Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: FAQs

But wait, Jaggy, I’ve talked with you. You have social skills. You have a normal job and are married, went to college, have friends, and spend lots of time with your family!  You don't have Asperger Syndrome, you're just antisocial.  So right and yet so wrong.  I do have a job, but I have my own office where I control my space and stimuli, and I actually enjoy what I do.  In past jobs where I didn't have that level of autonomy, I was miserable.  My last job was making me physically ill as I attempted to navigate hostile coworkers and a horrible workspace.  It took two years for my insides to stop hurting (going gluten free for a few months helped immensely).  I did go to college, but I was probably the least social college student to ever graduate.  I never went out on my own, didn't go to parties or initiate social gatherings, didn't really do much of anything but work and go to school.  While I do have friends, I have a select few that I maintain ties with routinely.  The rest of my social group is either family or my husband's friends.  So you're right, I am lucky enough to have a relatively "normal" life.  But I am not antisocial.  Asocial, perhaps, but not antisocial.  

Have you been officially diagnosed? No.

Well if you haven’t been officially diagnosed, how do you know you might have Asperger’s Syndrome? If I told you I had a cold, you wouldn't second-guess me, would you? If I said I had a pulled muscle or a broken arm or a bleeding nose, you wouldn't tell me otherwise. If I said I had been depressed or manic or addicted or tired, you wouldn't sit there and tell me I was wrong about myself, would you? I've done extensive reading and understand myself better now than at any point in my life. This fits. This works. This explains literally every aspect of my life. Self-diagnosis is not generally advisable, of course, but I’m not taking medication or altering my lifestyle. I’m simply taking in knowledge, churning out understanding, and learning how to be a better version of me in the process. It’s hard to look at the evidence and not reach an Aspie conclusion.

Will you seek a formal diagnosis? There is no easy answer here. Yes, I’d like to have that piece of paper to wave in doubting faces. I’d like to be able to point and say “see! I’m official!” But a piece of paper won’t change me. It won’t change how I interact or deal with people and situations. I’m not aware of any psychiatrists that offer adult diagnosis on the autism spectrum in my area, so receiving a formal diagnosis will be difficult. I don’t need a doctor to tell me that my arm’s been chopped off, and I don’t really need a professional diagnosis for this either. I did recently take an “official” test online: you can view my results here.

But only boys get AS, and you are a girl. When I was young, in the 1980s, the thought at the time was that only boys could get Asperger’s Syndrome. The diagnosis, if a psychiatrist had heard of it at all, wasn’t given to girls. A girl who exhibited similar symptoms--quietness, intelligence, playing alone, and being unemotional--was considered neurotypical, even positive. We’ve moved along in the last thirty years to recognizing that women experience the autism spectrum differently than men. Females can be autistic or have AS or many other new mental disorders.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome is trendy and popular, and you just want to have it. Um, no. I am not a fan of labels. Why would I want to take the extraordinary me and slap a label on it? Having a label doesn’t change who I am or give me an excuse to not continue learning. It does give me understanding and a massive load off my shoulders as I look back and realize that I don’t have to feel guilty over monologuing or embarrassed for needing alone time. Also, if you think I care one iota about appearing trendy or fashionable, you’re in for a very rude awakening.

Hold on Jaggy, Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t exist anymore. Former Aspies have to call themselves “high functioning autistic.” Call my struggles whatever you want, classify them in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (V!) as mere gibberish or a full-blown developmental issue. It doesn’t change who I am or my experiences. Just because a name for something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that the condition doesn't exist.

Why did you wait so long to tell people? Whether I tell people or don’t tell people doesn’t change anything. If I do tell people, they might be more understanding and less judgmental about my oddities. If I don’t tell people, I struggle silently. Nothing changes for me either way. Also, putting this out for the whole world to see means potential future employers can read it. My hope is that they are educated about Asperger’s Syndrome and can see how me having it is a massive asset to the company. I can do repetitive tasks for days on end (hello, I quilt). It means I can organize and classify, research and distribute information. I am excellent at fixing things and saving money. It means that I might not show up to work with a smile on my face every day, but I will show up. I take initiative when I see problems, work well independently (so no need for a micromanaging supervisor, thank you), and get my work done on schedule. I follow rules. I also take criticism well, because I know I have issues and work very hard to overcome them.

Can you show me how you are as an Aspie? You’re asking me to undo a lifetime of trying not to be different. You’re asking me to let down the walls and act in a way that I struggle so much to hide. You’re asking me to open myself up once again to the kind of reactions (of disgust, annoyance, or ridicule) that I simply can’t bear for the sake of you “seeing” the real me. If my Aspieness comes out, it comes out, but I am not going to force it just to humor you. Go watch some Big Bang if you need a laugh.

I’ve heard that people with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t have feelings. There is a difference between not knowing how to express emotion and having the original feeling. I feel widely and deeply. I have the whole spectrum of emotions, and I can love with body and soul.  Just don't ask me to explain what I'm feeling or how I'm feeling.  When I figure those things out, I'll let you know.

‘Ass burgers,’ heh. Wow, original. Never heard that one before.

How should I approach you now? How can I help? Don’t change anything. I have been living just as I am in the real world throughout my life. Don’t make excuses for me (I will do that myself if I need to). Don’t think I can’t or won’t do things. Do try to understand that I need “off” time, especially after large gatherings. Know that I have to take a while to answer a question sometimes because I am trying to be proper and give a succinct response. Otherwise, nothing really changes. Treat me like a normal person, please. I’m doing everything I can to just be normal.

Are you comfortable talking about Asperger’s Syndrome? Yes, to a point. I don’t mind if it comes up in conversation, but I don’t want to be the family’s science experiment. Even if I have trouble expressing them correctly, I do have feelings. You wouldn’t like it if we talked all about your bowel movements, would you?

Wow, Jaggy, this is really brave of you to put yourself out here like this. Not really. I’m just telling the truth. I’m telling what I’ve always known, what I’ve learned recently, what I’m up to now. That has been the point of my blog from the beginning, and I owe it to myself and to readers to stick with it. I don’t really understand “brave.” I’m just getting on with it.

How long did it take you to write all of this? One weekend. I started writing about 4:00pm on a Saturday and finished around 10:00pm on a Sunday. For one more example of how much of an “Aspie” I am, I stuck it out, typing away for hours and hours on end, only taking breaks when I was bursting or starving. I’m exhausted, but now this is all written, and I can sleep with an empty head.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Epilogue

The point and purpose of my posts over the last week and a half have been to introduce a new topic here: Asperger Syndrome. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, then come back here for more information. Based on everything I’ve read on the vast Internet and in books, I probably had AS as a child and still struggle with the challenges today. I don’t definitely have it, but it is hard to ignore the evidence. Though I had no cognitive impairments, I have always had a hard time knowing the right way to be social. My friendships--few and far between--have generally failed due to my own inability to help maintain them. I become interested in topics far beyond what a neurotypical person might, and I have a difficult time not sharing every thought about those passions with those around me. I have a grand vocabulary and use words in ways other people don’t--puns only scratch the surface. I am also so physically uncoordinated that my movements are comical even to myself sometimes. The most important part of reaching a diagnosis is that my difficulties were significant. After thirty years, I’m still struggling with the same things I struggled with early in my life. I’m not disabled, but I do have daily challenges.

I first found out that something like AS existed about two years ago. I was desperate to learn more, so I started buying books. When I read Aspergirls: Empowering Girls with Asperger’s Syndrome for the first time, I was giddy with excitement. THIS! This is me! These are my struggles. These are the words that someone else has given me to explain what I’m feeling and how I think. This is all the inside thoughts I’ve ever had put on paper. These people are from the same planet! I was afraid to talk about it at first, but I eventually opened up to The Man. After some initial reluctance, he agreed I was probably right. A few months ago, The Man and I read 22 Things a Woman with Asperger Syndrome Wants her Partner to Know. We both had many ah-ha! moments and found new ways to work with my strengths. The Man understands why I need “off” time, and he’s less pushy to get me out in the overwhelming world. I understand more about myself and how I need to get out in that world, to experience things with him, to support him and work on my social skills. This book completely changed our marriage. I’m no longer as much of a controlling nightmare, and he’s less resentful. We still have lots to work on, naturally, but we’re growing together now instead of bristling apart.

And if you couldn't tell by the last ten posts that I sort of went all Aspie-obsessed over The Big Bang Theory, well, I did.  Sheldon and I have more in common than I ever realized.  We're not crazy: our mothers had us tested.

If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to leave them.  Please remember to follow the blog rules posted at the top of this page.  I moderate all comments, so if you put the word "private" or something like that in your comment, I'll see it and know not to post it for everyone else to read.  Those with my personal e-mail address should also feel free to e-mail me directly.

Friday, November 22, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 10

There are so many ways that I relate to the Sheldon character in The Big Bang Theory that I cannot possibly enumerate them all. Sheldon has his favorite spot on the couch, and I have my favorite spot at the dining table. Woe to the person that sits in my spot. It is both conveniently located such that I am able to easily get up from the table to stir a pot or retrieve seconds. It is on the right of two chairs so that I don’t invade another’s space while eating with my right hand. My spot is both near enough to the kitchen to be convenient and within eyeline of the TV in the living room and my computer screen in the office. It is not too near any heat registers, yet I can feel the very soft breeze of the air circulating through the house. Yeah. I have a spot.

While Sheldon doesn’t drive and I find the chore necessary at times, my husband does drive me to work every day. It’s more about convenience and saving gas money for us, but it is a sneaky connection. Also, I am pretty sure I had some of those same exact thoughts as I took my driver's test (which I aced, by the way--the driving portion was a different matter).

Sheldon has the Roommate Agreement with Leonard that stipulates every action the two can share while living together. I guarantee that if I could do this with my husband and be taken seriously, I would draft an agreement in a heartbeat. The idea that rules are written and can be relied upon satisfies my need for right and wrong, the need for justice.

Despite his obvious flaws, the Sheldon character can be described as loyal, honest, trustworthy, dedicated, intelligent, and many other positive qualities. However, these qualities are always so strong that they themselves are almost flaws as well. Sheldon is loyal to a fault, not knowing that he sometimes needs to let go. He’s so honest that he doesn’t realize how the truth can hurt. He is dedicated to the point of not eating or relieving himself. He’s so brainy that he fails to live in the real world, doesn’t understand common social cues, and can’t figure out why everyone else seems to lack what he considers common sense. Now I don’t have Sheldon’s Ph.D. astrophysicist brain, and I’m not as dense on the whole, but someone could pretty quickly make the leap to, “oh my gosh, you’re a female version of Sheldon!” and they’d be accurate.

I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 9

I get overwhelmed easily. Not in the “this is too much work, I’ll never catch up” kind of way, but in the “get me out of here, I can’t handle this music, the crowd, the smell of the pumpkins, the ringing of the checkstand” sort of overwhelmed. I can’t handle concerts. Crowded shopping malls? No way. Listening to music and trying to write at the same time? Not happening. I can’t deal with it. My brain sizzles and craps out like an old fridge.

This presents some problems in my life. The Man and I have learned that I do not cope well with having the sunroof open. I can’t hold a conversation with him in the car if there is music playing. I couldn’t write last night while he played a new video game because he wanted the volume loud and I wanted him to wear headphones, but he wouldn’t, and I gave in. No writing that night. We have just learned to adapt and listen to each other, to either cooperate and share space or move to another space.

The Man recently competed in a Spartan Challenge, a sort of muddy obstacle course race, and he finished. He didn’t win, but he finished, and that was pretty awesome in itself. I went to support him as he ran, but I had no idea what was in store. The day was plenty warm, and there wasn’t much shade. The event attracted thousands of people, people with very bright clothing and very loud voices. The summer day was punctuated with the thumping of loudspeakers blaring hard rock music and an annoying announcer shouting all around the obstacle course. I was trying to take pictures of The Man, but I was also trying to find shade, stay out of the direct blast of the speakers, avoid other spectators and crowds, and not get in the racers’ way. This went on for four hours. By the end of the day, I’d not eaten anything or used a bathroom. I was numb from the vibrations of soundwaves, shouting encouragement, and standing too long. I just shut down. I didn’t know how to tell anyone that I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted. The Man asked me later if I was okay, and my face was still frozen in a sort of half-smile to be polite and half-pained scowl. It took me two days to mentally recover from that event, about as long as it took for my sunburn to fade.

I have many techniques I use to deal with feeling overwhelmed. When I was little, I’d smush my doll’s silk tag and relish the slippery fabric gliding and sliding between my thumb and finger. As it is apparently inappropriate for a thirty-year-old to carry around a childhood doll (pfft, ha), I adapted and have spent the last twenty-five years rubbing my fingers against my thumb directly. And then I pick, dig, and mangle them to the point of bleeding sometimes. Usually it doesn’t hurt--I’m not in it for pain--but the movement is a very comforting sensation.

I also try to get as much time as I can at home without distractions so that I can pursue my recharging activities, both crafts and watching movies. Having alone time is important to me, and I appreciate every second I get doing what I want to do without distractions or noise, without the have-tos and need-tos. Sometimes I just can’t go out and deal with people and having to be “on,” having to try to read expressions and hold conversations, having to figure out the right responses and body language, having to meter out my own monologue, having to tune out noises, smells, sensations, and feelings. I need time “off” where I can be in control of my surroundings, my level of engagement. I need time on my own planet.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 8

You know those sheets of paper that have faces on them, the ones that ask, “how are you feeling today?” I have never understood those. Part of the problem is that my facial expressions don’t always match what is going on inside, and I can’t see other people’s expressions and relate them to emotions. The other part of the problem is that I have a hard time explaining what my emotions are. I know how other people define emotions--I’m quite capable with a dictionary--but this very clinical way of describing things has never seemed right to me. I sometimes have different emotional responses to events than people want me to have. I never seem to be compassionate to anything, and that isn’t at all the case. If someone tells me that a close friend passed away, I don’t naturally jump to the right response, “Oh, I am so sorry for your loss.” My brain goes to somewhere else, and I might inject a very wrong, “You’ll move on.” Though that may be true in the end, it certainly doesn’t comfort the other person. My brain takes empathy--which I have, but don’t express correctly--and outputs some other response that is often either unfortunate or embarrassing.

As another example, I had a friend once tell me that she’d lost quite a bit of weight very suddenly. Despite the fact that I knew she’d been trying to lose weight, my brain-to-mouth filter misfired and out flew, “you must be sick,” rather than the much more proper, “way to go!” Yeah, not my best moment. My clinical brain was right, she did lose the weight too quickly, but that isn’t the right thing to say. Lesson noted.

On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon has provided many examples of this trait. His use of a very hollow sounding “awww” to indicate sympathy and the suggestion of a warm drink to comfort a person come to mind. He has a very hard time emoting, and he doesn’t pick up on other people’s emotions.

I learned pretty early that explaining my emotions resulted in a long monologue that nobody wanted to listen to. I have more than one emotion at any given time, and none of them necessarily takes over the others, so my explanations could take forever. What someone might describe as a frustrating experience, I feel as “bad” or “not good.” I experience it to be triangles and a sort of strangling sensation. When someone says they are ecstatic, my version might feel that as “good, very good” and experience it as yellow circles, electric fingers, and a little tune in my head. Needless to say, when someone asks me, “How are you?” as a greeting rather than a question, my little head goes full-tilt trying to decypher the colors, shapes, and noises I am experiencing, while my brain-to-mouth filter is trying to figure out if I should answer the question at all or else risk monologuing and causing yet one more person to give me the “sorry I asked” look.

Rest assured that if I ask “how are you,” that I actually want a response. Otherwise I’d just say hi.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 7

Every year, those award shows roll around, and actors and actresses are lauded for their ability to suspend reality if only for a moment. They get fancy statuettes, get to give lengthy speeches, get the recognition for a job well done. I don’t get it. Acting isn’t hard. I do it every day.

Despite my ability to be profoundly awkward at times, I do get along pretty well in the normal world on a daily basis. I hold a regular job, go shopping (reluctantly), and socialize with friends and family. I get on with life. But my dirty little secret? I’m faking it.

I learned at a very young age that being teased and tormented for being different sucks, and that if I acted like the other kids, all giggly and social, I could blend in and deflect the taunts just a little bit. As I grew up, I became better at mirroring the expressions I saw, duplicating body language, and acting interested in pop culture. This doesn't mean I understood what I was mirroring, only that I could replicate what I was seeing. I remember telling my mother once that “I am so many different people.” She might have understood that to mean that I have different roles in life: daughter, student, friend. What I meant was that I have to act like so many different people during the day. I have to act like a daughter when I’m at home, act like a student at school, and act like a friend with others. Each of these acts were parts of me, but none of them were the real me. This is still very true today, and it can be exhausting. Every day I wake up and have to decide which character version of myself I am going to play, except I don’t have the script yet, and I won’t get it until it’s time to say my lines. I don’t get the luxury of dress rehearsals.

The problem for me is when my mirror breaks down. When that happens, I don’t have the recipe for what to do next, and have to come up with the right answer on my own. My responses can vary from freezing and staring blankly at a person to monologuing to making a stab at saying the right thing. If I miss the mark, I usually keep quiet and try not to embarrass myself even more.

I seek to be seen as normal, but the best I can do is act normal.  Think of it like a duck on water: calm and graceful on the surface but paddling frantically underneath.

In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon makes stabs at mirroring. The character will mirror poorly, and the scene seems funny to normal people. In this clip, he's appearing calm and collected until he realizes he doesn't know what to do next. "Leonard, Leonard, Leonard, Leonard! Help!"

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 6

Do you ever have people burst your personal bubble? Someone will lean in too close to tell you a secret, but they accidentally (or purposefully) bump a bit more than you’d like, and then you have to awkwardly step away to restore the balance. There are different levels of closeness as well, for a stranger should certainly keep a greater distance than a loved one, right? Yeah, I apparently have big bubbles.

I am not fond of being touched in general, especially by strangers. I have coworkers that like to pop me in the shoulder jokingly or former teachers that like to [creepily] put their hands on my back to “see if I’m on track with that problem.” These seemingly innocuous touches are like raw electricity into my skin. The lightest caress of my knuckles makes my elbow tingle and my shoulder feel wiggly. A hand on my back will flip my stomach over and about. Clothing can even violate my personal bubble. I wear very specific clothing that fits a certain way, thus not causing undue distress through the day. I often wear a coat or fleece jacket for the extra weight (it feels like a hug). I am not concerned with looking fashionable as long as I look presentable. My clothes are clean and in good repair, but I won’t win any contests.

My personal bubble extends to noises, smells, sights, and other senses. I shut down if I become too warm. My hair feels hot if the lights are too bright, even if the lights are LEDs and emit no heat. I have an exceptionally keen sense of smell, and sour poultry or milk will ruin much of a day for me, even the slightest whiff. I just won’t be able to dig myself out of the funk to which such a rank scent will drive me.

The Man bears the brunt of my personal bubble preferences. He so often tries to hold my hand or put his hand on my leg when we’re driving somewhere. I push him away, uncomfortable with the heat and pressure, however slight, his hand makes through my jeans. It isn’t that I don’t want me to touch me, it’s that I can’t handle the sensation. At the grocery store, he’ll want to hold me. I haven’t figured out his need for affection while shopping for food, but I have had to explain to him many times that when we’re in the store, “I’m shopping, I’m menu planning, I’m cooking and listing ingredients, I’m comparing labels and prices, crunching numbers, and moving food into the cart. I am not anywhere near affection right now.” If he does try to be affectionate, we might as well leave the store. My brain’s little hard drive gets fried, and it is impossible to reboot. He has to wait until we’re out of the store, or he has to ask me directly, “is this an okay time to hold my hand?” He has to be prepared that I’ll say no, not take it personally, and move along. It kills me to say no, but I simply can’t have my personal bubble burst and still keep shopping at the same time.

Though I have boundary and sensory issues, when I’m not actively doing something, I do like hugs. Hugs are wonderful.

Sheldon (remember him?) eschews physical contact entirely. The most intimate we’ve seen him get on the show is holding hands with his girlfriend--only because she insists, and only on date nights. The one time he was affectionate was right after Penny gave him a special Christmas gift. That was a most memorable moment on the show.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 5

While I’m on the topic of JAG and that librarian who patiently listened to me, I have one more thing to add: I monologue. It is so embarrassing, but it’s a part of me that I’ve come to accept. Sometimes, especially when I meet someone new or have a new thought or idea that needs to explode out of me, I’ll “download” on a person and talk far longer than they want, except I can’t tell when to stop because I apparently don’t see the social cues people give when they want a person to stop talking and walk away. I don’t see it. I’ll figure it out after the fact, but I won’t see it as it happens. It isn’t like rambling when a person is nervous, no, not quite. Monologuing is me talking at someone, not with someone. Since The Man and I carpool to work every morning, he has to pick me up at the end of the day. He’ll ask me, “How was your day?” Sometimes I won’t stop talking until we get home a half-hour later. Then I’ll realize we are home and that I haven’t so much as stopped for a breath or asked him how his day was.

One of my most memorable monologuing experiences still haunts me. I had only been dating The Man a few days when he invited me up to meet his parents. He’d never brought a girl home before, so this was quite an event. I was dressed as nicely as I could be on short notice, and I was more than a little nervous. Through the whole drive up, I was thinking hard about how to give a great first impression, how to be polite, what to say, and how to act. His parents kindly took us to dinner at a restaurant not far from their home, and from the moment we walked in until the moment we left, I dominated the conversation with an epic monologue all about myself. All of those ideas I’d thought about in the car, the ones about being polite and giving a good impression? I must have left them right there on the passenger seat. It’s one thing, I suppose, to monologue about an interest, but to jabber endlessly about myself is beyond inappropriate. I remember leaving the restaurant and chastising myself the entire drive home for my lack of consideration, for my too-long answers to their questions. I felt horrible. I still feel rather bad about it. I’ve since talked with them about this, and they remembered it. They have forgiven me, but I can’t forget it. So utterly embarrassing!

Many times on The Big Bang Theory, one character will ask Sheldon a question and the others will all groan as if to say, “why did you open the box!?” Sheldon apparently monologues often. His description of “rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock,” is epic. The dialogue that the actor must regurgitate is utterly astounding, both for its technicality and its length.

This blog, in fact, is one giant monologue for me. The real blessing here is that I get to spurt out my entire thought without being interrupted. It’s my party, and I’ll drone on if I want to. But if this happens in real life, please know that I mean to ask about you. I’m sorry if I just keep jabbering about me. I am trying to learn to not do this as often.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 4

I have been accused of being “obsessed” about different things so many times in my life that one might think I need professional help. I didn’t get the nickname “Jaggy” by chance. For ten years, my Tuesday nights were wholly dedicated to the TV show JAG. I know show trivia, character arcs, and storylines better than some subjects I studied in college. It doesn’t make sense for a teenage girl to be “obsessed” with a military drama, but my devotion was unflagging as each season passed. At one point, around the third and fourth seasons, I’d tape each episode while watching the live broadcast, rewind it as fast as I could, watch the episode again, rewind again, and get up at 5:00am the next morning to watch it a third time before I had to leave for school. If I brought up JAG at school--which, due to my passion, was often--students and teachers teased me. They called me names, bashed on the little they knew about the show, and generally ribbed me raw. The librarian, a sweet older woman, made the unfortunate mistake of mentioning she also liked JAG, and after my binge-watching session early Wednesday morning, I’d burst into the school to find her and hash out all the juicy details about the most recent episode. If she missed it, well, spoilers were the least of her concern. I’d quote whole scenes to her, doing voices for each character, setting up props with library chairs and tables if necessary, and she politely humored me each week. Nevermind that the woman had a job to do… that didn’t occur to me as a 7th grader.

All of those JAG episodes were saved on VHS tapes in a large plastic bin under my bed. I had a coordinating Excel spreadsheet with episode summaries, tape numbers, even that week's rating from the official Neilson rating system. I kept the box hidden for a long time. The Man and I had been married a few months before I told him about it, and he quickly dubbed it my "Box of Shame." I retired the tapes last year as we now lack any device in which to play them.

My obsessions have changed over the years. Since JAG ended in 2005, I’ve had to find other interests. While I am passionate about crafting and creating things, that is merely a hobby in which I invest time and funds. My real “obsessions” are still on the screen. For the last several years, I’ve been working my way through actors. I find an actor I feel is interesting or attractive, someone that I might want to see more of, and I watch their entire body of work. The list of actors I have “consumed” is long. Very, very, very long. The number of entire TV series I’ve watched is absolutely staggering, even when I look at it. Some actors are predictable (George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell). Some actors are not very well known, but I’ve been watching their careers since the beginning (Gabriel Macht, Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Renner). I do occasionally watch an actress’s full work, but it’s not common.

Remember how this all relates to The Big Bang Theory and Sheldon? He is a man of obsessions. He loves his Indiana Jones movies, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. He has a comic book collection that can only be considered vast and valuable. His life more or less revolves around his obsessions and his work.

I know people aren’t used to the idea of being “obsessed” about anything, and I hope to make one thing clear: being passionate and dedicated to something is not the same as being truly “obsessed.” I enjoy watching TV and movies, but I don’t do it when I need to do other things--even though I might wish to. I like certain actors, but I’m not stalking them in real life (online? debatable). I have my own life, and I understand I have responsibilities. I am not addicted. I enjoy, nay, love to watch movies. And I still love JAG.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 3

Elementary school was both a blessing and sheer torture. I have always loved learning, and I had exceptional teachers for the most part. I was either at the top of every class or nearly so, PE being the notable exception. I never understood why I was picked last for games in PE: I was the tallest girl, easily the most flexible, and had great reflexes. But even through high school, if we were told to split into our own teams, I was invariably chosen dead last. Even the nerdy kids didn’t want me on their team, a fact which hurt immensely. Recess was a nightmare. I wasn’t coordinated enough for the monkey bars, and after a few tetherballs to the face, I gave that up. The boys wouldn’t let me play baseball, and the girls wouldn’t let me in on foursquare or hopscotch. I spent most of my recesses sitting at the base of these three huge fir trees that grew right in the middle of the playground surrounded by screaming kids, yet completely alone. The best recess I ever had was in 4th grade when my teacher pulled me aside and told me I didn’t have to go outside for recesses anymore. She let me stay in and play on the computer through every recess for the rest of the year. (I still think she’s the best teacher ever, and my fondness for the game The Oregon Trail is strong.)

Since those years in elementary school, I’ve been told by a few close friends that I am beyond uncoordinated. It isn’t so much that I dislike running--it is that I simply cannot do it well. My arms go one way, my legs and feet kick out behind me awkwardly, and don’t get me started on where my boobs go. I’m a hot mess if I try running. Sure, I can lob a basketball at a hoop when nobody is around, but with the confusion of teammates giving me commands and the coach telling me to pass the ball to someone else, the sound of the ball as it springs from the floor to my hands as I dribble… somewhere in all of that, my ability to throw the ball is lost.

I never grew out of being uncoordinated. I still walk into doorways, clip my hips on the end of the bed, and generally have bruises on my legs and arms from some too-close encounter of the clumsy kind. I don’t know how to spiral a football, how to curve a baseball, or how to head a soccer ball. I can’t stand playing team sports. I don’t like gyms with all of their smells and noises, movement and sweating. The only real exercise I get is from walking, which is just fine for me, but anything more complicated than that is beyond awkward and embarrassing.

Despite my lack of gross motor coordination, I have highly refined fine motor skills. My handwriting is excellent, and I have no trouble making detailed origami folds, threading tiny beads, or making exact cuts in fabric. I am as gifted with my hands as I am ungifted with the rest of my body.

On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon exhibits his own awkward body movements when he and Penny go running one day. Poor guy, the elevator might have been less risky. I can’t count the number of times I’ve done exactly the same thing (well, minus the, ahem, ending).

And yet one more example of Sheldon's athletic skill, I give you this second clip.  Seriously, the actors are way more talented and adept than I am on the court.  I can't tell you how many times I've smacked myself in the face with a basketball.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 2

When I was little, my dad used to call me his “little encyclopedia.” He might be in a conversation with someone, usually a family member, and say something like, “oh, that happened a few weeks ago.” I’d pipe up with all the authority I could muster, “no, Dad, that happened five weekends ago on Saturday, and we ate hamburgers afterward.” He’d ask me how I remembered such a detail, and I’m not sure I could ever explain it. I just remembered it.

Never one to keep quiet when I knew an answer, I quickly--and often painfully--learned that not everyone appreciates a know-it-all. It was a rough road through my early years at school, being first to raise my hand to answer each question, dodging the dirty looks and crumpled paper tossed in my direction. Teachers only called on me when the rest of the class was stumped. They especially hated it when they were trying to teach incorrect history or the wrong grammar--I’d call them on it. Of course, I wasn’t correct every time: I occasionally made mistakes, most often to a chorus of taunts and finger pointing. My ability to remember useless trivia, “too big” words, and piles of other information has always been excellent, but it’s not always a good thing.

The Man now bears the brunt of my know-it-all trait. In less than delicate terms, I’ve informed him that he doesn’t make the bed correctly, because naturally the way I do it is the right and only way. I learned that he never learned how to correctly clean a shower, or at least didn’t learn it the way I like it done. Despite his efforts to please me, I’m afraid he must be told more than once that he’s doing it wrong. Several arguments have ended with him informing me that my way is not the only way and that I can “stuff it,” or some slightly more colorful version of that sentiment. I know he’s right, I’m wrong, and that I need to learn to pick my battles more carefully.

Sheldon’s know-it-all personality has been the subject of many Big Bang episodes. Like an encyclopedia, he fills in trivia (Fun with Flags, anyone?) and points out truths and facts to the annoyance of the other characters. His great brain, like my lesser one, gets him into trouble not because of how smart he is, but because he doesn’t understand how to use it.

For as much as I’ve had to learn it the hard way, I still correct people sometimes. I have learned more when the right times are, though I am not always the most polite. It is hard to be both kind and correcting, and I err on the side of not saying anything rather than trying to be helpful. Knowing the encyclopedic “right” answer doesn’t may not mean I have the proper answer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 1

This is one of many now-famous lines spoken by Sheldon on the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. I am a fan of the show, to perhaps more of a level than The Man would like. Sheldon is a flawed character, highly eccentric, and socially awkward. I saw a backstage interview with the actor who plays Sheldon, and he said the most common thing people tell him about his character is that they "know someone just like that!" I had the same thought too, except that someone is me.

I know, I know, everyone thinks they are special. I’m not allowed to be both humble and still have a sense of “other” at the same time. But I am “other,” and I'll explain how if you’ll let me.

Each day for the next ten days, I’ll be posting a new blog post. Each day will have a sort of theme, and they are all related in some way to this Sheldon character. I’ve put more of myself into these posts than any others before now, and this is my story.

I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.  I’m not sure exactly what the doctors were testing me for, but I do recall being tested. I was four years old and in preschool. I hated preschool with all of the passion a four-year-old can have, and even now, I look back with both anger and sadness. I didn’t want to go there two days a week, and I desperately wished to leave as soon as possible. My mom tells me that when she’d drop me off, I’d cry and cry until Dad would pick me up a few hours later. After a week or two of this, the teacher must have recommended that my parents take me to see a doctor to make sure I was okay. I remember so clearly waiting in the waiting room to see this doctor. There was a labyrinth game sitting on the table. It was made of wood, had two spindles sticking out the side, and contained a small metal ball. I was utterly entranced. My parents showed me how it worked, and I patiently lost that infernally small ball down the gigantic pits of despair over and over again. When the doctors called my name, I begged them to let me take it into the back room. They agreed. While I played with the labyrinth, I remember they were asking me questions, stupid questions like, “Do you like preschool?” “Do you make friends?” and “Do you like playing games?” I knew what they wanted to hear. I remember so vividly having the sense that I was being tested on my ability to give the same answer over and over again. It seemed an endless cycle of starting the labyrinth over again and them ruining my concentration to ask the same question in a slightly different way. I don’t know what the official word was, but I'm definitely not crazy.  My parents switched me to the other preschool class. I still cried every day. I still hated being made to play with my peers. They talked like babies and sang silly songs. They wanted to play with dolls and imaginary friends. I wanted to be left alone in the “woodshop” area and build things I could see in my head. I wanted to paint and create and explore, not role-play or nap or--the worst thing imaginable--sit and talk with other girls. I cried so much through preschool that I’m pretty sure the teachers all celebrated the end of that school year. Thankfully Kindergarten proved to be quite the opposite. To this day, I am still in love with labyrinth games. And, apparently I’m not crazy: my mother had me tested.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Blog Year Retrospective #8

It has been eight years since I started this blog, so I'm here with another annual retrospective.  For as much as this blog mirrors my own life, this past year has been altogether different.  While I've wanted so much to share my whole life on this blog, both propriety and privacy dictate that I not share everything.  I'll do my best to hit the facts without dwelling on details or stepping on toes.

Annie and Eddie, 1 year old
I should start with the two additions to the family this last year.  Our formerly pet-free household was colonized in late November by two beyond precious Korat cats (technically domestic short hairs due to lack of a pedigree, but pssh).  We got them at twelve weeks old, so we were able to see most of their growth into the adolescent cats we have now.  They are, for the most part, friendly and gentle, and though they are often not where we'd like them, they are inquisitive and clever.  They have learned to obey some commands, and they play fetch on typical feline terms.  While neither is a huge fan of manicures, Eddie especially loves to be brushed, and Annie took to her new scratching post immediately.  We built some shelves in our office specifically for them to climb and perch upon, and they've played for hours up there.  Both The Man and I have spent many, many evenings with one--or both--of them curled on our laps, arms, or whatever suits them best.

Our new house has been wonderful!  We're absolutely loving being homeowners.  We are not, however, fond of the work that ownership entails.  Last spring, my mom broke her arm while weeding in our yard.  After a surgery to remove the shattered bone and place an implant on the end, she endured months of physical therapy.  Dad had to pick up the slack around their house, and he also helped us with our yard too.  We put in all new bark dust around our house, trimmed every plant on the property, applied bags and bags of fertilizer, lime, and some seed to make what was a scraggly yard turn out to be the greenest lawn on the block.  Dad also helped me place about a hundred concrete pavers in our backyard so we can walk to the back of our house now without getting muddy when it is wet--which is always.  Mom pulled through the summer doing relatively little physically, but she managed to bond with the kittens while we sweated outside.  Speaking of sweating, we're over that.  We bought a central air conditioner this summer that saved us so much sweat and tears.  We both consider that to be one of our best investments yet.

We get lots of snuggles and purrs.
After two very short months settling in to our new home, my sister and her husband moved in with us at the end of October.  Then, a month later, my sister left for her Air Force basic training.  Her husband continued to live with us until she finished her technical school the following May.  To say that this period of our life was challenging doesn't begin to cover what was both immensely positive and heartbreaking at the same time.  Toward the end of May, with my sister still in Texas, both she and her husband agreed that their marriage had run its course.  The Man and I could only sit and provide support to them, never fully understanding their relationship, never really wanting to get between them.  Watching a marriage end isn't easy, and watching it happen in your own home felt especially frustrating.  When my sister returned in May, her husband had moved out to his own apartment only the day previous.  She stayed with us one more month before deploying to her current base.  After a total occupation lasting eight dramatic months, The Man and I realized we'd grown so much and learned more about each other than we probably would have otherwise.

The Man and I also bonded in another way this year.  We recently read a book together--not unusual, we just do things like that--and both got a lot out of the book.  We learned how to cooperate with our unique personalities and now work together even better than in the past.  Though the book was not remotely a "how to help your marriage" kind of read, it ended up being like that for us.  We are considering reading books together more often as we both very much enjoy the shared experience and time together.

Cat naps are common in our house.
Finally being secure enough to plan for the future, The Man and I have shiny new retirement accounts and more than two boxes of mac and cheese in our pantry.  We have devoted a lot of time and energy to ensure safety and success in the future, and knowing that we don't have to worry as much about "tomorrow" is a wonderful feeling.

We have had some time for fun this year, despite some unhappy events.  I finished my first king-sized quilt last spring, made a few pretty cards this summer, and we went on our very first camping trip together.  The Man went on three separate week-long business trips in the spring, so he visited a few new states and discovered a bit more of the world outside of Oregon.  We just celebrated our fourth anniversary, and we both recently turned 30 this year (Holy adulthood, Batman!).  Though there have been difficulties, we are both thankful to have experienced them, and we're hoping for a slightly less dramatic remainder of 2013.