Last night I was watching ‘Mozart and the Whale’ for the first time ever. And while I found the characters to be somewhat caricature-like, I must admit I found it very sweet at the same time. They seemed to get the basics right, but everything seemed exaggerated. What it did do for me, however, was inspire me to write this blog post.
In this film (loosely based on a true story btw) there was this scene, where Isabelle, the female main character, and Donald, the male main character, are at a fun fair, and Donald decided to do some ring tossing in order to win Isabelle a plushie, but his noble intentions were in vain as the sound of the metal rings clanking on the metal bottles sent her right into sensory overload. She covered her ears, let herself fall to the ground and screamed even though she was surrounded by people.
Now, I’ve never actually seen any aspie react THAT strongly, some might though, but I do find that it captures the essence of what negative sensory input can do to one.
My senses have always been heightened compared to those around me. I was always the first in class to complain about the heat or the flickering light that no one else noticed. I couldn’t handle rough fabrics or neon colours or drizzling weather, because the tiny, cold drops felt like thin needles that buried into my skin. Back then I used to think I was perhaps being over-dramatic, that it was all anxiety induced over-stimulation and not the other way around. No one else reacted as strongly as I, and it made me stand out as the sensitive, melodramatic and theatrical kid. But hey – typical girls, right? (NO!)
(What sunshine looks like to me at any given moment)
I really shouldn’t write all this in past tense, for it is as true now as it was back then. I still cannot handle any of those things. For the most part I will endure these awful sensory inputs, but I will still try to remove them or remove myself from them as soon as they occur. That is one of great aspects of having gotten my diagnosis: I now know that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me, that it’s perfectly normal for someone like me to feel this way. It has taught me that I don’t always have to accept those inputs – it’s okay to find them unbearable, and it’s very okay to adjust my environment to suit me instead of trying to deal with it, because quite frankly I cannot. With some training I might be able to cope better. It will, however, not go away. I cannot avoid sensory overload my entire life, I will have shut-downs because of this, I will look strange to people and some might find me rude when I withdraw to be alone, but that’s okay. The less I hide, the more people will understand, I believe, even if they cannot accept it.
Being as sensitive as I does have some good sides too, I should mention. All those positive sensory inputs can send me straight to ecstasy! The soft, silky feeling of my cats’ fur beneath my fingers, the sound and earthy scent of rain, a stroke down my back, a tight hug that joins together the scents of both involved, a kiss – God, KISSES! Those delicate, rosy kisses, where the lips gently brush against each other, sending tingles through my entire body rendering my legs gelatinous and non-functioning. With greater sensitivity comes both great pains, but also also bountiful joys. Protecting one’s fragility is important, however if one never dares feel anything, one might as well have been dead. There is much pleasure to be sought – even in the simplest of things. Therefore I can live with all the horrible inputs, I will endure, because the rewards, scarce as they might be sometimes, are so worth it. I may experience the lows of lows and break down when it all becomes too much, but when I’m good, when I’m sensory stimulated in a positive way; I AM ON FIRE!
Today has been an exciting day! Not only have I been wandering the streets of Århus with a dear friend of mine, but my very first column on wrongplanet.net was ‘aired’.
I am very proud of myself, and I very much hope you’ll enjoy it: http://www.wrongplanet.net/article427.html
(A fashion store my friend and I went to. So many awesome colours and shapes!)
Oh my, here we go!
This being my first entry I expect myself to say something amazingly clever and inspiring. But instead I’ve come to the conclusion that an introduction is in order so that you may know me before I start rambling incoherently.
My name is Nanna Lanng, I’m 21 years old and I live in a sleepy, little town in Denmark called Randers, and two years ago I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Although this is not the time to drag you through my entire childhood I will say this: I’ve always known there was something slightly awry with me. I knew I was different when I compared myself to other girls my age. I felt that, although we lived in the same world and our surroundings were the same, we did not see the world the same way. Their world and mine were like two parallel universes overlapping: everything seeming eerily familiar and yet so very different.
At a very early age I was diagnosed with general anxiety and depression, and for a while I was satisfied with these two words, and I drew comfort from them because I now had something to relate to, but it just wasn’t enough. I knew it could not be it. I searched far and wide for an answer; some condition that would explain this emptiness inside of me.
At first I believed that I might just be more mature than the other girls because I didn’t care for small-talk, and boys weren’t really that interesting to me until my late teens. But when I thought it through I came to the conclusion that in reality I was far more immature than any of them. My social development was actually quite slow, and I find it silly of me to even have thought this way.
New condition: maybe I was simply too intelligent! Yes, that would indeed suit me. So I read all about gifted children, and though many of their problems were to similar to mine, the IQ tests, despite of being well above average, did not qualify me for the title of being Mensa-brilliant. But if it wasn’t that then what the Devil was I? Odd became the only word I could cling to. I knew I was clever, I knew I had many talents, but I also knew it wasn’t enough to make it in this world. Unfortunately it seemed to be all I had.
When I graduated from ‘folkeskolen’, which translates to ‘the people’s school’ and is the school for all the mandatory school years, at 16, and moved on to ‘gymnasiet’, which is the step between ‘folkeskolen’ and university, my world slowly began to crumble under the pressure of the many new expectations. I went from a quiet, small, organized private school with no more than 20 pupils per class to a large, loud and chaotic public school with 30+.. There were the added social expectations: my classmates were used to partying and drinking and coitus (best word ever), and I had never done either of those things. Silly me, I thought school was for learning and evolving academically. I still felt like a child leaving school; I wasn’t ready for all that! But going with the flow I tried to socialize and fit in. I went to a party, had a sip of alcohol, spat out said sip of alcohol and decided that maybe I’d try fitting in in some other way.
Small-talking! Talking to people and all that. I made a handful of great new friends, but my small-talking skills were still awful and did not improve, despite me having been working on them since the age of 13. Consequently I found myself in many discussions and, well, verbal fights.
All in all; my plan didn’t work. I fell into yet another depression and dropped out. The hectic school life drained my energy and I could not go on. Having always been creative I then decided to try my luck with the visual arts! ‘Artists are weird,’ I thought ‘I’m weird too. I should send an application to the nearby art academies!’
I was admitted. However, within weeks, I realized that there had never been a place where I had fitted in less, and soon I began to feel very isolated and lonely. In stepped the black dog of depression and this time I sunk very deep. I was but 18 then, and it would take me almost a year to recover. What a waste of youth! I then had my first boyfriend, broke up with said boyfriend, I continued to search for my shelf, but it was nowhere to be found until, one day, Asperger’s was in all the Danish media. My granny cut out a news article for me about it, my mum printed out pages for me to read and there were these brilliant documentaries on the telly spellbound me to the screen. At first I was reluctant to associate myself with the things I learned about autism. I was empathic, wasn’t I? I wasn’t that obsessed with my interests! (I totally am) My motor skills were just fine – well, maybe not, but I was not autistic!!
It wasn’t until I found a short article about autism in girls and women, and how they weren’t exactly like the boys and men I had heard about, that I finally yielded and embraced the word I’d been searching for my entire life. Looking back I see how much it would explain: my life-long obsession with words and literature, my lack of social skills, my awkwardness, my sensory issues, my tenacious/stubborn attitude, all the anxiety and my deep-rooted feeling of being slightly different in every single way. It just fits. I fit in somehow!
My mum and I went to a psychiatrist, who was very quick to confirm my suspicions. I may or may not have cried a bit when he told me.
That was two years ago. Since then I’ve been trying to learn as much about autism as I can possibly cram inside my head, but I still feel that information for women on the spectrum is too scarce and that our problems are not as acknowledged as those of our male counterparts. When I was first diagnosed I wish there’d been more focus on female aspies. These days we are more visible, we are more accepted, but there is still a long way to go especially for us who aren’t exactly children anymore.
My vision for this blog is simple: I’m hoping to reach out to other females on the spectrum, the newly diagnosed particularly, to share my story, my thoughts, to spread the words of inspiring autistic women and hopefully give you a feeling of not being entirely alone on this strange, strange planet.
(PS. If anyone should have a question for me, do not hesitate to ask. I shall be more than happy to answer. )
(PPS. I swear; my posts won’t always be this long!!)