Thursday, September 23, 2010


I had great plans for this year.

Last semester, I started out on a bad note, feeling stuck and overwhelmed and not getting any of my readings done. This year, I decided I would start out the semester more organized. I would plan better, and overcome my anxiety so that I could be prepared for my classes. Instead of feeling disconnected from the subjects I was studying, I would do all my readings and feel fully engaged. I would emerge knowledgeable and triumphant. It was going to be amazing.

So I started my semester with the goal of preparing for class. And for maybe two glorious weeks, I came to all my classes with all or most of the reading done, knowing exactly what we were going to be talking about and prepared to make insightful comments. Finally, I felt like a good student, a good person.

I did some of this by being more organized and planning better, and this was definitely a good thing. But ultimately, here is where the extra reading time was coming out of:

- down time, relaxing by myself
- social time with friends
- time spent doing laundry and unpacking
- sleep

As a result of this, the wonderful feeling of being a good student came with some unpleasant side effects. I felt unhappy, and sort of purposeless, with so much time spent cramming for class. I got more fatigued, until last Thursday I fell asleep in the middle of a really fascinating lecture. And I felt so mentally tired that I spent most of the weekend lying on my bed listening to an audiobook, panicking about getting my work done but somehow unable to attend to it. Halfway through Saturday I decided that if I wasn’t going to do work, I should at least get up and clean my room. I then continued to lie on my bed, despairing of my ability to do things.

Three weeks into the school year, I successfully burnt myself out.

The lesson learned from this lovely episode is that I can’t do all my reading. I don’t have the time to devote to it, the brainpower to process it all, or the emotional strength to deal a life of academic isolation.

I feel guilty about this – like I’m a bad student, a slacker, a cheater. I’m not the scholar I wanted to be. I also feel sad when I think about what I’m missing. I mean, in one of my history classes we’re studying Nazi Germany, a subject upon which I have spent countless hours perseverating. I want to do this reading, and I’m sad that I can’t.

But at the same time, I feel kind of liberated. I don’t have to walk around haunted by the specter of chapters unread, thinking I’m a failure, convincing myself I really will read those last 50 pages and then falling short. I can admit to myself that I won’t get around to reading those 50 pages, or the introduction to the next history text, or the poem we’ll be looking at in German on Friday. I can go out for dinner with friends, or read blogs, or do my fucking laundry, even if I haven’t done my reading. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about it (though I do). I know that by not finishing my reading, I’m preserving my brain to fight another day.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tragedy Time

[I wrote a slightly less polished version of this in German for class last week]

I’m talking with a friend, and it’s going well. She wants to know what I did over the summer. Because I trust her, I tell her that I volunteered at a program for autistic kids.

Her eyebrows go up like she’s watching a sad movie. “That’s so heavy!” she exclaims. “Was it really hard?”

I don’t know what to tell her. I try to explain that being autistic isn’t a tragedy like people think. I tell her that the kids are still kids, that actually the hardest part was getting along with my co-workers. But I didn’t like her breathy “that’s so heavy!”, so there are some things she doesn’t get to know. She won’t find out that when I was a kid, I went through the same program.


A lot of people think that autism is a tragedy. Some say it’s so bad that we have to find the genes, we have to prevent it. They say that autistic kids ruin their parents lives, that autistic adults ruin their own lives. They think that the world would be better without autism. Without us.


People say, “You don’t seem disabled.” But they always have an explanation for why I’m so different. “You don’t seem disabled,” they say, “but you do seem kinda weird.” Or “you seem shy.” “I thought that you were just really sheltered.” “I thought that you were from another country.” “I thought you were on drugs.” People make up lots of explanations for me. Autism is never one of them.

Lots of people don’t want to think about disability, about autism. They’re afraid of these things. They think that disability is the same thing as sadness. That autism is so heavy. They don’t want to change their minds.

“You don’t seem disabled.” “I thought it was something else.”

Of course you did.


“What did you do over the summer?” another friend asks.

“Not much,” I say. “How about you?”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Respect, and the Other R-word

At dinner last week, I was talking to one of my friends about the drama department. Across the table, another friend – I’ll call her Melanie – covered her mouth with her hand as if she had just cursed inappropriately. “Oh no!” she moaned.

My girlfriend leaned towards her and patted her on the shoulder. “If you start to say it, just say ‘ridiculous’ instead,” she advised.

I realized what had happened – Melanie had used the r-word, and then realized that she had done it. She looked up at me and said “I’m sorry! I feel like I let you down.”

I got up and walked around the table to give her a hug.

At first it was hard for my friends to remember even to avoid the r-word around me, let alone to cut it out of their vocabularies entirely. But gradually, they all stopped saying the word. They started telling me that now, they cringed when they heard someone else say it. I saw them explain to other people why using the r-word was wrong. My old roommate even asked his colleagues at his summer job to stop using it.

I think that now, they all understand that the r-word has real impact, that it hurts me and other disabled people. They didn’t all think that last year. But they got where they are now because they took me seriously when I said I didn’t want to hear that word from my friends.

I have the best friends ever.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Things To Do At College

It was windy today. I went outside and I found a place with benches and bushes in a circle and I walked in figure eights and watched the wind move the trees around. I saw the flag on Main building waving and I heard it snapping. There was an airplane in the sky and I watched it for a long time. I sat on the bench and I leaned back on my arms and let my head rest on my shoulder in a lopsided way and watched the trees and felt the wind. I felt so unfocused, noticing all the sounds and all the movement but not so much specific things like squirrels and people. I felt happy in an uncomplicated way.

This might sound to some people like a spiritual experience or a deep connection to nature or a drug trip. It isn't anything so complicated as that, simply that being out in the wind is an incredibly absorbing experience. It's auditory, visual, and tactile without overwhelming any of those senses. Because of my sensory issues I find great entertainment in experiences that some people don't even notice. Watching snow fall is pleasantly stimulating in the way that I imagine watching action movies is stimulating to neurotypical people. Walking in figure eights in the wind -- maybe that's like a really great concert.

This time last year, I wouldn't have let myself stim in public, and because dorm rooms lack both wind and trees, I would have gone without this experience entirely. This year is beginning differently, with more beauty, and less shame.