This personal narrative was written by Megan Killinger, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester.
“No, no, no! Look at me, Megan!” my mother would say to me tapping the tip of her nose with her finger, repeatedly trying to get me to make eye contact. She did her nose-tapping routine in public — pretty much everywhere, anytime I’d forget to look at her or at someone else. I hated her for it. She never understood me, no matter how I tried. Whenever she did her nose tapping thing, I could feel a hot flush of anger rush through me, aching like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. Apparently, I needed to get it through my head that the person who I was “wasn’t cutting it,” and I needed to transform myself into someone else more acceptable: a hard lesson to learn — that “what you are” isn’t good enough.
As a child, I hated crowds — hated going to the mall — rarely made eye contact, and had a tendency to say whatever I wanted. I was constantly told my actions were “inappropriate,” and I learned to live in a world filled with criticism and boundaries.
I was always the odd one. School was a penitentiary for me, for it was difficult to make friends. I watched my peers react to each other, and that’s how I learned the basics on “How to Make Friends-101.” Personally, I would have preferred to have hit myself in the face with a shovel rather than associate with people, for kids always saw me as “weird.” I was too blunt or too curious; I learned that telling the truth was not always acceptable. For example, when someone asked me if the outfit she was wearing made her look fat, I learned that it isn’t always appropriate to tell the truth.
So I clammed up.
Growing up, my mother and my doctors were the worst. My mother constantly told me “We’ll find out what’s wrong and fix it.” But I didn’t think anything was wrong with me; nevertheless, I must have seen fourteen different psychologists. No one could figure it out, until one day, as I sat there, playing with some little wooden blocks (as per usual), I heard something I didn’t think I’d ever hear.
“I know what it is!” Quack Doc #14 said to my mother, oh so casually, after spending a lovely ten minutes with me. His stupid tone, just like all the others and their lame stereotypical Quack Doc questions; how I wished I could kick him his shin and see how breezy his tone would be then.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and no — it doesn’t mean I’m “retarded.” My life drastically changed that day — November 12, 1999. My mother was finally granted a reason for my so-called “abnormal” behavior. She cried, and her sobs sounded like a dying mouse; maybe someone told her that I was a retard.
Once I had a diagnosis, my mother enjoyed telling people “my secret” to anyone I brought home. This shattered the “normal” image I worked so hard to create. I watched and tried to make myself as much like the others as possible, so I’d have a chance at fitting in. Honestly, I’m still impressed at how well I did. I was (and still am) careful about how close I let people get to me at first, so when I drop “the Asperger bomb,” they know me and then they can decide whether it changes anything. But back then, with my mom beating me to the punch, it made maintaining friendships a lot more difficult. When people heard the word “autistic,” they automatically conjured up a drooling idiot or something along those lines.
After I was diagnosed at age 9, I felt like a drug-lord-zombie for a while. It seemed like Quack Doc had me trying out a new medicine every month. Concerta was a real winner. When I took Concerta, I felt like all my life’s blood had been drained, like I wasn’t present — almost. Once, while on that medication, I sat and counted the lines on a bug’s wings. It is amazing how a person can tell her doctor that what they’re giving her is making her ill and then have that doctor respond by prescribing a higher dose of the same medication. Things were eventually adjusted.
I used to get angry with myself, when someone could tell I was autistic. I kept telling myself I didn’t have Asperger’s, that I wouldn’t be that person, but I stopped fighting and learned to accept my diagnosis. I tried to make small changes, for I understand now in order to obtain what I want — a “normal life” — I have to play by everyone else’s rules: Monkey-see, monkey do.
These days I have some fancy coping mechanisms. One of my coping methods is to play a type of mind game, which involves me asking a ridiculous amount of questions without giving much information about myself. In other words, I get the person I’m talking to inform me about themselves without really having to say much at all. In addition, I always check myself to make sure I look everyone square in the eye and, I am happy to report, I have made some close friends. I even like going to the dreaded crowded, noisy mall.
What I have gathered from my 18 years of life experience is that people reject what they don’t know. If they don’t understand something, most people don’t even want to try. My first semester at college was exactly what I expected, for the most part. To be honest, I was just really excited to have a fresh start. At college, no one knows anything is “wrong” with me, which is a great feeling. I’m finding acceptance in college, and its a part of what I have always wanted: to be seen with unbiased eyes. Sometimes I still speak a little too quickly and I still have to watch what I say to people. I suppose I will always find it hard to blend in, but college is showing me that there can be more to life than just blending in.
Renee, Shonda Schilling wrote a book that this girl’s mom should read called, “The best kind of different”. I’m sure there are a lot of reference points for this entire family if you do a search on Shonda. I know she’s very involved in Asperger’s support and research. This is a great, great piece!
Megan, there’s a word I use very rarely: Awesome. That’s what this post is. You express yourself with great skill and tell your story so well. I bet you’ll be able to inspire and impact a whole lotta folks. When it comes to people there are no mistakes. I think we’re all made exactly how we’re supposed to be even though at times we feel differently. Like one of my favorite all time sayings goes, “Know who you are. Accept who you are. Be who you are.” I don’t know you but can tell you’re a sweet girl with some mad writing chops! Great read.
Aren’t we all different? Aren’t we all unique? Now they have a name for every mood and all the various ways people choose to socialize. My generation did not have medicines. You just got beat and punished by your parents until you got straightened out. Then if you began blending in they would say “Just because everyone else is doing it…” One time when I took a second job as a shoe salesman to pay off the college loan a mother came in with her son for his shoes. She was very irritated because they could not agree on shoe styles. The mortified woman looked to me in anguish and said “This boy has a mind of his own.”
“My, my,” I thought to myself.”Isn’t that wonderful!”
What a wonderful insight into your life and experiences. This will certainly help me as I and loved ones journey through life and the rules and expectations others have set. Thank you.
Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing your story. Just this morning a friend shared that after years of being diagnosed and treated for depression the doctors now think he has/had Aspergers. He is still processing this new information. But just like you he has developed ways of coping with what he calls his quirkiness. I have always just thought of him as my wonderfully unique friend.
Fascinating, how looooong it can take to find the right diagnosis. I hope your friend gets some relief.
I am so proud of Megan for sharing her story here. She shared her story for the first time in my classroom, and I was so very proud of her. I hope her essay inspires others. Personally, I think the fact that she is beautiful made things confusing for people. 😉
Great post. Great writing. Very heartfelt and descriptive.
Both my children have a number classmates with Aspergers – oh and I’ve two cousins with it as well. As regards the children in our local school, they seem to accept the Aspergers in a matter of fact way as just part of their classmates’/friends’ characters – that they are sometimes anxious about change, that they sometimes want to be left in peace, etc. So there doesn’t appear to me to be any stigma or different treatment amongst the children.
However, it annoys me that the word autistic is sometimes used as an insult – often by women in the workplace against men, as a general put down, or by men and women against anyone with attention to detail. I remember an instant when a hard-working, imaginative colleague whom I respect tackled this attempted insult by saying: “Well yes I am on the autistic spectrum….” and proceeded to explain just where he reckoned he was and the pros and cons of it. In other words, big deal, what of it. Some would be insulter was left looking stupid both for making fun of what could be termed someone’s disability, and for making such a fuss about a common or garden aspect of life.
On the length of time to get a diagnosis – though it can seem like an unwelcome label – it’s the first step in the UK to getting a “statement of needs” for your child, which is the first step to winning extra support in the classroom, funding for an assistant, etc. So early diagnosis/labeling can be a great help.
Megan – you’re not weird, quirky, strange or any other word you’ve been labeled – you’re you! Celebrate your unique qualities and others around you will as well. You truly have a gift for writing so keep it up. And I hope college is all you want it to be – a place to learn, grow and be yourself.
Wow, I am impressed with your writing skills. You write very clear and detailed. I enjoyed the way the words popped off the page. Have you considered being a writer? Your writing actually reminds me a bit of Renee’s writing. That is a compliment. You have the type of writing that is interesting. I have a feeling that no matter what topic you wrote about, it would be good.
I will confess to being involved as an editor. 😉 But this is why Megan’s piece won the distinction of getting blogged. Her writing is definitely interesting, and she has a way with coming up with unique images.