My brains were all I had going for me, so I just couldn’t be learning disabled. It wasn’t fair.

As with therapy, though, nothing ever came of it, and I cheated my way through Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. I failed all the tests, but because I received homework credit by copying my sort-of friend’s homework, I passed the classes by the skin of my teeth. The teachers all thought I was a nice kid, and I suppose they felt sorry for me.

Around my thirteenth year, my lifelong battle with depression intensified, but it would be another two years before I agreed to see another therapist. I was very resistant to the idea of therapy because I thought it meant admitting that I was somehow defective, and I was a surly, nasty brat to Cynthia, the poor therapist. She had a beautiful tabby cat named Jessica, and while I adored the cat, I hated therapy. I would rather have been anywhere else in the world–especially when Cynthia called my entire family together to inform us that I suffered from depression. It was humiliating. It was a gross insult, and I refused to see Cynthia again.

But the summer before I started college, everything changed. Change, they say, is inevitable, and most people don’t like it, but I hate it. Always have, always will. Even when it is a minor change, I grapple with it, whether I want it to be this way or not. It’s just the way I am–I am a creature of habit, and I am to this day unable to accept this inevitability with anything resembling ease, never mind grace.

I had a nervous breakdown.

My depression was oppressive, and anxiety about life post-high school held me fast. I did not know how to cope with any of it, and I got sick. Physically sick. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function at all. Finally, I agreed to see the doctor, if only to prove to everyone that something really was seriously wrong with me, and it worked. The doctor told me I had an anxiety disorder, and that I needed to see a therapist. She wrote me a prescription for Paxil and sent me on my way.


Stage fright. It happens to most performers at some point or another, and I was no exception. Until that fateful first day of sixth grade, I loved–craved–the spotlight like nobody’s business, but right then and there, I seem to have forgotten my lines. No longer was I at home on the stage. No longer did I revel in my audience’s acclaim. Twenty-six pairs of scornful eyes might as well have been 1,000, for all I knew or cared. All I knew was that they were watching, waiting for me to melt into a puddle of snot, tears, and self-esteem beneath the bright lights above.

And boy, did I ever melt.

It hit me like a big old ton of bricks: I was different, and it wasn’t a good thing anymore. The other girls in my class seemed so… dainty, I guess. Dainty and graceful. They were certainly not ungainly in the way that I was, and I was very aware of it. I wanted to grow out my bangs–bangs were for babies–but when I tried that, I looked even worse, with my ever-shaggier sort-of bangs parted in the middle and pushed to either side of my forehead. I knew they were laughing at my godawful hair, right along with the godawful rest of me. I wanted to dress better. I was sick of t-shirts featuring the faces of cartoon characters, so I started to raid my mom’s closet, but that only made matters worse–it was obvious I was trying too hard.

It didn’t matter what I did, really. I was never going to blend in with the other girls because I was just different.

One day, one of the girls comes up to me and says matter-of-factly, “Just so you know, you were the topic of our math class today.” I am surprised. Why, I wonder, would the mathematically advanced kids want to talk about me? “Well,” she continued, hedging a little. “Everybody thinks you’re weird.” I know I’m weird, but I am deeply embarrassed that everybody else knows it, too. I thought I was doing a good job of hiding in the background, but obviously, I am failing miserably. The spotlight and the stage are now painful burdens, and I would give anything to disappear into safety behind the curtains.

Late in my twelfth year, puberty comes to call. I am filling out and bleeding every month, and the shame is all-consuming. I don’t want this new body, no, not at all. The spotlight is as bright as ever, and it is not a forgiving light. My every imperfection is highly visible, and it makes me want to die because I knew that they are all staring, pointing and laughing, each and every one of them. As my physical being grows and develops, the rest of me shrinks ever smaller, and soon, I fear, there won’t be much of anything left.

Scene Change, Three Years Later:

I’m in high school. The spotlight is nearly imperceptible now, and no one watches me perform anymore. Instead, they have forgotten that I am alive at all–I have gone from star of the show to a dusty prop set in the background, and the change in status is both a burden lifted and a source of unbearable pain.

I’m not so unwieldy anymore, but no one notices. I’ve made a conscious decision not to let them notice. I will never possess the grace that comes so naturally to the other girls, but my bangs are long gone, I’ve survived orthodontia, and I no longer wear my mother’s clothes. In fact, I pretend I’m not a girl at all. I wear Old Navy boxer shorts beneath oversized jeans and baggy flannel shirts over dark-colored sports bras, and I modify my walk until I’m slouching and stomping like any other pissed-off teenaged boy.

My two friends have long since moved on, so I sit alone in the cafeteria and read John Updike novels at lunchtime. I am a very well-read high schooler, but socially… I am stunted at sixth grade level, where I left off on that fateful day. A few kind souls try to reach out here and there, but I don’t trust anyone, so I rebuff their overtures, and it isn’t long before they stop trying.

I for one have long since stopped trying.

I don’t give a crap about school anymore, and I haven’t for some time. When I apply to my dream college, they reject me, and I know it’s over. I am a failure in every sense that matters. I’m socially awkward, I’m not pretty, and now I’m not smart or special at all. What is left for me, then?

One of my classmates says to me, “You know everyone thinks you’re a suicidal pothead, right?” I laugh bitterly because I am neither. Sure, I’m miserable as fuck, but I’m too chicken to kill myself, and I definitely don’t smoke.

Graduation can’t come soon enough, but when it does, I know that the spotlight is back. I have to walk across that stage in cap and gown sans National Honor Society sash (NHS has no use for girls who flunk gym class and pass math only because the teachers think they’re a nice kid) to accept my diploma, and I am physically ill at the very idea. I can’t do it; there’s just no way, not with all those eyes on me. Not again. That morning, my mom gives me valium to calm me down, so I’m good and mellow when I receive that diploma. Like so many stars before me, I am performing while high, and I don’t even notice the spotlight’s glare.

With that, I walk off into the summer haze, and I never look into the eyes of my adolescent audience again.

The lights still shine, and I think they always will. Sometimes they are a blessing and sometimes they are a curse, but they will always be with me. I perform to the best of my ability because that’s really all I can do.

Some of us, whether we like it or not, are born for the stage.


I have lived my life under the fantasy–or delusion, depending on your perspective–that the whole world is indeed a stage. Life is one long act of drama, and the starring role is mine. The others are merely players, but sometimes they are simply my audience. Everyone, for better or worse, is watching me.

When I was little, this suited me fine. I was smarter than the other kids, I was well aware of it, and the adults in my world fed my already bloated ego as they fawned over my precocious remarks and keen (for a child) observations, but it was more than that. I thought I was beautiful, too, like Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Certainly, I never once considered the idea that other people could dislike me.

I was a solitary little girl. I liked to play by myself, and I much preferred the company of adults. Other kids just didn’t get it. I would tell myself stories about the lives of my Fisher Price Little People, and I knew that the other kids’ stories could not compete with mine. And grown-ups could carry on intelligent conversations; have you ever attempted to discuss the plot line of Go Dog, Go with a four year old? I have.

My mom was worried about my social skills, or lack thereof–it was neither normal nor healthy for a small child to be alone all the time–so she enrolled me in preschool.

Day One: I attempt to play in a wooden jungle gym, imagining that I am incarcerated for a crime unknown even to me. The teacher, one dirty blonde Mrs. Richards, insists that I emerge from behind bars, but I refuse. I have no interest in sitting in a circle with a bunch of other snot-nosed children, and I have no desire to sing “Good Morning Good Morning and How Do You Do?”. So, Mrs. Richards removes me from the jungle gym and places me in a red plastic chair near the classroom door, and I know that now I really am in jail. The other kids gawk at me, open-mouthed, but now the spotlight shines too brightly, and I am blinded. Terrified. I kick my feet and howl, the rubber soles of my new sneakers making a hideous squeaking sound against the linoleum tiled floor.

It is then, less than fifteen minutes into my formal education, that I learn to hate the social aspect of school. In spite of the time-out chair, though, in spite of the humiliating realization that I could not understand anything mathematical, in spite of being called “fat” by a so-called friend (and my miserable, half-blind, post-stroke great grandmother), I get through kindergarten through fifth grade with my sense of self largely intact. There are chinks in the armor by now, sure, but for the most part, I still have an ego the size of Texas. Math or no, I’m still smarter than the other kids. Hell, I pretty much set the record for most spelling bee championships in the history of Murrayfield Elementary, and I revel in the teachers’ admiration. That said, I am beginning to realize that I will never resemble a Disney princess after all.

Cue the first day of sixth grade. I am a gangly, awkward almost-twelve-year-old with thick bangs and a ratty brown ponytail, and I look much too young for my age. I am summoned to the front of the classroom, where my new teacher, Mr. Mo, asks me to tell the class what I did on my summer vacation, and I freeze. I seem to have lost the power of speech. Twenty-six pairs of scornful eyes are bearing down on me, and suddenly, I am not a starlet in some spectacular melodrama. I am a deer caught in the headlights of a tractor trailer as it careens around a bend in the road. In this moment, my every ounce of arrogance evaporates into thin air.

It is then that I clam up once and for all–no one gives a damn what I have to say.

–to be continued–


I was born cold. I came out with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, and maybe I was even a little bit blue in color, but I know for certain that the doctors deemed it necessary to place my shivering little body beneath a heating lamp. Maybe my brain was deprived of oxygen by my near strangulation, or maybe they inadvertently fried it with their heating lamp. Who knows, and really, who cares? The bottom line is that I was born cold.

It’s often said that neurodivergent people are cold, figuratively speaking, by virtue of their autism. I think this may be true, but it is only a partial truth, or at least in my case. I was born cold. I was quite incapable of putting myself in the proverbial shoes of another person. I had enormous difficulty perceiving others as real–every bit as real as I was–with emotions, likes, dislikes, and the ability to feel pain.

Sure, everyone has five senses, but do they really, or is it something unique to me? My childish fascination with illness and death, be it animal or human, and my fixation on pathology, was downright perverse. I was intrigued by the physical workings of the body, but I simply could not comprehend the metaphysical workings of the mind/limbic system/spirit/essence/whatever-one-chooses-to-call-it. It was all a mystery to me, save when relative to myself.

I fully understood how my own feelings worked, and in theory, I knew that others had feelings too, but I was utterly devoid of empathy. If I learned that someone was sick, I wanted to know about the physical–what was happening within their body and why. I read my grandmother’s 1950s-era nursing textbooks cover to cover when I was a scant eight years old: I couldn’t get enough of the guts and gore. I never spared a thought for the pain and anguish aspects; It never occurred to me to do so.

When my great grandfather died, I sat in the funeral home with my parents, wondering how it could possibly be that the poor deceased man would not move were I to poke his body with a sewing needle. It was just mindboggling to think that he was dead. I was taught to believe in heaven and that Great Grandpa was with God now, but… he was right there in his casket with a jet-black rosary clasped in his folded hands. His body had permanently shut off, that was all. Whatever had made him who he was? I didn’t know, and I didn’t think to care.

I was a showoff, and I liked to shock people by sticking ladybugs with thumbtacks. The insects’ legs would wriggle as they died, and while I understood that the impalement would cause their death, I did not stop to imagine their terror or their pain. I collected all kinds of bugs and kept them in a box that had once held a pair of Reebok sneakers, and I could not tear my eyes away when they started to kill and eat each other. I didn’t understand that every creature, great or small, values its life and seeks to avoid being in pain of any kind. I just didn’t understand.

It took a very long time for basic empathy to develop, but one day, I just stopped being cold. I can’t recall the exact moment, but I noticed that blood and gore were no longer, well, cool. I couldn’t stand to see an animal–insect or otherwise–suffering, and I began to realize that other people were people, and that yes, they are subject to the same gamut of emotions and sensations that I am. I became repelled by things that had once piqued my curiosity. Sickness, injuries, death… I could no longer stand any of it.

I cannot bear to think of anyone or anything in pain, be it physical or mental. Now, I empathize very well–I can all but feel the suffering of others in my own body and in my own mind, and it hurts. I would save them from their pain. I would spare them their suffering. Certainly, I would never–could never–deliberately inflict pain on anyone or anything. It is cruel to cause another to hurt, and now I am baffled by my onetime incapacity for empathy. In every sense, I am a deeply sensitive person. Capital punishment, for instance, inspires a visceral revulsion, deep in the pit of my stomach. I love animals, and the thought of their torment, illness, injury, death, etc. makes me want to vomit. Yes, suffering of any kind causes me enormous distress.

So, maybe autistic people really are born cold. I certainly was, and it may be that my eventual thaw was atypical for someone on the spectrum, but honestly, I don’t know. Everyone–autistic or not–is different, for all our common humanity. Me, I was born cold and it took me years to warm myself. It takes me a long time to warm up, but once you get to know me, I am anything but icy.


Welcome to Neurodivergent Grrrl! There are so many misconceptions about exactly what autism is, what it means to have the autism label , and how people with autism experience the world around them. My goal is to challenge at least some of these stereotypes. My aim is to let other autistic people know that they are not alone, and that they are enough, just as they are. I will be exploring many different aspects of life in this neurotypical society–a society that was not built with neurodivergence in mind–and sharing my personal journey of life on the spectrum.